- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan was diplomatic but firm in a post-election interview in the former Soviet republic, which has been dominated by a father-son regime widely criticized as autocratic but widely courted as a pro-Western nation with vast energy resources.

Ambassador Richard L. Morningstar told Azerbaijan’s independent Turan News Agency that Washington wants to work closely with President Ilham Aliyev, who won a third term Oct. 9.

“It is important that we work with the government and with President Aliyev on the wide variety of issues that are important to both countries and to the civil society of this country,” he said.

The State Department angered Mr. Aliyev by denouncing the election as a sham. Deputy press secretary Marie Harf cited “ballot-box stuffing, serious problems with vote counting and failure to record the number of received ballots.”

Mr. Aliyev won with nearly 85 percent of the vote, down slightly from his 2008 victory with 87 percent. He was first elected in 2003 with 77 percent of the vote after his father, Heydar Aliyev, stepped down after presiding over Azerbaijan since 1993.

Mr. Morningstar, a professional diplomat, deflected attempts by the news agency to get him to criticize the election.

“We want to be constructive and to work with Azerbaijan to further develop its democracy and its economy,” he said. “We want Azerbaijan to become a great country, which I think it has the potential to be.”

He repeated U.S. objections to the arrest of opposition leaders and journalists before the election.

“We have constantly raised the arrests with government officials. We will continue to do so, and we certainly urge the government to be transparent, to follow due process, and to carry out a fair judicial process,” he said.

FIFTH OF NOVEMBER

Carole Johnson, a newly posted diplomat at the British Embassy in Washington, sounded a bit shocked by her first Halloween in the U.S. and expressed a longing for that iconic English celebration, Guy Fawkes Night.

In a blog on the embassy’s website, Ms. Johnson noted that, while riding Metro on her way home from a concert at the Kennedy Center, she encountered Washingtonians dressed in costumes of “cartoon characters and caricatures.”

“Spending my first Halloween in the U.S. is something of an eye-opener!” she exclaimed.

Ms. Johnson recounted how the British, at this time of year, light bonfires to celebrate the discovery of a plot by Fawkes, a Catholic radical, to blow up the English Parliament as King James I, a Protestant, was preparing to open the legislature on Nov. 5, 1605.

Fawkes was arrested standing guard over 36 barrels of gunpowder stockpiled in a cellar under the hall in Westminster Palace where Parliament met. Guards foiled the Gunpowder Plot only hours before King James was due to deliver a speech in the hall.

Condemned as a traitor, Fawkes escaped the sentence of being hanged, drawn and quartered by jumping to his death from the scaffold, breaking his neck before it could be stretched by the executioner, thus avoiding the agony of the mutilation that followed.

“Fireworks, sparklers, roaring bonfires and toasted marshmallows bring alive the history from four centuries before when treason was foiled and Parliament and all its stands for stood strong,” Ms. Johnson said.

A 19th century English poem on the Gunpowder Plot begins, “Remember, remember! The fifth of November.”

Some Americans have taken up the festive mood.

Dana Perino, a Fox News contributor and press aide to President George W. Bush, tweeted Tuesday, “Happy Guy Fawkes Day!”

Embassy Row is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. James Morrison can be reached at jmorrison@washingtontimes.com or @EmbassyRow.

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