- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 26, 2008

America’s political conventions - they’re not just for Americans anymore.

With intense interest around the globe over America’s presidential race, hundreds of foreign diplomats, lawmakers, ministers and journalists have descended on the Democratic National Convention in Denver this week and will reassemble when the Republicans caucus in St. Paul, Minn., next week.

In addition to claiming a front-row seat on U.S. democracy in action, many foreign guests plan to use the opportunity to pitch their own causes to potential heavyweights in the coming Obama or McCain administration.

The former Soviet republic of Georgia, reeling from its recent war with neighboring Russia, has sent a top-level delegation headed by Georgia Parliamentary Chairman Davit Bakradze to Denver, in part to lobby U.S. politicians and American reporters about the situation back home.

“It’s very important for us to be here because it is such a difficult time for us,” Mr. Bakradze said in an interview. “We want to let the Democratic community know what is really going on.”

The Georgian team, which also includes Ambassador Vasil Sikharulidze and Gia Baramidze, state minister for Euro-Atlantic integration, will be meeting with delegates, lawmakers and reporters in Denver trying to get their country’s story out. A portion of the delegation will travel to St. Paul for the Republican convention as well.

“That’s important to us because we consider the story of Georgia to be a bipartisan issue,” Mr. Bakradze said.

International delegations at U.S. political conventions are not a new phenomenon. But the nomination of Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, whose foreign policy record is not extensive, has sparked unusual interest in the Denver gathering.

The National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), which has organized international “leaders’ forums” at Democratic conventions dating back to 1984, reported it had received more than 500 acceptances from officials from 100 countries for this year’s forum.

The RSVP list includes the prime minister of Mauritius, the foreign minister from Senegal, the speaker of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, a top German Cabinet minister, and former presidents from Chile, Ireland and Peru. NDI officials say more than 100 ambassadors attended a welcome forum hosted by Clinton administration Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright on Sunday evening.

While Republican nominee Sen. John McCain is far more of a known quantity internationally, international focus on next week’s Republican convention in St. Paul is only marginally less intense. The International Republican Institute, the NDI’s Republican counterpart, expects about 300 foreign attendees at the headline event it will be hosting Sept. 2.

A large number of events geared to international visitors have been scheduled during the convention. Some, while ostensibly devoted to serious policy issues, provide an opportunity for some valuable face time with any Obama advisers who might stop by.

With Mr. Obama expressing reservations on the campaign trail about free-trade deals in the hemisphere, the Inter-American Economic Council on Wednesday will host a “Latin American Policy Forum” on the sidelines of the Democratic convention.

Senior Obama aides and top Democratic lawmakers are set to attend, as are 11 Latin American ambassadors, according to the council.

Erin Moffet reported from Denver

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