- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 9, 2004

Jordan reassured

Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher left a meeting yesterday with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell confident that the United States has no intention of trying to force political reforms on Arab nations.

However, he told reporters that Arab governments need to recognize the need to broaden political rights for their citizens.

“I think it is important for the region to come up with a credible and serious reform process, and this is, indeed, what we are doing,” he said.

Mr. Powell added: “The United States … has no intention of trying to impose reform on any Arab nation. That wouldn’t work.”

Iraqi religious liberty

U.S. advocates of religious freedom are worried that Islamic fundamentalism might undermine the civil rights guaranteed in Iraq’s new interim constitution.

Michael K. Young, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, yesterday expressed concerns that the document adopted this week, formally called the Transitional Administrative Law, subjects future legislation to the “universally agreed upon tenets of Islam.”

“In some Islamic countries, such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, judges and other public officials have resorted to harsh interpretations of Islamic tenets as justification for abusing universal human rights, stifling public debate and impeding democratic reforms,” he said in a statement.

Mr. Young warned that the Islamic provision in the Iraqi administrative law could abridge the rights of religious minorities, women or other human rights proponents.

“A future Iraq that respects the universal human rights of all Iraqis, including religious minorities and women, would contribute significantly to regional peace, stability and progress,” he said.

“Iraq’s permanent constitution should contain a statement that the principles of democracy, pluralism, rule of law and Iraq’s international obligations are to be fundamental sources for legislation.”

Mr. Young praised the Iraqi Governing Council for guaranteeing freedom of religion and other civil rights in the interim constitution. His commission congratulated the council for rejecting a narrow guarantee of group religious rights and adopting individual rights to protect “freedom of thought, conscience, belief and practice.”

Parlez, ambassadeur

French is still spoken in Washington. Consider L’Enfant Plaza, the Rochambeau Bridge, Lafayette Square and Dupont Circle.

But in Europe, French officials fear that the old language of diplomacy will erode further, as the European Union prepares to accept 10 new member nations from Eastern Europe, where French is rarely spoken. Diplomats from those countries prefer English or German as a second language.

The French are so concerned they are offering senior East European diplomats free French lessons, along with courses on French art, food and wine, at a chateau in Provence, London’s Daily Telegraph reports from Paris.

Last year, they paid 3,200 bureaucrats from the new member nations to take French lessons. This year, the French government invited ambassadors and other senior diplomats to attend a one-week summer crash course at the Chateau Correnson in Avignon. The course costs about $3,700 per pupil.

France is painfully aware that it is losing influence, as fewer and fewer EU documents are printed in French. In 2002, only 29 percent of the documents were in French, while 57 percent were in English.

One French diplomat hopes that the mystique of his language will attract diplomats from Estonia to Cyprus.

“I operate in a way to suggest to those who don’t understand me that they’re missing out on something important,” said Pierre Sellal, France’s EU ambassador.

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

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