The seating had been arranged by the host Egyptian government so that Rice would be sharing at least the butter plate with Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, Egyptian and Iraqi diplomats said.I'm sure lowcut dresses are widely tolerated at a whole host of diplomatic Middle East dinners, but in this case you cannot blame the Iranians for walking out. Just think what a leaked US/Egyptian photo could do to their own regime's credibility.
As Rice walked in, Mottaki slipped out a side door and so evaporated what might have been the marquee event of the two-day conference on Iraq's economy and security held in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik: the first open, high-level meeting with Iran in three decades.
"Secretary Rice stayed for dinner," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack today. He told reporters he understood Mottaki left the meal because the evening's entertainment included a violin player in a low-cut red dress. "I'm not sure which woman he was afraid of: the one in the red dress or the secretary of state."
The dinnertime escapade provided an anti-climax to intense speculation that Rice and the Iranians would use the conference as a chance to break the ice and begin some sort of dialogue over a range of problems.
That's not diplomacy. That's stupidity. Don't these Bush people realise that many lives are at stake if they cannot come to some agreement with Iran and end the bloodshed in Iraq? Apparently not.
At least there was some progress. In fact, I should probably be more positive about this. It is, after all, an enormous backflip for a bumbling administration which last month criticized Nacy Pelosi for visiting Syria:
Rice did meet with the foreign minister of Syria, another country the U.S. says foments trouble in Iraq and supports terror. The meeting with Walid Moallem lasted a half-hour yesterday.Let's hope Rice learns something from the talks with Syria. But don't hold your breath:
After her meeting with Moallem, Rice went out of her way to dampen expectations about discussions with Iran. ``We did not approach them for a meeting,'' she said. ``I think I've made clear that if I have an opportunity to deliver a message, or to reinforce the message that has been delivered here about the need to support Iraq, and if there's an opportunity to deliver that message and to report the message that is being delivered here about the need to support Iraq, then I'll take that opportunity.
``But we haven't planned and have not asked for a bilateral meeting, nor have they asked us,'' she said in a statement released by the State Department late yesterday.
The only verbal contact Rice had with Mottaki took place at lunch yesterday, when they exchanged greetings at a table. They did not sit next to each other.