- The Washington Times - Friday, February 21, 2003

Thank you, Latvia

Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga got an unexpected benefit from her visit to Washington this week, as Americans from New York to Hollywood, from the Midwest to the Southwest, sent e-mails to the Latvian Embassy to praise her strong stand against Iraq.

Many said they now plan to visit Riga, the Latvian capital, and asked where they could buy Latvian products. The embassy recommends Latvian chocolates under the brand name, Laima. The Web site www.balticshop.com also features Latvian gifts.

Several praised Mrs. Vike-Freiberga for standing up to French President Jacques Chirac, who scolded East European nations for daring to go against France and Germany in their opposition to the U.S. position on Iraq.

John Schaefer of Hollywood was impressed by remarks she made Monday after meeting President Bush.

"Thank you for speaking out clearly today at the White House in repudiation of the self-deluded policies of France and Germany and many on the street," he wrote, referring to massive anti-war demontrations during the weekend.

"I am so proud to hear a nation speak with a voice that vindicates America's noble stand against fascism and totalitarianism."

An e-mail signed "Garrison," from Oklahoma City, said, "I am proud to hear your president's voice loud and clear. At the same time, I am ashamed of the intolerant and threatening comments and views of President Chirac."

Howard Gintell of New York wrote, "Only a country such as Latvia can understand what it's like to live under a dictator."

Mrs. Vike-Freiberga, like other leaders of new democracies in the former Soviet bloc, has explained that Latvians understand the plight of Iraqis and their lack of freedom.

"Your president's firm eloquence in stating your country's position, basing it upon its own struggle for freedom and involving the price paid for past appeasement of dictatorships … was refreshing and much appreciated," said Thor E. Ronay, executive vice president of the Center for Security Policy in Washington.

Many admirers congratulated her after watching her interviews on CNN and the Fox News Channel.

One e-mail from "a grateful American" noted that Latvians "have always been and are today a most impressive, brave people."

Jack and Lesley Schiraldi of Dallas said they have added Riga to their plans for a European vacation this year.

"Your country is lucky to have such a distinguished and strong leader," they added.

Joe Armstrong of Scituate, Mass., said he had been planning a trip to France, but will go to Latvia instead to "experience the spirit of your brave, strong people in a land recently freed from despotism."

India 'weak link'

The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee yesterday complained that India is failing to control illegal money transfers that help finance terrorist groups.

"Yes, India is a weak link," said F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. on a visit to New Delhi.

The Wisconsin Republican added he hopes a recently passed bill in the Indian Parliament will help control money laundering in time for India to meet a 2005 deadline under an international agreement to control the financing of terrorism.

Mr. Sensenbrenner, on an earlier visit to Bombay this week, noted that many bank transactions are still done on pieces of paper instead of modern bank technology.

At a new conference in New Delhi yesterday, Mr. Sensenbrenner noted the vast improvements in U.S.-India relations.

"Never before have our two nations talked to one another on such a wide spectrum of international issues," he said. "These discussions underscore President Bush's view of India as a rising global power."

Mr. Sensenbrenner held meetings this week with Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani and promised to relay India's position on terrorism and other issues.

"As I return to Washington, I will take with me the concerns of the Indian government on critical bilateral issues such as counterterrorism, homeland security and intellectual-property rights," he said.

"I intend to share these views with my colleagues on the House Judiciary Committee and in the rest of the Congress."

The United States also has been critical of India for failing to protect U.S. patents, trademarks and copyrights.

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