- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 27, 2000

Mr. Mom leaves State

State Department reporters yesterday threw rubber ducks at spokesman James P. Rubin and presented him with spinning tops.

Were they making a statement about ducking questions and spinning answers?

No. It was just their way of saying, "Goodbye."

Mr. Rubin ended his final press briefing in a riotous, laugh-filled exchange with reporters who had covered him for the last three years. He is preparing to move to London with his wife, the CNN war correspondent Christiane Amanpour, and their infant son, Darius.

Associated Press reporter Barry Schweid bought the ducks and spinning tops as toys for the baby.

Mr. Rubin took the last question from his wife, who asked if he is prepared to change diapers after "leaving his high-profile job … to become Mr. Mom."

"Mr. Rubin," she said in a deadpan manner, "what I want to know is how can you assure an understandably skeptical son about your commitment to one day change a diaper."

"Let me say this," Mr. Rubin responded in his best State Department style. "I will do whatever is necessary and appropriate."

Reporter Charles Wilson brought him a yo-yo, which carried a symbolic message.

"It's not only emblematic of your spinning ability, but it also comes with a strobe light," Mr. Wilson said. (Did Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott get the joke?)

"And of course," Mr. Wilson added, "it's made in China." (A little China-policy humor.)

Mr. Schweid needled Mr. Rubin about his mastery of diplomatic diversion for once describing some tedious development in Middle East peace negotiations as building a skeleton on a framework agreement.

"I think you'll be best remembered for developing the concept of a skeleton to a framework to a possible interim agreement that might lead to a final agreement that could lead to a comprehensive settlement," he said.

White House press spokesman Joe Lockhart dropped by with a gag gift from President Clinton.

Mr. Lockhart presented Mr. Rubin with a bag of carrots, a reminder of a comment Mr. Rubin made in 1997 that outraged the White House and led to a reprimand by Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright.

Mr. Rubin had said the White House was considering expanding humanitarian aid to Iraq, calling the program "a little carrot." That gave the impression that Mr. Clinton wanted to negotiate with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Lockhart added, "On a serious note, speaking for the president, which I supposedly get paid to do, Jamie's service to us … has been invaluable.

"He has been an invaluable resource for me, who thought foreign policy was California electoral politics when I took this job."

After trading jokes with reporters and taking a few serious questions, Mr. Rubin had one final answer.

"Let me just say that it's been a great honor to stand here and represent the United States through this podium for such a long time."

Yemen aid increase

U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Barbara Bodine yesterday said the United States will increase its aid to the Arab country by up to $20 million.

"The United States will increase its annual economic development aid to Yemen to between $40 million and $50 million," she told reporters in the capital, San'a.

The increase follows a visit to the United States earlier this month by Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

In her news conference, the ambassador said the United States hopes Yemen will establish diplomatic relations with Israel but denied that Washington is trying to pressure Yemen.

"The United States hopes its friends in the region will normalize their relations with Israel, and Yemen is a country which supports the Middle East peace process," she said.

The ambassador praised the government for a "humanitarian measure" by allowing Israeli Jews of Yemeni origin to visit the country in March.

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