Condi shows us her human side (again): so what is she up to?

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The Independent US

We have seen hard Condi, the tough woman, supposedly banging heads in the Middle East. We have had Condi the athlete, working out in the gym. And we have had Condi the munificent, lending her fold-out bed to Jack Straw on a flight to Kuwait.

The latest incarnation is Condi the musician, finding time in her schedule of briefings, meetings and finessing the art of global diplomacy to pursue her love of classical music.

In a series of photographs published in The New York Times yesterday, Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, is seen practising at her flat with a group of classical musicians. The message is clear: this woman can do everything.

Forget about solving the perennial problem of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or ensuring that relations between those nuclear neighbours Pakistan and India never come to the point where they reach for the button, or indeed dealing with the mess she helped make in Iraq. Ms Rice's real ambitions are clear: "Before I leave this earth, I'm somehow going to learn the Brahms Second Piano Concerto," she told a fawning interviewer, "which is the most beautiful piece of music."

Ms Rice's talents on the piano have long been known. A couple of years ago it was revealed how, in the days immediately after the attacks of 11 September 2001, Ms Rice and the Attorney General at the time, John Ashcroft, rallied the spirits of officials gathered at Camp David with rousing renditions of hymns - she at the keyboard, he with his famed baritone. But the latest details portray her as an even more accomplished performer than most of us could have guessed. They report how she regularly meets with a group of talented, but amateur, players in her Washington apartment to perform chamber music. "We generally like to start off with a nice finger-buster for the secretary," said Robert Battey, a cellist, explaining why Schumann's Piano Quintet in E-flat, full of flourishes, was one of the pieces they sometimes first turn to.

Given that Ms Rice is not a new member of George Bush's cabinet - she served as national security adviser during his first term - one might wonder why there has been a recent flow of articles highlighting "the other sides" of the Secretary of State. Could it be that Ms Rice has ambitions for an even higher position within the government and is preparing the way for a run at the presidency itself?

This has been asked of her many times and she has always denied it. Most recently, she did so on her trip to Liverpool and Blackburn with Mr Straw. It was when they subsequently made their surprise trip to Iraq that she gave up her bed to the Foreign Secretary.

One of Ms Rice's most influential backers is America's First Lady, Laura Bush, who has said she would like to see her as the first female President. "I'd love to see her run. She's terrific," Mrs Bush told CNN in January.

On that occasion, Ms Rice said that she appreciated Mrs Bush's words but that she had no plans to run. "Obviously, it's flattering when people say things like that," she said. "But I've spoken to this. I know what I'm good at. I know what I want to do and that's not it."

Cue that Brahms piano concerto.