- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 2, 2000

Straight talk breakfast

Sen. Robert G. Torricelli yesterday delivered some straight talk to a roomful of ambassadors who are more used to diplomatic nuance than political candor.
The New Jersey Democrat told a Caribbean ambassador not to expect more free-trade pacts. He told a Lithuanian diplomat not to expect to join NATO until the Baltic country can shoulder its own defense.
He urged an African ambassador to straighten out the Congressional Black Caucus, which is divided over an African trade bill. He called Fidel Castro an outlaw and complained about Canada and European countries that trade with Cuba and keep his regime afloat.
He told a Chinese diplomat the House-passed Taiwan military aid bill is going nowhere fast in the Senate. And he criticized the United Nations for failing to deal quickly with earthquakes, floods and other disasters.
Mr. Torricelli, who spoke at a breakfast forum sponsored by diplomatic lobbyist Edward J. von Kloberg, also called on oil-producing countries to cut back their prices to about $20 a barrel from the current $30 or risk a global economic crisis.
"We all have a stake in not producing a worldwide recession," he said.
Responding to a question from Darius Degutis, charge d'affaires at the Lithuanian Embassy, Mr. Torricelli expressed doubts about further NATO expansion and concern for Russian opposition to Baltic membership in the alliance.
Calling Russia a "great power" with an "unstable political system" and "2,000 nuclear weapons," he reminded the diplomat that NATO membership "is not a gift [but] a set of mutual obligations."
"My best advice to countries that want to join NATO is to build your military, show your capability," he said.
Mr. Torricelli agreed with a suggestion by Nigerian Ambassador Jibril Muhammed Aminu and urged the United Nations to create an emergency response team that could be staffed by rotating units from different countries.
He also told Mr. Aminu he expects Congress will pass the African growth and opportunity bill but warned him about the political pressures on supporters of the measure.
"We want to do the right thing for Africa, but we take our advice from African-Americans," he said. "Meet with the Black Caucus and tell them you want this bill."
Mr. Torricelli told Chinese diplomat Xu Erwen not to worry too much about the Taiwan security enhancement bill. China has demanded that Congress kill the measure that would boost U.S. ties with Taiwan's military.
"Unless there is some new problem," he said, "I don't see that bill moving anytime soon."
Mr. Torricelli said, "We recognize the right to maintain the defenses of Taiwan … but not to build offensive capabilities."
He told Ambassador Lionel A. Hurst of Antigua and Barbuda not to expect a Caribbean version of the North American Free Trade Agreement because too many countries are already violating trade regulations with the United States.
Mr. Torricelli saved his fiercest remarks for Mr. Castro.
"Castro is an anachronism. This has to end. He has to go," said Mr. Torricelli. "He's a total outlaw."

Man in the middle

After six years of writing about ambassadors, I was tempted to practice a little amateur diplomacy yesterday.
At the breakfast with ambassadors, I sat between Rostom Zoubi, charge d'affaires at the Syrian Embassy, and Lenny Ben-David, deputy chief of mission of the Israeli Embassy.
Encouraged by Mr. Ben-David, who said, "You should be writing about this," I thought I would try my hand at encouraging the two countries to resume peace talks. After all, I could do no worse than the Clinton administration.
"I feel like I should be negotiating," I said cheerfully to Mr. Zoubi.
The stony-faced Syrian diplomat acknowledged my presence but said nothing.
I stared at my scrambled eggs, thankful they were still on my plate and not on my face.

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