- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2006

Optimist in Egypt

The U.S. ambassador to Egypt insists he is optimistic over the prospects for political and economic reform but is worried about continued government corruption and repression.

Ambassador Francis J. Ricciardone this week praised President Hosni Mubarak for proposing “an historic legislative and constitutional agenda.”

“Unfortunately, we are seeing some serious resistance to reforms that favor Egypt’s opening to competition and change and growth,” he said in a speech Wednesday to the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt.

“But I’m an optimist. I choose to be optimistic, and I find that the very fact that we are seeing serious resistance to reforms tells me that the process has become meaningful enough to provoke such reaction from some who may fear change.”

Mr. Ricciardone applauded Mr. Mubarak for holding the first multiparty presidential election but criticized the government for arresting his chief opponent, Ayman Nour, who was convicted of forging signatures on his nominating petition. Mr. Mubarak won 88 percent of the vote in September’s election in his quest for a sixth term. Mr. Nour got 7 percent.

“All we know is that the man who ran for the presidency here and came in second, lost the elections by a great margin, ended up before the courts and got what appears to Americans to be a very harsh sentence,” the ambassador said.

He criticized the recent crackdown on anti-government demonstrators.

“When things like this happen, they appear to us to set back this great, optimistic course that President Mubarak has charted, and we are, at the very least, disappointed,” Mr. Ricciardone said.

Serbia fails

Serbia has failed for the fourth year in a row to turn over indicted war criminals to international authorities, the U.S. ambassador said yesterday in announcing the decision to continue withholding direct American aid to the government in Belgrade.

Ambassador Michael C. Polt said Washington will freeze $7 million that was earmarked for direct assistance to the government but contribute $62 million to nongovernmental organizations.

“I am convinced that the people of Serbia desperately want to move toward a better future for themselves and their families, a future of economic prosperity in a country that upholds democratic principles, including the rule of law and the equal treatment of all its citizens, regardless of rank or position,” he said.

“Unfortunately the government of Serbia has failed to fulfill the obligations to the international community and to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.”

He blamed the government for failing to extradite Gen. Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, whom the tribunal has indicted on war-crime charges from the conflict in Bosnia in the 1990s.

Latin tension

The monthly meeting of Latin American ambassadors turned tense when the envoy from Chile confronted the envoy from Venezuela and demanded to know why Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is interfering so much in the affairs of other countries.

Ambassador Andres Bianchi, who is returning soon to Chile, caught Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez off guard with his questions about Venezuela’s socialist president, according to one diplomat at the May meeting who asked not to be identified because the gatherings are private.

Mr. Alvarez tried to defend Mr. Chavez, who has promised millions of barrels of oil and tons of fertilizer to left-wing Sandinista mayors in Nicaragua and has threatened to break relations with Peru if his favored candidate loses the Sunday presidential runoff. Mr. Chavez has also befriended Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

After the meeting, the diplomat noticed Mr. Bianchi, Mr. Alvarez and Dagoberto Rodriguez Barrera, head of the Cuban Interests Section, in what he called a “heated discussion.”

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


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