The Condi Rice-Jack Straw Road Show

When it came time to grab a few hours rest before landing on a secret mission in Baghdad last weekend, Condoleezza Rice insisted that Jack Straw take the bed in the private cabin in her aircraft.

The British foreign secretary was horrified when he woke up to find that the U.S. secretary of state, one of the world‘s most powerful women, had slept on the floor so that her guest was more comfortable.

Rice‘s considerate gesture reflects a growing friendship between the two and their bid to work even more closely together on issues such as Iran , Iraq and the Middle East.

But that personal chemistry did not always win over others in five days of diplomatic bonding that took the top diplomats to Straw‘s hometown of Blackburn and then to Iraq.

In Blackburn, anti-war demonstrators were waiting at each stop to protest the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq where the United States still has 130,000 troops and Britain has 8,000.

While relatively small in number, the protesters stole the spotlight from what was intended to show the special relationship between the United States and Britain, mirroring a visit by Straw to Rice‘s home state of Alabama last year.

Straw joked at their final news conference in Blackburn that he could have done a better job organizing the protests, to which Rice replied: “I‘m glad you didn‘t.”

The aim of the Blackburn trip was to show Rice another part of England beyond the corridors of power in London. But while the couple visited a school, attended a concert and toured the stadium of Straw‘s favorite soccer team, their staff were putting together a joint trip to Baghdad.

The couple slipped away from a party in Liverpool where Rice was officially meant to be spending the night and took off to Baghdad to try and prod belligerent Iraqi leaders to form a national unity government.

Rice boarded at the front of her plane while Straw sneaked in at the back entrance used more frequently by reporters. After planning their strategy in Iraq, Rice offered her pull-out bed to Straw.

U.S.-based reporters traveling with Rice were sworn to secrecy for security reasons until both ministers were safely in the international Green Zone in Baghdad on Sunday for the two-day visit.

They came away from meetings with Iraqi leaders without a deal but said they had made their case that patience was running thin and Britain and the United States were losing political capital at home from the delays.

Officials purposefully lowered expectations “Jack and Condi” would broker a diplomatic coup but Jim Jeffrey, the State Department‘s Iraq coordinator, said their joint visit was a powerful political symbol to the Iraqis.

Rice followed Straw‘s cue and spent her first night ever in Baghdad. Whenever Straw visits – he has been four times since last November — he always stays the night while Rice has usually only stayed a few hours during her two previous trips.

The mood was jocular between the two, particularly in Blackburn, and the only publicly aired difference was on issues of gender when Straw referred to future male leaders of Iraq.

“Whether it‘s Mr A, Mr B or Mr C,” he said at a Baghdad news conference, referring to a future prime minister of Iraq. Unaware that Rice was smiling and raising her eyebrows, he dug a deeper hole for himself, adding, “We‘ve got to be able to deal with Mr A, Mr B or Mr C.

“Jack I‘m sure we would be alright with Miss A, B or C too,” chipped in Rice, who is rumored to be in the running for the 2008 U.S. presidency, but strongly denies such a bid.

Straw quickly replied: “I was not being gender specific just reaffirming the realities on the ground. Don‘t report me please.”

Rice returns to Washington on Tuesday after meeting British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London for a private dinner on Monday night.