The new U.S. ambassador to Britain, a politically well-connected supporter of President Obama‘s, arrived in London on Monday to widespread complaints over the U.S. Embassy’s refusal to pay a fee for diplomatic vehicles to drive in the traffic-clogged British capital.
From government officials to environmentalists, critics accused the Obama administration of double standards for promoting green policies in Washington but flaunting the daily “congestion charge” intended to reduce pollution in London.
By the time Ambassador Louis Susman arrived at Heathrow Airport, the morning news was full of stories vilifying the new envoy under headlines such as “Obama’s ambassador refuses to pay London congestion charge” in the Times, “U.S. Embassy defiant over C-charge” at BBC online and “Obama’s new UK ambassador blots green record in Congestion Charge row” at BusinessGreen.com, an environmental Web site in London.
The Obama administration is continuing a policy set by the George W. Bush White House and treating the daily charge of $13 as a domestic tax that, under international treaties, foreign diplomats do not have to pay.
The London government says the United States owes $5.5 million in unpaid congestion charges, the highest of the embassies that refuse to pay the fee. Russia owes $4.2 million, followed by Japan with $3.75 million in delinquent dues, according to the government agency, Transport for London. Altogether, foreign embassies that dispute the charge owe $45.7 million, but most diplomatic missions are paying the fee, the agency said.
A State Department spokesman last week said, “There has been no change in policy regarding the congestion tax. This is a long-standing U.S. policy and is not changed by the change in ambassadors. We believe the charge to be a tax that is prohibited by various treaties.”
A Transport for London spokesman said more than three-quarters of the embassies in capital pay the fee, which he called a “charge for a service and not a tax.”
“All staff at the American Embassy should pay it, in the same way as British officials pay road tolls in the United States,” he said.
Murad Qureshi, a Labor Party member of the London Assembly, which is similar to a city council, wrote to Mr. Obama to complain of the “mean-spirited” embassy policy, the Times of London reported.
“Many here feel this was an ignoble attitude from the ambassador of the wealthiest country on Earth and one that has set an unfortunate tone and a poor example for other embassies to follow,” he said.
Environmentalists also complained to reporters that the policy is hypocritical because the embassy is promoting Mr. Obama’s green initiatives and adopting energy-efficient measures, while ignoring the congestion charge.
“It is a double standard when one part of the embassy is doing one thing and another department is doing another,” Sian Berry, a Green Party member, told the London paper.
The U.S. ambassador to the World Trade Organization will join C&M International as president next month, the global trade and investment firm announced Monday.
Peter Allgeier, who also serves as deputy U.S. trade representative, “brings unrivaled experience and skill on every trade topic and in every geographic region,” said Doral Cooper, CMI’s chairman and chief executive officer.
Mr. Allgeier has been the deputy trade representative since 2001 and ambassador to the WTO since 2005.
“A distinguished diplomat could hold his tongue in 10 languages.” - Unknown
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