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Embassy Row

- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 4, 2010

DIPLOMATIC SCANDAL

The United States has agreed to the appointment of a scandal-plagued South African politician to serve as ambassador in Washington, dismissing news reports that he paid journalists to write stories that made him look good when he served as premier in the Western Cape Province.

The Cape Argus newspaper last week revealed that two of its former reporters were paid by Ebrahim Rasool for favorable stories and received provincial government contracts for a public relations firm they secretly set up while working for the Cape Town daily.

Mr. Rasool has denied the allegations and refused any further comment, according to South African media.

The U.S. Embassy in Pretoria on Friday announced the approval of Mr. Rasool, a member of the ruling African National Congress. The diplomatic agreement is the essential first step in the appointment of an ambassador to another nation.

"Contrary to published reports in the July 2 Mail & Guardian, the formal process of … the acceptance of the nomination of an ambassador-designate has concluded between the United States and South Africa," the embassy said in a statement.

The Mail & Guardian speculated that the scandal "cast doubt on whether he will be allowed to go to the United States as the South African ambassador."

However, the scandal has embarrassed the government and brought demands from the political opposition that Mr. Rasool withdraw from the ambassadorship.

Kenneth Mubu, a member of the Democratic Alliance and opposition spokesman for foreign affairs, complained about Mr. Rasool's "alleged 'dial-a-story' arrangement."

"Ideally, Mr. Rasool should put South Africa first and withdraw from his appointment of his own volition," Mr. Mubu said in a statement last week.

He also complained of a "raft of corruption allegations hanging over his head" from his term as premier from 2004 to 2008.

Former Argus political reporter Ashley Smith confessed to his role in the scandal in a affidavit to the National Prosecuting Authority, the Cape Argus said.

Mr. Smith said he and a fellow Argus staff member, Joe Aranes, were paid to write favorable stories on Mr. Rasool and also received government contracts for their firm, Inkwenkwezi Communications. Mr. Smith listed his wife as a member of the board of directors of the firm, while he and Mr. Aranes concealed their involvement from corporate papers, according to the reports.

DIPLOMATIC TRAFFIC

Foreign visitors in Washington this week include:

Tuesday

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who meets President Obama to discuss sanctions on Iran, Israel's policy toward Hamas terrorists in Gaza and other Middle East issues.

Wednesday

• Taiwanese professors Chong-Pin Lin and Alexander C. Huang of Tamkang University; Bih-Jaw Lin and Arthur Ding of the National Chengchi University; Cheng-Yi Lin of Academia Sinica; and Jinn-Yuh Hsu of the National Taiwan University; and Chinese professors Chu Shulong of Tsinghua University; Ni Shixiong of Fudan University; and Guo Yongjun of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations. They discuss relations between China and Taiwan in a forum at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Thursday

Spyros Kouvelis, deputy foreign minister of Greece, who discusses the Greek financial crisis at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Salihu Lukman of the Good Governance Group, and Uche Onyeagucha, a human rights lawyer with the Save Nigeria Group. They discuss their efforts for democratic reform in Nigeria at a forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or e-mailjmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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