- The Washington Times - Friday, October 4, 2002

Not for the world

Israeli Ambassador Daniel Ayalon dropped by The Washington Times yesterday for a quick lunch before rushing off to an undisclosed location for a meeting with an undisclosed top U.S. official.

Although he had only an hour for his first meeting with editors and reporters here, he said Israel values the Times' Middle East coverage and he "wouldn't have missed this [luncheon] for the world."

"For the world?" asked Editorial Page Editor Tony Blankley, sensing a bit of hyperbole.

"Well," the ambassador replied, "the world is not what it used to be."

The 47-year-old diplomat came to Washington two months ago and is pleased with his reception here.

"People here are very friendly. This town is friendly," he said.

Mr. Ayalon arrived on a Sunday and presented his credentials to President Bush the next day. That may have set a precedent, as most ambassadors wait weeks and sometimes months for a White House meeting.

Mr. Bush noted that the United States appreciated Mr. Ayalon's assessments of Israeli policy when he served as a foreign affairs adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

"We've lost a good friend in Jerusalem," Mr. Bush said to National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, who also attended Mr. Ayalon's presentation ceremony. "What do we do?"

Miss Rice saw no problem.

"Now it's just a local call," she said.

Yugoslavia's debt cut

The U.S. ambassador to Yugoslavia yesterday signed an agreement to write off two-thirds of the country's debt to the United States.

Ambassador William Montgomery and Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic praised the action as a sign of U.S. support for the economic reforms of the pro-Western government that ousted President Slobodan Milosevic, now facing a U.N. war-crimes trial.

The agreement eliminates $353.7 million of the country's $589.4 million debt to the United States, Yugoslavia's Tanjug news service reported.

Mr. Svilanovic said the agreement resulted from "long and exhausting work" that led to economic reform.

North Korea's abuses

A U.S. advisory panel on religious rights is urging the current U.S. diplomatic mission to North Korea to include human rights and religious liberty on its agenda.

"The U.S. should not abandon human rights and be seen to legitimize the horrific abuses of the North Korean regime for promises on military issues," the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said in a letter to President Bush.

James Kelly, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, is in North Korea to discuss nuclear weapons, missile technology and conventional forces with the reclusive Stalinist regime.

The commission, which advises the White House and Congress, also asked Mr. Bush to include humanitarian assistance for a country believed to be on the brink of mass starvation.

The issues of the protection of North Korean refugees and the reunification of Korean Americans with their families in the North should get a "prominent place" on the agenda, the commission said.

"The people of North Korea are perhaps the least free on earth, barely surviving under a regime that denies human rights and lets them starve, while its leaders pursue military might and weapons of mass destruction," the commission said.

"Religious freedom does not exist, as the state severely represses public and private religious activities, including arresting and imprisoning and in some cases torturing and executing persons engaged in such activities.

"North Korea is also a humanitarian disaster of unimaginable proportions. Failed economic policies and natural disasters have reportedly left more than 1 million North Koreans dead from starvation and disease in the last 10 years."

Money for Suriname

The U.S. ambassador to Suriname this week provided $100,000 in U.S. aid to help train and equip police, as part of an ongoing program of fighting drugs in South America.

Ambassador Daniel Johnson made the donation in a ceremony with police and justice ministry officials.

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