- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Noriega confirmed

The State Department yesterday praised the Senate’s approval of Roger Noriega as the top U.S. diplomat for Latin American affairs as a “piece of good news” after a long, bruising confirmation fight.

Key Senate Democrats had opposed the nomination of the staunch anti-communist Mexican-American, who was tapped in January. Despite the opposition during the confirmation process, he was approved by unanimous consent on Tuesday.

He is the first assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs since 1996 to be confirmed to the post, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

“We think his appointment to this key position will strengthen our leadership in the Western Hemisphere and accelerate our efforts to promote democracy, security, human rights, civil society and expanded trade and investment opportunities in the hemisphere,” he said.

Mr. Noriega served as a senior aide to Sen. Jesse Helms, when the North Carolina Republican was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. That connection made him a target for liberal critics of a strong U.S. policy toward communist movements in Latin America. He was most recently U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States.

His nomination drew opposition from such senators as Connecticut Democrat Christopher J. Dodd, who tried to block the appointment.

From the right, he was praised by Cuban-Americans who support President Bush’s position on Fidel Castro’s Cuba.

“Roger Noriega is exceptionally qualified to lead U.S. foreign policy toward Latin America. His confirmation is a great step forward,” said Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Florida Republican.

In a letter to Mr. Noriega, he added, “The Western Hemisphere is in desperate need of immediate U.S. attention and action. … The hemisphere faces a war against terrorists for the survival of democracy in Colombia, a grossly deteriorated situation in Haiti, the end of democracy in Venezuela, narcotrafficking which ravages our youth and growing infiltration by international terrorists.”

Mr. Diaz-Balart also denounced “the Castro dictatorship” for brutalizing the Cuban people and maintaining links to “the global terrorist network.”

The last assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere was Jeffrey Davidow, who was confirmed Aug. 7, 1996. The position has since been filled with temporary appointments.

Container security

China and the United States this week signed an agreement to increase security on container shipments that are considered high-risk targets of terrorists.

The Chinese Embassy said the Container Security Initiative was signed by Mou Xinsheng, director of China’s General Administration of Customs, and Robert C. Bonner, commissioner of Customs and Border Protection in the Department of Homeland Security.

Under the agreement, the United States will send customs officers to the Chinese ports of Shanghai and Shenzhen and Chinese officials can be sent to U.S. ports, the embassy said.

The agreement “is an important part of the U.S. global antiterrorism strategy, helping identify and check high-risk containers before they are delivered,” the embassy said.

Beating a dead parrot

Embassy Row readers who saw the item yesterday about a “dead parrot” think they know what a State Department spokesman meant when he coined the phrase to deny a report that former Secretary of State James A. Baker III was going to Iraq.

“It was the Monty Python scene. It’s dead. It’s dead. It’s dead,” said one reader, referring to the famous British comedy skit about a man who buys a dead parrot and tries to return it.

John R. Malott, a former U.S. ambassador to Malaysia, said spokesman Richard Boucher clearly was referring to reporters who, like parrots, will repeat “what they hear over and over again.”

“They don’t know or understand what they’re saying. They just repeat what they hear. A dead parrot can no longer repeat anything,” he said.

Mr. Boucher on Monday denied the story that first appeared on The Washington Post’s Web site during the weekend.

“Rick Boucher says it’s not true and that the parrot’s dead. In effect that signals the press to stop repeating — to stop parroting — what they heard about Baker,” Mr. Malott said.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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