- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2003

Laotian trade warLaotian trade officials are in Washington to lobby for better economic relations with the United States, and Philip Smith is determined to stop them.The executive director of the Center for Public Policy Analysis, Mr. Smith is urging members of Congress to sign a letter to President Bush, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Rep. Philip M. Crane, chairman of the House Ways and Means trade subcommittee.Mr. Smith wants the administration to reverse itself and oppose granting normal trading relations to the communist government of Laos until it respects the human rights of its citizens, especially the Hmong people who supported U.S. forces during the Vietnam War.Laotian Ambassador Phanthong Phommahaxay, who was traveling yesterday, could not be reached for comment.Mr. Smith cites Laos’ suspected links to the Stalinist regime in North Korea and its support of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, as well as abuse documented by Amnesty International, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and Laotian refugees.”These matters concern members of Congress [and] many in the Laotian and Hmong-American community, whose relatives are subjected to horrific religious persecution and ethnic cleansing in Laos,” Mr. Smith said.The letter, being circulated in the House by Republican Reps. Mark Green of Wisconsin and George P. Radanovich of California, says, “Laos has failed miserably to demonstrate that it is ready for or deserves [normal trading relations] at this time.”They said Laos’ human rights record has become worse since the United States opened trade talks six years ago.Approving the trade status, which reduces certain tariffs, would be an “ill-conceived reward for the consistently dreadful behavior the regime has exhibited in recent years.”The Laotian delegation, led by Commerce Minister Soulivong Daravong, met Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage on Monday to discuss trade issues.State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Mr. Armitage “reiterated administration support for normal trade relations, but also urged the minister to ensure that his government take credible steps to improve human rights and religious freedom in Laos.”Words not enoughIsraeli Ambassador Daniel Ayalon yesterday said Israel is waiting for the new Palestinian prime minister to put actions behind his words and begin cracking down on suicide bombers and terrorist groups in Palestinian areas.Mr. Ayalon said attacks like Tuesday’s suicide bombing in Tel Aviv “must stop” and the new Palestinian Authority “must change the whole environment” that encourages hatred of Israel.The ambassador, speaking on the Fox News Channel’s “Fox and Friends” morning show, said that “will be the test” facing Mahmoud Abbas, who was sworn in yesterday as prime minister. Mr. Abbas has pledged to stop Palestinian terrorism.”Words are not enough,” Mr. Ayalon said. “He has control of tens of thousands of Palestinian security forces.”Mr. Abbas must “take [terrorist groups] by force” because “obviously they will not disarm voluntarily,” the ambassador said.Mr. Ayalon said Israel must have security guarantees from any new peace plan, like the U.S. “road map” that foresees a Palestinian state by 2005.”If we have learned anything [from previous peace plans], you must have accountability,” he said.NATO talksNATO Secretary-General George Robertson will travel to Washington on Sunday for two days of talks about alliance relations with Ukraine, a member of NATO’s Partnership for Peace program.Mr. Robertson is expected to meet Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, officials told reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels yesterday.NATO and the Atlantic Council organized the conference on relations with Ukraine, which is also expected to attract German Defense Minister Peter Struck, among other European defense officials.Envoy to UkrainePresident Bush has selected a career diplomat to serve as ambassador to Ukraine.John E. Herbst is currently ambassador to Uzbekistan and has served in the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem and the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

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