- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 13, 2011

TAKING LIBERTIES

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned Tuesday of growing religious intolerance in Arab nations that overthrew autocratic governments this year.

She urged those countries not to “trade one form of repression for another,” as she released the State Department annual International Religious Freedom Report.

“In the Middle East and North Africa, the transitions to democracy have inspired the world, but they have also exposed ethnic and religious minorities to new dangers,” Mrs. Clinton said.

Some religious freedom activists Tuesday expressed disappointment over the State Department report failing to include more countries on a watch list of nations accused of violating religious liberties.

“Repeating the current list continues glaring omissions, such as Pakistan and Vietnam,” said Leonard Leo, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

The commission earlier this year urged the State Department to include those two nations along with Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria and Turkmenistan on the list of “countries of particular concern.”

Nations on that watch list could face U.S. sanctions if they refuse to remove legal restrictions on religious freedom or fail to protect religious minorities.

The current State Department list includes Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan.

Mr. Leo said the commission, nevertheless, “commends” Suzan Johnson Cook, ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, and her staff for the extensive annual review of religious liberties in 198 countries.

PALESTINIAN TOLERANCE

The Palestinian envoy in Washington assured reporters on Tuesday that a new Palestinian state would be a secular nation tolerant of minorities - except Jews and homosexuals.

Maen Areikat, the representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization, told John McCormack of the Weekly Standard that a Palestinian nation would be a “secular state.”

“We’re not going to base it on religion,” he insisted.

The reporter asked Mr. Areikat whether a Palestinian state would tolerate minorities.

“Of course,” he told Mr. McCormack, who immediately asked about homosexuals.

“Ah, this is an issue that is beyond my [authority],” Mr. McCormack quoted the PLO envoy as saying.

States based on Islamic law prohibit homosexuality. Iran, for example, executes homosexuals.

Jamie Weinstein of the Daily Caller quizzed Mr. Areikat about whether Jews would be allowed to live in Palestine.

The Palestinian diplomat, betraying his own declaration of tolerance, said no.

Would it be necessary to remove every Jew? Mr. Weinstein asked.

“Absolutely,” Mr. Areikat replied. “I personally still believe that, as a first step, we need to be totally separated, and we can contemplate these issues in the future.”

Both reporters inaccurately referred to Mr. Areikat as the Palestinian ambassador to the United States. There is no such position because there is no Palestinian nation.

Officially, Mr. Areikat is the “chief representative of the General Delegation of the PLO to the United States,” according to the PLO’s own website.

Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the PLO, has bestowed the title of ambassador on Mr. Areikat, but that designation means nothing in countries that do not recognize Palestine.

The Obama administration last year allowed the PLO office in Washington to fly the Palestinian flag and change the name of the mission to the General Delegation of the PLO.

However, that change conferred no “diplomatic privileges or immunities,” a State Department spokesman explained at the time.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email jmorrison@washingtontimes.com. The column is published on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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