- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2009

CHANGING PLAYERS

The Libyan ambassador to the United States was impressed by President Obama’s interview with an Arab television network but expects little change in bilateral relations under the new U.S. administration.

Ambassador Ali Suleiman Aujali told business leaders in Houston this week that Mr. Obama’s first formal television interview as president with Al Arabiya television was a good step toward improving the U.S. image in the Arab world.

He also predicted that Mr. Obama will continue pursuing better ties with Libya that began when President Bush re-established diplomatic relations with a nation that renounced weapons of mass destruction, pledged to stop supporting terrorism and agreed to pay reparations over the Libya-backed terrorist attacks, including the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988.

“Changing players does not change much the interests of each country,” he told the U.S.-Arab Chamber of Commerce in the Texas oil capital.

Mr. Aujali also called for higher oil prices, which topped $140 a barrel in the summer and now linger around $40.

“One hundred dollars [per barrel] we think is fair,” he said, according to a report on his speech in the Houston Chronicle.

The ambassador also warned U.S. oil companies that they face stiffer competition from other foreign firms seeking North Africa’s oil riches.

“You are facing very difficult competition, especially in Africa where the Chinese are coming in,” he said.

However, Mr. Aujali added that U.S. firms have the edge.

“American oil companies were the first to do business with us,” he said. “They have the advantage because they know the country. They have experience.”

LOST OPPORTUNITY

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Western alliance failed to meet the challenges facing the world, French Ambassador Pierre Vimont told an audience at Tufts University this week.

“I think the story of the trans-Atlantic relationship since 1990 may be a story of lost opportunity, of discovering new reality and having difficulty adapting to it,” he said in a speech at the university’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

After the collapse of communism, the West felt confident in meeting any global problem but lacked the foresight to prepare for global crises like the current financial collapse, the rise of terrorism, food shortages and energy demands, he said.

“We thought the Western alliance would be able to solve any problem,” Mr. Vimont said.

“If we look now where we are today,” he added, “new challenges are coming out. … Today is a turning point.”

Mr. Vimont also expressed frustration with the United Nations, where “we are stuck with a Security Council that does not really represent the international community.”

The ambassador came to Washington in August 2007 and has worked to repair damages to the U.S.-France relationship that began when France opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

American critics responded by boycotting French wine and renaming french fries as “freedom fries.”

HUB FOR CHINA

China’s ambassador was in St. Louis this week to promote a project to create an air-cargo hub between the Midwest and his country.

“The sooner the better, as far as I am concerned,” Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong told reporters after meeting with local business leaders who formed the Midwest China Hub Commission.

An air-cargo hub would better serve China, which imports many goods from the Midwest, and U.S. farmers and manufacturers who do business with Beijing.

“Basically, we are in the same boat,” Mr. Zhou said. “We need each other.”

Contact Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or e-mail James Morrison.

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