- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2003

The United States yesterday asked 62 countries with diplomatic ties to Saddam Hussein's regime to break relations by closing embassies, expelling diplomats and freezing all Iraqi assets and property on their territory.
The State Department also notified the three diplomats at the Iraqi interest section in Washington, the de facto embassy, that they must leave the country by today.
In an unusual diplomatic move shortly after military action in Iraq began, the Bush administration sent cables to U.S. embassies overseas with instructions that they communicate to their host governments a request "to suspend Iraq's diplomatic presence on a temporary basis," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters.
"We feel that [Saddams] government has failed in so many ways that it's time for others to recognize that by not allowing their representatives to continue to pretend to represent the Iraqi people," Mr. Boucher said.
"Our expectation is that once an interim Iraqi authority is in place, it will name interim replacement representatives and diplomatic missions that can reopen and truly represent the interests of the Iraqi people rather than represent a corrupt and ruthless regime," he said.
It was not clear yesterday how the new U.S. request would be received overseas, but it was speedily rejected by Poland, one of Washington's closest allies helping with the operation in Iraq.
"Embassies represent not only the leaders of these countries, but also the nations, and Iraqi nationals also live in Poland," Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski said at a press conference.
"If embassies violate international law, steps must surely be taken," he said. "At first glance, this appeal would not be justified."
The spokesman also said the United States asked the 62 countries "to respect and protect Iraqi diplomatic property and prevent the destruction of mission records" so that they can be used by the missions' future occupants.
Iraq has working embassies in 56 countries, as well as one consulate and six interest sections, including the one in Washington.
Mr. Boucher said the advice from Washington was that the most senior diplomats at those missions be expelled, while the bureaucrats remain in the country without performing their functions. He allowed for the possibility that some low-level personnel would be rehired by the new Iraqi government.
"We are also looking at the possibility of third countries providing basic consular services for Iraqi nationals in these countries to minimize any impact on average Iraqi citizens," he said.
Asked where the expelled diplomats would go, Mr. Boucher said, "To put it bluntly, that's their problem." Asked whether the United States would be interested in giving some of them asylum if they offered information in exchange, he said anyone is free to apply for asylum, although he has no specific offer now.
"But I think I can add we are always happy to have people provide us with useful information," he said.
He also noted that the countries were asked to freeze bank accounts belonging to the Iraqi government. "Such a move will be critical to ensuring that any embezzlement of funds or damage to assets that rightfully belong to the Iraqi people does not occur," he said.
Two weeks ago, the United States asked more than 60 countries to expel several hundred Iraqi diplomats that the CIA identified as suspected of being intelligence agents. Some nations, such as Australia and Romania, complied, while others, such as Russia and Belgium, refused to do so.

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