- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 27, 2005

U.S. backs Flores

The United States yesterday formally endorsed a former president of El Salvador in the highly competitive race to become the next secretary-general of the Organization of American States.

Washington’s support for Francisco Flores gives a major boost to the Central American candidate, who is running against Mexican Foreign Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez and Chilean Interior Minister Jose Miguel Insulza.

The winning candidate will replace Miguel Angel Rodriguez, the former president of Costa Rica who resigned from the OAS post in October amid accusations of corruption.

In announcing support for Mr. Flores, Roger Noriega, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, called him an honest man who fought corruption and championed human rights.

Mr. Noriega also said the Bush administration thinks a Central American candidate should replace Mr. Rodriguez, who was the first secretary-general from that region.

The assistant secretary said the current Salvadoran president, Elias Antonio Saca Gonzalez, had urged the United States to support Mr. Flores when he met with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell last year.

“President Flores represents a new generation of Latin American leaders: thoroughly modern, dynamic, forward-leaning, who view the challenges of our 21st-century, globalized world not as threats to be shunned but as opportunities to be embraced,” Mr. Noriega said.

“He is a Central American visionary, fresh and creative in his outlook, who deeply appreciates the benefits of regional action and hemispheric unity. … As a former president, Francisco Flores knows the demands of leadership and the pressures of decision-making that are the everyday responsibilities of a chief executive.”

Mr. Noriega vouched for Mr. Flores’ integrity, saying he “ran an honest government, fought corruption, highlighted human rights and security,” and worked with his political opponents in El Salvador.

In supporting Mr. Flores, the United States rejected Mr. Insulza, a Chilean socialist who criticized the war in Iraq, and Mr. Derbez, who had been considered a likely candidate for president of Mexico next year.

In a radio interview Wednesday in Mexico City, Mr. Derbez said the United States exerts too much influence on the 34 member nations of the OAS.

“So [the OAS] requires major surgery to be perceived as a truly neutral organization in which all nations and their concerns can be attended to,” he said.

Meanwhile, the former secretary-general is preparing to fight corruption charges in Costa Rica. Mr. Rodriguez is accused of accepting a bribe from a French telecommunications company that won a government contract to provide the country with cell phone service.

Warning in Kuwait

The U.S. Embassy in Kuwait warned its citizens about the possibility of new clashes between security officials and terror suspects and urged Americans to avoid places where foreigners usually gather.

The embassy also said the terror suspects have conducted surveillance of a high-rise residential building mostly occupied by Westerners who work in Kuwait’s oil industry.

Police still are looking for suspects involved in shootouts with security forces on Jan. 10 and Jan. 15, the embassy said. Two police officers and two terror suspects were killed in the gunfights.

“We repeat our advice that American citizens exercise caution, maintain a low profile and avoid areas where Westerners are known to congregate,” the embassy said.

The British Embassy issued a similar warning to its citizens in Kuwait.

The Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Qabas yesterday quoted a security source as saying the suspects are Islamic militants connected to a group called the “Peninsula Lions,” which is linked to the al Qaeda terrorist network.

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

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