- The Washington Times - Monday, October 2, 2006

‘Center of the fight’

Morale is high at the State Department, where foreign service officers have a new confidence under Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and think they are at the “center of the fight” against terrorism, one of Washington’s highest-ranking diplomats said yesterday.

Even relations between Foggy Bottom and the Pentagon, two institutions often in open conflict, could not be better, R. Nicholas Burns added at a luncheon with editors and reporters at The Washington Times.

Mr. Burns, undersecretary for political affairs, credited the improved climate to the strong relationship between Miss Rice and President Bush. While Colin L. Powell was secretary of state, some critics often saw diplomats as trying to undermine the White House. Mr. Burns, a 25-year veteran of the foreign service office, declined to compare the atmosphere under the two secretaries.

“Morale is very high at the State Department. The State Department is at the very center of our foreign policy,” Mr. Burns said. “It’s the president’s foreign policy that we’re serving, and we know the president has absolute trust in our secretary of state and that has empowered people.”

U.S. diplomats feel their “voices are being heard on important issues,” he said.

“But it’s not as if the State Department is trying to export its view of the world to the White House. Our ethic is to serve the president, and the president has a very well-defined foreign policy — democracy-promotion and freedom … the war against terrorism … being successful in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Mr. Burns said.

Mr. Burns, who holds the third highest ranking job at the State Department, explained that diplomats and military officers have a new view of each other because of a program that assigns foreign service officers to provincial reconstruction teams in Iraq and Afghanistan to help those countries rebuild and create democratic institutions.

“Our relationship with the Pentagon works well, very well,” he said. “It might not have always been the case in the early years of 2001 and 2002, but it’s true now.”

More than 1,000 State Department officers have served in Iraq reconstruction teams, he added.

“We are filling 100 percent of our Iraq jobs this year and filled all the Afghan jobs. People feel they are at the center of the fight,” Mr. Burns said.

Visa distress

Czech Ambassador Petr Kolar is warning of the “dangerous psychological effects” of a U.S. visa program that forces Czech citizens, who consider themselves strong American allies, to apply for travel documents to visit the United States.

The Czech Republic is among seven new members of the European Union and NATO who are not eligible for the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which permits the citizens of other EU and NATO nations to visit the United States for up to 90 days without visas.

Mr. Kolar, writing in the latest Czech Embassy newsletter, noted that several members of Congress have introduced bills to broaden the number of countries that enjoy the visa-free privilege.

“While these proposals are no guarantee that our citizens soon will enjoy travel to the United States without a visa, they are a tangible indication that more and more U.S. legislators are informed about the VWP issue and its damaging psychological effects on our otherwise strong U.S.-Czech relations,” he said.

The embassy explained that one bill supported by Sens. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, and Barbara A. Mikulski, Maryland Democrat, would apply only to Poland, while a House version inadvertently excluded the Slovak Republic.

It noted that the seven European nations subjected to visas do not require American citizens to apply for travel documents to visit those countries.

The embassy complained about the “expensive and arduous visa application and screening process” on citizens of the Czech and Slovak republics, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.

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

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