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Embassy Row: What does Obama want?

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Russian President Vladimir Putin is so confused by President Obama's muddled policy toward Syria that he sought advice from a political opponent who served as Moscow's ambassador in Washington 20 years ago. Vladimir Lukin, now Russia's human rights commissioner, told an audience in Moscow on Tuesday that Mr. Putin approached him last week.

"The president asked me what the Americans want in Syria, saying he could not understand what they want," Mr. Lukin said. "I honestly acknowledged that I can't make out what they want, but that I know for sure they want us to join the U.S. in its failure to understand what to do in Syria.

"Mr. Lukin, ambassador to the U.S. from 1992 to 1994, joined James F. Collins, U.S. ambassador to Russia from 1997 to 2001, in a forum commemorating the 80th anniversary of the restoration of diplomatic ties between Washington and Moscow after the 1917 communist revolution.

Mr. Lukin and Mr. Collins bemoaned the decline in U.S.-Russia ties after the failure of Mr. Obama's cooperative approach to relations with Moscow called his "reset" policy. The strategy proved to be an unintended gaffe from the moment on March 6, 2009, when then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with a red button imprinted with what State Department officials thought was the Russian word for "reset." The word turned out to be Russian for "overcharge."

In the Moscow forum Tuesday, Mr. Collins blamed lawmakers in Washington and Moscow for the chill in relations, according to an Associated Press report on the conference.

"In many ways, people are passing legislation in both countries that is undermining some of the most important achievements of the last three to four years," Mr. Collins said.

The latest legislative tit-for-tat started when the U.S. in December adopted sanctions against Russians suspected of human rights violations. Russia retaliated by prohibiting Americans from adopting Russian children.

Mr. Collins, a retired Foreign Service officer, is now director of the Russia and Eurasia program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

Mr. Lukin left the Russian diplomatic service in 1994 after winning a seat in the Russian parliament. He helped form the Russian United Democratic Party, a centrist, free-market party that opposes Mr. Putin as too authoritarian.

The Moscow forum commemorated the restoration of U.S.-Russia diplomatic relations in 1933. President Woodrow Wilson cut ties with the Soviet government in 1917, but President Franklin Delano Roosevelt restored them 16 years later."

'SWEET CAROLINE'

In February, she was a shoo-in to be President Obama's next ambassador to Canada. This week, she is definitely the White House choice for envoy to Japan.

In between, one reporter even dubbed her America's "most prominent poetry ambassador."Through all of the diplomatic chatter, Caroline Kennedy has remained demurely quiet about her prospects of serving in Ottawa, one of the coldest national capitals, or in Tokyo, the largest metropolitan area in the world.

Two months ago, Canada's National Post newspaper quoted a reliable source saying Ms. Kennedy would be the next U.S. ambassador to Canada. Earlier this week, several news organizations reported just as confidently that she would be named to Japan.

The St. Louis Post Dispatch recently wrote about her promotion of anthologies of poetry and called her an "ambassador" to the world of verse.

Ms. Kennedy, the only surviving child of President John F. Kennedy, is often portrayed in an adoring media as a heroic figure pursuing charitable causes. She even inspiredNeil Diamondto write a song about her, "Sweet Caroline."

• 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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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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