- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 23, 2001

Powell on the job

Secretary of State Colin Powell got a thunderous welcome from foreign service officers and civil service employees yesterday, as he introduced himself as the new chief American diplomat.

Mr. Powell promised to rely more on career diplomats than political appointees and pledged to lobby for a larger budget to fund the State Department.

"I'm going be asking many of you to come up and tell me directly what you think," Mr. Powell said. "I want to make things move faster, cut through things more quickly. You are the experts. I want to hear from you as directly as I can, with minimum number of layers in between."

The retired general and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff apologized for being late after entering the department at 8:20 a.m., a little behind schedule.

"I'm sorry I'm late. I don't like to keep the troops waiting," he said.

The crowd gave him a hearty applause that lasted more than a minute.

"We're going to show a vision to the world of the value system of America, what we're all about, what democracy and freedom is all about. It works, the other systems do not work," Mr. Powell said, outlining his diplomatic philosophy.

"We're going to talk about these values all the time and hope that it is the light that we send forth that will influence people around the world.

"We will do it from a position of strength, our political strength, our economic strength, our military strength and above all our diplomatic strength."

Mr. Powell's first full day as secretary of state was Sunday, when he took his first call from a foreign official. Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh called on behalf of the European Union. Sweden currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU.

Mr. Powell is due to meet Canadian Foreign Minister John Manley on Thursday and Japanese Foreign Minister Yohei Kono on Friday, the State Department said yesterday.

"We would expect an early visit from Foreign Minister [Robin] Cook of Great Britain," said spokesman Richard Boucher. "He is rapidly getting in gear and obviously keeping up with world events."

Mr. Powell took the oath of office at 6:17 p.m. on Saturday, Mr. Boucher said.

Latin-American aide

Latin America got quick attention at the White House yesterday, as President Bush selected a veteran diplomat as his top adviser on the hemisphere and picked Mexico as the destination for the first foreign trip of his administration.

John Maisto, a former ambassador to Venezuela, will head the Inter-American Affairs office at the National Security Council.

The 62-year-old career diplomat joined the foreign service in 1968. He served as deputy assistant secretary of state for Central America from 1992 to 1993.

His latest assignment as ambassador to Venezuela gave him experience in dealing with the country's populist president, Hugo Chavez, who has criticized U.S. military support for Colombia and has irritated Washington with visits to Cuba, Iraq and Libya. Venezuela is also the United States' primary source of foreign oil.

The Mexican Embassy yesterday said Mr. Bush has accepted an invitation from Mexican President Vicente Fox to visit him at his ranch in San Cristobal, Guanajuato on Feb. 16.

"This working visit will trigger the intense dialogue that both presidents intend to develop in the Mexico-U.S. relationship," the embassy said in a statement.

The two leaders first met in August when Mr. Fox visited the United States after winning the July 2 presidential election.

Although it was not a competition, Canada had been hoping to host Mr. Bush's first foreign trip. Mr. Bush is scheduled to attend a Summit of the Americas in Quebec City in April.

Father to visit Kuwait

Meanwhile, Mr. Bush's father has decided to visit Kuwait to mark the 10th anniversary of the Gulf war.

The Kuwait Embassy yesterday announced that former President George Bush, who assembled the coalition that drove Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, is among 46 prominent Americans who will attend the Feb. 26 celebrations.

Other guests include retired Gen. Norman Schwartzkopf, commander of the allied forces in the campaign.

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