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Rice and Straw to stay close friends

By Staff
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Washington, May 6: US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called her close friend, outgoing British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw today after he was dumped from his key post.

''It was, from her perspective, I think, a bittersweet call,'' said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, adding that Rice counted Straw as both a close personal friend and colleague whom she could rely on.

McCormack said Rice also called Straw's successor, Margaret Beckett, and was looking forward to working with her. The two will meet next week during talks in New York to discuss the West Asia, Iran and Sudan.

''There are a lot of tough issues on the agenda, but there are no closer allies than the US and the UK in facing up to these issues that are before us,'' said McCormack.

Straw's ouster -- after Prime Minister Tony Blair's ruling Labour Party's poor showing in local elections -- came little over a month after Rice visited his hometown of Blackburn in northern England, a trip memorable for the throngs of noisy, mostly Muslim, anti-war protesters that dogged her every stop.

The British media lampooned Straw and Rice in cartoons during the visit, after which the two left protesters behind and went together on a secret trip to Iraq. Britain has been the United States' closest ally in the Iraq war.

The visit to Blackburn followed one last year by Straw to Rice's hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, where the two enjoyed a largely positive reception for their ''backyard diplomacy.'' Asked whether Rice viewed the time in Alabama and Blackburn as useful now that Straw was gone from the Cabinet, McCormack said: ''Absolutely, yes, absolutely. Like I said, they were colleagues, but they also developed a great friendship.''

Reuters

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