- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 5, 2002

Fixing the Iraqi roof

The State Department is dismissing speculation that repairs it authorized on the old Iraqi ambassador's residence means Washington is preparing to receive a new envoy after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

"I don't think anyone should read anything into or out of it, other than the fact that we're living up to our responsibilities to protect the structural soundness of this building, which is under our care pursuant to international agreements," State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said this week.

Mr. Reeker was responding to an item Tuesday in The Washington Post's Reliable Source column, which noted that the department "made no effort to steer us away" from speculation that the work was being done in anticipation of the arrival of a new ambassador from a "freshly liberated Iraq."

Mr. Reeker said that "contrary to the suggestions in some gossip columns around the city," a contractor had been hired to replace a badly leaking roof.

The elegant mansion has remained vacant since the United States cut relations with Iraq during the 1991 Persian Gulf war. Under diplomatic agreements, the residence and the embassy fell under the custody of the State Department. The Iraqi Interests Section is under the protection of the Algerian Embassy.

"The roof of that residence is leaking badly, and we hired a contractor to replace the roof and stop further water damage part of our responsibility to see to the upkeep of that," Mr. Reeker said.

The $40,000 cost of the repairs comes from frozen Iraqi assets.


No snub in Lebanon

The U.S. Embassy in Lebanon yesterday denied that it was snubbed by Lebanese officials and a Muslim cleric at Ramadan dinners hosted by Ambassador Vincent Battle.

Reporters who attended the Monday evening dinner said that only nine guests showed up, but an embassy spokesman insisted that many more attended the traditional iftar meal held to break the daily fast during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

"There were far more than nine people at the iftar," the spokesman told the Reuters news agency. "This is a long-standing tradition of ambassadors in Lebanon and throughout the region who traditionally hold iftars to show respect for the Islamic community."

Mr. Battle had invited 55 mayors from Lebanon's Bekaa Valley to his dinner held in the town of Shtaura, but most refused their invitations to protest U.S. support of Israel.

Agence France-Presse said the leaders of the boycott released a statement declaring the success of their snub of the ambassador.

Last week, Lebanon's Grand Mufti Mohammed Sheik Rashid Qabbani cited the protest in his refusal to attend an iftar the ambassador held in a Beirut suburb.


U.S. 'scapegoat'

The U.S. ambassador to the European Union this week complained about anti-Americanism in Europe, especially over the threat of war in Iraq.

"It disturbs me to hear Europeans using the U.S. as a scapegoat for problems that have many complicated causes," Ambassador Rockwell Schnabel said in a speech in Brussels, headquarters to most EU operations. "We respect deeply held views on the European side, but it's only fair to expect the same understanding for our views in return."

Mr. Schnabel's lament contrasted with views expressed Tuesday by Richard Haass, the assistant secretary of state for policy planning. He told a Washington forum that "there is no crisis in U.S.-European relations."

In his speech, Mr. Schnabel also urged the European Union to admit Turkey for strategic reasons, saying, "The sooner [Turkey] becomes a member of the EU, the greater the benefits for Turkish citizens and for regional stability."


Egypt verdict welcomed

David Welch, the U.S. ambassador to Egypt, praised an Egyptian appellate court for overturning a seven-year prison sentence against a human rights activist who carries joint U.S. and Egyptian citizenship.

The Court of Cassation also ordered a new trial for sociology professor Saad Eddin Ibrahim, who was convicted of tarnishing Egypt's image.

"Given Dr. Ibrahim's increasingly fragile health, we welcome this development and hope that he can now receive the specialized medical care he needs," Mr. Welch said in a statement.

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