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Embassy Row: Caesar salad days

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The ambassador from the former Soviet republic of Georgia is tired and frustrated after only a year in Washington.

Temur Iakobashvili has had little success in getting officials to pay attention to his small but strategic nation, which is consolidating its democracy while fending off aggression from neighboring Russia.

"I feel exhausted [in] my mission and activities in this position," the 45-year-old career diplomat said earlier this month when he announced his resignation on his Facebook page.

Mr. Iakobashvili said he informed Georgian Foreign Minister Maya Panjikidze of his decision before posting the news online.

He said he believes President Mikheil Saakashvili should appoint a new ambassador after consultations with Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, whose Georgia Dream political party defeated Mr. Saakashvili's United National Movement in parliamentary elections in October.

Mr. Iakobashvili on Monday told students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill about the difficulty he has had in Washington in drawing attention to the problems of a small country about the size of South Carolina with a population of only 4.6 million.

"In the U.S., you have to talk to 200 different people to accomplish anything small, and all of them matter," he said.

The ambassador assumed his office in November 2010 but had to wait three months before he could present his diplomatic credentials to President Obama and formally begin his duties.

Mr. Iakobashvili noted that much of Washington diplomacy swirls around dinners and social events, the Daily Tar Heel student newspaper reported.

"I haven't eaten so much Caesar salad in my life," he said.

Mr. Iakobashvili said Georgia deserves credit for its transformation to democracy, after Mr. Saakashvili led massive popular protests in 2003 that forced former President Eduard Shevardnadze to resign amid widespread allegations of voter fraud.

Mr. Saakashvili was elected in January 2004 and re-elected in January 2008.

The ambassador said the so-called Rose Revolution removed an autocratic government run by a former Soviet apparatchik and replaced it with an open and democratic one.

"We had one of the most corrupted countries in the world. Now we have one of the least corrupted," Mr. Iakobashvili said.

In terse language for a diplomat, Mr. Iakobashvili denounced Russia as a "product of Stalinism." Russia has been supporting separatist movements in two Georgian regions — Abkhazia on the Black Sea coast and South Ossetia in the mountainous northwest.

The Russian military intervened in 2008 to drive Georgian troops out of South Ossetia and gave diplomatic recognition to both separatist regions. Georgia then broke relations with Moscow. Diplomatic ties between the two countries have been tense since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

"What the hell is wrong with Russia?" Mr. Iakobashvili said.

BRIDGE TO SOMEWHERE

On Election Night at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, diplomats were closely watching the returns — not just for the presidential vote but also for a ballot question in Michigan that would have a major impact on trade between the U.S. and Canada.

They were gratified when Michigan voters defeated a measure that would have blocked construction of a second bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.

Ambassador Gary Doer had urged Michigan residents to support construction of a new span over the Detroit River to take pressure over the 83-year-old Ambassador Bridge.

"Two bridges are better than one — for two-way trade, for security, for reliability," he said.

Canada will spend $550 million to build the bridge, called the New International Trade Crossing, and collect tolls until it recoups the investment. Afterward, Canada and Michigan will share the fares.

Nearly 30,000 vehicles cross the 7,500-foot-long, privately owned Ambassador Bridge every day, but the span its rusting and showing its age.

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

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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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