- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Malaysia’s war of words

The Malaysian prime minister has harmed relations with the United States by bitterly criticizing U.S. foreign policy and referring to the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks as “collateral damage,” said the American ambassador to the Southeast Asian nation.

Ambassador Marie T. Huhtala told a business forum that comments by “senior Malaysian officials” were “offensive” to American officials “at the highest level,” an apparent reference to President Bush. They were “bound to have a harmful effect” on U.S.-Malaysian relations, she said.

Reporters were barred from covering her speech delivered last week, but her remarks were posted yesterday on the U.S. Embassy’s Web site (www.usembassymalaysia.org.my).

Mrs. Huhtala said Washington’s problem was not with Malaysia’s opposition to the war in Iraq.

“It is impossible to deny that our bilateral relationship has been strained recently,” she said. “Malaysia’s opposition to the coalition action against Iraq was well known and was not, in itself, a problem from Washington’s point of view.

“But some of the public statements by senior Malaysian officials have castigated the U.S. in antagonistic, occasionally offensive, terms.

“American officials at the most senior levels in Washington were especially taken aback to hear the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks dismissed as mere ‘collateral damage’ and irritated by allegations that the U.S. was pursuing a war against Islam, a policy based on racism and an effort to dominate the world.”

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, in a February speech to the summit of nonaligned nations, compared the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks to “innocent people” killed accidentally in the war in Afghanistan and dying in Iraq because of U.N. sanctions, which were lifted after the removal of Saddam Hussein.

“If the innocent people who died in the attack on Afghanistan and those who have been dying from lack of food and medical care in Iraq are considered collaterals, are the 3,000 who died in New York … also just collaterals whose deaths are necessary for operations to succeed?” he asked.

Mr. Mahathir then denounced “the rich and powerful [who] have become enraged with the poor half of the world” since the September 11 attacks.

“Their extreme measures to ensure security for themselves have only amplified the anger of the oppressed poor,” he said.

Egypt sees fast change

Egyptian Ambassador Nabil Fahmy yesterday said he expects democratic pressure will bring “rapid change” to the Middle East, where some Arab rulers already are experimenting with constitutional reform.

“The issue of change didn’t start with Saddam [Hussein],” Mr. Fahmy said at a breakfast meeting with journalists, who included David W. Jones, foreign editor of The Washington Times.

“What is forcing change is demography,” the ambassador explained. “Sixty-five percent of our people are under age 25. The second thing forcing change in information — new newspapers, satellite dishes. Rapid change is to be expected.”

Although Egypt has an elected government, the National Democratic Party has ruled the country since it was founded in 1978. The State Department human rights report says that Egypt lacks a real democracy because Egyptians do not have “a meaningful ability to change their government.”

Mr. Fahmy defended his concerns that war in Iraq could destabilize Egypt and other Arab nations.

“Our comments were focused on the effects on the Arab people, their attitudes toward America, a possible increase in terrorism,” he said.

“The issue of instability applies mainly to Iraq, and there it is too early to tell.”

Mr. Fahmy also expressed his surprise with pundits who complain about the pace of reconstruction in Iraq.

“The only thing I am surprised about is how many times people are surprised by the obvious,” he said, referring to the complications of war and the challenges of “winning the peace.”

“There is a tendency in America to monitor events day to day and expect immediate results,” he said. “The military went in ‘too slowly,’ then it went ‘too quickly.’ These things take time.”

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected]

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