Diplomatic Bridge Building

'Good choice," President Bush said quietly to Condoleezza Rice last week, after he announced her pick of Robert Zoellick to be her top deputy when she takes over as secretary of State.

The nomination of a deputy cabinet secretary might not normally rate much media attention. But US diplomatic relations have been so frayed, the job in question is so influential, and the person proposed is so qualified, it needs to be underscored.

Mr. Zoellick, the president's top trade negotiator for the past four years, should help reassure America's traditional allies in Europe, as well as other countries concerned about a US go-it-alone approach. The nomination, along with the president's February trip to Europe, seems to confirm that Mr. Bush is serious about rebuilding diplomatic bridges damaged by the Iraq war.

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"Mr. Multilateralist," could be Zoellick's diplomatic handle. In Bush senior's administration, he was the US point man on German reunification, which required getting Soviet buy-in. As US trade rep, he closed deals in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. Dr. Rice has a long working relationship with this tough negotiator. That's a bonus. But the real import of her pick is its positive message to the rest of the world.

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