- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 10, 2008

ENVOY ON DEFENSE

Georgia’s ambassador to the United States, the widely heard voice of his nation during the summer Russian invasion, will attempt to trade diplomatic words for military weapons in his new position as defense minister of the former Soviet republic.

Prime Minister Grigol Mgaloblishvili on Tuesday named Ambassador Vasil “David” Sikharulidze to the post in a Cabinet shake-up, saying, “Georgia needs solid diplomatic experience in defense.”

“David Sikharulidze is an experienced diplomat, and he worked at the Defense Ministry before his work in the United States. He also has experience working in Georgia’s mission in NATO,” the prime minister told reporters in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.

Mr. Sikharulidze was deputy head of the Georgian mission to NATO in 2002. Two years later, he served as undersecretary of Georgia’s National Security Council and as deputy defense minister. He was appointed ambassador to the United States in 2006.

Since the August invasion, Mr. Sikharulidze has hit the airwaves and visited high school campuses and Washington think tanks to denounce Russia and appeal for Western support.

“I would like to reiterate that the Georgian people are now more dedicated than ever to being part of the free world, to joining NATO, to breathing the air of freedom and democracy, to living in peace,” he told the Heritage Foundation recently.

He said the Russian invasion, which Moscow claimed was necessary to protect ethnic Russians in Georgia’s separatist South Ossetia region, was more broadly aimed at intimidating Europe and any former Soviet republic that wants to join NATO.

“We must be clear about this,” he added. “This is not about what Russia did to Georgia, but what Russia intends to do to Europe.”

No forum was too small. Earlier this month, he addressed students at Woodland Hills High School in southwestern Pennsylvania.

“Georgia, somehow, one way or the other, has been used as an example of how Russia would be able to punish the so-called rebellious states,” he told them, referring to Georgia, as well as other Russian neighbors such as Ukraine.

Even in his earliest interviews upon arriving in Washington, he was warning about tensions between Georgia and Russia.

“Russia is always a major headache,” he told Embassy Row in 2006.

TONG RETURNS

Donald Tong, a former diplomat at Hong Kong’s Washington office, has returned to the United States as the region’s top representative for economics and trade.

“Hong Kong’s relationship with the U.S. has been characterized by cooperation on a range of issues, such as economic and trade development, counterterrorism and global health protection,” Mr. Tong said in announcing his appointment.

“Beyond our valued partnerships and market-based philosophies, we also share many common values. We are committed to a free and open society, buttressed by our rule of law tradition, independent judiciary and clean and efficient government.”

Mr. Tong, who last served as first secretary in Hong Kong’s Washington office in 1994, will be in charge of trade offices in Washington, New York and San Francisco. Before his latest U.S. posting, Mr. Tong was deputy secretary for home affairs and was responsible for the Hong Kong events during the 2008 Olympic Games in China.

Hong Kong, a special free-market enclave in communist China, has a gross domestic product of $242 billion with an inflation rate of less than 1 percent. For the 14th year in a row, Hong Kong has ranked as the most economically free of 162 countries analyzed by the Index of Economic Freedom, a joint project of the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal.

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail James Morrison.

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