"[Sergei] Lavrov pushes her buttons," Glenn Kessler said Thursday night at the presentation of his new book, "The Confidante: Condoleezza Rice and the Creation of Bush Legacy."
In his book, Kessler writes: "Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, who honed his negotiating skills during a 10-year stint as Russia's UN ambassador, is a proud and frequently effective diplomat - a showman who doesn't hesitate to use a diplomatic stiletto."
The journalist, who has accompanied Rice many times on international flights and has covered most of her foreign visits, says: "But Rice came to appreciate Lavrov's straightforward and serious approach. She concluded that if he says he will do something, he will - and if he says he will not do it, he won't."
"Diplomats said Lavrov has perfected the art of irritating Rice - so much so that she often responds in a very sharp, acerbic, and even emotional way. Rice's reaction is so shrill that she begins to lose her natural allies in the room, in contrast to the calmer and more menacing Lavrov. He frequently exploits that dynamic to his advantage," Kessler said in the book.
Kessler has interviewed many U.S. and foreign diplomats for his book and has had his observations confirmed by a variety of sources, in particular by former French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy.
At the presentation, Kessler said that despite her knowledge of Russian language and history, Rice is not very good in her work with Russia.
"While Rice had trained as a Soviet specialist and still practices Russian once a week with a State Department interpreter, Russian diplomats are privately contemptuous of her knowledge of contemporary Russia, believing she is stuck in a time warp and doesn't understand the country."
Kessler writes about some little known facts, such as a conversation during a closed meeting between Rice and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
"In their private meeting, Merkel, a fluent Russian speaker who had trained as a physical chemist in the former East Germany, teasingly tested Rice's rusty Russian," he writes, citing Wolfgang Ischinger, Germany's ambassador to London who formerly was Germany's ambassador to the U.S.
Kessler said that his biographic book on Rice gives an unbiased picture of the pluses and minuses in the work of the U.S. Secretary of State, but admitted that certain conclusions could be unpleasant for the presidential administration.
"Rice fundamentally lacks a strategic vision. Her approach has been largely tactical, a series of ad hoc efforts designed to deal with an unfolding series of crises that itemed from decisions she had helped make in the first term [of President George Bush]."
"...she is the confidante of a president widely considered a failure... Rice has failed to provide him with a coherent foreign policy vision," he writes.
Kessler said that Rice still has close contact with Bush, with whom she regularly meets and whom she sends personal notes on foreign policy.
He cites her answer to critics: "I'm enough of an historian to know that my reputation will be what my 'reputation' is. It might be different in five months from five years to fifty years, and so I'm simply not going to worry about that."
"On a personal level, Rice is an exceedingly friendly and gracious individual - even to reporters whose articles have displeased her," Kessler writes, adding that "these qualities, apparent to the general public, would make her a formidable political candidate."
"One of her advisors, in fact, believes she is increasingly interested in running for governor of California. Some of Rice's friends harbored the fantasy that Bush, desperate to secure his legacy, would find some medical reason to replace Cheney with Rice, making her the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008."
But the journalist stressed in the book and during the presentation that Rice has repeatedly and officially said she is not interested in elections and would like to return to her professorial work at Stanford University.
Asked whether Kessler, now The Washington Post's diplomatic correspondent, would still be able to interview Rice and keep accompanying her on her visits, Kessler said he sees no problem.