- The Washington Times - Monday, September 27, 2004

Stars in his eyes

Chilean Ambassador Andres Bianchi knows the clear skies and starry nights that have made his Andean nation the best place for astronomy in the Southern Hemisphere.

The tradition dates back four centuries, when a Spanish soldier first made notes on a lunar eclipse from the city of Valdivia, he said.

American and Chilean astronomers have been gazing at the night skies through cooperative scientific projects for 150 years, and tomorrow scientists from both nations will hold a forum in the Rayburn House Office Building to discuss some of theirdiscoveries.

“The exploration of the Chilean skies is not over yet,” Mr. Bianchi said, in announcing the forum. “As we speak, new mega-observatories, even larger than the ones operating today, with the capability of exploring remote stars and galaxies are being assessed. This is only possible with international collaboration.”

Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, New York Republican and chairman of the House Science Committee, and Rep. Bart Gordon of Tennessee, the senior Democrat on the panel, are hosting the event to underscore the importance of scientific cooperation.

“The U.S.-Chile partnership is a testament to what can be accomplished when nations work together for the advancement of science,” Mr. Boehlert said.

Mr. Gordon added: “The scientific collaboration between our two nations has helped forge ties of mutual understanding and friendship, as our scientists work together to unravel the secrets of the universe.”

The forum, which begins at noon in Room 2325, was organized by the Embassy of Chile, the University of Chile and the American Astronomical Society.

Election pressure

The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan insists he is playing no favorites in the country’s first direct presidential election, but opposition candidates continue to accuse him of interfering with the country’s political process.

Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad yesterday denied charges that he pressured some opposition candidates to drop out of the race. The United States, officially neutral, is widely believed to privately favor Hamid Karzai, appointed interim president after U.S. troops ousted the repressive Taliban regime in 2001.

“Our role is to support the process so that Afghans have the opportunity to elect their leader,” Mr. Khalilzad told reporters in the capital, Kabul.

“Who they elect is their decision. It is not my business. It is not the [U.S. Embassy’s] business to tell candidates to withdraw. It is a decision for each candidate to make.”

Eighteen candidates are running in the Oct. 9 election.

‘Baghdad Bush’

A former U.S. ambassador compared President Bush to Saddam Hussein’s information minister, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, nicknamed “Baghdad Bob,” who kept insisting that Iraqi forces were defeating the Americans, even as U.S. tanks rolled into Baghdad.

Chas Freeman Jr., ambassador to Saudi Arabia under Mr. Bush’s father, faulted the president’s optimism about the future of Iraq on a visit to the United Arab Emirates over the weekend, according to Reuters.

“His attitude toward the development of Iraq risks him being equated with the former Iraqi information minister,” he said.

Mr. Freeman also blamed terrorist violence in Saudi Arabia on passions inflamed by the war in Iraq.

“The war has certainly contributed to the attacks we’ve seen carried out by al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia,” he said. “Relations are deeply estranged at a popular level.”

Mr. Freeman served in Saudi Arabia from 1989 to 1992 and now directs the Middle East Policy Council in Washington.

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

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