- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 26, 2008

‘WRONG SIGNAL’

The leaders of a key congressional human rights panel warned the president of Azerbaijan that he risks antagonizing the incoming Obama administration with his plans to shut down U.S. radio news broadcasts coming into the Eurasian nation.

“As you begin your second term and prepare to establish good working relations with President-elect Barack Obama with the goal of strengthening U.S.-Azerbaijani relations, we believe it would send exactly the wrong signal to terminate the FM broadcasts of RFE/RL [Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty] and VOA [the Voice of America] in Azerbaijan,” Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, Florida Democrat, and Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat, said in a letter this week to President Ilham Aliyev.

Mr. Hastings, chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, and Mr. Cardin, the co-chairman, argued that the congressionally funded American radio stations set an example for Azerbaijani journalists by providing “up-to-date, objective” news.

“Moreover, as Azerbaijan moves increasingly toward integration with the West, RFE/RL and VOA supply a model of media professionalism, as well as the sort of impartial and innovative programming Azerbaijan’s citizens need to remain informed, engaged and competitive,” they said in their letter.

The controversy over the future of foreign radio and television broadcasts in Azerbaijan erupted shortly after Mr. Aliyev was re-elected in mid-October. Nushiravan Maharramli, chairman of the country’s National Television and Radio Council, announced that the U.S. broadcasts will end when their contracts with the government expire next year.

“National frequency resources belong to national bodies,” he said.

The State Department believes it can resolve the issue before the contract deadline. David J. Kramer, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, met last week with Mr. Aliyev to discuss the controversy.

Mr. Aliyev is the son of former President Heydar Aliyev and heads a government that the State Department has criticized for human rights abuses.

DRUG WAR

Greece denounced the U.S. ambassador in Athens on Tuesday for calling on the government to find ways to pay American and other foreign drug companies for at least $5 billion in past-due bills.

“The Greek government does not take instructions,” said Health Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos. “The ambassador’s statements are pointless and unfortunate. The Greek government is fully aware of the situation and is dealing with the issue in the best possible way.”

Ambassador Daniel V. Speckhard told a pharmaceutical conference on Monday that the hardest part of doing business in Greece for foreign drug firms “is getting paid.” The Greek government, which sets drug prices, owes U.S. firms about $4 billion, according to the U.S. Embassy.

He said Greek authorities have a fundamental misunderstanding about the U.S. pharmaceutical industry. More than one-third of the $60 billion spent annually on drug research comes from American firms, he said.

“I know that Greeks think of pharmaceutical companies as big, multinational corporations with high revenues and sales,” said Mr. Speckhard, a career Foreign Service officer. “What they don’t know is that it takes a billion dollars to bring a new drug to market and that only one in 10,000 of potential drugs make it to market.”

He also said that drug companies reinvest an average of 17 percent of their annual sales into research.

“The challenge here in Greece for this important industry is getting paid,” he added. “Obviously, it’s hard to imagine any businesses that provide goods and services for two to three years without getting paid and continue to do it.”

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