- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 8, 2006

‘Small-minded’ critics

Australian critics who felt snubbed when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice canceled a visit in January were “small-minded” and their complaints were “unfounded and unreasonable,” Australia’s new ambassador to the United States said yesterday.

“I think she has been very conscious about the comments over the delay,” Ambassador Dennis Richardson said, predicting that Miss Rice’s rescheduled visit will be a success.

Mr. Richardson said he will travel to Australia to help welcome Miss Rice when she arrives on Monday. She also is planning to visit Indonesia.

Miss Rice canceled her original trip to Australia and Indonesia in January after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon fell critically ill and threw Middle East peace efforts into confusion.

“I think the comments were unfounded and unreasonable,” Mr. Richardson said of complaints that Miss Rice had snubbed a reliable American ally that is part of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. “For any country like Australia to feel slighted is small-minded.”

Mr. Richardson yesterday addressed the U.S.-Indonesia Society on Australia’s relationship with Indonesia, calling the world’s most populous Muslim nation a “model” for the coexistence of Islam and democracy in Southeast Asia.

The ambassador, who served in the Australian Embassy in Indonesia before coming to Washington, proudly declared himself part of what some Australian pundits call the “Indonesia lobby.”

“Ostensibly, this is a group of people — primarily government officials, academics and some in business — who conspire together to pervert Australia’s true national interests for those of Indonesia,” Mr. Richardson said.

However, a stable and prosperous Indonesia is in Australia’s national interests, he said, noting that the vast archipelago of more than 13,500 islands has developed into a genuine democracy more than seven years after violent demonstrations forced the dictator Suharto to step down.

“At a time when there is so much talk of democracy and the intrinsic value of tolerance, at a time when terrorists seek to promote religious and ethnic violence globally for their own ends, here we have a country which, in a little more than seven years, has gone from a military, authoritarian regime to a democratically elected president and parliament,” Mr. Richardson said.

He praised Indonesia as an ally in the war on terrorism, recounting the Islamic terrorist attacks in that nation since the first Bali bombings in October 2002 that killed 202 persons, including 89 Australians.

Mr. Richardson also cited Indonesia as a model for religious tolerance, adding that the predominantly Muslim country celebrates key Christian, Hindu and Buddhist festivities.

“I still exchange Christmas cards with friends in Muslim Indonesia without needing to worry about a battle between ‘Christmas’ and ‘holiday’ cards,” he said.

Indonesia’s new ambassador to the United States, who earlier served as ambassador to Australia, said he was pleased with Mr. Richardson’s remarks.

“There is an Australian lobby for Indonesia in the United States,” said Ambassador Sudjadnan Parnohadiningrat.

Speaking too soon

The U.S. Embassy in Benin on Tuesday praised the government of the West African nation for conducting a free and fair election. Yesterday, however, candidates began accusing one another of fraud, the government sacked two broadcast chiefs, and police broke up a political rally.

The government fired Fidele Yikoue, director-general of the Benin Radio and Television Office, and his secretary-general, Julian Akpaki. Reuters news agency reported that they refused to broadcast a government video that showed foreigners in Benin receiving money and voter cards to support one of the candidates in the presidential election.

Police also blocked supporters of the leading candidate, Yayi Boni, from a demonstration outside his house.

The U.S. Embassy congratulated the independent election commission for “organizing free, transparent and peaceful elections.”

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

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