Thursday, February 12, 2004

Weak defense?

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell was clearly surprised yesterday when a leading Senate Democrat denounced one of his deputies, but Mr. Powell’s response renewed questions about internal disputes at the State Department.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the most senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, aimed his criticism at John Bolton, the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security.

Mr. Biden said the administration is not spending enough money on a program to dismantle nuclear missiles in Russia and blamed Mr. Bolton for opposing additional money.

“Tell Mr. Bolton that it’s a good idea for him to go on vacation,” Mr. Biden said.

“I beg your pardon,” Mr. Powell replied.

“I shouldn’t do that,” Mr. Biden said, “but it’s Bolton. Bolton is the guy who thinks this is a bad idea.”

Mr. Powell, who on Wednesday castigated another Democrat in a House hearing, responded, “Don’t worry about Mr. Bolton. He works for me, and we’ll work it out with respect to our position.”

Mr. Powell’s response to Mr. Biden was a rare public indication of disagreements between the secretary and Mr. Bolton over the past three years on a variety of policy issues.

They have managed to avoid public disagreements, although many administration officials have acknowledged their disputes in private.

Some officials have been surprised that Mr. Powell and Mr. Bolton have found common ground despite their differences.

After all, they say, the worldview Mr. Bolton had professed in several publications before he received his current appointment — including his disdain for international law — was different from Mr. Powell’s.

In addition, officials say, Mr. Bolton, whom many opponents of the administration consider too hard-line and ideological, was the only member of the State Department leadership who was not Mr. Powell’s choice for a position. Mr. Bolton had strong White House support.

On Wednesday, Mr. Powell showed that he is not shy when he thinks a member of Congress has overstepped the bounds.

When Rep. Sherrod Brown, Ohio Democrat, criticized President Bush’s National Guard service in a House International Relations Committee hearing, Mr. Powell exploded.

“Mr. Brown, I will not dignify your comments about the president because you don’t know what you are talking about,” he said.

Putin taps Lukin

Vladimir Lukin, a former Russian ambassador to the United States, is set to get a new position as Russia’s human rights commissioner.

Russian President Vladimir Putin asked the Russian parliament to appoint him to the post to replace Oleg Mironov, who has continued serving in the position past the expiration of his term last year.

Mr. Lukin was ambassador to Washington from 1992 to 1994, when he returned to Moscow to run for the State Duma, the lower house of parliament. He lost his seat in the December elections.

Envoy still here

Despite rumors, Taiwan’s representative in the United States is not resigning anytime soon.

C.J. Chen yesterday said, “I’m here for the foreseeable future.”

Mr. Chen offered his resignation on a recent trip to the Republic of China (Taiwan), but President Chen Shui-bian declined to accept it. However, news reports from Taiwan persisted in saying he was determined to step down for personal reasons.

Mr. Chen, now in his third tour in Washington, has been Taiwan’s de facto ambassador here for more than three years.

He is known to want to retire from government service to pursue other interests.

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail

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