- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 28, 2000

Debating Russia policy

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright yesterday defended the administration's policy toward Russia but also criticized Moscow's failure to adopt deeper political and economic reforms.

Mrs. Albright, facing Republican skepticism in a hearing of the House International Relations Committee, also expressed concerns for the future of press freedom in Russia.

Committee Chairman Benjamin A. Gilman, New York Republican, questioned whether U.S. support for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Boris Yeltsin before him have benefited reform or encouraged corruption.

He said Russian reformers are "warning us that Mr. Putin is not who he would have us believe he is."

"We all know, of course, that he spent much of his life as a career KGB agent, but we also need to look more closely on how he rose to the presidency," Mr. Gilman said.

"Russians who are truly interested in democracy and reforms have warned us that our policy, a policy of continuing to support Boris Yeltsin while corruption flourished around him, would not result in either democracy or true reforms in Russia."

Mrs. Albright insisted the Clinton administration had succeeded in many of its bilateral goals with Russia, despite Moscow's domestic failures.

"Our assistance has helped to deactivate more than 5,000 former Soviet nuclear warheads," she said.

Mrs. Albright agreed that Russia has failed to adopt adequate reforms.

"Russia has not yet made a deep enough commitment to reform, approved anti-money-laundering legislation or initiated a truly serious battle against corruption," she said.

"As a result, foreign investors remain wary, and Russia's economic prospects are still in doubt."

Mrs. Albright cited "several incidents of media harassment [that] have prompted many to believe that a broad campaign is under way to intimidate or co-opt the media."

She noted that Mr. Putin has expressed public support for a free press.

"But it will be hard to take the statement seriously if Russia's state-run national gas monopoly, Gazprom, succeeds in its current effort to gain control of the nation's largest independent TV network," she said.

Mrs. Albright said that overall, the United States "can take pride" in the administration's Russia policy.

"It should not be surprising that neither our efforts nor those of Russia's strongest reformers have succeeded overnight," she said.

"After all, communism was a seven-decade forced march to a dead end, and no nation went further down that road than Russia."

Fiji's new envoy?

A former prime minister who led a military coup in 1987 has emerged as a leading candidate to be Fiji's next ambassador to the United States.

Sitiveni Rabuka is under consideration to replace Ambassador Napolioni Masirewa, who left Washington in February, according to press reports in the South Pacific archipelago.

Mr. Rabuka says he has not been approached about the post, and the U.S. Embassy in Fiji says it also knows nothing "officially" about the possible appointment.

However, one source told Agence France-Presse that the United States is stalling on accepting the nomination, possibly because Mr. Rabuka as prime minister in 1998 delayed the nomination of the current U.S. ambassador, Osman Siddiq.

AFP, referring to unidentified sources, said, "It is understood, however, that high-level approaches nominating Rabuka have been made at an unofficial level through the embassy … but have not been favorably received.

"Washington appears to be in no hurry to accept a successor possibly because of upcoming presidential elections."

The current interim government, installed after a failed coup in May, is trying to restore order and ease racial tensions between Fijians descended from immigrants from India and those of indigenous descent.

In Washington, Maheshwar Rao, the charge d'affaires at the Fiji Embassy, said, "We are as yet not sure about the ambassadorial appointment. No announcement has been made."

Mr. Rabuka, who held the rank of brigadier-general, led a coup in October 1987 when Fiji was part of the British Commonwealth. He declared the country a republic.

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