- The Washington Times - Monday, July 31, 2000

Liberty Bell Express

Ariel Rivera has been the ambassador from Guatemala for just over a month, and he is already preparing for his first national political convention.

"All I know about the United States is from books," said the former professor of foreign affairs. "Now I have the opportunity to be at a convention."

It is not just any convention in any city. It is in Philadelphia, cradle of American democracy.

"I want to feel the atmosphere, especially being in Philadelphia, the home of Benjamin Franklin. It is really exciting," he said.

Mr. Rivera will be among more than 100 ambassadors and diplomats who will travel to the Republican National Convention on Thursday to hear George W. Bush accept his party's presidential nomination.

They leave on a chartered train, appropriately named the Liberty Bell Express, for the day-long excursion.

Melitta Schubert, the deputy chief of mission at the Austrian Embassy, will be leading a delegation from the Austrian parliament on the trip.

"It's exciting," she said. "Whatever happens in the United States affects the rest of the world."

Leo G.B. Welt, president of the Potomac Exchange, the nonprofit group that is organizing the trip, said the diplomats "want to learn more about the American political system. This is a really good opportunity."

This will also be the first convention for Mr. Welt, a retired business executive who described himself as a "naturalized Jew from Berlin." He immigrated to the United States in 1950.

"America has been good to me," he said.

Penne Percy Korth, a former U.S. ambassador to Mauritius, is the co-host of the event.

The Potomac Exchange is a group of corporate executives that holds dinners for new ambassadors taking up their posts in Washington.

Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan is returning from a home visit to his country to attend the convention. He has booked a block of rooms at a swank Philadelphia hotel and plans to stay the week.

Costa Rican Ambassador Jamie Daremblum also will be there from the opening ceremony today.

Mr. Daremblum has attended every Republican and Democratic convention since 1988, although this will be his first as an ambassador. At previous conventions, Mr. Daremblum represented his political party, the Social Christian Unity Party.

"The conventions have become much more geared toward TV," he said.

However, he is going for the political sideshows.

"I want to see the activist crowd at the convention," he said, referring to all of the special interest groups and political factions that hold separate functions.

"It's a big civic festivity."

Mideast mission

Edward Walker is on a mission to persuade Arab leaders to put a little pressure on the Palestinians to accept a compromise that they refused to consider at the Camp David summit.

The assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs leaves this week on a 15-day trip to Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates.

Mr. Walker, a former ambassador to Israel and Egypt, "will travel to the region … to brief our Arab friends … on developments at Camp David and the current status of peace negotiations," State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said last week when he announced the trip.

Asked whether Mr. Walker would be twisting arms, Mr. Reeker said, "We all feel that leaders in the region can help to build a spirit of reflection and compromise, which is certainly what we've called for."

President Clinton has complained that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat would not compromise at the Camp David summit, and is now threatening to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem to bolster the Israeli claim to the city as its capital.

Diplomatic traffic

Foreign visitors in Washington this week include:

Today

• Austrian Interior Minister Ernst Strasser, who meets Attorney General Janet Reno tomorrow.

• Johanna Mikl-Leitner, a member of the Austrian parliament, who is leading a parliamentary delegation for meetings with public policy groups.

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