Diplomatic Affinity

THE WASHINGTON POST

"I wish you had any idea of what it's like to have a total stranger walk into your office and talk about something like this," says Jamie Rubin, the assistant secretary of State for public affairs.

"I'm very uncomfortable talking about my personal life," says Christiane Amanpour, the chief international correspondent for CNN and a regular on CBS' "60 Minutes." "I've always shied away from doing that--and for good reason. I don't buy into the celebrity culture. I don't consider myself a celebrity."

Amanpour, 40, is known from here to Sarajevo for her courageous dispatches from the world's worst hellholes, her groundbreaking interviews with heads of state and her uncompromising reporting on the carnage in Bosnia. Rubin, 37, is the chief spokesman for, and a key figure in, the U.S. foreign policy establishment, and a confidant of the secretary of State.

Neither is known for being shy and retiring. Neither is used to being at a loss for words. Rubin has a reputation for being forceful and occasionally arrogant, and Amanpour is famously tough-minded and swashbuckling. And yet when it comes to the sensitive subject at hand--the fact that they're just crazy about each other and planning to be married this summer--both are unusually tight-lipped.

But they sat down in separate interviews recently--with extreme reluctance, both insisted--to discuss their mutual attraction and the implications thereof.

"I don't want to turn the best thing that's ever happened to me into the subject of somebody else's amusement," Rubin says in his State Department office, with its panoramic vistas of the Potomac River and beyond. "I don't want people to get the impression that if they just call me up, I'm going to tell them stuff about her and me. Because it will ruin our lives."

"You know what?" Amanpour says over coffee and cigarettes in the antiques-appointed living room of Rubin's high-ceilinged bachelor pad here. "I think that this is going to be a two-day wonder and that this is going to die down. Really. Seriously."

But since the news of their engagement broke and made international headlines--it led the foreign section, for instance, of Corriere Della Serra, Italy's newspaper of record--the story has shown little sign of losing steam.

Quite the contrary. The world's capitals, Washington especially, have been buzzing over every aspect of the extraordinary liaison between the star foreign correspondent and the top foreign policy flack. Last month, when Amanpour snagged a newsmaking television interview with the president of Iran and Rubin, in his daily State Department briefing, gave the official U.S. reaction to the CNN broadcast, tongues wagged, eyes rolled and self-styled ethicists cogitated.

*

Will the Amanpour-Rubin nuptials create the perception of a conflict of interest--or will they be a matter of synergy? Should an independent counsel be appointed? And, given their workaholic, peripatetic lifestyles, what wedding gifts are appropriate and where should they be sent?

Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott granted a rare audience in his magisterial office to enunciate U.S. policy on these fascinating developments: "Let a thousand stories bloom. . . . Jamie is the spokesman for a secretary of state [Madeleine Albright] who is herself quite properly receiving a great deal of publicity all around the world. And Christiane is a particularly high-visibility and well-respected journalist. So no one should be surprised at the fact that the two of them would be getting married is a story."

The two lovebirds--she an exotically alluring British citizen of Iranian and English parentage, he a handsome and sophisticated New Yorker from the gilded suburbs of Westchester County--kept their seven-month romance out of public view until late last year, when they began showing up together at social events in Washington and New York.

"I'm not at all surprised by Jamie and Christiane getting together," said Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., who hired Rubin from the Arms Control Assn., a Washington think tank where he was a resident expert on the arcana of nuclear weaponry. "If you had told me he was getting married to his high-school sweetheart, or that he was getting married to the homecoming queen, that would have surprised me. . . . If you lined up whoever were the smartest, most interesting women of the day and asked who's Jamie gonna be with, it would be Christiane."

*

Rubin was lured away by Albright, then U.N. ambassador and already a close friend from the policy wars. Their relationship is often likened to that of mother and son, and at the United Nations, by most accounts, Rubin single-mindedly worked to position his boss for higher office.

In a job where his every public statement is microscopically deconstructed by the international media and foreign governments, Rubin has made his share of missteps. On a trip to the Middle East in September, his characterization of Israeli President Ezer Weizman's comments in a private meeting with Albright provoked embarrassing headlines in Israeli newspapers after they ended up in a pool report. He wrote a letter of apology to Weizman. Sid Balman, senior diplomatic correspondent for United Press International, spoke for many in the media.

"Knowing both Jamie and Christiane, I think they are both professional enough to observe their ethics in a way that neither of them are compromised," Balman said. "I have seen no evidence in this brief period of their being romantically involved to indicate otherwise."

Arguably, Amanpour might have to worry that a government could conclude she is too close to U.S. foreign policymakers.

"I reject that categorically," Amanpour said. "I don't think they would. . . I've already built up a reputation in most of the world--and I don't say that in a self-serving manner, because CNN reaches the world--and already people know who they're dealing with and what they're dealing with. Why should that change? I don't think it's going to change."

Rubin said: "She is an international personality of great renown, known for being fiercely independent, for being someone who has taken great risks to report the news from everywhere, from Afghanistan to Africa to Bosnia. . . . There will be conspiracy theorists that always have something to say, but at the end of the day, personality trumps. I can't imagine any place in the world where people don't know who she is. They will probably think of me as just lucky to be married to her."

*

The two have known each other professionally since 1993, when Albright was U.N. ambassador and Rubin was her spin-meister. Amanpour, meanwhile, was the best-known journalist in the Balkans. She and Rubin talked a few times on the phone about Bosnia, but it was strictly business.

As one of the Clinton administration's more eligible bachelors--second only to his Columbia University classmate George Stephanopoulos--Rubin was continually being set up on blind dates by concerned friends. Albright has been a persistent and energetic participant in the effort to find him a suitable mate--periodically floating the names of women with whom he might want to have bilateral relations.

"On a couple of occasions, Madeleine Albright asked me if I knew of any excellent candidates for Jamie," said CNN Chairman and CEO Tom Johnson, with apparent pride in his role as a middleman. "And at one point Christiane asked me to run some due diligence on Jamie, and I did." Rubin declined to produce Albright for comment on these issues.

It was during Albright's trip to Bosnia last spring that the romance budded. Amanpour, naturally, went along. One night in Zagreb, Rubin asked her to drinks. When he showed up wearing blue jeans and a black leather jacket, Amanpour quipped: "Government official relaxing." They downed many margaritas.

"I did actually think it was going to be professional, and it was professional," said the petite Amanpour. "I knew perfectly well it was off hours, and he was relaxing and I was relaxing after a long day of work. Everybody and his brother does that. . . . Only after that, we got together--several months after that."

"I said I wanted to ask her out for a proper dinner, and if she were in New York, would she let me know," the lanky Rubin said. "A month or so later in New York, I took her for a proper dinner. That's the best dinner I ever had and the best result a dinner has ever had for me."

The real moment of truth came when the two took their first extended vacation together. Late one night at the start of their week in Tuscany, both received phone calls from their offices, according to authoritative accounts. Princess Diana had just died in a car crash, and the State Department wanted Rubin's help in fashioning a statement. Get somebody else, he said. I'm on vacation. Then the CNN assignment desk called for Amanpour. Will you fly back to cover the tragedy? If you insist, Amanpour replied, but I'd really like to stay here. This is more important to me. CNN didn't press her.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
66°