AUCKLAND, New Zealand — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appears to be grasping for diplomatic victories before the Bush administration's exit from the world stage in January.
Too little, too late, say critics, as Rice and President Bush seek to cement a legacy beyond the unpopular Iraq war, which strained relations with Europe and the Arab world.
With less than six months to go in office and unfinished business with Iran, North Korea, the Middle East, Iraq and Afghanistan, Rice has embarked on a series of trips and is packing in an impressive number of high-level meetings in Washington.
In June and July, Rice circled the planet twice for talks on those issues. In the first three days of the week ahead, she will see top officials from Pakistan, China, Israel and Italy as well as Israeli and Palestinian peace negotiators.
Rice will press Pakistan's prime minister to do more to combat militants along the Afghan border, seek additional support from China on Iran and North Korea, and assess the slow pace of progress in the effort to conclude an Israel-Palestinian deal by year's end. Prospects for achieving any of those are uncertain.
Administration officials are fond of saying Bush wants to "sprint to the finish." Perhaps no other Cabinet member has logged more travel time in that endeavor than Rice, who returns from her latest round-the-world jaunt on Monday and heads immediately into her Washington meetings.
Asked Saturday in New Zealand when she plans to slow down, Rice replied with a laugh: "Jan. 20, 12:01," referring to the exact time the next president will be inaugurated.