- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 12, 2001

Time peace

African advocacy groups are demanding the dismissal of the director of the U.S. Agency for International Development for "shockingly racist comments" for claiming that many Africans cannot tell time well enough to take anti-AIDS drugs.

The State Department yesterday sidestepped the controversy when asked about the statements of agency director Andrew Natsios in congressional testimony last week.

Africa Action, one of the largest pro-Africa groups in the United States, has called on Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to "repudiate" Mr. Natsios´ comments, which were also included in an interview in the Boston Globe.

"We are writing to express our deep sense of outrage at the shockingly racist comments made by … Natsios," Salih Booker, executive director of Africa Action, said in a letter to Mr. Powell.

The letter was also signed by the Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker of the Religious Action Network and Sharonann Lynch of the Health Global Access Project Coalition.

"We are writing to demand that you repudiate this offensive behavior. Someone such as Mr. Natsios, with such ignorant and bigoted views, does not belong in a policy-making position and should be fired."

Mr. Natsios told the House International Relations Committee on June 7 that the Bush administration intends to emphasize prevention of AIDS over treatment because of the difficulty of delivering medication in rural African areas with no health infrastructure.

He said anti-AIDS drugs require patients to take doses at specific times of the day.

In Africa, many "people do not know what watches or clocks are," he said. "They do not use Western means to tell time. They use the sun. These drugs have to be administered in certain sequences, at certain times during the day."

In an interview with the Boston Globe on June 6, Mr. Natsios, who has dealt with African issues both as a bureau director in the agency and with World Vision, said many health care professionals in the United States do not understand the difficulty of working with African conflicts or the "lack of infrastructure, lack of doctors, lack of hospitals, lack of clinics, lack of electricity."

"Many people in Africa have never seen a clock or a watch their entire lives. … They know morning. They know noon. They know evening. They know the darkness at night.

"I'm sorry to be saying these things, but a lot of people … advocating these things have never worked in health care in rural areas in Africa or even in the cities."

A spokeswoman for Mr. Natsios yesterday said he meant no offense by his comments.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher yesterday repeated administration policy when asked about Mr. Natsios´ comments.

He said the United States has spent $1.6 billion since 1986 to combat the global AIDS crisis.

"Our annual contribution is more than four times greater than the next largest donor," Mr. Boucher said.

Prevention, he added, "remains [the] number-one priority."

Japanese visit

Japanese Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka will visit Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on June 18, according to reports out of Tokyo yesterday.

The State Department, however, said no date has been set for the meeting.

Japan´s Kyodo news service quoted government officials as confirming the date for Mrs. Tanaka´s Washington trip, which needs the approval of the Japanese parliament.

Mrs. Tanaka yesterday met with a parliamentary committee concerning the trip.

"The meeting [with Mr. Powell] is in the process of being arranged, and I think I can report to you about the result shortly," she told reporters.

Mrs. Tanaka said she wants to talk to Mr. Powell about the future of Japanese-U.S. relations and about U.S. plans for a national missile defense.

Mrs. Tanaka, Japan´s first female foreign minister, has clashed recently with Foreign Ministry bureaucrats, who have leaked details of her private conversations with other foreign leaders.

News reports say she has criticized the United States and objected to the missile defense. She has denied the reports and blamed bureaucrats angered by her plans to reform the Foreign Ministry.

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