- The Washington Times - Friday, May 25, 2001

Civilized 'coup

One diplomat saw the upset in the Senate yesterday as a political coup, but a "civilized" one.

Others worried about the effect the shift in power will have on diplomatic appointments and the contacts they had developed.

Diplomats all agreed they were surprised by the sudden collapse of Republican control of the Senate.

"Very interesting," one ambassador said. "It´s going to make a lot of changes. I´m going to send my people over to Congress to pick up the gossip. Gossip and diplomats go hand in hand."

Another ambassador worried that the Democrats will block Otto Reich, President Bush´s nominee for assistant secretary of state for Latin American affairs. In the minority, Democrats were already targeting Mr. Reich, a conservative Cuban-American.

"My main concerns are the delay in the appointment and the need to make new contacts," this ambassador said.

The ambassador is also fearful that Democrats will try to impose U.S. labor and environmental standards on poor Latin American countries in new free-trade agreements.

Latin American ambassadors who met on Wednesday were shocked to hear of the news that Vermont Sen. James M. Jeffords was preparing to bolt the Republican Party and throw the evenly divided Senate to the Democrats.

"It was like, 'Oh, my gosh. Can you believe this?´" one ambassador said.

An Arab diplomat said his country has "friends on both sides of the aisles," so the political upheaval does not worry him.

However, the effect on the U.S. image abroad will be great, he said.

"This is an event that tells us how complicated, how puzzling American politics can be," he said.

The political turmoil reminded him of the prolonged power struggle after the presidential election.

"In a way, we could be witnessing a continuation of the chads and the recounts by other means," he said. "It´s like a political coup, but a civilized one."

A South Asian ambassador believes the Democrats will continue to support the Bush administration on issues involving Pakistan, India and other nations in the subcontinent.

The ambassador added, however, that many diplomats were surprised the Republicans lost control of the Senate through a defection from their ranks rather than the death or illness of the Senate´s oldest member, 98-year-old South Carolina Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond.

"Everybody was already talking about how thin and precarious the majority was," the envoy added. "There is never a dull moment in Washington."

A Central European ambassador believes Democrats are as committed as Republicans to European security and the expansion of NATO.

"This is the continuation of turbulent times. We are quite used to it in Europe," he said.

Another ambassador worried about the fate of Majority Leader Trent Lott. Rumors abound that the Mississippi Republican could be challenged for the position of minority leader.

The ambassador, a fan of American television, said, "Mr. Lott failed to take care of his weakest link. Now, he will have to play survivor."

Praising Peterson

Vietnam yesterday praised U.S. Ambassador Douglas "Pete" Peterson as an envoy who helped restore normal relations between the two former enemies.

"In diplomatic relations, it is normal practice that first ambassadors play important roles in the building and promotion of relations of the two countries," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Phan Thuy Thanh said in a statement.

"Ambassador Peterson has done much work during his recent term of office in Vietnam, actively contributing to the process of normalizing relations between Vietnam and the United States, including the signing the bilateral trade agreement."

Mr. Peterson, a former prisoner of war, this week announced he will resign July 15 and return to his home state of Florida, where Democratic officials expect he will run against Gov. Jeb Bush, President Bush´s brother. He is the first U.S. ambassador to Vietnam since the end of the Vietnam War.

In Washington, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Mr. Bush will soon send the Vietnam trade treaty to the Senate for ratification.

The agreement would extend normal trade relations to Vietnam by lowering U.S. tariffs on Vietnamese imports.

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