- The Washington Times - Friday, January 9, 2009

THREAT TO RELIGION

A congressional human rights panel is urging the president of Kyrgyzstan to reject a bill passed by parliament that would restrict religious liberties and damage the reputation of the Central Asian nation.

In a letter to President Kurmanbek Bakiev, the leaders of the United States Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe this week urged him to send the measure back to the legislature and demand that lawmakers remove language that would obstruct freedom of religion.

Kyrgyzstan “has in many respects been at the forefront of democratic development” among the former Soviet republics in Central Asia, but the bill will “damage your country’s reputation” in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the group of 56 nations that promotes human rights and security, the congressional leaders said.

“We strongly urge you not to sign this law, which would mark a serious regression in your country’s observance of OSCE norms,” said the letter signed by Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, Florida Democrat and commission chairman; Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat and commission co-chairman; and Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican and senior minority member on the commission.

“There are many problems with the legislation, but, in essence, as currently drafted, it would severely restrict freedom of religion.”

About 75 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s 5 million people are Muslim, while 20 percent are Russian Orthodox. Protestants and Jews make up fewer than 5 percent of the population.

The country’s constitution guarantees religious freedom.

DIPLOMATIC WHISPERS

As the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama approaches, more names of likely diplomatic appointments are making the rounds of Washington’s salons.

William J. Burns is expected to keep his position as undersecretary of state for political affairs, the third highest position at the State Department, according to reports reaching our State Department correspondent, Nicholas Kralev. Mr. Burns is a former ambassador to Russia and Jordan and a former assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs.

Joseph Nye, a top professor at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, is being considered as ambassador to Japan.

Mr. Nye coined the term, “soft power,” to describe his advocacy of a type of diplomacy that seeks to achieve foreign policy goals through persuasion rather than military threats.

Mr. Nye served as deputy to the undersecretary of state in the Carter administration and as assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs in the Clinton administration.

Anne-Marie Slaughter is the leading candidate to serve as director of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff.

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