- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Down to earth

Russian Ambassador Yuri V. Ushakov yesterday praised the outer space cooperation between his country and the United States and longed for better earthbound relations between Washington and Moscow.

Less than two weeks after Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the United States of creating a global “abyss of permanent conflicts,” Mr. Ushakov called on leaders of the two nations to build “trust and commitment.”

Mr. Ushakov, speaking at a State Department forum, said, “It is amazing that the level of cooperation in space is much more advanced than what we have currently on the ground.

“I would like to make a point by saying that today we need to work on bringing our space partnership from the stars to Earth, on building the same spirit of trust and commitment down here.

“I am confident that it will contribute to furthering Russian-American relations and making them mutually beneficial and sustainable.”

Mr. Ushakov recalled how the old Soviet Union shocked the United States in 1957 by launching Sputnik, the first man-made satellite to orbit Earth. The United States quickly caught up by establishing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, sending astronauts orbiting the Earth and landing men on the moon.

The ambassador noted that the “competition and cooperation” between the two countries led to the famous “handshake in space” when U.S. astronauts aboard an Apollo spacecraft docked with Soviet cosmonauts aboard a Soyuz spacecraft in July 1975. Leaders of the two missions shook hands through the docking portal and the crews later visited each other’s vessels and shared meals.

“That handshake was so strong that our astronauts have since been working and living side-by-side, first at the Mir [space station] and then at the International Space Station,” Mr. Ushakov said.

He added, “Looking back at our shared history, we can easily come to the conclusion that space interaction has a truly special meaning for our bilateral relationship. … In no other area have we advanced so far ahead of the rest of the world and demonstrated our leading role.”

Colorado bound

When he arrives in Colorado today, the Indonesian ambassador will be accompanied by an American woman who was severely wounded and whose husband was killed in an ambush four years ago in the Southeast Asian nation. She was an outspoken critic of the government until the gunmen were convicted last year.

Ambassador Sudjadnan Parnohadiningrat’s trip has another twist. Contacts with Colorado’s business community were arranged by executives of a global mining corporation, which has executives on trial in Indonesia on charges of widespread pollution. The proceedings are being conducted in open court, and U.S. Ambassador B. Lynn Pascoe is watching it closely.

Mr. Parnohadiningrat cites both developments as examples of reform under Indonesia’s new democratic government.

After recovering from her wounds, Patsy Spier traveled to Washington to lobby Congress for a cutoff of military aid until Indonesia brought the gunmen to trial. Last year, she expressed her satisfaction with the life sentence handed down for Antonius Wamang, a former leader of the Free Papua Movement. Six other gunmen received prison terms between 18 months and seven years.

The Colorado-based Newmont Mining Corp. is fighting charges of polluting Buyat Bay with waste from its gold mine on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. The company is also accused of threatening the health of villagers and killing marine life.

The Indonesian Embassy yesterday announced the visit, saying the trip would give Mr. Parnohadiningrat the opportunity to explain “the reforms that are taking place in the renewed democratic Indonesia and will underscore how President [Susilo Bambang] Yudhoyono, Indonesia’s first directly elected president, is focused on moving forward with those reforms.”

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

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