- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Anticipation

Today’s release of the report by the Iraq Study Group is the most anticipated event in Washington, even for visiting members of the European Parliament who hope to get a clearer picture of any change in U.S. policy toward Baghdad.

“Everybody is focused on the publication of the report,” Jonathan Evans, leader of the delegation, told reporters yesterday after five days of intense talks with members of Congress and administration officials.

“The U.S. side sees the publication of the report as the next major step in Iraq. That certainly is the position of the Democratic leadership.”

Whether the commission, co-chaired by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Rep. Lee H. Hamilton, recommends a troop withdrawal or a troop increase or something in between is a major concern to the Europeans, especially the British.

Mr. Evans, a British Conservative, said Britain probably could not increase its troop level in Iraq.

“Our reserves are now actively engaged in Iraq,” he said, adding that British troops “are overstretched like I’ve never seen before.”

Mr. Evans criticized European nations that have refused to assist the coalition led by U.S. and British forces.

“One problem we have is with the lack of support from Europeans failing to enforce the U.N. resolutions. The burden has fallen on a limited number of countries,” he said, referring to U.N. Security Council resolutions that called for the disarmament of Iraq.

Mr. Evans and his delegation traveled to South Carolina last week for a meeting with congressional colleagues of the Trans-Atlantic Legislators’ Dialogue, which meets every six months. At that meeting and later in Washington, the Europeans tried to gauge the change in U.S.-European policies that will accompany the new Democrat-controlled Congress.

He said that they have concerns about the protectionist trade positions of some Democrats, but overall they expect relations could improve. For example, Mr. Evans said, in his two years on the trans-Atlantic commission, he never got to meet Rep. Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican and chairman of the House International Relations Committee. However, the incoming chairman, Rep.Tom Lantos, California Democrat, met with the delegation and brought seven senior members of the committee with him. Mr. Lantos was born in Hungary.

The two sides issued a statement from their meeting in Charleston, S.C., in which they criticized the slide toward authoritarian government in Russia and praised President Bush for proposing an expansion of a program to allow more Europeans to travel to the United States without visas.

“We stressed the importance of Russia as a partner in achieving peace and stability in the world, but at the same time expressed deep concern over anti-democratic developments under the Putin government,” they said, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The meeting was hosted by Reginald Dale, director of the Trans-Atlantic Media Network at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Fear of coup

The U.S. ambassador in Nigeria warned of international repercussions should the military attempt to overthrow the government of Africa’s most populous nation and thwart a presidential election in April.

Ambassador John Campbell told Nigeria’s Guardian newspaper that he thought a coup was unlikely but expressed concern about the level of violence against some candidates so early in the campaign. Bombs destroyed the homes and campaign offices of political leaders last month.

“Any military coup in Nigeria will not be acceptable. In fact, there is no possibility of that happening after eight years of civilian democracy,” he said. “But if there were a military coup, there would be a different texture in bilateral ties between [the United States and Nigeria].”

The oil-rich West African nation returned to democracy in 1999 after a long history of political violence.

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

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