- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The U.S. ambassador to Liberia said she was surprised to learn that gay rights are an issue in the West African nation, where homosexuality is illegal and lawmakers are considering tougher penalties for same-sex relationships.

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who is ending her tour in Monrovia after more than three years, repeated U.S. policy toward homosexuals as she gave farewell interviews to reporters last week.

“I support the issue of human rights for every person regardless of their orientation, their race or nationality,” she said. “I strongly believe that gay rights are human rights.

“I was surprised to hear that this is an issue in Liberia,” Mrs. Thomas-Greenfield, a career diplomat, told the Daily Observer newspaper.

The ambassador insisted that U.S. aid to Liberia is not connected to Liberia’s position on gay rights.

“I think the issue that has appeared in Liberia is the issue of misconception that U.S. aid is tied to Liberia’s actions in these areas, and this is not the case,” she said.

Washington provides Liberia about $200 million a year in aid, she said.

The Liberian Senate is considering a bill to declare same-sex marriage illegal and homosexual acts a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

“We are only strengthening the existing law,” said Sen. Jewel Taylor, who introduced the measure.

Current law treats homosexual acts as a misdemeanor with a maximum punishment of up to a year in jail.

RESET ‘RESET POLICY’

A tough-talking former ambassador and Republican Party bigwig criticized President Obama’s policy toward Russia as “naive” and called for a reset of the much-vaunted “reset button.”

“Russia is yet another case of President Obama’s naive leadership in foreign policy that has left American interests weakened and our values compromised,” Richard S. Williamson wrote Tuesday in the newsletter of the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute.

Mr. Williamson, a former chairman of the Illinois Republican Party, noted that Russia developed an “authoritarian drift” under Vladimir Putin, who became prime minister a year before Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with a the plastic, red-and-yellow reset button in 2009.

“Instead of democratic reform, Vladimir Putin has led an authoritarian drift that is crowding civil society, repressing a free press and denying free and fair election to the Russian people,” Mr. Williamson wrote.

“Meanwhile, on missile defense, Iran, Syria and other issues, Russia is consistently taking position in opposition to U.S. interests.”

Mr. Williamson added that the “latest chapter in this sorry story” will take place Sunday, when Mr. Putin is expected to be elected to a third term as president. He previously served as president between 2000 and 2008.

Mr. Williamson noted the massive nationwide protests against suspected voter fraud in December’s legislative elections and recent demonstrations against Mr. Putin latest political campaign.

“Throughout this political drama, Putin and his colleagues have increased their anti-American rhetoric,” Mr. Williamson wrote.

“As we approach Russia’s rigged March 4 presidential election, it’s time to reset Obama’s reset policy.”

Mr. Williamson was assistant secretary of state for international affairs under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He served as ambassador to the United Nations for special political affairs and as ambassador to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights under President George W. Bush.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email jmorrison@washingtontimes.com. The column is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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