- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Kenyan hits Obama

The new Kenyan ambassador sparked a diplomatic dispute this month by denouncing a popular U.S. senator, who is also a rising star in the Democratic Party, accusing him of demonstrating “bad taste,” spreading “wild accusations” and seeking “cheap publicity.”

Ambassador Peter N.R.O. Ogego dispatched a five-page letter to Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois to complain about a speech he gave on his trip last month to Kenya, the homeland of his father, where he was treated as a visiting hero. The ambassador acknowledged that Kenya is plagued by corruption but faulted Mr. Obama for failing to appreciate the government’s moves to control it.

Mr. Obama responded with his own letter in which he denounced the ambassador’s charges as “ad hominem and groundless” and declared that he stands “behind every word” of his speech to the University of Nairobi. He angered the Kenyan government when he warned students of the threats of widespread corruption and tribalism to Kenya’s democracy.

Mr. Ogego sent his letter to Mr. Obama even before he presented his diplomatic credentials to President Bush, an action that all foreign ambassadors to the United States must take before formally assuming their duties as representatives of their nations. However, Mr. Ogego explained he was acting on behalf of Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and the “majority of Kenyans.”

“Your unprovoked and uncalled-for statements were in bad taste,” the ambassador said in his letter. “And rather than nurture and strengthen the existing cordial and mutually beneficial relations between the USA and Kenya, your wild accusations that corruption and tribalism have reached a crisis point in Kenya could only poison and injure our relations.

“You deliberately without real cause or reason — other than … to seek cheap publicity and inconsequential populism — chose to publicly attack the democratically elected government of Kenya.”

In his letter, Mr. Obama called the ambassador’s complaints an attempt to limit free speech. Mr. Obama also noted that when he met with Mr. Kibaki on his visit, the Kenyan president encouraged him to speak openly about his criticism of the political conditions in the East African nation.

Mr. Kibaki said the relationship between the United States and Kenya is “so strong that we should simply bring forward issues of concern rather than let them fester beneath the surface,” Mr. Obama said.

In his letter and in his speech, Mr. Obama cited many of the challenges and obstacles that deterred the development of American democracy, from the failure of the original form of government under the Articles of Confederation to the Civil War. He said that his “own city of Chicago has been the home of some of the most corrupt local politics in American history.”

“As I noted in my speech,” he added, “Kenya is to be commended for its many accomplishments: a robust democracy, a vibrant civil society and the lack of major ethnic violence. …

“But, if Kenya is to meet the challenges of the 21st century and satisfy the aspirations of its great people, substantially more progress must be made on the issues of tribalism and corruption.”

Meeting North Koreans

The United States is prepared to offer a concession to North Korea by authorizing a bilateral meeting with U.S. officials if the Stalinist nation will agree to return to multilateral talks over its nuclear weapons program, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea said yesterday.

Ambassador Alexander Vershbow confirmed that the Bush administration had dropped its earlier demand for the communist government to return to the six-party talks before agreeing to a bilateral meeting.

Assistant Secretary [of State Christopher R.] Hill is open to a bilateral meeting with his North Korean counterpart, if [North Korea] commits to return to six-party talks,” he told reporters in Seoul, the South Korean capital.

North Korea last year boycotted talks with the United States, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia.

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

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