- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 29, 2004

Venezuela’s rhetoric

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage is urging Venezuela to tone down its anti-American rhetoric if it wants to maintain good relations with the United States.

Mr. Armitage expressed U.S. hopes that President Hugo Chavez will use his victory in the recent recall referendum to heal the divisions with his political opposition, which considers him an authoritarian ruler and criticizes his close contacts with Cuba’s Fidel Castro. Mr. Chavez has repeatedly accused the Bush administration of supporting efforts to remove him from office, a charge strongly denied in Washington.

“We hope the government of Venezuela will take a constructive approach to our bilateral relationship,” Mr. Armitage said last week, at the swearing-in ceremony for William R. Brownfield, the new U.S. ambassador to the oil-rich South American nation.

“To that end, we also urge the Venezuela government to carefully consider how its actions and its rhetoric might affect the future course of our bilateral relations.”

The Bush administration accepted the results of the referendum, in which Mr. Chavez took 59 percent of the vote. The opposition, however, accused Mr. Chavez of rigging the referendum, citing exit polls that showed the opposite result and many polling places that produced the exact same vote totals.

With Venezuelan Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez in the audience, Mr. Armitage said, “We hope … that the government of Venezuela will take a constructive approach — one that will help unite a polarized society and heal the wounds of a hard-fought campaign.”

Mr. Armitage noted that the United States is Venezuela’s top customer for oil and that Venezuela has historically been a reliable supplier. He also said the two countries have mutual interests in combating narcotics trafficking and terrorism.

He said Mr. Brownfield is well-suited for his new post through both his diplomatic skills and his background as the son of a west Texas rancher who started in the oil fields.

Mr. Brownfield is the former U.S. ambassador to Chile, and his wife, Kristie Kenney, is U.S. ambassador to Ecuador.

Eritrea’s medal

Eritrean Ambassador Girma Asmerom said his country needed some good news, as the diplomatic border dispute with its larger neighbor, Ethiopia, grows more intense. Eritreans got that boost when one of their Olympic contestants won the bronze in the 10,000-meter race.

The victory by Zersenay Tadesse, 22, was Eritrea’s first Olympic medal since it gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993.

“Despite continuing political conflict with our neighbors, despite drought and economic problems, Zersenay Tadesse has proven that with clear intention, hard work, motivation and desire, any achievement is possible,” said the ambassador, a former Olympic athlete.

“While he deserves personal accolades, … by his example he shows how every Eritrean citizen can be a winner.”

Mr. Asmerom was a member of Ethiopia’s 1968 Olympic soccer team.

Death of a diplomat

Yemen’s ambassador to the United Nations for nearly 30 years died in New York after a long illness.

Abdullah Saleh al-Ashtal, who was 66, served as his country’s U.N. representative from May 29, 1973, until his retirement in July 2000. Although he was offered several senior positions, including foreign minister, Mr. al-Ashtal chose to remain in New York.

He began as the ambassador from the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen and later represented a united Yemen after his country merged with the Yemen Arab Republic in 1990.

He is survived by his wife, a son and a daughter.

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

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