Embassy Row

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DIPLOMAT ON HOLD

Sen. Sam Brownback is blocking the appointment of a new U.S. ambassador to Turkey because he doubts the nominee’s commitment to democratic reform in the Middle East.

The Kansas Republican, a former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Near East and South and Central Asian affairs, says Francis J. Ricciardone Jr. obstructed U.S. efforts to promote democracy in Egypt when he was U.S. ambassador in Cairo from 2005 to 2008. He also suspects Mr. Ricciardone failed to support the opposition to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein when the career diplomat was in charge of an Iraq liberation program during the Clinton administration.

“I believe democracy and human rights should be considered on par with other aspects of our bilateral relationships, but I am not convinced Ambassador Ricciardone shares this view,” Mr. Brownback said in a letter this week to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

A State Department spokesman Thursday declined to comment on Mr. Brownback’s letter, citing department policy against the public discussion of ambassadorial nominations. The Senate must confirm ambassadors, but any senator can block a nomination for any reason.

In his letter explaining his reasons for putting the nomination on “hold,” Mr. Brownback cited Mr. Ricciardone’s term as ambassador to Egypt when former President George W. Bush “prioritized building up democratic opposition” to President Hosni Mubarak, now serving a fifth term as president and widely accused of human rights abuses.

Ricciardone, however, downplayed these efforts and, by some accounts, quickly adopted the positions and arguments of his Egyptian diplomatic counterparts,” Mr. Brownback said. “In fact, he once said on Egyptian television that ‘in Egypt as in the U.S., there is freedom of speech.’ “

The State Department human rights report during Mr. Ricciardone’s tenure in Cairo said the Egyptian government’s “respect for human rights remained poor and serious abuses continued in many areas.” The report cited restrictions on freedom of speech, fraudulent elections, torture and a state of emergency first imposed in 1967.

As U.S. ambassador in Egypt, Mr. Ricciardone repeatedly praised Mr. Mubarak. In one typical interview, he told a reporter, “President Mubarak is loved in the U.S., and we always welcome him and appreciate his advice and benefit from it.”

Mr. Brownback also criticized Mr. Ricciardone for his role in administering the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act, which Congress passed to promote the political opposition to Saddam Hussein.

“The act aimed to strengthen Iraqi opposition groups, but I understand that Ricciardone did not favor a strong effort to bolster those groups,” Mr. Brownback said.

The senator also questioned whether Mr. Ricciardone is the right ambassador to send to Turkey, which, he said, appears to be “moving away from its secularist roots” and improving relations with Iran.

BOMB IRAN?

An official Saudi newspaper this week urged a military attack on Iran to stop its nuclear program, echoing a fear among Arab leaders of a nuclear-armed Iran, which was first expressed publicly last month by a Persian Gulf state ambassador to the United States.

The Al Madina daily, which, like other Saudi newspapers, reflects the views of the government, said in an editorial: “Tehran is moving its conflict with the international community into high gear, and some may consider the military option to be the best solution.”

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About the Author
James Morrison

James Morrison

James Morrison joined the The Washington Times in 1983 as a local reporter covering Alexandria, Va. A year later, he was assigned to open a Times bureau in Canada. From 1987 to 1989, Mr. Morrison was The Washington Times reporter in London, covering Britain, Western Europe and NATO issues. After returning to Washington, he served as an assistant foreign editor ...

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