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Atwitter Over a Royal Visit

On the surface, Washington's social scene looks discreetly subdued.

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As for any assists from the State Department, Secretary of State Rice is turning thumbs-down. Tracked down at the Symphony Ball wearing a slinky Rena Lange gown, Rice smiled broadly at the notion of anyone lobbying her for an invitation. "We don't have anything to do with that guest list," she happily insisted.

Besides the Bush shindig, there are plenty of other chances to rub shoulders with the royal couple. There's always a hoped-for seat at the home of British Ambassador Sir David Manning and his wife, Lady Catherine, where Charles and Camilla will stay for the visit. Expect plenty of dazzling smiles Oct. 16 when Lady Manning welcomes friends for the book party to celebrate the American publication of "Death in the Garden," one of the psychodrama thrillers she writes under the pen name Elizabeth Ironside.

"We're busy getting ready, of course, but we won't have anything to do with the guest list," says Ambassador Manning, whose embassy is a regular stop for Bush administration pals like Secretary Rice, who celebrated her birthday last month with the Mannings, Churchill devotee Karl Rove, and Colin Powell, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. "If it were a dinner for the Prime Minister, then we would definitely be involved in the planning, but not for this visit."

And what about an unexpected social venue for mingling with the royal couple? Twenty years ago, Prince Charles and Princess Diana popped up at a J.C. Penney store in the Springfield, Va., mall to promote a new line of British export products before heading back to Washington for the National Gallery's "Treasure Houses of Great Britain" show. This time around, the Kennedy Center seems a likely suspect. Prince Charles' foundation has donated to a fund for Shakespearean performances and Kennedy Center president Michael Kaiser formerly served as executive director of the Royal Opera House (although his tenure was rather a stormy one).

"Everything is still up in the air," says one Kennedy Center official about a possible royal visit.

One thing is for sure: This visit will be nothing like the time Jimmy Carter had his first state dinner for a British prime minister. "An old friend called me two days before the dinner for James Callaghan to say neither Evangeline Bruce nor Averell and Pamela Harriman had been invited," recalls Carter loyalist Tom Bryant. "So I called Gretchen Posten, the social secretary, who said, 'Yes, we'll make room for them.'"
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