- The Washington Times - Monday, September 25, 2006

Steady as she goes

Slovakia remains a committed ally in Iraq and around the globe, despite the ouster of the country’s pro-U.S., center-right government in elections this summer, according to new Foreign Minister Jan Kubis.

Mr. Kubis, a veteran diplomat and former secretary-general of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, offered repeated reassurances yesterday in a briefing with U.S. officials, scholars and journalists at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, our correspondent David R. Sandsreports.

The coalition government of new Prime Minister Robert Fico, following through on a campaign pledge, has announced it will not replace a contingent of about 100 Slovak military engineers now serving under the Polish command in southern Iraq when the deployment order expires in February.

“We are not leaving Iraq. We are not leaving the alliance. We are not withdrawing from Operation Iraqi Freedom,” Mr. Kubis said.

Mr. Kubis predicted there would be far more continuity on Slovak foreign policy than on domestic policy under Mr. Fico. He said the new government largely backed the direction of the government of former Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, putting strong commitments to NATO and the European Union at the center of the country’s foreign policy.

He said Slovakia would continue to press both organizations to include countries in the Balkans and southeastern Europe, arguing it is critical to send a signal to even long-shot hopefuls such as Serbia and Ukraine that the West’s two strongest alliances are not rejecting them forever.

The looming question of Kosovo, he said, would pose a challenge both for its neighbors and for the leading Western powers. Serbia is resisting independence for the province, which is backed overwhelmingly by Kosovo’s ethnic-Albanian majority. Leaving Kosovo in its current limbo under U.N. oversight is “impossible,” Mr. Kubis said.

With Serbia balking at a deal, Mr. Kubis said he had told Kosovo’s Albanian leaders that they must “take the initiative” to offer a political settlement that reassured the province’s embattled Serbian minority.

Ignoring Chavez

If the devil is in the details, then the U.S. ambassador to Venezuela knows exactly how to respond to the anti-American bombast from President Hugo Chavez: ignore it and concentrate on the vast economic trade between the two countries.

“My government’s position is that we are going to ignore, we can ignore, and we should ignore the words,” Ambassador William Brownfield said yesterday in a television interview in the capital, Caracas. “The bilateral relation is so important for the two countries that we try to ignore the polemical words, the rhetoric.”

Venezuela exports about 1.5 million barrels of oil a day to the United States, which accounts for almost half of the government’s revenue. It imported more than $18 billion in U.S. goods and services last year.

President in a bow tie

Toomas Ilves, with his trademark bow ties and pro-American views, has worked his way up through Estonia’s halls of power, first as ambassador to the United States and then as foreign minister. Over the weekend, he was elected president of the Baltic tiger that boasts one of the strongest economies in Europe.

Mr. Ilves, ambassador in Washington from 1993 to 1996, won the presidency Saturday in an upset by defeating incumbent Arnold Ruutel. He received 174 of the 345 votes in Estonia’s electoral college, while Mr. Ruutel won 162.

He promised to pursue the policies he supported as ambassador here, where he frequently advocated supply-side economics and tough positions against Russia, which tried to intimidate the fledgling nation that won its independence in September 1991, as the former Soviet Union was in its death throes.

Mr. Ilves, who was raised in the United States and earned a psychology degree from Columbia University, begins his five-year term on Oct. 9.

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

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