- The Washington Times - Friday, February 15, 2002

Cuban 'charm offensive'

Ambassador Vicki Huddleston, chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, was called into Cuban government offices last week and read the riot act, according to sources familiar with the meeting.

Mrs. Huddleston's comments a few days earlier, which appeared on wire services in the United States, prompted the meeting. The Cuban government was furious that she had the temerity to suggest that U.S.-Cuba relations were not improving and would not improve until the Castro government started respecting human rights.

"Is there a better relationship? No," Mrs. Huddleston told reporters in Havana. "The relationship is not improving because we are still concerned about human rights, democracy, the free flow of information."

Since September 11, the Cuban government has gone out of its way not to antagonize the United States. It condemned the terrorist attacks on the United States, tempered its criticism of the U.S. bombing in Afghanistan and has not uttered a word about the United States jailing Taliban and al Qaeda captives at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

In addition, the United States has, in what some are calling the first opening in the 40-year-old economic embargo, supplied corn, wheat and rice to Cuba, still suffering in the aftermath of Hurricane Michelle, which devastated the island in early November.

Mrs. Huddleston said that Cuba was in the midst of a "charm offensive," and relations could not improve until it begins treating its citizens better.

Cuban government officials told Mrs. Huddleston that despite being the highest-ranking U.S. official in Cuba, her comments do "not represent the views of the U.S. government," several sources told our reporter Tom Carter.

The State Department would not comment Wednesday on the specifics of the meeting.

"There was a meeting with Ambassador Huddleston and [the Cuban ministry of external relations] and in that meeting she took the opportunity to express again, in the same fashion and with the full support of the U.S. government, the same views on the human rights situation in Cuba that were reported in the U.S. press last week," said a State Department official.

"What she was reported as saying was 100 percent correct. She reiterated human rights points, and those viewpoints represent the views of the U.S. government," the official said.

'Moment of destiny'

Cyprus faces a "moment of destiny" as leaders of the divided island engage in reunification talks, the U.S. ambassador to Cyprus said yesterday.

"It is very important that everybody works together to make the very best by that opportunity," Ambassador Donald Bandler added, after meeting with Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides.

"I had an excellent meeting with President Clerides. … We are working very closely together, as we have been for a long time."

Mr. Clerides last month held the first meeting in four years with Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash. Mr. Clerides' Greek-Cypriot administration is the internationally recognized government of Cyprus, while Mr. Denktash's Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is recognized only by Turkey.

Where's the beef?

Diego Guelar, who fed Washington's appetite for Argentine beef when he was here as ambassador in the 1990s, presented his diplomatic credentials yesterday, as he officially began another term as Argentina's ambassador to the United States.

He also gave President Bush a stuffed toy cow as a Valentine's Day gift.

The toy represents Mr. Guelar's quest to get the United States to lift a ban on Argentine beef, which was imposed last year after foot-and-mouth disease was discovered in the South American country.

"It is a symbol of our hope that we should be allowed to sell meat again on the U.S. market this year," he told Argentina's Radio Continental.

During his first tour here, Mr. Guelar inducted President Clinton and other leading Washingtonians into his Smiling Beef Club, which met regularly for Argentinian-beef cookouts at the ambassador's residence. He also hosted tango parties that attracted actor Robert Duvall.

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