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Diplomatic Affinity

Power Fiances Christiane Amanpour and Jamie Rubin Set Off Foreign Talk When They Crossed the International Dating Line

February 06, 1998|LLOYD GROVE | THE WASHINGTON POST

WASHINGTON — "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."

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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.

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