- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 4, 2004

Old-style hardball’

Russia must be told that meddling in the affairs of the unstable new states along its border will be costly to its relations with the West, Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana told a Washington audience this week.

Mr. Geoana, who met with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell after discussions at the United Nations on Monday, said that in the past year, Russia increasingly has used “frozen conflicts” in former Soviet territories such as Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova to reassert control in the so-called “near abroad” and challenge what it sees as encroaching U.S. influence.

“We very much need to convince the Russians that this is not a zero-sum game,” Mr. Geoana told a gathering at the Nixon Center Tuesday morning, Washington Times correspondent David R. Sands reports. The trend has become “especially worrisome in the last six to nine months,” he said.

“We recognize an old-style hardball” in Russia’s recent foreign policy moves and “a temptation to exert influence in the near abroad,” he said.

The foreign minister said he endorsed the main points of a commentary article by Mr. Powell on the eve of his trip to Moscow last month, expressing uneasiness with Russia’s democratic shortcomings, the war against separatists in Chechnya and its policy toward states on its borders.

“This is also Romania’s near abroad,” Mr. Geoana said. “If we accept the logic that one country has more of a right to engage in the region than any others, we are back to that zero-sum game.”

Mr. Geoana said a greater effort by the European Union in the region would ease the direct competition between Russia and the United States. He also urged that the NATO summit in Istanbul in June be devoted to “re-engaging Russia.”

Romania’s voice in Black Sea and foreign-policy affairs is set to grow in the coming years. It is poised to join NATO and hopes to complete negotiations to join the European Union by 2007. It has dispatched forces to Afghanistan and Iraq and has just begun a two-year term on the U.N. Security Council.

Soaring like eagles

Israeli Ambassador Daniel Ayalon remembered Israel’s first astronaut, who died with the rest of the crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia a year ago, as a symbol of odyssey of the Jewish state.

Col. Ilan Ramon, a combat pilot and son of a Holocaust survivor, “epitomized the story of Israel and the Jewish people,” he said at a memorial service at the Israeli Embassy this week.

Mr. Ayalon described Israelis as “a people that, in less than two generations, rose from the ashes of despair, the lowest depths of humanity, and soared to the heights of human splendor, demonstrating the spirit to triumph over tribulation.”

Col. Ramon, he said, “will always be a hero to a grateful nation.”

The ambassador thanked Sean O’Keefe, director of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, for the compassion he and the rest of the agency displayed after the shuttle disintegrated upon re-entry, as millions of Americans and Israelis watched on television.

“Only the very sensitive, caring and professional response of the entire NASA team … mitigated the sorrow,” Mr. Ayalon said. “We realized exactly what NASA meant when they said, ‘We are a family.’

“A family that supports each other in times of great joy and deep sadness keeps our faith and gives us strength to overcome tragedy and to carry on.”

Mr. Ayalon, quoting from the biblical book of Isaiah, added, “But those who wait upon God get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like eagles.”

Mr. O’Keefe presented Col. Ramon’s widow, Rona, with the NASA Space Flight Medal, one of the agency’s highest tributes, along with the American flag flown at half-staff at NASA’s Houston facility and the Israeli flag flown in the background of a crew portrait.

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

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