Peter Burian's pursuit of his lost luggage is almost a metaphor for his country, the Slovak Republic, and its quest for respect and relevance in Europe.
Mr. Burian, the new deputy foreign minister, arrived Friday in Washington after having traveled to diplomatic conferences in Dublin on Thursday and London two days earlier. He was due in New York after his Washington visit, where he addressed a major trans-Atlantic forum.
Somewhere between Ireland and the United States, an airline lost his luggage, and he arrived in Washington with only the suit he was wearing.
Mr. Burian told Embassy Row over breakfast at the Park Hyatt Hotel that he was bringing a message to Washington about the future of Europe from a country born almost as a diplomatic afterthought following the breakup of the Soviet Union.
For most of the 20th century, his country was the rump part of Czechoslovakia, which split peacefully into the Czech and Slovak republics in 1993.
The Slovak Republic struggled for the next decade to join the European Union. It entered NATO in 2004, after years of bitter disappointment over being blocked by Western complaints about human rights issues and a weak democracy.
Now the Slovak Republic is making an outsized contribution for a nation that's a little larger than Maryland and has about 5.4 million people.
"The Slovak Republic is trying to fulfill the promise from the time we entered the [NATO] alliance," Mr. Burian said. "We did not want to be a freeloader. We wanted to be part of the solution."
Slovakia has 343 troops in Afghanistan -- a small contingent tasked with a dangerous duty: defusing unexploded bombs. Slovak troops also are helping guard the Kandahar air base and training Aghan soldiers.
Mr. Burian said the Slovak force will remain in Afghanistan after the United States and other Western nations leave in 2014.
The Slovak Republic also is turning its attention toward Tunisia, where it is actively promoting democratic development in the birthplace of the Arab Spring revolts.
"We are trying to deliver democratic and civil society assistance," Mr. Burian said, referring to Slovakia's role in the Community of Democracies, an international pro-democracy group of more than 100 countries, founded in 2000.
In Washington, Mr. Burian said his address at the trans-Atlantic forum at Johns Hopkins University would focus on threats to the future of the U.S.-European alliance.
"We need to reshape the trans-Atlantic partnership," he said. "It is still relevant. It needs to focus on new challenges and new realities."
There is "no closer relation" than that between the United States and Europe, he said.
Mr. Burian dismissed foreign policy analysts who say the United States should concentrate on Asia and leave the Europeans to themselves.
"That kind of division of labor will lead to diminished influence," he said.
Mr. Burian's diplomatic career has mirrored the international rise of his country. At the birth of his nation in 1993, Mr. Burian was sent to Washington as the second in charge of the Slovak Embassy.
In 1999, he was appointed Slovakia's ambassador to NATO, even though Slovak membership was still five years away. He was ambassador to the United Nations from 2004 to 2008, when he was sent back to Washington as ambassador to the United States.
Mr. Burian, now 53, became the deputy foreign minister in April.
And just before he left Washington for U.N. meetings in New York, he recovered his lost luggage.
Foreign visitors in Washington this week include:
Michael Moore, a member of the British Parliament and secretary of state for Scotland. He addresses the BMW Center for German and European Studies at Georgetown University.
Foreign Minister Guilio Terzi di Sant'Agata of Italy, who holds an 8:30 a.m. news conference at the National Gallery of Art to dedicate a yearlong celebration of Italian culture that features the display of Michelangelo's sculpture "David-Appollo," last seen in Washington during the Truman administration. The foreign minister holds a 4:30 p.m. news conference at the Italian Embassy to present the book about the embassy, "Il Palazzo sul Potomac" ("The Palace on the Potomac") by Gaetano Cortese, a former Italian ambassador.
Jean-Francois Lisee, Quebec's minister for international relations, who holds a 4 p.m. news conference at the National Press Club.
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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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