- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 23, 2002

Dance with the ugly girl

Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Heinz Moeller talks darkly of the consequences his country will face unless the U.S. Congress renews a special trade bill for his region of South America.

Ecuador, which is not a drug-producing nation, is in a tough neighborhood, bordered by Colombia, with a menacing narco-guerrilla threat, and Peru, where rebels financed by drug money are active again. Bolivia also is suffering from the same lethal cocktail of drugs and terrorism.

Those nations benefited from the Andean Trade Preference Act, which provided tariff-free access to the U.S. market for certain exports from the region until it expired on Dec. 4. The House passed an expanded bill that included canned tuna and textiles, but it died in the Senate, where protectionist lawmakers blocked the measure.

Mr. Moeller, at a luncheon with editors and reporters at The Washington Times yesterday, noted Ecuador's commitment to the war on drugs, which included hosting a U.S. air base for reconnaissance flights to interdict drug smugglers.

"We put ourselves in the front line in the fight against drugs in the region. Now we are dancing with the ugliest girl in the saloon," he said.

In Mr. Moeller's colorful phrase, he was referring to the fallout from the drug trade. Ecuador is beginning to experience a spillover effect from efforts to attack drug lords in Colombia, as producers use Ecuador for smuggling routes. He is worried things will get worse.

"If you don't help Ecuador to prevent this, peasants will go into the very profitable business of drugs," he said of poor farmers in the border areas. "The situation is deteriorating."

Mr. Moeller said his talks with administration officials yesterday were encouraging and praised President Bush's commitment to free trade.

But he worries that the Andean region is not getting Washington's attention. While the United States wages war against terrorism in Asia, Washington is ignoring warning signs in the Southern Hemisphere, he said.

"Administration officials agreed it makes common sense," he said of his argument that the trade bill would prevent narco-terrorism. "But common sense is the least common of the senses."

Mr. Moeller complained that "protectionism is alive and in good health in Congress" and warned that "democratic institutions are in great danger in the hemisphere."

"All this we could solve with one major concept one impossible dream. Open the markets," he said. "Make free trade a reality."

Talks on Somalia

The interim president of Somalia met a U.S. diplomat over the weekend, in an apparent attempt to discuss reports that the United States might target Somalia for sheltering terrorists.

Abdulkassim Salat Hassan traveled to neighboring Djibouti to meet Donald Yamamato, the U.S. ambassador to Djibouti, on Sunday, Agence France-Presse reported in a dispatch quoting diplomatic sources.

The French news service gave no details of their discussions but noted that Mr. Hassan was concerned by reports that the United States suspected Somalia was sheltering elements of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network.

Washington does not recognize the interim government, which has little control over the lawless nation that is torn by tribal factions run by powerful warlords.

Envoy: 'Buy American'

The U.S. ambassador to Austria sounded like a Yankee Doodle salesman yesterday as he promoted the American aircraft firm of Lockheed Martin to supply a new generation of fighter planes for the Austrian air force.

"I can assure you that having Lockheed Martin and the U.S. Air Force as your partners is something no other country can offer," Ambassador Lyons Brown told reporters after the U.S. Embassy announced a bid to sell American F-16 jets to Austria.

The United States is competing against the European EADS, France's Dassault and Sweden's Saab firms to sell Austria 24 one-seater and six two-seater fighters.

Lt. Gen. Tome Walters, director of the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency, presented the proposal to the Austrian government.

Austria plans to replace its aging fleet of JAS-35 Draken planes beginning next year.

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