- The Washington Times - Friday, February 14, 2003

UPI Hears for Feb. 14

Some might call it hubris, but military confidence levels in the Bush administration could not be higher. Pakistan's new prime minister, Zafarullah Khan Jamali, has been angling for an official visit to Washington. The State Department consulted the White House and came back with a suitable date — March 28. The news provoked deep concern in Islamabad. "That means our very important visit will be overshadowed by the war against Iraq," the Pakistanis protested. Not at all, replied Washington. The war will be over by then.


Despite their joint stance against the United States on Iraq, the French and Germans have some telling differences of their own. Fretting at the global dominance of CNN and the BBC, French President Jacques Chirac wants the European Union partners to help finance a new international TV news channel — in French. "France should be more strongly represented in the battle of images," Chirac said. But German television channels ARD and ZDF are lobbying hard to oppose the scheme, fearing that any funds would come from their own publicly financed budgets. ARD chairman Jobst Plog protests that German tax payers could not be expected to help pay for French ambitions.


Even though German opinion seems firmly set against a U.S.-led war in Iraq, the policies of pacifism are not paying off for Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. A poll released Friday by the Dimap organization for the MDR radio and TV network show him with 27 percent support, and the opposition Christian Democrats would receive 49 percent. In what used to be West Germany the CDU would win 51 percent and thus an absolute majority in the Bundestag, something it has not achieved since Chancellor Konrad Adenauer's sweeping election victory in 1957. The Greens, Schroeder's coalition partners, have inched their way up to 12 percent. CDU leader Angela Merkel, who says that if she were Chancellor then Germany would be on the side of the Americans, is preparing a trip to Washington, possibly as soon as next week.


"Old Europe" is increasingly nervous about its U.S. presence. Holland's Ministry of the Interior is asking Washington to move its embassy from the center of the Hague, citing security reasons. Government spokesman Frank van Beers said "The U.S. Embassy is now at a very busy location with cars, trams, cyclists and pedestrians passing by, and that makes it difficult to secure the building."


Sometimes the Old Europe feels ignored not only by the United States but the New Europe as well. Two rapporteurs of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe flew into Tbilisi this week. Bulgarian Yevgeny Kirilev and Hungarian Matyas Eorsi were not only not feted with traditional Georgian hospitality; no one showed up to meet them at all. The pair found themselves alone at the airport, explaining their situation at length to airport employees and then getting stiffed for the services provided. The hapless duo finally staggered into Tbilisi's Marriott Hotel at 4 a.m. Kirilev subsequently related his tale of woe to journalists, noting that the delegation had traveled to Georgia at the invitation of the country's parliament and government. Eorsi and Kirilev get to try their luck at departing the country Saturday.


Even the Russians are starting to see the downside of high oil prices, which have helped steer the country to a robust economic recovery. Now standing at a record $50.2 billion, its foreign currency reserves are soaring at a rate of over $1 billion a week — and the Central Bank's need to keep printing rubles to buy up the dollars is fueling new worries about inflation. Central Bank chairman Sergei Ignatyev has decided that Russia's only solution is to accept a strong ruble, for the first time since Moscow's financial crash in 1998. In order to meet the official inflation target of 10-12 percent this year, Russia will let the ruble strengthen 4-6 percent this year. The Russian currency already rose by 5,8 percent against the dollar last year.


U.S. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen from Florida, the new chair of the International Relations sub-committee on the Middle East, thoughtfully organized a friendly get-to-know-you reception this week for ambassadors from the region. Nobody told her or her staff that it was the feast of the Eid, marking the end of the period of the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. Only three envoys turned up, from Egypt, Jordan and Israel. Arab diplomats, shaking their heads in resignation at the American way of diplomacy, add that she is planning a Mid-East trip during the Easter break — but only Israel is on the schedule so far.

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