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Condoleezza Rice lays groundwork for return to California at the end of Bush's term

Officially, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice brought Australia's top diplomat to California to thank a valued ally with a hometown tour.

Unofficially, Rice was laying the groundwork for her return to the San Francisco Bay Area when the Bush administration ends in January 2009.

Teaching at Stanford University, a book project and volunteering at an education center she started here are all part of the plan, she said.

"My future plans are to get back to California as fast as possible," Rice told a classroom full of school children in this city near Stanford. Rice began teaching political science at Stanford in 1981 and was Stanford's provost from 1992-99.

"Take it to the bank: She's coming back to Stanford," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told The Associated Press. Rice will rejoin the university as a professor, not in an administrative role, he said.

Rice, 52, referred to herself as a "soon-to-be-future professor again," and told the seventh- and eighth-graders here: "I hope to see some of you at Stanford when I get back."

She will return to California when President George W. Bush's second term is complete, Rice said in a brief interview after her remarks here. "When the president's done, I will be too," she said.

"California's a great place," she added. "It reminds you of what life's really about."

Rice's return to academia would end, at least in the near term, years of speculation that she might run for California governor or president. It also would derail indefinitely her dream assignment, to be commissioner of the National Football League.

Several of her family members were present in the classroom Thursday, clearly part of what is pulling Rice back to the state.

Monday is Memorial Day in the U.S., and Rice often spends the holiday weekend with family in Northern California, but business forced her to skip last year's trip, she said. She planned to stay in this area until Sunday, cutting short the long holiday weekend ahead of a trip to Europe next week.

Rice's day took her and Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer to a string of sites from earlier in her career. They began at Stanford's campus, then moved on to Hewlett-Packard Co., where Rice once served as a board member.

They spoke to the students at the home of an education program Rice and her late father helped establish 16 years ago. The Center for a New Generation offers after-school and summer programs for children in a school district about a half-hour south of San Francisco.

Rice also agreed to a series of interviews with local news media outlets, apparently part of an effort to burnish her image in this region. The State Department granted at least one of the interviews on the condition that the journalists focus their questions on Rice's education work, not on her current job, foreign diplomacy.

Paul J. Bains, who as pastor at Saint Samuel Church of God in Christ is active in the education program Rice started, said it was widely understood here that Rice will return. Her presence here was part of her "re-engagement in the community," he said.

Indeed, Rice promised the students that she would resume her involvement in the Center for a New Generation when she came back.

"I really love the bay area," she said.

"I love being a teacher and I love doing research and loved working with my friends to push forward in education by founding this program," she told the students.

Of her book, Rice said it would be a study of American foreign policy in the last few years _ not a memoir.

"We're in a really very tumultuous and difficult period in international politics, but it's also a time when American strategic interests have been changing a lot, and what we've been trying to do with our foreign policy's been changing a lot," Rice said.

She had no interest, she said, in a tell-all on "What I was doing when I was sitting in the Oval Office with the president." Rather, it would come "from the perspective of the political scientist _ how we can explain what's happened to American foreign policy," she said.

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