- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Tough Estonian

Toomas Ilves never ducked from a fight, whether he was denouncing Russia as Estonia’s ambassador to the United States or dismissing much less-threatening European bureaucrats as president of the Baltic nation.

Mr. Ilves today plans to sign a special agreement with Washington to make it easier for Estonians to travel to the United States, despite complaints from the European Commission, which wanted to be the sole agent to negotiate special visa-waiver deals on behalf of the 27 members of the European Union.

“Estonia … has been pursuing this for four years and has kept the European Commission informed at all times about what we are doing,” Mr. Ilves told reporters on a visit to the European Parliament, meeting in Strasbourg, France.

“The commission only now has decided to say something. … No one seemed to care during the process,” he said.

Mr. Ilves, who flaunts his pugnacious style as easily as his trademark bow ties, landed a diplomatic jab at the European bureaucrats whose countries already enjoy visa-free status with the United States.

“It occasionally strikes me as odd that countries that have visa-waiver programs and have had them for decades suddenly say, ‘You can’t have one,’ ” he said.

The commission, the executive arm of the EU, is urging member nations to appoint it as the exclusive negotiator for future visa-waiver agreements with the United States.

However, most Western European nations already have such arrangements with Washington, while most of the nations of the former Soviet bloc do not. Many are pursuing their own negotiations.

In Washington last month, Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek signed an agreement that will lead to a visa exemption for Czech citizens. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk discussed the issue with President Bush on Monday.

Mr. Ilves is due to sign Estonia’s agreement with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who also will sign a similar agreement with Latvia on a visit to the Baltic nations.

As ambassador in Washington from 1993 to 1996, Mr. Ilves frequently criticized Moscow for trying to “maintain some sort of hegemony” over the nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which were occupied by the Soviet Union for 50 years.

He once quipped that Russia’s fruitless objections to the expansion of NATO was from “the Groucho Marx school of foreign policy.”

Attack in Kurdistan

An attack by a suicide bomber in the normally stable Iraqi region of Kurdistan “underscores the urgency of a continued, strong” U.S. military commitment to the country, the Washington representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government said this week.

“This rare attack for the region shows that any center for peace — New York, London, Madrid — can be the target of an individual determined to kill and harm innocent people and those working for the betterment of the region,” Qubad Talabani said of the attack on Monday.

The bombing injured more than two dozen people when the terrorist exploded a car bomb outside the Sulaymaniyah Palace Hotel.

The reinforced walls of the hotel designed to withstand bomb blasts prevented serious injuries to hotel guests. The only death was of the suicide bomber.

“This tragedy reminds us that despite the great political and economic progress we have made in Iraqi Kurdistan, there will always be those who seek to destroy the hope for a better future that we share with many,” Mr. Talabani said.

“We will never be complacent as to our security, nor law, in our determination to ensure a bright and free future for all of Iraq.”

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

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