Monday, January 8, 2007

Flag-draped union

In a city as flag-draped as Washington, the raising of two more banners this week might go unnoticed. However, for Bulgarian and Romanian diplomats, the display of the flag of the European Union represents a symbolic journey from backwater Balkan nations to unfledged members of a modern Europe.

“We believe that holding the event in the United States is as important as it was in European countries,” Bulgarian Ambassador Elena Poptodorova said yesterday.

She will preside over a noon flag-raising today at the embassy at 1621 22nd St. NW. Romanian diplomat Daniela Gitman will raise the EU flag in a 6:30 p.m. ceremony Friday at the Romanian Embassy, 1607 23rd St. NW.

Mrs. Poptodorova said the EU flag of blue with 12 gold stars will help give Bulgaria more visibility in the United States, but she quickly added that EU membership does not diminish Bulgaria’s relationship with Washington.

“This will make us a better partner and a better ally of the United States,” she said. “We have this great relationship with the United States.”

She added that she plans what she called a “road show” to promote Bulgaria across the United States in May with John Beyrle, the U.S. ambassador to Bulgaria.

Mr. Beyrle toasted Bulgaria’s membership in the European Union in a New Year’s message on the embassy’s Web site ( Bulgaria and Romania were admitted to the European Union on Jan. 1.

“Membership in the European Union will help Bulgaria to fulfill its great economic, political and human potential, and to be a model of democracy, stability and prosperity in southeast Europe,” he said.

Mrs. Gitman, Romania’s charge d’affaires, said the flag-raising at the Romanian Embassy fulfills the “dream of our parents and grandparents” who never gave up hope of seeing Romania allied with the West.

“We don’t talk about the light at the end of the tunnel anymore. We have reached the light,” said Mrs. Gitman, who worked on EU membership issues for 14 years in the Romanian Foreign Ministry before coming to Washington in 2004.

John Bruton, the EU ambassador in Washington, congratulated the two former communist countries for “their remarkable achievement in successfully transforming their political and economic systems into functioning democracies and market economies.”

Bulgaria and Romania joined the European Union in the fifth round of expansion of the union since the end of the Cold War. The European Union now has 27 member nations with nearly 500 million citizens.

“With the accession of 30 million Bulgarian and Romanian citizens into the EU family, our culture and heritage will certainly be richer,” Mr. Bruton said.

The celebration will continue next week at a reception hosted by German Ambassador Klaus Scharioth, whose country currently holds the EU presidency.

Saudi shuffle

Since The Washington Times broke the news of the resignation of the Saudi ambassador last month, diplomatic rumors have been swirling through the Saudi sands about his replacement.

The latest scoop came from Steve Clemons of the New America Foundation, who reported on his blog ( that King Abdullah has selected his trusted foreign policy adviser, Adel al-Jubeir, to replace Prince Turki al-Faisal, who served as ambassador here for less than a year and a half.

A source close to Prince Turki said he expected to be appointed foreign minister, but reports out of Saudi Arabia say that post will go to Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who served more than 20 years as ambassador in Washington.

Mr. al-Jubeir would be the first Saudi ambassador in many years who is not a member of the royal family. He was a top aide to Prince Bandar before returning to Saudi Arabia to advise the king. Abdullah is expected to announce a major Cabinet shake-up soon, Saudi press reports said yesterday.

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

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