- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Not very diplomatic

London Mayor Ken Livingstone yesterday was accused of misconduct for calling the U.S. ambassador to Britain a “chiseling little crook” because the American Embassy refuses to pay a daily levy on cars it calls an illegal tax on foreign diplomats.

A civil liberties group called Liberty and Law filed a complaint with the Standards Board for England, which monitors the behavior of local officials.

It accused Mr. Livingstone of failing to treat others with respect, compromising the integrity of the London city government and bringing disrepute on his office.

Mr. Livingstone on Monday threatened to take Ambassador Robert Holmes Tuttle to court for the embassy’s refusal to pay the fee, which London calls a “congestion charge.”

“It would actually be quite nice if the American ambassador in Britain could pay the charge that everybody else is paying and not actually try to skive out of it like some chiseling little crook,” he said in an interview on the ITV television show London Today.

The embassy is one of 10 foreign missions in London that refuse to pay the charge, citing international treaties that exempt foreign diplomats from national and local taxes in their host countries. London estimates that the U.S. Embassy, which stopped paying the fee in July, owes $350,000.

An embassy spokesman told Agence France-Presse that he would not “dignify” Mr. Livingstone’s remarks with a response.

However, Conservative Party Leader Bob Neill called the mayor an “embarrassment.”

“This is the latest in a long line of offensive and irrational remarks,” he said.

The left-wing mayor, known as “Red Ken,” last year compared a Jewish journalist to a Nazi concentration camp guard. Recently, he denounced two Jewish billionaire property owners who were born in India and told them “to go back to Iran.”

For one day only

A popular Japanese television news reporter, named a goodwill ambassador for a day to promote the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, interviewed this columnist yesterday and made him feel like a star.

Kazuya Matsumoto, with camera crew and a diplomat from the Japanese Embassy, flattered this bearded Embassy Row correspondent, who is known to wear a kilt, by comparing him to Scottish actor Sean Connery.

“The Japanese Embassy invited me to be ambassador for a day,” Mr. Matsumoto said. But, he added, the embassy “made a mistake in choosing me.”

Mr. Matsumoto, one of the hosts of the widely watched television show, “Can You Speak English?” displayed a brochure of his program and said the embassy should have sent one of his co-hosts, the beautiful Japanese film actress Shaku Yumiko. The third host is an American comedian, Patrick Harlan, who is always correcting Mr. Matsumoto’s English.

Ambassador Ryozo Kato named Mr. Matsumoto, who is also a correspondent with the Japan Broadcasting Corp., as his envoy to help get some favorable publicity for the embassy. Mr. Kato has repeatedly been pressured in Washington, especially by some in Congress, over Japan’s ban on American beef.

Mr. Matsumoto said his day as an ambassador was “a very precious experience for me.”

“I hope from now on the Japanese and American people will become more friendly and create better relations in the 21st century,” he said.

They both begin with S

Yesterday’s Embassy Row column displayed a bit of confusion when it reported on the arrival of a new ambassador from Switzerland and the next assignment for the current ambassador.

The column item added an announcement about the promotion of Jan Eliasson to Swiss foreign minister. Mr. Eliasson is a former Swedish ambassador to the United States and the new foreign minister in Stockholm.

Swedish Embassy spokesman Claes Thorson said the two countries are frequently mixed up.

“We laugh about it here at the embassy,” he said.

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

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