So much for the ‘Jack and Condi’ show

Jack Straw’s ouster as British foreign minister put an abrupt end to the “Jack and Condi Show,” a diplomatic alliance and traveling revue that introduced Straw to down-home Southern cooking and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the finer points of soccer terminology.

Straw and Rice were a political odd couple, but the jocular former left wing student leader and the buttoned-up Republican piano prodigy quickly formed a strong bond when Rice took over from Colin Powell as the top U.S. diplomat last year. They teamed up on issues including Iraq, Iran and Mideast peace, holding impromptu strategy sessions by cell phone.

Straw was the one foreign leader Rice called herself, at any hour, without bothering to notify aides. Straw did the same.

Rice called Straw to say goodbye following news that he had been demoted in a Cabinet shuffle. Rice’s spokesman, Sean McCormack, called the conversation bittersweet. “They were colleagues, but they also developed a great friendship,” McCormack said.

Rice later called Straw’s designated successor to say hello.

The close relationship was on display in the fall, when Rice asked Straw and his wife, Alice, to accompany her on a tour of her native Alabama that was widely seen as a prelude to a possible run for president.

The visit included several civil rights events, plus a raucous college football game that was a deliberate contrast to the dry policy meetings that visiting foreign ministers usually attend in Washington. Straw grinned throughout the game and said he was delighted, if a bit perplexed by the rules.

Rice said the Straw visit would be the first in a series of invitations to allow allied foreign ministers to see parts of the United States beyond the capital.

Straw reciprocated by inviting Rice to visit his northern England home district in March and April. That trip did not go as well. Rice was heckled at nearly every stop by anti-war demonstrators, and Straw’s favored soccer team, Blackburn Rovers, postponed the match that Rice and Straw had planned to attend.

Straw squired Rice by the elbow and whispered in her ear, a familiarity it is hard to imagine any other leader carrying off. She nodded attentively as Straw pointed out his regular seats in the empty soccer stadium. She later proved she was paying attention, correctly referring to the field as a football pitch.

Following the visit, the two foreign ministers slipped out of England for a secret trip to Iraq. The joint diplomacy was a first for the Bush administration, and underscored the trust between Rice and Straw. The Iraq trip was intended to prod that nation’s squabbling leaders to form a new government. Although the pair left without an agreement, the political logjam broke within weeks.

Rice’s visit to England and their joint visit to Iraq made Straw the butt of editorial cartoons and biting commentaries in Britain. He was lampooned as a puppet for the Bush administration.

Straw also said he was mortified when he found out he had inadvertently turned Rice out of her own bed on her Air Force Two plane. Rice had offered her guest the fold-out bed in her cabin during the overnight flight to the Middle East. Straw accepted, unaware that it was the plane’s only bed.

Rice slept in the aisle outside, rolled in a blanket.

© 2006 The Associated Press