- The Washington Times - Monday, March 27, 2006

Traffic jam

London Mayor Ken Livingstone yesterday threatened the U.S. Embassy with legal action and denounced the U.S. ambassador to Britain for the embassy’s refusal to pay a daily fee for driving in central London — a charge that American officials say is a tax and cannot be applied to them under international law.

Mr. Livingstone, a fiery left-wing politician known as “Red Ken,” complained that the United States should pay the fee, called a “congestion charge,” out of gratitude for the role of British soldiers fighting in Iraq.

The mayor called Ambassador Robert Holmes Tuttle a “car salesman” and a political friend of President Bush’s. Mr. Tuttle is the co-managing partner of the Tuttle-Click Automotive Group, one of the world’s largest car dealer organizations, and one of Mr. Bush’s major political supporters.

“This new ambassador is a car salesman and an ally of President Bush,” Mr. Livingstone said. “This is clearly a political decision.”

The embassy stopped paying the $14-a-day fee on each of its 100 diplomatic cars in July, citing the 1961 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations that exempts diplomats from paying national and local taxes in their host countries.

“We think it’s perfectly clear that this is a tax,” David Johnson, the deputy chief of mission, told The Washington Times in October when the controversy first surfaced.

Mr. Livingstone yesterday said the city of London is tired of waiting for the Americans to pay up.

“We will find a way of getting them into court, either here or in America,” he said.

“When British troops are putting their lives on the line for American foreign policy, it would be quite nice if they paid the congestion charge,” he added.

Defiant India

Indian Ambassador Ronen Sen has little patience with critics of the proposed U.S.-Indian nuclear deal and insists that his government will accept no changes to the agreement worked out by President Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

He told the newspaper India Abroad there is “zero” chance that India would accept any amendment to the deal to provide India with U.S. civilian nuclear technology in return for India opening its nuclear-power plants to international inspections. The agreement does not cover India’s nuclear-weapons program.

In an interview with the Indo-Asian News Service, Mr. Sen said critics are “trapped in a mind-set of the past.”

Some critics have questioned why India should be rewarded with access to U.S. technology because it has never signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), but Mr. Sen has said that India has never attempted to spread nuclear-weapons technology.

“We have never sought to undermine this treaty,” he told India Abroad. “In fact, we had strict export controls in place long before nuclear non-proliferation regimes were even conceived of, let along codified.”

The issue is likely to come up on Friday when Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran holds a 2:30 p.m. press conference at the Indian Embassy.

Swiss shuffle

Switzerland has appointed a new ambassador to the United States and promoted a former one to foreign minister.

Ambassador Urs Ziswiler is expected to arrive in Washington in May to succeed the current ambassador, Christian Blickenstorfer, who has been appointed Switzerland’s envoy to Germany.

Mr. Ziswiler most recently served as director of political affairs in the Foreign Office, the second-highest-ranking diplomat in the Swiss Foreign Service. He served as ambassador to Canada and the Bahamas from 1999 to 2004.

Meanwhile, Jan Eliasson, ambassador here from 2000 to 2005, has been appointed foreign minister. Mr. Eliasson served as president of the U.N. General Assembly last year.

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

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