- The Washington Times - Monday, April 10, 2006

Serious’ consequences

The State Department yesterday threatened to “severely” restrict the movements of the ambassador from Venezuela if the U.S. ambassador to the South American country faces another assault by mobs supporting President Hugo Chavez.

“This was simply outrageous,” spokesman Sean McCormack said, referring to the attack on the car carrying U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield last week, as tensions increased between the two countries.

“If we see an incident like this again, I think there are going to be serious diplomatic consequences between our two countries, and I think that the Venezuelan ambassador might find his ability to move around the United States severely restricted.”

Ambassador Bernardo AlvarezHerrera was not available for comment yesterday, but the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry issued a statement condemning violence against diplomats.

The tone of the statement was a sharp contrast to the defiant charges by Mr. Chavez on Sunday, when he accused Mr. Brownfield of provoking the attack and threatened to expel him.

Mr. McCormack noted that Chavez supporters pounded on the ambassador’s car and threw eggs and tomatoes at the vehicle on Friday as Mr. Brownfield’s convoy left the town of Coche, where he visited to deliver baseball equipment to a youth league. Mr. McCormack said the attack was the third in the “past several weeks.”

“It’s a thuggish attempt to intimidate our ambassador. He won’t be intimidated by this sort of petty thuggery,” Mr. McCormack said.

He accused the left-wing Venezuelan government of violating provisions of an international treaty that requires host countries to provide security for foreign diplomats.

“Frankly, the Venezuelan government must live up to its obligations under the Vienna Convention to help provide protection for our diplomats. We do that here,” he said.

In Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, acting Foreign Minister Alcides Rondon said, “Venezuelans are particularly against those acts … against the functions and dignity of representatives of the diplomatic community accredited in our country.”

On Sunday, the fiery Mr. Chavez blamed Mr. Brownfield for the attack.

“The ambassador went to Coche seeking an incident,” he said in his weekly television address. “It was a provocation to look for another incident, seeking an escalation.”

Mr. Chavez said that if the United States retaliates, “[Mr. Brownfield] will have to leave here, sir.”

“I will declare [Mr. Brownfield] persona non grata,” Mr. Chavez added.

In February Mr. Chavez accused a U.S. naval attache, Navy Cmdr. John Correa, of espionage and ordered him to leave the country. The United States responded by expelling Jenny Figueredo Frias, chief of staff to the Venezuelan ambassador.

No discipline

London Mayor Ken Livingstone escaped disciplinary action by a local government oversight board for comparing the U.S. ambassador to a “chiseling little crook.”

The Standards Board, acting on a complaint from a civil liberties group, reviewed his statements last week and concluded that “on balance, it was not considered that the allegation is sufficiently serious to warrant referral for investigation and any consequent action,” a spokesman told Agence France-Presse in London.

Mr. Livingstone, known as “Red Ken” for his left-wing views, lashed out at Ambassador Robert H. Tuttle because the U.S. Embassy refuses to pay a “congestion charge” on its diplomatic cars. The embassy has called the fee an illegal tax on foreign diplomats, who are exempted from local taxes under international treaties.

The London city government says the embassy owes nearly $382,000 in unpaid fees. Drivers are charged $14 a day to enter the central part of the British capital.

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

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