- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 30, 2001

Diplomatic face-off
Czech Ambassador Alexandr Vondra claims to be a busy man these days. At least that is what he tells friends who have noticed him missing at diplomatic receptions.
But Mr. Vondra reveals all in his column in the Czech Embassys latest newsletter. He is not overburdened with diplomatic duties. He is just playing hooky to watch hockey.
Mr. Vondra has been captivated by the performances of three Czech players — Patrik Elias, Bobby Holik and Petr Sykora — with the New Jersey Devils in the National Hockey Leagues Stanley Cup playoffs.
"As the most popular sport in my country, hockey is special for Czechs," Mr. Vondra wrote.
The sport even gave them a way to express their opposition to Soviet domination during the Cold War.
"In the past, fights between the Czechoslovak and Soviet teams offered rare opportunities for Czechs to express what they were really thinking about their opponents," Mr. Vondra wrote.
"In 1969, one fight even led to a large demonstration in Prague. But those days are over. Now, many Czechs and Russians play together in the NHL."
With more than 80 Czech players in the league, the Czech Republic has gained recognition among Americans who may know nothing else about the Central European nation.
"I remember how Americans doubted the qualities of Czech stars like Jagr, Ruzicka or Reichel when they first came to play for the NHL," Mr. Vondra said.
"Supposedly they were not harsh enough. They were too nice. Both goalie Dominik Hasek and forward Jaromir Jagr were elected to the NHL First All-Star Team five times, while Sykora, Holik and Elias are the best forwards that the Devils have."
The Pittsburgh Penguins, Mr. Jagrs team, even have a Czech coach, Ivan Hlinka, the first foreigner to lead an NHL team. Although he led the Czech national team to a gold medal at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Japan, the American media still considered him an "underdog" when he was named head coach last year, Mr. Vondra wrote.
But Mr. Hlinkas biggest challenge is coaching the legendary Mario Lemieux, who happens to be the teams owner.
"So he has found himself in a situation that forces him to give orders to the very icon who pays his salary," Mr. Vondra wrote.

Supporting Macedonia
The U.S. ambassador to Poland is urging NATO to mount a show of force to support Macedonia against ethnic Albanian rebels that are threatening the stability of the Balkan nation.
Christopher Hill, also a former ambassador to Macedonia, yesterday told representatives at a NATO conference that the Albanian separatists misinterpreted Western action in the Serbian region of Kosovo, where NATO intervened to stop the ethnic cleansing of ethnic Albanians.
Mr. Hill said NATO support would be "not so much in the application of force but visible so the Albanian insurgents understand they are not only up against the Macedonian army, but up against NATO as well."
Mr. Hill is representing the United States at a conference of 200 representatives from 19 NATO countries and 16 other countries in Vilnius, Lithuania, where they are considering issues facing the Western alliance.
He also discussed Bush administration plans for a national missile defense system and European plans for a security force separate from NATO.
Mr. Hill said European concerns about the missile plan were "heard and understood" during consultation earlier this month.
"This shows there can be a real coming together on defining threats and moving ahead," he said.
The Bush administration supports the European defense concept "provided it can add to our collective capabilities," he said, referring to U.S. concerns that the Europeans consult closely with NATO on any operations.

Bush picks Eaton
President Bush yesterday said he has selected a veteran Foreign Service officer to be assistant secretary of state for administration.
William A. Eaton is currently the senior adviser to the undersecretary of state for management.
A career diplomat since 1979, Mr. Eaton has served at the U.S. embassies in Turkey, Italy, the Soviet Union and Guyana.


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