- The Washington Times - Monday, June 28, 2004

Iraqi interests

A call to the Iraqi representative’s office yesterday went like this:

Embassy Row: “Hello, do I have the Iraqi Interests Section?”

Iraqi receptionist: “No. Today you have the Iraqi Embassy.”

Ayad Shamdeen, a local employee at the Iraqi office, said his colleagues were elated over the surprise announcement in Baghdad that the United States transferred sovereignty to the interim Iraqi government two days earlier than scheduled.

“We are happy because we have our independence,” he said.

Mr. Shamdeen’s enthusiasm about the embassy might have been premature. State Department officials, who also were surprised by the announcement, are still trying to sort out the legalities over the status of the Iraqi office here, which has not been an embassy since Saddam Hussein suspended relations with the United States in 1991 during the Persian Gulf war.

The office has been under the protecting power of the Algerian Embassy until recently, when the Bahrain Embassy agreed to be the official diplomatic sponsor of the Iraqi Interests Section.

President Bush and Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi have exchanged letters to restore diplomatic relations. U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte has arrived in Iraq to prepare for the opening of a U.S. Embassy that, with about 1,000 Americans and hundreds of Iraqi employees, will be the largest diplomatic mission in the world.

However, the status of the Iraqi office here is expected to take several more days to establish. It is also not clear whether Rend Rahim, the Iraqi representative in Washington under the former U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, will become the new ambassador or whether Mr. Allawi will appoint another diplomat.

She told CNN yesterday that as “far as I know,” the new government will appoint her ambassador.

Arab ambassadors yesterday welcomed the transfer of sovereignty.

Algerian Ambassador Idriss Jazairy said, “This is a first step. It will be completed when elections are organized.”

Bahraini Ambassador Sheik Khalifa Ali Alkalifa said, “This is what the United States and the Iraqi people want. We wish [Iraq] all the best,” he said.

Sheik Alkalifa, who expects Mrs. Rahim to be appointed ambassador, said, “She is a good friend and a wonderful representative for Iraq.”

Texas diplomacy

Texas got the home-state advantage in the latest round of diplomatic appointments, as two native sons got ambassadorial assignments.

The Senate last week approved President Bush’s nominations of William R. Brownfield to serve as ambassador to Venezuela and Lewis Lucke to be ambassador to Swaziland in southern Africa.

Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, praised both men for their dedication to foreign service.

“Venezuela is an important trading partner, and the president made an excellent choice to represent our interests and maintain our relationship in Caracas,” he said, referring to the country’s capital.

Relations with Venezuela have deteriorated as leftist President Hugo Chavez continues to blame the United States for the mounting domestic opposition to his government.

Mr. Brownfield, currently ambassador to Chile, entered the Foreign Service in 1979 and has served as deputy assistant secretary of state for Latin American affairs.

Mr. Lucke, who retired after 24 years in government, returned to public service after the September 11 terrorist attacks. He was working in a well-paid corporate job in Austin at the time.

“When terrorists attacked, Lewis volunteered to leave the comforts of Austin,” Mr. Cornyn said.

Mr. Lucke currently serves as director of the Iraqi mission of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison @washingtontimes.com.

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