Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Bandar on the road

Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan tomorrow makes one of his rare public appearances outside Washington when he speaks to business executives in Texas.

Prince Bandar is expected to discuss the recent attacks on Saudi Arabia and the kingdom’s cooperation with the United States in the war on terrorism, issues he addressed in several recent statements as part of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to improve its image in the West.

In his speech to Houston’s Bilateral/U.S.-Arab Chamber of Commerce, the ambassador will also review governmental reforms under consideration by the conservative ruling family, which has already announced municipal elections. He is also expected to discuss the cultural and economic effect of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to join the World Trade Organization.

On Monday, Prince Bandar is will travel to Cleveland to meet with the famed City Club, which calls itself the “citadel of free speech” and hosts prominent speakers on a wide range of subjects.

“The long-standing friendship between the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is being tested now more than any other time in history,” the Saudi Embassy said in announcing the ambassador’s travel plans.

Two years after the terrorist attacks on the United States, Saudis are still shaken by the revelation that 15 Saudi terrorists were among the 19 hijackers who destroyed the World Trade Center and crashed planes into the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.

Prince Bandar has repeatedly denounced terrorists as “murderers pure and simple” who have distorted Islam and Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network as an “evil cult” that must be destroyed.

Swiss swing right

The Swiss ambassador called yesterday’s election to the Swiss executive branch a “remarkable” change, as it increased the influence of conservatives and upset the four-party balance of power for the first time in 44 years.

The Swiss People’s Party gained a second seat on the seven-member Federal Council at the expense of the centrist Christian Democrats, who now have only one member on the body. The left-wing Social Democrats and the Radical Free Democrats hold two seats each.

Ambassador Christian Blickenstorfer said the council, which is elected by parliament, reflects the makeup of the legislative branch.

“This development makes this a remarkable election, indeed,” he said. “At the same time, this election ensures the continuation of the Swiss tradition of politics by consensus and compromise with all four major parties continuing to be represented in the council according to their parliamentary power.”

Mr. Blickenstorfer said Switzerland will continue to have a “vibrant system of checks and balances” and no single party will dominate the council, which serves as the Swiss Cabinet.

The People’s Party’s Christoph Blocher narrowly beat Christian Democrat Ruth Metzler, who served as justice minister. The council will select new Cabinet members before the end of the year, the Swiss Embassy said.

Christians for Israel

Israeli Ambassador Daniel Ayalon told American Christian leaders that he briefed government officials on the importance of Christian support for Israel on his visit last week to Jerusalem.

“The work that you are doing in your communities enhances the strong and vital friendship between Israel and the United States,” he told 180 officials at the Christian Leadership Luncheon Tuesday at the Kennedy Center.

“I told the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee of the Knesset that the Christian community is strongly committed to supporting Israel in its war against terrorism.”

Israeli Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the luncheon by phone.

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail

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