- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 13, 2001

Poisoned past

The Polish ambassador is trying to focus on the future, but an episode from World War II is forcing him to confront a gruesome reality. Poland is guilty of an atrocity against the Jews.

"Our national mythology is that we were on the side of goodness, not darkness," Ambassador Przemyslaw Grudzinski said yesterday. "It is haunting us right now."

Mr. Grudzinski said he is having to deal with American-Jewish groups to try to explain the massacre of 1,600 Jews in the village of Jedwabne.

Local peasants, cooperating with Nazi occupiers, forced their Jewish neighbors into a barn on July 10, 1941, and burned them to death.

A new book, "Neighbors," by Polish emigre Jan Tomasz Gross, has suddenly focused attention on Jedwabne.

He wrote a long account of the massacre in the New Yorker magazine last week. Princeton University Press is planning to release an English version of his book next month.

Mr. Grudzinski agreed that Poland needs to confront the wartime tragedy but reminded editors and reporters from The Washington Times yesterday that the Polish government at the time was in exile and the country was occupied by Nazis.

"This happened 60 years ago and should not be allowed to poison today's relationships," he said over lunch at the Polish Embassy.

"The crime was horrible, and it is difficult for us to accept this as part of our history."

His government is taking steps to recognize and apologize for the atrocity.

Mr. Grudzinski, meanwhile, is spending his time trying to deal with a new presidential administration that has appointed few new officials to deal with foreign affairs.

He has had to tell Foreign Ministry officials who want to come to Washington that there is no one for them to meet at the assistant secretary level at the State Department. He tries to explain that the Bush administration got off to a late start because of the disputed presidential election.

Mr. Grudzinski praised President Bush for his position on NATO expansion.

"The U.S. is inspiring a second round of expansion," he said.

Poland would like to see all three Baltic nations Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania admitted as new members, even though Russia strongly opposes NATO membership for countries that were part of the Soviet Union.

Mr. Grudzinski said Russia also opposed Polish membership in the first round of expansion but has gotten used to it.

He believes Russia will eventually accept the three Baltic nations in NATO.

"We should do what is right," he said.

Mr. Grudzinski warned against any compromise that might admit one Baltic state while leaving the other two out of the alliance in order to placate Russia.

"But from what I hear, this administration is not in the mood to make any quid pro quos with the Russians," he said.

Envoys eliminated

Secretary of State Colin Powell has eliminated more than 20 special envoy positions, including the one for the Middle East, as part of an effort to streamline diplomacy and eliminate bureaucracy.

The reform cuts 23 such positions and saves 25 posts, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday. Mr. Powell intends to review six of those positions, including one dealing with the Iraqi opposition, over the next six months.

The posts eliminated include special envoys for the Balkans, Haiti, Cyprus, Latin America, Ethiopia-Eritrea, Africa's Great Lakes region and the Caspian Basin.

Mr. Powell retained positions that deal with North Korea, Tibet, Sudan, various arms control agreements, Holocaust issues, war crimes, the removal of land mines, climate and sustainable development.

Many of the positions were created under the Clinton administration, but Mr. Powell thought many of the envoys were duplicating work already done by other State Department officials.

New Japanese diplomat

The new spokesman at the Japanese Embassy comes prepared to deal with the press.

Satoru Satoh is the former director of the press division of the Japanese Foreign Ministry. He replaces Kazuo Kodama as the embassy's minister for public affairs.

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