- The Washington Times - Friday, June 16, 2000

Chretien to Paris?

Canadian Ambassador Raymond A.J. Chretien, widely regarded as Ottawa's best envoy to the United States in recent years, will soon be appointed ambassador to France.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp., which first reported the news, said this week that one of Mr. Chretien's most important tasks in Paris will be to mute any French support for Quebec separatism. Canada's French-speaking province has long pursued independence. In 1995, the provincial government narrowly lost a separatist referendum.

CBC Washington correspondent Henry Champ also reported that the new envoy will be Michael Kirgan, now foreign-policy adviser to Prime Minister Jean Chretien, the ambassador's uncle.

The Canadian government hopes that appointing Mr. Chretien to France will send a strong message. He is a French-Canadian who supports the Canadian federation and, as the prime minister's nephew, speaks with more authority than other Canadian ambassadors.

France's support for Quebec has sometimes been subtle and occasionally dramatic. French President Charles de Gaulle in 1967 shouted "Vive le Quebec libre" ("Long live a free Quebec") from the balcony of Montreal's City Hall.

Political observers in Canada expect the Quebec government will seek another independence referendum after a parliamentary election, which could come next year.

The Canadian Embassy Thursday declined to discuss the news reports.

"There has been no announcement and the ambassador will certainly not discuss anything regarding his future," said embassy spokesman Rodney Moore.

Mr. Chretien was appointed ambassador to the United States in 1994 and has since been engaged in several major disputes between the two countries. He expanded Canadian Embassy contacts with Congress and helped negotiate treaties to settle trade fights with the United States over fishing, lumber and Canadian restrictions on U.S. magazines.

Before Washington, Mr. Chretien served as ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg, Mexico and the former Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Because of his service in Zaire, Mr. Chretien acted briefly in 1996 as a special U.N. envoy to assess a rebellion that later led to the overthrow of Zairian strongman Mobutu Sese Seko.

Noche de Shakespeare

Nicaraguan Ambassador Francisco X. Aguirre-Sacasa is a busy man in the Washington community.

On Wednesday, he picked up a hammer and put on a tool belt to join other ambassadors in helping Habitat for Humanity build homes for the city's poor.

On Sunday, he will take on another role as master of ceremonies for the third annual Shakespeare night for Washington's Hispanic community.

The Father's Day performance at 7:30 p.m. at the Carter Barron Amphitheater is free, and Spanish-speakers get a program that explains the play in Spanish.

"This is an excellent community-outreach program," he said Thursday. "This year's play, 'The Merchant of Venice,' is one of the Bard's most powerful and best-known works, and its early and enlightened treatment of discrimination will resonate with the Hispanic audience."

As for his role as carpenter, he said he wanted to demonstrate his appreciation to Habitat because the volunteer program has built more than 1,500 houses in Nicaragua. Most were built after the deadly Hurricane Mitch devastated the country in 1998.

He also said he wants to show his support for Washington, where he grew up.

Support for Estonia

Sven Jurgenson got some good news directly from President Clinton when he presented his credentials this week as Estonia's new ambassador.

Mr. Clinton reaffirmed his support for Estonia's membership in NATO, the country's top foreign-policy goal.

"The United States welcomes and supports Estonia's aspiration to NATO membership," Mr. Clinton said.

Estonia hopes to be admitted into the alliance in a third round of expansion.

Mr. Clinton also congratulated Estonia's development as a "prosperous and democratic state" 10 years after regaining independence from the Soviet Union.

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