- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Israel in Egypt

A top member of Congress held such congenial talks with President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt that the meeting originally scheduled for a “brief period of time” on Sunday stretched to more than two hours, including lunch.

Rep. Steve Israel, New York Democrat, told reporters in Cairo that his public diplomacy helped in the preparations for President Bush’s visit to Egypt Jan. 16.

“I am the one who urged the president to come here, and I am thankful that President Bush has made the decision to spend time with President Mubarak,” said Mr. Israel, assistant majority whip and a member of the House Appropriations Committee.

“Without Egypt, there cannot be peace and security and prosperity in this region. I believe that most of my colleagues in Congress understand it and appreciate it. I know that President Mubarak has this as a priority.”

Mr. Israel, a fourth-term congressman from Long Island who is Jewish, also is the founder of the Blue Dog Coalition on Israel, a caucus of centrist Democrats.

Bulgarian views

Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ivailo Kalfin came to Washington late last week to discuss the future of the disputed Serbian province of Kosovo, as well as other Balkan and European issues, with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

However, our State Department correspondent Nicholas Kralev reports that in Mr. Kalfin’s public comments, the subject that kept popping up was Russia, Bulgaria’s staunchest ally during 45 years of communism.

The socialist-led Bulgarian government has tried to maintain good relations with Moscow, and Mr. Kalfin occasionally pays visits there with that very goal in mind. But during his talk at the German Marshall Fund on Friday, he criticized Russia for aggressive foreign and economic policies.

He cited Moscow’s unilateral withdrawal last month from the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty, which angered the West, as well as Russian objections to military bases that Bulgaria and Romania, both NATO members, agreed to let the United States use near the Black Sea.

Mr. Kalfin also questioned Serbia’s ability to stand up to Moscow in the wake of the recent bid by Russian oil giant Gazprom to buy 51 percent of Serbia’s state-run oil monopoly.

“The Serbian government seems unable to say no to Russia,” the foreign minister said, suggesting that Moscow might be trying to capitalize on its support for Belgrade in international negotiations aimed at Kosovo independence, which Serbia vehemently opposes.

Mr. Kalfin’s U.S. visit began a bit earlier than he expected, when he happened to be sitting across the aisle from Mr. Kralev on their flight from Munich to Washington.

Mr. Kralev had no time for a movie and got very little sleep, but said the several hours of conversation with the minister in Bulgarian were well worth it. Mr. Kralev also is Bulgarian and declined to translate the minister’s private remarks for us. His comments were off the record, Mr. Kralev explained.

Burma briefing

A leading pro-democracy advocate from Burma will address the World Affairs Council on Thursday, not the Nixon Center, as reported yesterday in the Diplomatic Traffic item.

Bo Hia Tint of the National League for Democracy will appear on a panel with Priscilla Clapp, former chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Rangoon; Derek Mitchell, Asia director at the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; and Drew Thompson, director of China studies at the Nixon Center.

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

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