Ambassadors Archive 1

Ambassadors Archive 1

Taiwan’s Burden of Balance

An Interview with Dr. David Tawei Lee, Head of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office

By Hugh S. Galford

Dr. David Tawei Lee, Representative of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office, is upbeat about the current relationship between Washington and Taipei. This contrasts with the situation in December 2003, when Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited the US, and President Bush criticized Taiwan. In November 2005, during his speech in Kyoto, Japan, Bush devoted two paragraphs of his speech praising Taiwan as a free, democratic and prosperous country, and presenting Taiwan as a model for Chinese development in the future.

Lee says that communications between the two governments are now “more effective, more frequent and more substantive. Because of this, there is better understanding, which helps further mutual confidence.”

Despite his overall positive outlook, Lee states that the current atmosphere does not guarantee unconditional US support for Taiwan. In response to Chinese-Taiwan tensions, “no one can be certain” that the US would come to Taiwan’s aid. The Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), instituted in 1979 to address the security of the people of Taiwan, only states that in case of danger to Taiwan, the US president should consult with Congress to determine the best course of action. US reaction, he says, “depends on if the threat is provocative.” If the action is instigated by China, then the US is more likely to react with force.

“This is probably the reality we have to face,” Lee says, adding that the current US government is “very friendly” and that Taiwan feels “very comfortable” working with the US. He also notes that the Taiwan government “has not been trying to poke China’s eyes.” Taiwan, he says, emphasizes the freedom of choice of the island’s 23 million people as a democratic principle.

“It is not Taiwanese governmental policy to pursue independence. The people have the right to decide their future,” Lee says, emphasizing Taiwan’s active democracy. Lee points to the fact that the percentage of Taiwanese in favor of independence directly relates to how the question is posed. Polls show that about 10 percent of Taiwan’s population is in favor of immediate independence from China, with another 20 percent favoring independence at some future date. He estimates 30-35 percent of the Taiwanese want independence at some point, and that most of the rest want a continuation of the status quo.

Lee describes current cross-straits relations as a “stalemate.” The last dialogue between the two sides occurred in 1998. Since then, Lee says, “there has been no senior-level direct dialogue.” Lee noted that before agreeing to any official talks, China has set preconditions, among which is requiring Taiwan to admit the One China Principle, which maintains that there is only one China in the world, and that Taiwan is a part of that China. Yet all is not frozen. China and Taiwan recently signed agreements to allow direct passenger flights between the two countries, in time for the Chinese New Year. These passenger flights will prove convenient for Taiwanese businessmen, students, employees in China, and families to reunite during the celebrations. This agreement follows on a September 2005 agreement allowing Taiwanese airlines to fly through Chinese airspace, making for shorter, more direct flights to the rest of Asia and Europe.

The new flight agreement was negotiated by the civil aviation authorities in Taipei and Beijing, not by their respective governments. The agreement will allow flights between Taipei and Kaohsiung airports in Taiwan, and Beijing, Shanghai, Xiamen and Guangzhou in China.

The cross-straits situation is at the center of Taiwan-US relations, as well. Lee presumes that Chinese naval exercises will continue off the Taiwan coast. Taiwan’s sole military system provider is the US. Funding for a major new arms package—including Patriot missiles, anti-submarine weapons and additional submarines for Taiwan’s fleet—has been held up by wrangling in Taiwan’s legislature. These defensive arms are absolutely necessary, Lee says, for his country’s ability to counter any Chinese attack. “Taiwan is not so silly as to launch an attack,” he says, pointing out that Taiwan has a no first-strike policy.

Movement on this funding package may be able to move forward, now that the December 3 municipal and regional elections have concluded. The opposition Kuomintang Party, the ruling party for 50 years, resoundingly won the majority of races. Generally seen as a reaction to the ruling Democratic Progress Party’s inability to enact promised reforms and corruption scandals within the Party, the end of elections may allow debate on the arms bill to move forward. At the same time, the KMT may feel it has a new popular mandate and attempt to show its strength through further opposition to the bill.

Dr. Lee states his goal in Washington as trying to enhance relations between the two countries and governments. “It is a simple goal, but a difficult task.” With a BA in Political Science from National Taiwan University and an MA and Ph.D. from the University of Virginia, and nearly 30 years experience in academia and government service, Lee is well suited to the task.

The lack of formal diplomatic relations between the US and Taiwan makes his job more difficult, he admits. In Washington, people know who he is, but outside the capital, few are aware of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office. Beyond the purely political, Lee hopes to see more cultural troupes from Taiwan in the US, like the Formosa Aboriginal Song & Dance Troupe that performed in front of a sell-out crowd at Washington’s Smithsonian Institution in October.

In these times, few emissaries to Washington carry quite the burden of diplomacy as does Dr. Lee. Capable and personable, he appears to bear it with Confucian equanimity, stressing his affection for his country and its achievements as a fledgling democracy. Deeply influenced by the ideals of Jeffersonian democracy, Lee has thrown himself into his work with abandon. He says that in his 16 months here, he has not had a day off. He was hoping to have a couple days’ rest at Thanksgiving, but had to spend the time in New York with visitors from Taiwan who were unaware of the holiday. His job, Lee says, “is centered on the well-being of the Taiwanese people. Relations with the US have always been most important, and the most crucial to maintain.”

Ambassadors Archive 1

Costa Rica: Leading the CAFTA Effort


An Interview with Ambassador F. Tomas Dueñas

By Hugh S Galford

Ambassador Dueñas of Costa Rica has been in Washington for only nine months, but he has already overseen the birth of his 'baby' -- the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). Generally considered as one of the treaty's proponents, Dueñas couldn't be happier with its passage in the US Congress.

”CAFTA,” the ambassador says, 'is one of the most important steps we in the region can take in the building of a solid institutional structure. No sustainable development can come without having very strong regard and respect for the administration of the rule of law, environmental standards, laws for competition, intellectual property rights, consumer protection, and so on.'

Though the treaty is called a free trade agreement, its true impact is in the realm of institutional reform. 'We want to trade and attract investment. We can't have foreign direct investment without a solid structural framework.'

Roughly the size of West Virginia, and with a population of four million, Costa Rica hopes to emulate the success of Ireland and Singapore. Both nations 'bit the bullet' and turned their economies around very quickly.

'Costa Ricans, like the Irish, do not take themselves seriously,' he explains with a smile. 'We have the same size population, a beautiful country and, like Ireland, Costa Rica is socially advanced, with one of the highest standards of education in the Americas. Education has been free since 1850, and there are 40 universities in the country. 'When the age of technology and the age of knowledge came together in the 1990s,' Dueñas says, 'Costa Rica took off.'

The fact that the army was disbanded in 1949 has allowed the country to substantially invest in good health and educational systems. 'As an institution, the army was never important in the 20th century for Costa Rica,' the ambassador explains. 'It's been proven that it's more important to have teachers than to have soldiers.'

Costa Rica has leveraged its educational standing into attracting the most foreign direct investment in the region. Their interest in securing long-term investment has led them to focus on three major clusters of development: an electronics/high-tech cluster around Intel, a medical devices cluster around Baxter/Hospira and Abbott Labs, and a services sector cluster providing administrative and financial services for companies such as HP and IBM.

'We know where we can and cannot compete,' the ambassador says. 'We can't compete in high labor/low cost work, but what companies can we attract?' Half of what Costa Rica produces is for export, and two-way trade with the US accounts for 78 percent of Costa Rica's total trade. 'If we want to improve, we can't do it only by trading in-country or within the Central American region -- we're too small for growth.

Costa Rica is the US' largest trade partner in the CAFTA group; the US provides 55 percent of imports, two-thirds of foreign direct investment, and 70 percent of tourists to Costa Rica. Unlike other countries, Costa Rica harbors no resentment of the US; 'we don't have any complexes,' the Ambassador says with a smile.

While CAFTA holds the key for further growth, no date has yet been set for Costa Rica's congress to ratify the treaty. The delay in ratifying CAFTA is due to structural and policy changes that need to take place in Costa Rica. Before moving forward with CAFTA, the Administration is awaiting congressional approval of a tax reform bill that is key for giving a long term solution to an endemic internal deficit. In addition, there is strong opposition from some specific groups to the Agreement because Costa Rica has committed to opening up for competition the two largest state monopolies: telecom (which also controls the energy sector) and insurance, and these groups 'refuse to accept change.'

The government, he says, 'has taken its time, so everyone knows the consequences and benefits of CAFTA.' This slow, deliberative approach is beginning to show results. Ambassador Dueñas cites the latest Gallup poll, which shows that 70 percent of Costa Ricanswant CAFTA sent to Congress. 'Almost 60 percent say they want it approved, 20 percent are opposed, and the remainder has no opinion -- they don't have enough information. 'The discussion, he says, must be: 'Do we want to maintain and increase relations with the US, or stop them in their tracks? And if the latter, then what?'

The treaty is also becoming politicized. CAFTA will probably enter into force on January 1, 2006, while Costa Rican presidential elections take place the first Sunday in February 2006. The presidential campaign has just begun, with former president, Oscar Ariasrunning for a second term -- supporting CAFTA's ratification, and the Citizen Action Party (PAC), the left wing of the old Liberation Party, opposed.

Beyond CAFTA and its promises of high-tech development, Costa Rica's economy is largely based on tourism and agriculture. In the agricultural sector, coffee, bananas, pineapples and sugar rank high, as do beef and timber. Nonetheless, tourism is probably what Costa Rica is best known for.

The country invented the idea of ecotourism 50 years ago when they realized that what they had could not be exported. In the 1940s, then-president Figueres founded the tourist institute to figure out how to attract foreigners and to have them come permanently. (Ambassador Dueñas notes proudly that there are more Americans living in Costa Rica than there are Costa Ricans living in the US.)

Costa Rica has no ruins or historical buildings; it was, according to the Ambassador, one of the poorest places in the Spanish Empire. Yet, one thing the country has, and in abundance, is nature. Roughly a quarter of Costa Rica is protected as national parks or wildlife refuges. Despite its small size, Costa Rica contains 15 percent of the world's biodiversity. There are more species of birds there than in the rest of North America.

The parks, Dueñas says, are 'truly wonderful: deep jungle, volcanoes, rivers, sea fishing, diving, and hundreds of microclimates. I've been in a place where it was raining, you take two steps, and there's no rain.' The land and its people bring in 1.5 million tourists a year. The country boasts a butterfly farm, founded by an American, that grows butterflies for export of cocoons to museums for research, for breeding, and for release into the wild to maintain populations.

The Golfo Dulce is one of two tropical fjords in the world; it offers the chance to swim in perfectly calm waters where whales and dolphins come to breed. Sea turtles nest on both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. Costa Rica’s Isla del Coco, off the coast of Colombia, was declared a world treasure by the United Nations. Like the Galapagos, it has a large number of indigenous species, and a permit is required to visit.

Ambassador Dueñas is clearly upbeat about Costa Rica's future, especially should CAFTA be ratified in San José. Prior to arriving in Washington, Dueñas served as the CEO of ESCO InterAmerica Ltd., a regional leader in the design, rental and sale of construction systems. He also served as the Chairman of the Board of Directors and Executive Committee of the Costa Rica Investment and Development Bank. Dueñas was Minister of Economics in 2000 and Minister of Foreign Trade between 2000 and 2002.

His background as a businessman has 'amused' government officials here, who expect a career diplomat in the post. Ambassador Dueñas believes his background has given him advantages. 'I could put some down-to-earth arguments into the debate over CAFTA,' he says. 'I've enjoyed meeting people with legitimate concerns.'

One of his main missions in the future is 'to make sure CAFTA continues. I don't think the process ends with approval by the signatories' Congresses. It must be an on-going process of development -- we must see that opportunities are exploited in the right way, invest in institutional changes, and become an example of what trade can do.

'We owe ourselves and the US -- our partner -- concrete actions. Implementation must be pragmatic. It's not a matter of dreaming, but a matter of working. We must plan, and commit ourselves to its success. It's not a time for rhetoric, but for action. It takes imagination, and the ability to vocalize, so the US administration doesn't take its eyes off the region.'

Ambassadors Archive 1

Nicaragua: Struggling Toward a Hopeful Future

An Interview with Ambassador Salvador E. Stadthagen

By Hugh S. Galford

While there were reports of demonstrations in Managua, over the raising of bus fares, Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolaños arrived in Washington on May 12 to attend a meeting of the Central American countries involved in CAFTA. In a speech at a reception hosted by the Embassy of Nicaragua, which included former U N ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Senator Richard Lugar, and Congressman David Dreier, President Bolanos stressed the importance of CAFTA (the Central American Free Trade Agreement). He said it was crucial not only to his own country, but also to the hemisphere as a whole. CAFTA, he said, “is about democracy. In the 1990s, we all expected a linear continuation of democratic growth: a straight line up. But this has not been the case. CAFTA will link the US and Central America economically, but more importantly, democratically.”

Such linkage is of utmost importance, he said. “On May Day, Daniel Ortega was in Cuba shaking Fidel Castro’s hand and calling the US a threat to humanity.” A carefully negotiated trade agreement would strengthen the hand of Central America’s democratic leaders. For his part, Bolaños declared, “I, and my administration will not stop fighting for democracy, for the separation of powers and for the independence of the courts,” the three main areas of contention in Nicaragua.

For most Americans, Nicaragua is stuck in the 1980s. Mention the country, and rebellion, war, arms proliferation and a stringent anti-American outlook are the first thoughts many have. Yet the fact remains that Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the region after Haiti. Its population of 5.1 million have suffered immense deprivation as a result of war, manipulation and political turmoil.

Salvador Stadthagen, Nicaragua’s ambassador to the US since December 2003, struggles to bring developments in Nicaragua up-to date. While still facing political difficulties, the country has been largely peaceful for well over a decade. He mentioned a film shown at the American University in Washington, entitled “The World Stopped Watching”. The film underlines a near-universal truth of modern news, he says. “If there is no conflict, there is no attention.”

Ambassador Stadthagen notes that the 1980s were an exceptional period in US-Nicaraguan relations. Historically, he says, “there have been warm relations with the US.” The ambassador cites the statistic that one-in-eight Central Americans live in the US, 700,000 to 1,000,000 of whom are Nicaraguans. This strong human link benefits the US economy. These workers remit nearly $7 billion to their families in Central America each year. Sixty-two percent of this money is spent on consumption, much of it spent on American-made goods, creating jobs here. For every dollar of goods sold to the US, Central America purchases $1.30 of goods made in America.

The new reality of Nicaragua (and the region as a whole) has not gone totally unnoticed. Both Condé Nast and GQ magazines have run recent articles on the country. In 2003, Nicaragua had the second largest amount of investment in Central America (behind Costa Rica); in 2004, the country ranked third (behind Costa Rica and El Salvador). The current debates over CAFTA hold even greater hope.

Nicaragua remains a largely agricultural economy. Coffee, cattle, fruits and vegetables comprise the largest sectors of agriculture, but tropical plants and flowers and exotic fruits are growing markets for export. The country is trying to diversify its economy, the ambassador says, mainly through the various Free Trade Zones established throughout the country.

The fastest growing Free Trade Zones are in garment production; US, Taiwanese, Korean and Canadian companies are the major purchasers. The Free Trade Zones are operated by the government, with stringent enforcement of legal requirements and thorough monitoring. The minimum work age in the Free Trade Zones is 18. Child labor does exist, the ambassador admits, but “is more a problem in the fields and agriculture.”

Ambassador Stadthagen puts great hope in the Free Trade Zones. Pay in the Zones, he says, “is much higher than in local industry. This pulls up the local economy, since there is a large pool of labor…suffering from high unemployment.” The country is still poor and underdeveloped; per capita income is approximately US$750. The Free Trade Zones contribute to the local economy not just through higher compensation, but through mandatory training programs. Each Free Trade Zone sets aside two percent of payroll to fund job training at a number of institutes, in all areas. Employers can even request specific types of training. While education in Nicaragua is free, and the national university system accounts for six percent of the national budget, Ambassador Stadthagen says the quality of local university students is relatively low and there are many graduates. They come away with lower qualifications than bachelor’s program graduates, but are a ready, easily trained workforce for mid-level jobs.

In addition to the Free Trade Zones, Nicaragua is focusing on tourism as an impetus for economic growth. In 2004, tourism grew by 12.5 percent. While more visitors are welcome, the ambassador stresses that the country is not looking for a flood. There is a strong interest in ecotourism—welcoming visitors while protecting Nicaragua’s ecosystem. Nicaragua, Ambassador Stadthagen says, has the largest nature reserves north of the Amazon.

Nicaragua’s tourist industry is run in tandem with those of other Central American countries. Tourists, the ambassador says, “like multiple destinations when they travel.” The region has a rich and varied history, and each country has its individual strong points. “Nicaragua, for instance, can present its colonial past, Amerindian culture and folk festivals.” Grenada, founded in 1524, is the oldest city in the Americas, and is being billed as “the new Antigua.”

One of Ambassador Stadthagen’s main goals is to argue for the passage of CAFTA, which he sees as a major support for Nicaragua’s continued growth. The ambassador is “positive it will pass.” He describes organized labor’s opposition to the agreement as “excuses.” Organized labor, he says, “has concurred that there would be no significant job losses in the US with CAFTA. Studies have shown that both sides will grow in terms of trade. They say they care about Nicaraguan laborers, but Nicaragua has no doubts that our workers will be better off with CAFTA.” He underlines that there are six democratic countries in Central America, and that Nicaragua is open, has a free press and permits labor unions.

The country is also undertaking two complementary reform programs, the National Development Plan and the Poverty Reduction Plan. The former is a 25-year, long-term plan to develop a social market economy. It runs in parallel with and incorporates the Poverty Reduction Plan, consisting of specific ideas on how to develop territoriality. Previously, the government attempted to take resources to the various small towns that were without. Now, the government works to improve regional infrastructure and have a center of services, with townspeople coming to the center. Thus, rather than bringing multiple services to individual towns and villages, numerous villages are linked to a central town that provides the needed services. This, the ambassador says, is a smarter use of limited resources by the government, as some areas can’t be developed in particular ways, due to a lack of water, land, etc.

The Poverty Reduction Plan, undertaken with the World Bank, is the main economic focus of the government. It is a wide-ranging plan, and must be instituted with care. “To decrease poverty,” Ambassador Stadthagen says, “we must produce wealth by increasing exports and so on. We must make the country more productive.” Land reform is not an issue in Nicaragua, the ambassador says. “Land tenure was never as concentrated in Nicaragua as it was elsewhere. There were always a large number of small or medium farms.”

Politically, Nicaragua has made huge strides since the strife of the 1980s. President Bolaños, a former cotton grower and processor jailed for a short time by the Sandinistas, is seen “as a simple, transparent, solid, moral person. The US, Organization of American States and EU have each praised his placing Nicaragua on the path to transparency.” Bolaños, now 78, will be too old to run again, and is working hard to push through institutional and democratic reforms before the 2006 elections.

The Sandinistas—now a parliamentary party—and the Liberals, however, are challenging his anti-corruption platform. The Sandinistas as a party won 39 percent of the vote in the last election (compared to 56 percent for the government) and hold 38 of the National Assembly’s 92 seats. Daniel Ortega has been defeated in the last three elections, personally garnering only about 12 percent of the vote.

The Sandinistas, Ambassador Stadthagen says, “are dogmatic Marxist-Leninists and bank on the country not developing.” Despite this ideological background, Ambassador Stadthagen points out that the Sandinistas stole nearly $2 billion from the country. He notes that when they were defeated in elections, the Sandinistas hastily passed a law giving themselves the right to appropriate large tracts of property. The Sandinistas, hard-core socialists, “are now landed,” the Ambassador wryly notes.

The corruption of the Sandinista leaders, and their alliance with former president Arnoldo Aleman—currently serving a 20-year prison sentence on corruption charges—have eroded their support with the “good Sandinistas,” in the ambassador’s words. By distancing himself from the rest of the party, Managua’s mayor, a Sandinista, has actually gone up in the polls.

President Bolaños survived an impeachment campaign in the National Assembly in the fall of 2004. When this failed, the Sandinistas and Liberals moved to counter Bolaños’ proposed Law of Judicial Career, whereby the country’s Supreme Court would be elected. The National Assembly attempted to strip Bolaños of most of his executive powers and create instead a “super legislature” with broad-ranging powers. This move was found to be unconstitutional by the Central American Court of Justice on April 5, 2005, on grounds that such a change would upset the balance of powers.

In addition to lobbying for passage of CAFTA, Ambassador Stadthagen hopes to promote investment in Nicaragua and the protection and promotion of the Nicaraguan community in the US. He notes that Nicaragua’s real per capita income is back to the 1942 level, due to the Sandinistas’ policies. He also notes that the GDP of Nicaraguans in the US is five times that of Nicaragua itself. “The Nicaraguans in the US are so important to the future of our country,” he says. “Our middle class left for the US.” One major change that would allow expatriates to play a greater role would be to allow them to vote in Nicaraguan elections, a right they have by law. Despite the legal underpinnings, the Electoral Council blocked consulates from providing expats their national ID cards, a prerequisite for voting.

President Bolaños continues to face difficulties, as the riots over increased bus fares in early May of this year showed. Against this background, two foes have come together with plans to try to win back the presidency in next year’s election. Former president Daniel Ortega and former president, Arnaldo Aleman who is now serving time in jail for embezzling $100 million while in office. Nonetheless, Ambassador Stadthagen is confident that Bolaños and his reforms will succeed. “I am with the President,” he says. “If the Supreme Court and the Election Board are in decent hands at the end of his term, we will have made real progress.”

The Bush administration is struggling to get House and Senate votes on the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement before the July 4th recess. Potential blocs by the House New Democrat Coalition, lead by Rep Adam Smith (D-Wash), oppose the free trade pact on the grounds that they cannot support its “weak labor and environmental provisions.” They argue that the Republican congressional backing has undermined the worker protection precedents for domestic and foreign workers that were added to treaties during the Clinton administration.

Ambassador Stadthagen’s response to that argument is that CAFTA is the free trade agreement to date with the strongest labor provisions:

“More than the US-FTA with Jordan. The same as Morocco, but with a capacity building component that will address the real issue; compliance with excellent laws that are in tune with the International Labor Organization high standards.” He asks: “Why did most of the Congress vote for Jordan and Morocco and now turn their backs on close neighbors in Central America? While CAFTA now has a state of the art environmental Secretariat which, for the first time, will give a forum to Civil Society to express any complaints they may have.”

The vote on CAFTA may be a pivotal moment in the history of both Nicaragua and the region.

Ambassadors Archive 1

Venezuela: A Partner — Why Not ?

An Interview with Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez Herrera

By Hugh S.Galford

A focal point in the American press earlier this year, Venezuela has disappeared from the radar with the continuing war in Iraq and US elections. Venezuela’s own election, however, was an important turning point in that country’s history…and perhaps for the hemisphere as a whole.

Bernardo Alvarez Herrera, named Ambassador to Washington in 2003, is an energetic man, very upbeat about both his nation’s prospects and Venezuela’s relationship with the US. Much of the rancor surrounding the Venezuelan elections has recently subsided, leading to a resumption of normative politics.

President Hugo Chavez, elected December 6,1998, has from his first days in office, attempted to destroy the status quo ante of Venezuelan politics. As Ambassador Herrera says, Chavez’ first decree, was to ask the people if they wanted a new National Constitutional Assembly. Chavez, the ambassador says, “was reaching out to the excluded and making major political changes.”

The new Constitution, ratified in 1999, set off three years of unrest. Chavez called for a referendum on his rule to be held August 15 of this year. The referendum was a resounding victory for Chavez. Despite cries of foul play from the opposition, monitors from the Organization of American States and the Carter Center declared the vote free and fair.

Since the referendum, even the opposition has come to a better, if still uneasy, relationship with Chavez. Ambassador Herrera describes the situation saying, “there are those in the opposition who don’t recognize Chavez and who want him out. Some members of the opposition, though, see that there is a process, that Chavez is not a nightmare, that Chavism is a reality, and that the President is playing within the Constitution and putting forward issues.” The opposition’s major issue with Chavez, he says, is that “they have lost their privileges.”

Indeed, Chavez is moving to recast Venezuelan political life, both domestically and internationally. At home, Chavez has instituted wide-ranging social, land and education reforms for the poor. Ambassador Herrera notes that in Caracas, the capital, “the poor have been living for years — or decades — but have not been entitled to their land. Now, there is a program of giving these poor people the property rights to where they live. The government is giving property rights to them.”

A similar program is taking place in the realm of social reforms. Chavez’ opinion, says the ambassador, is that “we must empower the people.” A major restraint for the poor in Venezuela is their lack of identity cards. Without these cards, they are excluded from social programs and political rights. “The ID card is the basis for everything: voting, land rights, getting a job, etc.,” explains Ambassador Herrera. Chavez’ government has given ID cards to over 3 million Venezuelans, enfranchising them for the first time.

Chavez is also moving to redirect revenue from the oil industry. Venezuela is the world’s fifth-largest oil exporter. How then, the ambassador asks, “can a nation so rich suffer the same problems as poor nations?”

For the first time in the country’s history, Chavez is trying to use oil wealth directly, funding access to health, education, etc. Past governments have used income from oil, but placed those funds into a bureaucratic system. “The money went into the system, not into programs,” the ambassador says. Now, the money is channeled directly into projects such as building and supplying popular health clinics and schools. The 1999 Constitution opened the institutional doors, Ambassador Herrera says, but the programs are the outcome of the social and political movements since. “The people of Venezuela,” he says, “for the first time feel that they are entitled to these services.”

One medical program has drawn especial attention from the US: the Liberty Mission, a program for cataract sufferers. Cuban doctors have developed a technique to remove cataracts with only 30 minutes’ surgery. The Liberty Mission flies patients to Cuba (where there are better and more numerous medical facilities than in Venezuela), provides the surgery, and flies them home three days later. Fifty thousand patients have had their sight restored, for free, through this program.

Internationally, Chavez is trying to point Venezuela in a new direction as well. In a global world, the ambassador says, “Venezuela must have some strengths. We should have some unity in Latin America to negotiate with the rest of the world.” He points out that South America, Latin America and the Caribbean consist of 34 countries, “some of which are not viable.” There is a need, he says, “to negotiate with each other, then negotiate with the US. But the US doesn’t see this — it wants either one deal with all the countries, or bilateral agreements with each nation. But Latin America needs to be a bloc.”

This is not a new idea. Ambassador Herrera points out that at the beginning of the 18th century, Simon Bolivar called for a political alliance in Latin America to deal with the US. Even the Organization of American States does not provide the proper framework; 60 percent of the OAS’ budget comes from the US, which gives it a great deal of influence.

Venezuela should not, however, be viewed as an unimportant country in a backwater region. Venezuela is the third-largest oil supplier to the US, and its third-largest trading partner in the hemisphere. Venezuela has invested over $14 billion in the US, and Citco Corp. is 100 percent Venezuelan-owned. For the US, the Latin American market, he underlines, is larger than that of Europe and Japan combined. Ambassador Herrera points out that the hemisphere is self-sufficient energy-wise. Latin American nations, he says, “basically speak the same language. Imagine if we acted as a political entity — respecting each country but presenting ourselves as a unity.”

For Venezuela, this is not a theoretical nicety of politics. The new Constitution mandates regional integration. Towards this end, the Constitution makes Venezuela a “war-free zone;” war and the use of force are forbidden in the country. “It calls for a positive peace…a pro-active peace. Peace,” the ambassador adds, “is not just the lack of war.”

While progress has been slow, Ambassador Herrera feels that regional integration is “inevitable. The government and the people are working towards this.” Given the right leadership and the failures of past go-it-alone policies, the ambassador believes a regional bloc will be a reality.

The Bush administration’s antipathy towards Venezuela confuses the ambassador. Venezuela, he says, “is a very responsible country. When we talk about oil, we think about the consumers. If we cut supplies, we hurt people.” Venezuela’s approach is pragmatic: “We need markets,” and it regulates supply accordingly.

Chavez’ populism has seemed to rub the US government the wrong way. Following his election, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans marched, protesting for changes to the old way. Some people in the US, the ambassador says, “try to reproduce the situation with Cuba with Venezuela.” Others, he says, “see Venezuela as another example of Cuba, Haiti, etc.” While Venezuela respects Cuba’s self-determination and opposes the embargo against Cuba, Chavez is not looking to become ruler for life.

For Ambassador Herrera, the US and Venezuela “must have constructive relations, based on cooperation where we respect our differences and promote our common interests.” The imbalance of power is undeniable, but the ambassador’s first priority is to “defend and represent Venezuela and its strategic interests” in the US, and to remind the US of its strategic interests in Venezuela. His task is made more difficult in that Venezuela is looking for a new relationship, one of mutual respect and non-intervention, rather than a return to the old ways (desired of Washington).

The ambassador is still hopeful. He has, by his own admission, good relations with industry, social movements and the Congress. Ambassador Herrera has concentrated on the media and against its campaign of Venezuela as a pariah state; the media, he says, is now fairer to his country. He also points out that there is a long history of individual relations between the two countries. In Houston, nearly 30 percent of the population has worked for extended periods in Venezuela’s oil industry. A similar percentage holds for the state of Louisiana. In the past, Venezuelans have had a positive view of the US. The current administrations, though, “must do much work to regain the trust of the Venezuelan people. Everyone there expects better relations

“We must do our best. When you are hostile to a country, you get hostility from there.”

Ambassadors Archive 1

France: Our First Ally, Still Our Ally

An Interview with French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte

By Hugh S. Galford

Seated in his spacious office, his coffee table covered with enticing books picturing various locales in the US and an Angkor-style Buddha head carving on his windowsill, French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte personifies the practice of diplomacy. He is poised, assured and gracious, and his discussion of US-French relations, the French view of world affairs and his own personal achievements is candid and humorous.

It comes as no surprise to find that Ambassador Levitte’s priority is to heal the rift between France and the US caused by their differences regarding the war against Iraq. The Ambassador noted that this rift differed immensely from prior fallings-out between our two countries. There have been numerous occasions in the past where the French government has disagreed with Washington, or the US has disagreed with Paris, but there has always been an underlying genuine, mutual admiration. From the American Revolution on, Paris has held a special place in American hearts.

Over Iraq, however, there was “a US grassroots reaction,” something unprecedented and unforeseen. Why was the reaction so bitter? The Ambassador pointed to some of the main reasons. The first was 9/11. “The French,” he said, “suffered from terror attacks for decades. This is not new for us, but we never suffered like the Americans did on 9/11.”

The Americans were now at war against terrorism, proclaiming a link between al-Qa’ida and Iraq. The next step was a pre-emptive strike on Iraq. “For Americans to find the French were not on their side—for the first time in history—came as a shock.” This shock was further compounded once the war started, with Americans firmly behind the commander-in-chief and “the boys,” while France was still asking, “Is this necessary?”

The second reason was what Ambassador Levitte termed “the Fox News Effect.” Fox’s Bill O’Reilly railed on a daily basis against the French stance, inflaming his viewers. “For an hour every day, here’s this powerful guy saying, Bash the French; here’s the Embassy’s phone number.”

The third reason was a “campaign of disinformation.” The Ambassador said that anonymous sources in the Bush administration time and again leaked statements that were “just disinformation.” The situation became so outrageous that on May 17, 2003, the Ambassador sent a letter to the Administration, the Congress and the media enumerating seven examples of “disinformation to destroy the impression of the French.” The last example was that after the fall of Baghdad, the French gave passports to Saddam Hussein and his family.

As opposed to some contrary opinions, Ambassador Levitte does not think the war in Iraq was about oil. First, he said, Saddam Hussein was painted here as “absolute evil,” even by Clinton. Second, 9/11 was a key factor. “The view was that Saddam Hussein was a threat—everyone believed the reports of his weapons programs. Americans were saying, ‘This guy’s evil. He’s going to do something to us someday—let’s act now.” Then Colin Powell convinced President Bush to go the UN route. The international community backed Bush, and Hussein accepted the return of weapons inspectors. “But in parallel, 200,000 US troops were deployed, and they had to be used for US credibility. If they weren’t used, it would have been read as a signal of weakness.”

As divisive and often petty (Freedom vs. French fries) as the disagreement was, the Ambassador is optimistic for the future of relations between the two countries. “The mood is now changing. There is still a slight air of bitterness, and it can be set aflame again, but things are better.” Ambassador Levitte said that the Bush administration is willing to mend fences, and he believes 2004 will be better than 2003 for trans-Atlantic and French-US relations.

A major aspect of this rapprochement—or at least a major constraint on any flare-up going out of control—is the economic co-dependence between France and the US. France is one of the major foreign investors in the US. In terms of inflow of funds, France was number one in 2002. France, the Ambassador said, “is the second-greatest investor in terms of stock, holding $170 billion dollars—and providing 650,000 American jobs. If you bash French companies, you destroy American jobs—and hurt importers.” Sodexho, a French company, won a $1 billion contract to feed US Marines. Sodexho was able to provide a system that cut food preparation time from four hours to one hour—an important consideration under war conditions. Companies competing for the contract asked, “How can the government give this contract to the French?”

“The next day,” the Ambassador said, “the company placed ads in 40 states’ newspapers saying, ‘We’re proud to be in 40 states, employing 110,000 American citizens.’” In addition to Sodexho, there are 2500 French subsidiaries active in the US. While France exports $28 billion of goods to America, Ambassador Levitte said, “What we sell through subsidiaries—goods made in America—is seven times more important than what we export.”

Asked if he thought France had a special role to play as a bridge between the US and the EU, Ambassador Levitte demurred. “The EU will be 25 countries in May. They all have special links to the US, all for different reasons. But together, the EU is the invisible, but most indispensable, partner of the US.”

The Ambassador drew a parallel between past German-French differences and current differences between France and the US. “The French-German Youth Organization and the organizations created by the Elysée Treaty of 1963 transformed relations between France and Germany to a point unimaginable two generations ago.” Given the success of previous programs, the FGYO has begun a new exchange program for university students from France, Germany, and the US. A “trans-Atlantic Erasmus program,” it will focus on the study of the three countries involved, with the aim to develop relations among the younger generation.

A major new, and successful event in Franco-American cultural relations is the current “Chez Nous” program at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. The “Festival of France” began in January 2004 and runs through April, showcasing classical and jazz music, plays and dance, opera, films and French regional artists. Ambassador Levitte gave all credit for the program to the Kennedy Center: “They took the initiative,” he said. “It has been a wonderful partnership. This is the largest of the Kennedy Center’s festivals—they’re giving us three months. The Embassy helped to expand the program by finding new talent.”

Leonard Slatkin, music director of the National Symphony Orchestra, said, “I am a fundamentalist for France, a fundamentalist for freedom—for France is freedom.” The French Cultural Attaché, Roland Celette, recently won the prize for the best partner/program organizer for DC.

Ambassador Levitte has had a long and varied foreign service career. Having graduated from Paris’ Sciences-Po and the National School of Oriental Languages, where he studied Chinese and Indonesian, his first posting was to Hong Kong and Beijing. He served on President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing’s staff, as Second Counselor at the Permanent Mission of France to the United Nations, and as Deputy Assistant Secretary in the African Bureau in Paris. He has served as French Permanent Representative to the UN in both Geneva and New York. In the French Foreign Ministry, he has held the position of Assistant Secretary for Asia and Undersecretary for Cultural and Scientific Cooperation.

A point of personal pride for Ambassador Levitte was receiving the 2004 King Legacy Award for International Service. The idea of the prize, he said, was to honor a person who spread Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, message internationally. As great an honor as it was, Ambassador Levitte admitted astonishment. “I have no clue why I received it.” Then he pointed to the fact that two-thirds of France’s development budget is reserved for Africa—due to their historical presence in the continent, and as a humanitarian priority.

Prior to presenting his credentials in December 2002, Ambassador Levitte returned to Paris. There, it was determined that his main goals should be to develop ties, cooperation and exchanges between French and American universities. Europeans, he said, “focus on multilateral relations—the euro is the best symbol of shared sovereignty. In the US, the stress is on protecting their sovereignty. There is now a new European generation emerging.

“Without building bridges of understanding to the US, there is the possibility of a future rift.” The FGYO program discussed above is one such bridge and channel for European efforts, and during these difficult times their initiatives have earned Ambassador Levitte and German Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger the title of “Brothers in Diplomacy.”

“I want not only to mend fences and rebuild the Franco-American relationship, but to go beyond and if possible take out of American minds the negative clichés about the French.”

On the governmental level, Ambassador Levitte can celebrate the formation of the Congressional French Caucus, which had 53 members as of February 4, 2004. At a recent event for the French Caucus held at the French Embassy residence, Senators, Congressmen and staff sipped French wine and joined in the spirit of fun precipitated by the appearance of surprise visitors descending the wide staircase. Everyone’s attention turned from the buffet table to the flamboyant grand entrance of historical luminaries Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Napoleon, Lafayette, and Marechal Murat, all praising and poking fun at each other.

A sense of camaraderie prevailed throughout the evening and in the words of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), “Changing ‘French fries’ to ‘Freedom fries’ was beneath the dignity of the US Congress, so when the idea was suggested we agreed, it was time to have a French Caucus.”

While there are still difficulties facing Ambassador Levitte, one senses he enjoys this unprecedented challenge, and his outlook, energy and ideas point to a brighter, more amicable future between France and the US.

Ambassadors Archive 1

Liechtenstein: The Unknown Heart of Europe

By Hugh S. Galford

Cradled high in the Alps between Austria and Switzerland, the Principality of Liechtenstein has created a fairytale existence for itself. A population of 34,000, high income, peaceful relations with its neighbors and unspoiled countryside provide an idyllic environment. The last vestige of the German-speaking Holy Roman Empire, Liechtenstein has managed to avoid breakup for 300 years. Its continuing independence at the heart of Europe is itself the stuff of legend.

A modern constitutional monarchy, Liechtenstein's prince and his family live in a storybook castle overlooking Vaduz, the capital city. A major industrial center, its rugged Alpine beauty remains nearly unspoiled. And with one-third of its population foreign-born, Liechtenstein's modern history is free of racial or religious tension. Ms. Claudia Fritsche, Liechtenstein's first Ambassador to the United States, is justifiably proud of her country.

The Embassy, opened in October 2002, is one of only two missions the country has outside of Europe, the Ambassador says, the other being the Permanent Mission to the UN in New York. Prior to last October, the Swiss Embassy served as Liechtenstein's Interests Section, an indication of the close historical ties between the two countries. "This is the first time Liechtenstein has opened an Embassy in a country it does not border, or that houses an organization Liechtenstein is a member of," the Ambassador says.

The Embassy was opened, she says, because Liechtenstein "wants to put relations with the US on a different level. Here we can defend our interests directly and quickly." Those interests are mainly economic. Being a financial center, there is close cooperation with the United States in the fight against money-laundering and the financing of terrorism. The US is Liechtenstein's largest export partner; the country exports more to the US than to its neighbors. Given this situation, the government came to the conclusion that it had to be present in Washington.

Prior to Washington, Ambassador Fritsche served as the Permanent Representative to the United Nations for 12 years. She joined the Office for Foreign Affairs in 1978, and has represented Liechtenstein at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, the European Committee on Equality between Women and Men, the European Free Trade Association, and Liechtenstein's Embassies in Vienna and Bern.

Liechtenstein, the Ambassador notes, was not involved in World War II. "We were a neutral country, " she says. "Neutrality is not embedded in our constitution as it is in Switzerland, but we have historically practiced neutrality." This is in part due to the fact that Liechtenstein has not had an army for almost 150 years. "That was a decision made when we were a poor, largely agricultural society. We were too small and not in a position to support an army." World War II did not have serious effects on the country, causing only minor food shortages.

Following the war, given the industrious nature of its people, Liechtenstein gradually developed into a prosperous country. Due to its size and geographical location, Liechtenstein has no natural resources, and has had to rely on its main capital, its people.

"We are one of the most industrialized countries in the world," Ambassador Fritsche says. There are approximately 2,000 active companies in Liechtenstein, an amazing number given the country's population of 34,000. Liechtenstein's industries specialize in high-quality, capital- intensive, high-tech products for niche markets. The five largest companies produce tools for the construction industry, dental materials and artificial teeth, high-end fashion jewelry and gift items made of Austrian cut crystal, components for semiconductors and cam shafts for the automobile industry.

In addition to manufacturing, Liechtenstein has a solid service industry. The country is also a growing European financial center. Liechtenstein has only 17 banks, but its financial sector produces 29 percent of the country's GDP, compared with 40 percent from the manufacturing sector. The financial sector came under scrutiny following the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Liechtenstein was accused of not cooperating with questions regarding money-laundering. These accusations, the Ambassador says, "were much exaggerated, but taken seriously." The country analyzed what was wrong with the system, which did have certain shortcomings, mainly in the area of lax enforcement of oversight. Changes have since been made.

"Compared with other financial centers, we are now at, or near, the top of international standards," Ambassador Fritsche says. "We doubled the number of prosecutors, concluded a bilateral treaty with the US for legal assistance on this matter, and directly interact with the US Department of State, leading to faster responses. This has been a big step in intensifying our cooperation with the US."

Just as Liechtenstein's economic development can be traced to the end of World War II, so can its national identity. Prior to the war, Liechtenstein's princes lived outside of the country, usually in Vienna or their properties in what is now the Czech Republic and Slovakia. It was only in 1938 that Prince Franz Joseph took up residence in the country as "a commitment to be with the people during a time of difficulty." Liechtensteiners, according to the Ambassador, "are not very different from their Austrian or Swiss neighbors. Our mentality is that of an Alpine Alemannic country."

World War II also had an important influence on Liechtenstein's relations with her European neighbors and with the rest of the world. Following the war Liechtenstein, with other nations, realized the importance of European unity to the future peace of the continent. Liechtenstein has not joined the European Union, but is a part of the European Economic Area. The EEA treaty allows Liechtenstein to participate in many of the EU's freedoms: movement of goods, services and access to the EU market.

This situation suits Liechtenstein at the moment, the Ambassador believes. "The EU is a big structure not suited to accommodate small entities." The EU's structures may well change, she says, with the new EU constitution under consideration, and with several small countries (including Malta and Cyprus) joining the Union. The proposed constitution would most likely change the conditions for small countries. Changes to the current structure include reform of the voting process so that small countries cannot alone block decisions, and would establish an elected multi-year presidency. Once approved by the European Parliament, the constitution would still need to be ratified by every member nation.

Pondering the question of future membership, she says, "At the moment the EU is too big for us and we're too small for them. Several countries still are not members. In five to ten years, who knows? The situation may be different and we may wish to reconsider membership." The EEA treaty "is a very good solution for us," the Ambassador says.

While a party to European unity, Liechtenstein's world view extends beyond the continent. During World War II, refugees from surrounding areas transited the country and it was partly to serve these refugees that the Liechtenstein Red Cross was founded. The country's humanitarian work continues unabated today.

The Ambassador explains: "Although Liechtenstein is part of Europe, we are very aware of the rest of the world. We know how fortunate we are to be prosperous, untouched by many outside problems, and to have an intact natural environment. We have a privileged status, but we are nevertheless aware of the many disadvantaged people in the world."

Liechtenstein is involved in humanitarian work, participating in the UNHCR, among other organizations. Throughout the post-war period, the country has welcomed refugees. In the 1950s, Liechtenstein took in Hungarians, in the 1970s, several dozen refugees from Laos and Vietnam arrived. More recently, about 20 Tibetans have taken up residence. Liechtenstein also took in about 700 refugees during the Bosnian conflict. While these numbers are small, the Ambassador is quick to point out that the 700 refugees from the former Yugoslavia equaled two percent of Liechtenstein's population. "The numbers appear small, but if you extrapolate percentages to other countries, they're huge."

An active member of the UN, the Ambassador says that her country "has great trust in the UN and its agencies." Liechtenstein has a small national organization for development cooperation. Many of the relevant projects have been led by Liechtensteiners.

This is important, Ambassador Fritsche says, because with an area the size of Washington, DC, "most Liechtensteiners know someone who has led a project financed by the Liechtenstein Development Cooperation organization. The work of our Development Cooperation organization is thus personalized for the population." The Ambassador believes that in the UN context small projects such as trickle-up programs and microloans hold great promise for the developing world. Having spent 12 years at the UN before her appointment as Ambassador to Washington, Ms. Fritsche believes there is "very fine work" being done by the United Nations.

Ambassador Fritsche's main goals for her new Embassy are to put Liechtenstein on the American map and to correct stereotypes by providing better information about her country. Few Americans, she says, are aware of Liechtenstein's industrial sector. She also hopes that by increasing knowledge of Liechtenstein, she can increase its popularity and give a boost to tourism. Tourism development is independent of the government. Most tourists come from neighboring Austria and Switzerland and other European countries, or are American and Japanese tour groups passing through the country.

"Many American tourists spend only two to three hours in Liechtenstein and then continue elsewhere," she says. "We would like them to stay longer and get to know us better."

At the heart of the AmbassadorÕs mission in Washington is also the promotion of Liechtenstein's culture, which, apart from spectacular scenery, is one of the countryÕs great secrets.

Though small, Liechtenstein has much to offer the visitor. The Princely art collection is rich in Rubens' paintings and the works of renowned Flemish painters. The contemporary structure of the Art Museum is a striking addition to the small number of museums. The country boasts a number of five-star restaurants along with a healthy viniculture. The mountains offer a myriad of outdoor activities. The country also provides a convenient base for day trips to neighboring countries. "Given the distances," the Ambassador says, "it is not uncommon for Liechtensteiners to spend an evening out in three different countries."

Furthermore, the Ambassador wants to promote the exchange of students through the development of scholarships. Without major universities of their own, most Liechtensteiners attend university in Switzerland, Austria or Germany, thanks to long-standing agreements with institutions there. It is clear, though, that Ambassador Fritsche wants to expand students' opportunities for study abroad:

"We need to develop interlocutors – the young people. They are the future."

This is particularly important as almost all students return to Liechtenstein when they finish their studies. "Liechtenstein is a very attractive place to live," the Ambassador says. "We offer high salaries, though with a high cost of living, and great job opportunities." Unemployment runs at about 1.5 percent. Government is small and transparent. While global problems such as drug use and AIDS have not bypassed Liechtenstein, the country's size means that they occur on a small scale. "This makes it easier for us to immediately deal with them," the Ambassador says.

Asked her preference between New York and Washington, she notes the major differences between the two cities. She relishes the space that Washington provides her and enjoys her garden, a luxury she missed in New York. New York, though, offered more opportunity to interact with her peers.

"At the UN, we all worked together, we socialized together, we interacted on a daily basis. Here, for obvious reasons – every Embassy is busy with its own agenda vis-á-vis the host country - ambassadors spend much less time with each other." Nevertheless, Ambassador Fritsche looks forward to the challenges – and promises – of her new position and the role of bearing the good news about a tiny country with a unique history of independence, fortitude and rich culture.

Ambassadors Archive 1

Cyprus: Finally a Break in the Clouds

By Hugh S. Galford

In the US media's portrayal, the world is a cauldron of conflict and uncertainty: the US-led invasion of Iraq and its aftermath, the SARS epidemic in China and its spread worldwide, the newly proffered 'Road Map' for Israeli-Palestinian peace. In this atmosphere pessimism could be forgiven, but one glimmer of hope was the great non-story in the US: the opening of the 'Green Line' in Cyprus and the bi-directional flood of Cypriots to lands not visited in 30 years. While this development was covered extensively in Europe by both print and broadcast journalists, here at home Cyprus received scant attention.

Cyprus, the small island nation in the eastern Mediterranean divided since the 1974 Turkish invasion, may seem an unlikely candidate as hope-giver. The justification for the continuing division over the past 30 years has been that Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots could never live together in peace, wanted nothing to do with one another, and would destroy themselves if ever the twain met. The last two weeks have proven the groundlessness of this view.

Discussing these recent developments, Cypriot Ambassador Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis was hopeful that at last the island could be reunited. She noted that in the first six days after the restrictions on movement were eased on April 23, 2003 over 100,000 Cypriots from both sides—well over one-tenth the island's population—had crossed. Ambassador Marcoullis further noted that “15,000 Greek Cypriots had crossed to the northern part on April 27, to celebrate Orthodox Easter in their former villages.”

The ambassador said that the rapprochement was a proof of the fact that Turkish and Greek Cypriots are so similar—hospitable, warm and proud of their common homeland. She told of the Greek Cypriot family who returned to their house and of how they were welcomed by the current residents, a Turkish Cypriot family—and how the latter returned old photos they had found in the house when they moved in. Another Greek Cypriot visited his village, and ended up in the midst of a large social gathering in the town centre to welcome him and other Greek Cypriot friends. Knowing that Turkish Cypriots were not as affluent as the Greeks, he offered to pay for the celebration and was solidly forbidden from doing so. News broadcasts from the BBC showed Cypriots from both sides of the divide embracing, swapping stories, and promising that this was just the beginning of change on the island. The primary concern for the Greek Cypriots, she said, is to ensure that no incidents take place.

Asked what brought about the change of heart of the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mr. Rauf Denktash, the ambassador said that no one was sure what the motives were. Journalists in Turkey, she said, were writing that Turkey had to show a good face to the world, suggesting that the move was not the Turkish Cypriot leader's initiative. (This view has been confirmed in a May 2, 2003 Financial Times article.) 'We must keep in mind that Turkey wants to become a member of the European Union,' Ambassador Marcoullis says. 'This is probably part of an exercise showing that the new government in Turkey is pro-Europe.'

Indeed, who controls the future of the movement is unclear. While it was Denktash who announced the easing of the restrictions on the movement, and Cypriots who have embraced it, Turkey remains a key player and the EU perhaps the main catalyst. Cyprus signed the EU Accession Treaty on April 16. While the entire island becomes a member on May 1, 2004, only the recognized Cyprus government controlled south gains full EU rights; the EU’s common law, the acquis communautaire, will be suspended in the northern Turkish controlled area, pending an end to the island’s division.

Denktash’s opposition to the talks on Cyprus during the EU summit in Copenhagen last December spurred a backlash among his own people. 'At least five opposition parties are now openly opposing Denktash,' the ambassador says. 'Seventy thousand Turkish Cypriots demonstrated several weeks ago. Their symbols were the EU flag and olive branches of peace. This was the beginning of this revolution. The Turkish Cypriots sent a strong message to their leadership and to Turkey that they want a solution.' Rauf Denktash’s son, Serdar, is widely credited with having encouraged his father to open the crossing, especially after the elder Denktash vetoed a concerted UN effort to solve the Cyprus issue at The Hague in April.

Solution to the 'Cyprus problem' would give Turkish Cypriots numerous immediate advantages: increased investment, job opportunities, access for their produce to the EU market, and a huge boost to tourism. 'At the moment, tourism in the north is limited almost entirely to visiting Turks,' the ambassador says. With the north open to tourism in a reunited Cyprus, 'in about two years’ time, the economy could be balanced' between the two communities. Two main draws for the north are its beaches and the many archaeological and other sites. The Venetians built two magnificent castles on the northern mountain range, the Pentadaktylos range, the ambassador says. 'From the top of one castle you can see picturesque Kyrenia and almost the entirety of the island.'

Given its history, Cyprus is a natural destination for tourists. The island bears traces of the Romans, Greeks, Ottomans, French and Venetians. Of particular interest are the 'painted churches,' about a dozen small, wooden churches in the mountains dating from the sixth and seventh centuries, with interior walls completely covered in paintings of icons. The island has over 1000 churches. It also has a holy Moslem shrine built on the burial site of Prophet Muhammad’s aunt, who died on the island during a visit. Archaeologists and art historians from both sides of the island have been involved in a quiet, inter-communal effort to restore and preserve such heritage. Beyond the 10,000 year old history and culture, Cyprus has its natural beauty, wine and food to offer the visitor.

The euphoria of the past several weeks continues, but with an added touch of sobriety. Most Cypriots welcome the personal interaction, but question what will come next—and how. To date, the movement has been unstructured, and there is a delicate balance between the peoples’ desires and what the leaderships might offer. Denktash says the easing of the restrictions was an attempt at 'confidence building' between the two communities. On April 30, the government of Cyprus announced a wide-ranging set of measures to more fully integrate Turkish Cypriots into the legal structure of the island. The policy reads, in part, 'the main concern of the Government … is to give Turkish Cypriots who live mainly in [the north], to the extent possible, the rights and benefits that the Republic of Cyprus offers its citizens.'

From the start, Turkish Cypriots have been crossing to the government controlled area to obtain Cypriot passports, a move long forbidden by the Turkish authorities but welcomed by the Greeks. The April 30th government initiative also makes it easier for Turkish Cypriots to enjoy the same rights in employment and travel (among other fields) as their Greek counterparts, while initiating cross-community language instruction to help foster closer ties and understanding between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

Ambassador Marcoullis’ main hope is that the current movement 'will get us back to an earlier period of peace and coexistence. The Ottoman Turks came in 1571. Read the histories of both sides—from 1571 to the start of inter-communal violence in the 1950s, there was peaceful coexistence.' The ambassador notes that 'even at the start of the current situation, the decision was made that we would not solve this through war—a solution depends on the political will of the leadership but also on pressure from the people.'

Now that the people have taken the lead, everyone hopes the leadership on both sides will follow with a comprehensive solution that would not only bring all Cypriots together, but serve as a model to the world, a model of peaceful coexistence between Christianity and Islam.

Ambassadors Archive 1

Luxembourg: Ambassador Arlette Conzemius

A Country at the Heart of Europe

By Hugh S. Galford

Greeting us in her temporary offices in the Watergate, Ambassador Conzemius is eager to stress her country's standing in the world, a standing that is easily overlooked. The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, bordered by France, Belgium and Germany, is, as the Ambassador notes, 'at the heart of the Western European area.' Yet even given its central location-geographically and institutionally-Luxembourg is often a forgotten country.

Luxembourg, Ambassador Conzemius says, 'was for much of our history an invasion country.' Inhabited from before the Roman period, Luxembourg has been conquered by its neighbors time and again. The Romans, French and Germans each brought its territory into their domain. Luxembourgers, the Ambassador says, 'took a lot from other people, but made it our own identity. The only way for us to survive was to take and make it our own.'

From the Moselle vineyards bequeathed by the Romans, to the linguistic and cultural influences of France and Germany, Luxembourg has absorbed external tastes and practices. But by making them their own, Luxembourgers now find themselves at the heart of the new Europe. Today, the Ambassador says, 'Luxembourg is part of the system. We were founding members of the UN, NATO and the EU. We try to work with our partners to try to find solutions.'

Following World War II, European nations founded the EU. 'A continent wracked by war,' she says, 'is now a peaceful place. The greatest contribution of the EU has been peace. We learned to work together in a multilateral framework. Now we need to extend that lesson, through a dialogue between nations and cultures, and to avoid a 'clash of civilizations.''

Peace in Europe has allowed Luxembourg to become a prosperous country. Originally based on steel production, Luxembourg has worked to diversify its economy. 'More and more,' the Ambassador says, 'Luxembourg is developing its service sector, the media and internet services.' The country has only been very recently hit by the worldwide economic recession. 'We are facing the world's issues,' Ambassador Conzemius says. 'It's the difference between small and large angle view. Nonetheless, Luxembourg is rather better off-it is stable, welcoming to foreign workers, without major problems.'

Ambassador Conzemius emphasizes Luxembourg's support of Europe's open borders and acceptance of foreigners. 'This is our policy,' she says, noting both humanitarian reasons and the country's need for workers. In 2000, Luxembourg had a growth rate of 8 percent, followed by 5 percent growth in 2001. 'Now we have a slowdown, but the economy still needs more people to work.'

The country, she notes, 'developed over the years with the help of foreigners. We don't want to close our borders. We're a small country, and need integration.' For most of the post-War period, Luxembourg accepted immigrants from other European countries-Italians and Portuguese topping the list. Today, most of the refugees entering Luxembourg are from the Balkans.

The Ambassador informs us that approximately 38 percent of Luxembourg's population are foreigners. In the capital, this figure tops 50 percent with the financial community and European institutions located there. European Union workers number between 6800 and 8600 in Luxembourg City, giving it a 'very cosmopolitan atmosphere.'

This atmosphere is one of the main attractions for visitors, whether from elsewhere in Europe or America. 'Luxembourg is a special place, with it's own identity,' she says, 'so many are surprised to see the diversity we have.' The City of Luxembourg, founded in 963, was originally a fortress, the walls of which still stand. Medieval castles dot the countryside, and there is a great emphasis on nature and outdoor activities such as hiking, biking and nature trails. Visiting Luxembourg is a rewarding endeavor: one can hike the trails of the south's rolling hills, staying in hotels along the way-where the hotels transfer your luggage from one stop to the next. For the gastronome, Luxembourg has the highest concentration per capita of Michelin-starred restaurants in the world. Moselle wines--remember the Romans?--are delightful, and almost impossible to find outside Luxembourg. 'They are produced in very small quantities, and drunk in very large quantities,' the Ambassador explains, smiling.

Yet this gem is largely unknown to Americans, a situation the Ambassador hopes to ameliorate during her time in Washington. 'I want to promote relations between the US and Luxembourg on all levels: cultural, economic and travelers--in both directions,' she says. She notes that mainstream America does not know much about her country. 'There are exceptions--veterans and their families, for example, and some students--Miami University has a branch in Luxembourg.' There are also Luxembourgish communities in the US, immigrants from the 19th century when one-third of Luxembourg's population emigrated, mainly in the Midwest. She notes that Dennis Hastert, Speaker of the House, is of Luxembourgish descent.

There are also long-standing business connections between the two countries. At the end of World War II, American companies invested in Luxembourg, forming the center of industrial development there. Many of these investors, the Ambassador says, are still there. Even with US companies and banks in Luxembourg, Ambassador Conzemius says, 'we need to create more relationships, so we can move toward a broader knowledge in general between our countries.'

The political relationship between the US and Luxembourg is deep-rooted and warm, she notes. Luxembourg was liberated during both World Wars by Americans, and Luxembourgers still remember and honor the losses suffered by the American forces in their country, notably during the Battle of the Bulge. At the start of the Second World War, it was decided that Grand Duchess Charlotte should leave the country. By way of Portugal, she came to the US, purchasing what is now the country's Embassy on 2200 Massachusetts Avenue (currently under renovation) and forming Luxembourg's Government-in-Exile. Her son joined US and Canadian forces and fought to liberate his country.

Luxembourg's close ties to the US have been called upon since the September 11, 2001, attacks on Washington and New York. Luxembourg, the Ambassador says, was 'shocked' after September 11. 'We wanted to bring our contribution to the war on terrorism through NATO and the EU.' Specifically, Luxembourg's contribution has been on the financial front.

'Luxembourg is the seventh largest financial center in the world. We have been working with the US, UN and EU to track and freeze assets that could be used by such groups.' She admits that this has been a sensitive issue. 'We might freeze the assets of an important person. And there are legal issues-we must be sure of what we're doing.' Nevertheless Luxembourg decided that they needed to act decisively. 'Some accounts have been unfrozen,' the Ambassador says, 'due to lack of evidence. We are also working with the EU to develop new policing, intelligence, a convention for extradition to the US, and air security.'

In addition to international terrorism, Luxembourg's major issue is the expansion of the EU. Our interview occurred December 12, 2002, the day of the EU's Copenhagen Summit to decide the issue of candidate countries' accession to the Union. During our interview, Ambassador Conzemius voiced her confidence that the last difficulties would be overcome.

The great open question centered on Turkey, which was in the end told that accession talks could begin in December 2004. Ambassador Conzemius noted that since the 1960s, Turkey has had a partnership--a 'close association'--with the EU. Regarding Turkey's accession, she said that although it was a large, important country to have in Europe, there were 'strict criteria. We need to see how far they go with reforms and Human Rights improvements.' All candidate countries must harmonize their national legislation with EU law. 'There are 80,000 pages of EU laws that countries must accept.'

The importance of the European Union to Luxembourg cannot be overstated. Ambassador Conzemius says one only need to look at her country's history to see why this is so. Despite the fortress foundation of Luxembourg, the country has long had a nebulous identity. Several leaders headed the Germanic Holy Roman Empire in the 15th century. Over the centuries, the area of Luxembourg was part of the Habsburg Empires (both the Spanish and Austrian), and the French Empire. It was invaded by Germany twice this century.

Although Luxembourg became a sovereign state in 1839 in the Treaty of London, the 19th century saw the area under the sway of its larger neighbors. Even in the wake of World War I, 'Luxembourgish' identity was so ill-defined that a referendum was held whether to relinquish independence and become part of France or Belgium.

'We are part of the whole European history,' the Ambassador says. 'We could have disappeared. Now, we're the only surviving Grand Duchy in the world.' Luxembourgers, she says, are reserved ('we are Nordic in many ways'), no-nonsense, very pragmatic and open to the world. Because of the many influences on the country, it is difficult to define a 'typical' Luxembourger. 'Our people are aware of their heritage, and proud of our identity.'

The major factor of their identity is their language, 'the only thing that differentiates us from our neighbors.' While French is largely used in national government, and German at the local level, the common language is Lëtzebuergesch. Once only a spoken language, there is now an effort to promote it in the schools and the press. 'Luxembourg puts a lot of emphasis on languages,' the Ambassador says. 'The educational system is based on languages: Lëtzebuergesch, German, French and English.'

It was only during the 20th century that everything came together to foster the development of a true identity. 'We really don't have heroes,' the Ambassador says. For Luxembourg, World War II was the defining moment. It was then that the country decided that it did want to remain free and independent. The European Community--now the European Union--was seen as a crucial means to this end.

Ambassador Conzemius says that she 'grew up feeling European. We know we are from Luxembourg, but we can experience Europe more easily--we can get out of our small space.' Even so, the EU engenders debate in Luxembourg. 'Some say that if you join the EU, you lose your identity,' the Ambassador explains. 'But others say that by joining and participating, you are stronger--you now have a voice.' She falls firmly into the latter camp. 'We now have our voice. Previously, we were just invaded.'

Luxembourg's experience of the new Europe has, she says, been very positive. 'We must agree to give up part of our sovereignty--for example, converting to the Euro--in order to gain.'

Ambassadors Archive 1

Bulgaria: Ambassador Elena Borislavova Poptodorova

'Heading for the West'

By Hugh S. Galford

For much of the Cold War, Bulgaria was largely overlooked. With no Soviet military bases, few natural resources and no nuclear arms, this Black Sea nation could easily be described as 'somewhere in the Balkans.' Since 1990, and especially since last September, Bulgaria has been moving more and more into the Western sphere—and Western interest.

Elena Poptodorova, the bright-eyed and dynamic Ambassador of the Republic of Bulgaria to the United States since February 2002, speaks quickly and confidently about why this is so. In Bulgarian public service since 1975, Ambassador Poptodorova knows her country and is working diligently to fulfill its aspirations. At the moment her primary issue is Bulgaria’s membership in both the European Union and NATO, which will contribute to Bulgaria no longer being on the border of Europe.

Reflecting on changes over the last dozen years in Bulgaria and in Europe as a whole, Ambassador Poptodorova says that while she welcomes the major changes which occurred in 1990, 'we were probably naive to think that the dividing lines of the world would disappear, and that we would enter into a more orderly, sophisticated period.' The world today faces new challenges and threats, she says, that are more difficult to grasp and to handle.

'The world has known different periods of tension. But the tensions in the pre-1990 world were more orderly, and somehow easier to control and to stop at a healthy moment. Today’s uncontrollable use of force and aggression is unlike the ‘classical’ type of aggression that international instruments tried to describe and control.'

Bulgaria, she says, fully shares the concern over terrorism, and says that it 'will take time, and unorthodox methods, to cope with terrorism and violence per se.' While not having suffered the sort of attack the US witnessed last year, Bulgaria’s local environment holds its own threats. Looking at the question of terrorism as a Bulgarian, the ambassador says, 'the threats are the same, but the reasons differ.'

The Balkans, she says, lack security guarantees on a regional basis. 'We need to build checks and balances against corruption, arms trading, and trafficking of any kind.' Bulgaria, the ambassador says, was fortunate to keep itself out of the region’s wars, but notes that there was an illicit flow of arms through her country during the conflict in Macedonia. 'Bulgaria is an island of stability and peace,' Ambassador Poptodorova notes, 'and contributed to stability and peace in the area by not being part of the conflicts.' Nevertheless, for Bulgaria to feel safe, 'we need a healthy regional environment.'

Despite the instability and uncertainty of the 1990s, Bulgaria has made remarkable progress. Politically, Ambassador Poptodorova says her country was 'emancipated. We are now a democratic society, and irreversibly so.' While the first one or two years were not without difficulties, elections 'were always judged to be fair and open.' She admits that economic reform in Bulgaria has been 'more costly and difficult. We had to entirely change notions in the minds of the people, though people were thinking differently [from the Communist system] even before 1990.'

The concept of private property was nearly non-existent prior to the change in government. While Bulgarians had limited personal property—they could own their flat, their car, their small country house—industrial property was entirely state-owned. One of the first tasks of the new system was to restitute property that had been taken from its original owners and nationalized. But the properties had to be made productive, so the question then arose: what to do with these properties?

The Ambassador offers a personal example. Her grandfather had started the knitting industry in Bulgaria. His facilities were taken in 1947, following the Communist takeover, and converted into a kindergarten. With the fall of the Communists, the property was returned to the family, divided among eight heirs. It is now, she says, 'a monument,' as the heirs cannot agree as to what to do with it and, moreover, have no available resources. 'It would serve no functional purpose, as there is no longer a knitting industry in that town—certainly not as it used to be.' Ambassador Poptodorova’s story underlines the economic difficulties faced by all of the former Warsaw Bloc countries: delivering personal justice through return of confiscated properties does not solve the country’s economic ills.

Nevertheless, Bulgaria has privatized 'almost 100 percent' of the nation’s industries. The government has also started to develop the idea of public property. What remains to be privatized are the energy sector, Bulgarian Telecommunications and one large savings bank. All other banks have been purchased by 'big buyers' such as AIG, Unicredito, Deutsche Bank, Bank of Austria, Société Générale, and some Greek banks. The Bulgarian Government hopes for robust US investment in the energy sector of the country.

Many authorities have compared Bulgaria’s transition to that of Spain, but the ambassador says the comparison is valid only politically. 'Bulgaria had to learn the ABCs of a market economy.' Bulgaria also paid a heavy price for the wars in the Balkans. 'We were cut off from Europe,' she says, 'just as we were trying to get on our feet.' The most direct route for Bulgarian goods to the rest of Europe is through Serbia. That route was severed both by war and by sanctions.

Bulgaria suffered not only these direct losses, but also indirect losses, as no investors were willing to come near a war zone. One investor that arrived in 1990—and stayed—was American Standard. They not only honored their original investment, they built a second plant. In the town where those plants are located, the ambassador says, 'there is no unemployment, and the average salary is twice or three times that elsewhere in the country.' American Standard also benefited, as the Bulgarian financial director for the original plant was called back two years later, and is now Financial Vice-President of the company.

Looking Toward a Brighter Future

Despite these difficulties, the country is 'economically stable' says the ambassador. The disruption of trade through the former Yugoslavia forced Bulgaria and its northern neighbor, Romania, to agree to construct a second bridge over the Danube—after years of quibbling as to where the bridge should be built. Construction should begin within the year, lessening both countries’ dependence on the former Yugoslavia.

Domestically, Bulgaria has a currency board, low inflation and economic growth of 4-4.5 percent. It has moved forcefully to rewrite laws that formerly allowed nepotism and discouraged—or blocked—competition. There are still problems, though: the birth rate is less than zero, unemployment stands at 17 percent, and there still needs to be a restructuring of the economy. 'We should bring about higher employment and greater efficiency of enterprises. But we need more investment.' Areas of particular interest to investors are agriculture, energy, and roads. The ambassador says that several transport corridors have been discussed. These would bring together Romania, Bulgaria and Greece; and Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania and Italy—both routes directly linking Bulgaria to its main European market.

In the international arena, Bulgaria has applied for membership to both the EU and NATO. 'When we started changes in 1990,' Ambassador Poptodorova says, 'we knew we were heading for the West. For us, the US and EU are parts of one entity.' Bulgaria, she says, has been involved in 'very intensive' negotiations with the EU. The country has opened all 31 chapters of the European Treaty, and closed 23 of them, 12 within the last year. EU membership is one reason that Bulgaria has worked so hard on economic policy. In its last annual report, the European Commission described Bulgaria as democratic, economically and financially stable, and 'close to a functioning market economy.' This year, she says, she hopes Bulgaria will be rated a 'functioning market economy.'

While membership in the European Union is important to Bulgaria, paramount for the country is NATO membership. She notes that there has been uncertainty in the Alliance whether Bulgaria—and Romania—should become members. In the last three months, though, 'there has been a positive change in attitude on Capitol Hill.' Afghanistan, the 'war on terror' and possible military action in Iraq has 'changed the whole setup.'

Bulgaria, the ambassador says, 'reacted in a prompt, unequivocal manner' to the attacks on the US last September. On September 11 itself, the Bulgarian Parliament voted to join the US immediately against terrorism. There had always been a debate within Bulgaria whether or not to join NATO, but September 11 brought unanimous political agreement. Bulgaria also formally granted an airbase in Burgas, on the Black Sea, to the US. This, the ambassador notes, 'was the first military base ever offered to a foreign country.'

Whereas the first three former Communist countries granted NATO membership—Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary—were admitted on political grounds, NATO now has action plans with specific requirements of aspirants. These requirements cover the economy, legislation, army, rule of law and democracy—'they are a complete picture of transformation.' Bulgaria’s military reforms have been lauded by the US. Formerly, the country of eight million had an army of 120,000. The army is now down to 60,000, with a target of 45,000.

Bulgaria is also gradually moving from a conscript army to a professional one. There has also been a large release of high officers; following the Soviet model, the Bulgarian army had more officers than NCOs. Soldiers are undergoing training in English, as communication and interoperability are a challenge. Military bases have been closed, and obsolete small arms taken out of service.

As a military alliance for most of its history, NATO was pledged to protect its members against the enemy. Given the changes of the last dozen years, that section of Bulgarian society that has been wary of joining NATO has been asking: who is the enemy now? Ambassador Poptodorova noted that the classical paradigm of enemy/friend has changed, especially with the recent cooperation between the US and Russia. 'For us,' she says, 'joining NATO is not an issue of pinpointing an enemy, but an accreditation to a club we want to belong to—it is a way of life, an identity.

'To be a member of NATO is also a certificate of democracy.' She says this last point is important even to investors. 'I have had CEOs of companies come up to me and ask, ‘Is Bulgaria in NATO?’' EU membership, she continues, 'is a different flavor—it is more an economic issue, allowing us to share in a common market. NATO membership is more an ideological answer to the past. NATO membership would mark a real closing of the Yalta page of history.'

Summarizing her country’s arguments in favor of admission to NATO, the ambassador lists six items: Bulgaria has been a source of stability in the region; it is a model of ethnic tolerance; the country granted airspace rights during the Kosovo crisis; it has been a de facto ally of the US after September 11; and it is politically, economically and financially stable, which is good for investment.

Ambassador Poptodorova lays particular emphasis on Bulgarian ethnic tolerance. She notes that during World War II, not one Bulgarian Jew was sent to German concentration camps—despite Bulgaria being a German ally at the time. She also notes that today Bulgaria’s Foreign Minister is Jewish and 'enjoys the highest approval rating of any minister.' In addition, the junior coalition partner in the current government is the Turkish ethnic party, showing that the country’s Muslims are integrated into Bulgaria’s society and government.

Bulgaria’s Attraction for Tourists

For visitors, Bulgaria has a lot of everything. On an ancient crossroads of peoples, Bulgaria’s oldest archeological find dates to 4600 BC. Thracian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman sites are found throughout the country. Its artistic heritage is equally varied and rich in architecture, painting, music and folklore. The Black Sea coast offers beaches and resorts, the mountains that cover the country’s interior—some of the largest in Central Europe—offer hiking and camping in summer and skiing in the winter. Bulgaria has some 3,000 species of flora and 13,000 of fauna. Bulgaria has over 600 natural hot springs, which have been used since Roman times. It is a must destination for historians.

At the moment, the focus of all Ambassador Poptodorova’s high energy is NATO membership. This, she says, will largely monopolize her time until late November, when NATO meets in Prague to decide on the seven aspirant countries’ accession. After November, Ambassador Poptodorova says she would like to divide her time between politics and business. 'I would like to use the good offices of the Bulgarian Caucus, established in June, to help identify chances for investment.

As she is called to her next meeting, the Ambassador says that she is glad Washington is such a vibrant city. "If it weren’t, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself."

Ambassadors Archive 1

Norway- Ambassador Knut Vollebaek.

Interview with Norway’s Ambassador Knut Vollebaek.

By Hugh S. Galford

Norway’s Ambassador Knut Vollebaek vividly remembers Sept. 11, 2001. Having received his credentials at the White House on March 1, he had returned from holiday in Norway on Sept. 10, bringing his wife with him for the first time. The following morning he watched the horrible drama unfold on a TV in his office. Calling his wife he asked her to turn on the television, as there had been a “terrible accident” in New York. A little later, when it became clear that this was no accident, it was his wife’s turn to call him. “Should I unpack the bags?” she asked. “Or do you think we’ll be going home?” He assured her that they would be staying for a while.

Sitting now in his smartly appointed office, Ambassador Vollebaek embodies Norwegian values: a quiet, independent point of view; a deep interest in the world; and a candid, energetic openness.

“September 11 was a watershed,” the Ambassador remarks, “the before-and-after differences are rather striking. It’s important for us as diplomats,” he says, “to transmit these changes back home. The psychological impact on the US is not perceived.”

Diplomats have a difficult time articulating just how deep that impact is: the US is historically a safe haven for so many, who find rights, freedom and peace here.

“People flee to the US; they flee from elsewhere.” Even for the Embassy, the US was unique. “Elsewhere, we have evacuation plans prepared, but not here in Washington.”

Part of the difficulty understanding the impact of Sept. 11 back home, Mr. Vollebaek says, is that across Europe, the influence of terrorism on the political process has been more prevalent. In addition, he says, “Europe suffered our 9-11 in 1991. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, we all expected an end to conflict. But in 1991, we had the outbreak of the Balkan War: goodness did not prevail. This was a shock—we had assumed that Europe would suffer no more wars after WWII.”

Among the more important changes he’s noticed in the US, Mr. Vollebaek says, are “a more realistic and serious attitude to the world situation.”

He’s also noticed closer relations between people—both personal and international. “There has been much positive feedback for Norwegian involvement—in Afghanistan, at Taba, for supplying AWACs personnel. This feeling of solidarity is important.”

Although Norway is playing a role in the current “war,” the idea of Norway—and especially Oslo—as a place for peace is still strong. Oslo, the Ambassador says, “would like to be related to peace.” With regard to the Middle East peace process, the Ambassador adds, “People still aim at returning to Oslo—what happened there is still relevant.”

Mr. Vollebaek says that there were a number of reasons why Oslo was chosen as the venue for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. One of the primary reasons, he says, was because of a personal relationship. In the 1990s, Terje Roed-Larsen (now the UN’s Middle East envoy) had started a research program on the social situation of the Palestinians. He was involved with both sides, exploring how one could end the conflict. His ties with Palestinians and Israelis allowed both parties to have a known friend with them.

Further, the Oslo negotiations were kept secret, allowing both sides to deal with sensitive issues out of the limelight. This helped them to build the trust needed to work with both the Norwegians and with each other. Norway, the Ambassador says, has a history of good relations with Israel. For Arafat, Norway was a good choice of intermediary because of those relations.

More widely, Norway has been involved in a number of peace-making projects around the world. Norway worked with Guatemalan groups between 1990 and 1996 to end that country’s civil war. More recently, Norwegian diplomats helped bring about a Tamil Tiger cease-fire in Sri Lanka.

As the Ambassador notes, Norway is a small country, a fact that works to its advantage: “No one is afraid of us.”

“Norway involves itself in the world,” the Ambassador says, “not because we’re naïve and believe war is not possible but because we realize that our own well-being relies on global stability. Even if there is a far-off war, we feel it at home because of the plight of refugees, the cost of rebuilding, and so on.”

The founding of Norway’s traditional values

Norway’s “rules of engagement” as peacemaker are simple: no hidden agendas, keep a low profile on proceedings, and allow the parties to build trust. According to the Ambassador, there are numerous sources of inspiration for Norway’s international involvement. Several are historical: in the 1850s, Mr. Vollebaek says, there was a strong missionary movement in the country (Norway had the most missionaries per capita at the time). These missionaries, he says, “wrote about the social conditions of the people they were among. Regular Norwegians were moved by these writings, and collected money for various projects. There was a fundamental consideration to help others.”

At the end of the 19th century, this missionary movement was complemented by a strong unionist movement in Norway. While unionists and missionaries disagreed on many subjects, the labor movement projected a strong interest in international solidarity. The unionists “became a strong political movement—and an impetus on Parliament.” Today, the Ambassador says, Norway contributes nearly one percent of its GDP in development aid.

More recently, Mr. Vollebaek adds, King Harald V has played an important role in defining Norway’s international outlook. While the King has no political power, “he does wield an important moral power. It is interesting to listen to the King’s New Year’s speeches. Over the past years, he has given a social and moral message stressing sharing and responsibility. The King acts as a moral impetus to the people and the politicians.”

There are many advantages to being a small country, the Ambassador says. For one, the government is “more transparent.” It is “easier to govern, as we have been a very homogeneous society. There are certain high standards that must be kept. Addressing negative attitudes is a challenge, but the government tries to address them.”

One such “negative attitude” is the issue of refugees and their integration into Norwegian society. Norway welcomes refugees and, as the Ambassador says, “many refugees love it. But because of the language difference it is difficult for them to submerge themselves into society.” The social welfare of refugees is a municipal, rather than a national, responsibility. “There are government programs to help refugees, but if a refugee is accepted, it is the municipality’s responsibility to provide housing and services” though funding is from the national government.

Asked if he thought Muslim refugees have had a harder time in Norway since last September, the Ambassador says he is “not sure.” Many of the refugees Norway accepts, Middle Eastern or not,. Mr. Vollebaek says, “have problems adjusting—their culture and traditions are so different from ours.” Part of their problem adjusting, the Ambassador admits is that “we are not good enough about teaching them Norwegian. If you have no language skills, it is very easy to become isolated, and to be seen as—or to feel yourself—stupid.”

Norway’s women navigating to the top

While some refugees may have a difficult time fitting into Norway’s society, Norwegian women find themselves at the society’s center, having outpaced American women. Norway’s highly respected Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland (1981, 1986-1989, and 1990-1996) made a great impact on her own country and influenced the world’s environmental conscience. Norwegian women have overcome many of the obstacles still facing their counterparts elsewhere in the world.

“Of course,” Mr. Vollebaek says with a smile, “if you were talking to a woman right now, you would hear about all the difficulties women have in Norway.” Nevertheless, women hold higher governmental positions—and more of them—than in most other countries. In the current Cabinet, eight of the 19 ministers are women, a percentage that has held fairly steady over the last three to five Cabinets. “It is politically impossible to appoint a Cabinet without women,” the Ambassador says. One-third of Norway’s parliamentarians are women. Half of the students at Oslo University are women, as are half of Norway’s Foreign Service trainees.

Women’s issues, the Ambassador says, “have become an important political issue.” Norwegian women, he notes, may take 48 weeks of maternity leave at 80 percent or more of their regular salary. (Norwegian men share the right of leave with the mother. Men may take the same 48 weeks’ leave, less the first three weeks, if the mother decides to return to work.) Mr. Vollebaek says that this generous policy “gives women more freedom—they can combine work and motherhood.” The Ambassador traces Norway’s progressive views on women’s issues to the Women’s Liberation movement and the events of 1968. He wonders if perhaps it goes back to WWII, during which women were of necessity “active participants—both in the community and in the resistance. During the 1950s,” he adds, “we had our reconstruction period. At that time, the Labour Party was in power, with a strong political program for women.”

Current challenges—to join or not to join!

One of the main issues facing Norway is membership in the European Union. In two referenda in 1972 and 1994, Norwegians voted—by a slim margin—against joining the EU. Asked if he thought Norwegians would change their minds in another referendum, the Ambassador notes that Norway is a young country. “It was only in 1905 that we gained our independence from Sweden and our sovereignty—both of which are very important to us.” Furthermore, he adds, Norway is still largely a rural society. Taking the country’s southernmost point as its pivot, if Norway were turned end for end, it would extend south to Rome. “Many Norwegians—especially those in the north of the country—feel that it is hard to get to Oslo, much less Brussels.”

Norway is also quite well-off, and “there is no sense to change this.” While a poll taken the week before our interview showed more Norwegians in favor of joining than opposed, the Ambassador says it is “too early to say if there has been a fundamental change. The people don’t see their own situation changing, so there is no impetus to change our status vis-à-vis Europe.” Even the introduction of the Euro won’t have much of an effect on Norwegian policy, in the Ambassador’s view. While not a member of the EU, Norway is a member of the European Economic Area, and thus economically part of the EU (though without having to sign on to the Common Agricultural Policy or Fisheries Agreement). With this status, the economic consequences of the Euro are much less. What could have a greater impact on Norway is the EU’s planned expansion, as Norway already has free trade agreements with possible new member nations.

One of Norway’s neighbors is Russia. Norway shares a 200-km border with Russia in the far north of the country. Mr. Vollebaek says “Norway has tried to have good relations with the Soviet Union/Russia both during and after the Cold War. We have been involved in cooperating with Russia with regard to environmental issues, especially the clean-up of industrial and nuclear waste. We have worked actively with the Russian government, sharing our experiences and helping them to solve their problems.”

Norway has focused its activities in Russia’s northwest Murmansk area. Their offers of help have been met with “a lot of openness and willingness.” But it is not only the Russians who have benefited. Norwegians, too, “have been able to see some of the changes. Not only have our two governments worked together, but there has been a great interaction, people to people.”

Norway’s economy, despite the general economic decline of the last several years, is still strong. The largest sector of the economy is oil. Amazingly, Norway is the third largest exporter of oil in the world. With its reserves in the North Sea, and thanks to an energy program powered largely by hydroelectrics, Norway is able to export the vast majority of their production. A full 20 percent of Norway’s annual oil production is exported to the US, accounting for five percent of the US’s foreign oil imports. Furthermore, one-third of France’s consumption of natural gas is provided by Norway. The Ambassador says studies show that the country’s oil reserves will last another 50 years, and its natural gas reserves for 100.

A freshly beautiful landscape

The largest draw for tourists, in Mr. Vollebaek’s opinion, is Norway’s countryside. While Oslo in recent years has “developed an ambiance—there’s a lot of life in the city, which is something rather new,” there is “a lot of open space” in the countryside. The north, in particular, holds special attractions. Svalbard, at 79ºN, has 24-hour sun during the summer. Development there has been slow and careful, as the area has seen very few humans, and the Norwegian government is interested in protecting the flora and fauna there. Even during the winter, when there is about two hours of daylight, visitors have the chance to go dog-sledding and to watch reindeer.

Asked what he would most like to accomplish during his tenure in Washington, Mr. Vollebaek says, “I don’t think I can revolutionize or improve things—our two countries have such close ties already. I think my main job is to further develop them. There will be ample opportunity with the openness and close ties we share.”

The Ambassador’s personal ties to Washington are long-standing. Twenty-nine years ago he visited the city as a tourist when he, studying at the University of California, and his wife drove cross-country. Since then, he has been back both as a diplomat and as Norway’s Foreign Minister.

The one issue which stems from his international heritage and seems closest to the heart of Norway’s Ambassador to Washington, is to “give people world-round meaningful lives. If we lose meaning in our life, there are dangers. This is important in the long-term fight against terrorism. We must give hope through economic and social development. If there is no hope, it is easy for terrorism and ‘mischief.’ We can’t hinder the odd-man-out, but we can cut the following of that one lunatic.

“This also goes for rich societies: how do we create objectives, hopes and futures for children? We must have some control over our own lives, but we also have to make positive changes for the less fortunate.

Ambassadors Archive 1

Azerbaijan: Ambassador Dr. Hafiz Pashayev

The process of sanctioning an Ally: Section 907

By Hugh S. Galford

A nine-year diplomatic impasse with the United States is something most people would shy away from. But just such a struggle is what Dr. Hafiz Pashayev, Azerbaijan’s Ambassador to Washington, has faced since his arrival here in 1993. 

The battle has been over the sanctions imposed on Azerbaijan in Section 907 of the 1992 Freedom Support Act. At the time of the Act’s passage, Azerbaijan and neighboring Armenia were engaged in a war over the Armenian-populated Nagorno-Karabakh region of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Section 907 prohibited any US economic aid to Azerbaijan until the latter ceased offensive uses of force against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, and lifted the blockade against Armenia. The problem with Section 907 is that it made Azerbaijan out to be the aggressor, when in reality the country was on the defensive.

When he first arrived in Washington, the Ambassador’s goals were to purchase property for the Embassy, and to lift sanctions against his country. At our recent meeting, he had just returned from a sad visit to his homeland after his mother passed away.

Ensconced in his classic new chancery, on Embassy Row within shouting distance of Vice President’s Cheney’s residence, this soft-spoken diplomat smiles as he recalls his first interview with Washington International in 1993. That interview was held in a cramped space on 15th Street where he came as a former professor and physicist to open the first Azerbaijani Embassy in Washington. At that time he knew exactly what he wanted to accomplish, and he believed so much in the justice of his mission that he thought that once he was able to get the ear of Congress he would be successful.

To an insider, perhaps Dr. Pashayev would be considered naïve, but today he still appears amazed by the intricacies of Washington as he points out that Section 907 was grounded more in US domestic politics than in international realities. When the Act was passed, Azerbaijan had no diplomats in Washington, while the Armenian lobby was well-organized and –funded.

“There was no opposition to the legislation, no representation, no debate or discussion.” It was, in the Ambassador’s words, “an interesting situation.” Only half of the story was heard on the Hill, with detrimental consequences for Azerbaijan. Armenian nationalists in Nagorno-Karabakh voted for union with Armenia; Armenia backed the nationalists militarily. Azerbaijani military actions were in defense of their territorial integrity, not to gain additional territory. Furthermore, Azerbaijan could not blockade Armenia; the two countries share a single border. Trade had come to a halt between the two states, but due to the collapse of transportation infrastructures, not Azerbaijani intransigence.

The sanctions, Dr. Pashayev says, were “unfair but politically impossible to change,” even after the 1994 cease-fire agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Since then, “there has been no war, but no peace” in the Ambassador’s words. Armenia still occupies 20 percent of Azerbaijan. This includes 13 percent outside of Nagorno-Karabakh, and Azerbaijan’s offer of “the utmost level of autonomy for Nagorno-Karabakh—but not independence” has been rejected by Armenia. Ambassador Pashayev stresses that while Azerbaijani territory is still occupied, and while a million Azerbaijani refugees still languish in camps, Azerbaijan, the victim, is saddled with US sanctions as though it were the aggressor.

Throughout Dr. Pashayev’s tenure in Washington, he has lobbied tirelessly to change the US government’s position on Section 907. “Slowly,” he says, “information and the truth got through to the US and to Congress.” There has been a slow amelioration of the situation over the years. A number of exemptions to the Act have been passed, allowing humanitarian assistance, democracy-building and American business investment in the country.

The sanctions issue, Dr. Pashayev says, is “an interesting case to study US politics.” He notes that successive administrations—from the first Bush White House on—have opposed the sanctions, “but didn’t have the political will to fight” to end them. Enthusiasm for the sanctions existed only in Congress, usually without any understanding of the situation. In 1997, Dr. Pashayev says, he met with Matt Martinez (D-CA), to discuss the injustice of the sanctions. Rep. Martinez heard him out, and agreed with his arguments. Martinez then asked one of his aides how he had voted on the Act, and was told that he had voted in favor of it. Martinez was incredulous; “Didn’t we even bother to look at a map?” he asked. Martinez hadn’t understood that it was impossible for Azerbaijan to blockade Armenia, as the Act supposed.

Dr. Pashayev is hopeful that the sanctions issue is drawing to a close. In 1998, Robert Livingston (R-LA) proposed an amendment to the Act, which failed by 25 votes; later, Sen. Sam Brownback, R-KS, proposed an amendment which fell three votes shy of passing the Senate.

The Aftermath of September 11

Following Sept. 11, with Azerbaijan’s increased strategic importance to the US, Brownback proposed another amendment that stated that the President could override the sanctions if it were in the nation’s security interests. This amendment, part of the appropriations bill, was passed; it was now up to President Bush to sign and send the memorandum to Congress stating that the sanctions should be lifted.

Several days after our interview, President Bush did in fact lift sanctions against Azerbaijan. In his Memorandum to the Secretary of State, President Bush writes: 

“I hereby determine and certify that a waiver of section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act of 1992 (Public Law 102-511):

  • is necessary to support U.S. efforts to counter international terrorism;
  • is necessary to support the operational readiness of U.S. Armed Forces or coalition partners to counter international terrorism;
  • is important to Azerbaijan’s border security; and
  • will not undermine or hamper ongoing efforts to negotiate a peaceful settlement between Armenia and Azerbaijan or be used for offensive purposes against Armenia. Accordingly, I hereby waive section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act.” 

Unfortunately, the sanctions have hurt not only Azerbaijan’s development, but also the US’ image in the region.

“The example of 907 is enough for many Muslim countries to look at the US with suspicion. Here is Azerbaijan, a secular Muslim country, approaching the US as a friend, and the US Congress sanctions Azerbaijan.” Dr. Pashayev notes that at the time, Iranian newspapers ran stories that said, in effect, “Azerbaijan sold out to the US. This is what you can expect from the US.” The Ambassador adamantly proclaimed that there was no “sell-out” to the US. “We have an open policy; we are determined to go our own way, to become a democratic state, and to develop our own resources. We don’t want ‘Big Brother’ again.”

In addition to Western assistance, Azerbaijan’s development also depends on peace and security with its neighbors. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, US interests in the region have been to help the former republics of the Soviet Union to become independent, prosperous countries, and to help transform them from centralized to market economies and democracies. Azerbaijan, the Ambassador says, also holds energy and geo-strategic interests to the US. Azerbaijan has access to the huge natural gas and oil reserves on the Caspian littoral, and is a major north-south and east-west communications center. More recently the country’s physical location has taken precedence.

“Without countries like Azerbaijan,” Dr. Pashayev says, “it would be tough to fight terrorism.” Azerbaijan, he adds, has suffered from terrorism itself: from Armenian separatists to some fundamentalist forces in Iran, and as well from the general situation in the Caucasus. Politics impact economics, he says; “We want stable conditions for investors.”

Stability for Azerbaijan, however, is not a done deal. The conflict with Armenia has not been fully settled, Iran has aided Armenia against Azerbaijan—a nice foil to the idea current today of a unified Islamic world opposed to Christendom, the Ambassador notes, and Russia is still of major importance. Russia has signed a 25-year alliance with Armenia, and still has military bases there—some of which house Soviet-era weapons of mass destruction. Certain Russian power centers want to use Azerbaijan’s conflict with Armenia to keep Azerbaijan weak. 

Yet the situation is far from bleak in the Ambassador’s view. When asked if Azerbaijan felt more vulnerable in the region, he replied, “No, I am more optimistic than that.” One reason is that the US is more visible in the region. Another is economics. He is “hopeful” that relations with Russia under Vladimir Putin will improve. Putin, he says, “is more economic-minded than was Yeltsin. We expect to see the effects of this in the future, yet we need to create a network of economic interests now.”

That network is beginning to coalesce. Until 1996, Azerbaijan relied on getting goods to Western markets through either Russia or Iran. Since 1996, the country has been able to move away from Russia, but still depends on Russian good will. In 1996-97, Azerbaijan built a small oil pipeline through Georgia to the Black Sea; they are close to starting construction of the major oil pipeline from Baku through Georgia to Ceyhan, a Turkish port. Russians have long opposed this pipeline, but announced in December 2001 that they would be willing to participate in it. Azerbaijan, the Ambassador says, “wants Russian input and help. Business can soften the Russian political stance.” Beyond oil, he adds, Azerbaijan has very good opportunities in supplying Russia with agricultural products.

The Ambassador admits that difficulties still face Azerbaijan, but he is hopeful for the future. Once Section 907 sanctions are fully lifted, he says, “we hope there will be more assistance in security cooperation, infrastructure, and so on.” One particular point of concern is the educational system. “The old Soviet schools,” he says, “were a good educational system. Now, though, there is no money for higher education and science.” Azerbaijan’s image in the world is of an oil country, “but we are just starting to develop it,” he says. “We need five years of investment before we can expect to see a return.” Dr. Pashayev notes, however, that Azerbaijan’s GDP increased by ten percent in 2001, mainly through growth in the oil and industrial sectors. 

Another issue of concern is the environment. Dr. Pashayev describes Soviet style exploration as “a disaster. Fly over Baku, and you see the remnants: oil lakes, derelict equipment—a terrible landscape.” When Azerbaijanis began working with Western oil companies, they demanded special conditions: that the new explorations would be clean and reliable. The country—and the companies themselves—are trying to clean up the old areas. Dr. Pashayev adds, “The population is very aware of the danger. Civil society has become very active in raising these issues with the government.” One worry is how to extract oil from around and beneath the Caspian without harming the sea itself, for another export the Caspian provides is sturgeon—and caviar.

Azerbaijan, the Ambassador says, has entered into a special project with the World Bank regarding the Caspian. The country has a Ministry of Ecology, charged with overseeing environmental issues. And, he adds, “there is full compliance between the government, NGOs and oil companies. The companies are reporting to the government—and to the public. We also have dynamic, independent press people; they’re watching.”

As far as visiting the country is concerned, he sees increased promise within three to four years. There are “reliable, stable conditions” now in the country, and a still-good Soviet tourist infrastructure. The country is also building new hotels; the Ambassador singles out the new Hyatt Regency, which is “better than any in the US,” he says. The country itself has much to offer. The Caspian shore, the Ambassador says, is beautiful, and the climate good. “In a country of 86,000 square kilometers,” he says, “there are nine climate zones—from Alpine to sub-tropic.”

After working tirelessly for his country for the last nine years, fighting battles on multiple fronts, mission accomplished, he says his main goal now “is to go back home.” However, at this turning point his government may still need someone of Dr. Pashayev’s steadfastness, openness and commitment to democracy sitting in the US capital.

Ambassadors Archive 1

Finland: Ambassador Jaakko Laajava

A Country with a Strong Sense of Self

By Hugh S. Galford and Patricia Keegan

'My theme is Finnish independence,' says Mr. Jaakko Laajava, Finland’s Ambassador to the US, in his expansive office. Surrounded by trees, with natural light pouring through a wall of windows, the embassy of Finland on Massachusetts Avenue is a true reflection of Finland’s renowned talent in design. The ambassador’s conversation is likewise both savvy and reflective.

Thanks to its history and its relations to both Sweden and Russia, Finland has enjoyed great latitude in formulating its own policies and outlook. A leader in many spheres, social, artistic and technological, the country’s admirable position is largely of its own making. Having suffered from a serious recession at the beginning of the 1990s, Finland’s economy is now expected to out-perform other EU economies by at least one percent through 2003. Finland’s accounts are sound, its GDP is set to rise, and its debt is declining. Inflation is under control, its unemployment rate is improving, and output — especially in the high-tech sector — is rising.

Finland’s history has contributed greatly to its unique situation. In 1323, the border between the Kingdom of Sweden and Novgorod (later Russia) was established, with the majority of modern-day Finland under Swedish rule. For the next 600 years, Finland shared in Sweden’s progress. The Finnish territories gained a vote in the election of the Swedish king but were never burdened with a local aristocracy; however, the Scandinavian ideal of equality became deeply engrained in Finland.

Sweden lost Finland to the Russians in 1809. For the next century, the region was known as the Grand Duchy of Finland, the Russian Czar himself the Duke. The Czars of the early 19th century were deeply influenced by the French Revolution, the Enlightenment and the ideas of nationalism. In such circumstances, the Czars urged Finns to develop their own culture and national identity and, because the Czar himself was Duke of Finland, Russian nationalists spared the region. In the Ambassador’s words, this was the 'Golden Age of Finnish nationalism.'

However, a change of fortune came towards the end of the century, when the Russian nationalistic movement gained strength and influence with the Czar and his administration. This led to a policy of Russification of Finland, stirring a determined Finnish reaction. Finland’s long traditions of equality and independent action thus paved the way, under the force of Russification, for the quest for formal independence. This independence was achieved in 1917 following the fall of the Romanovs.

The Evolution of Equality

For Ambassador Laajava, equality is the defining characteristic of the Finns. The point when equality of the sexes was recognized is lost in time: life in northern Europe is harsh, women were left in charge of daily life for extended periods of time while men were away hunting. Until recently a predominantly agrarian society, Finland’s economy depended on men and women both working the fields. In addition to having to work the land, women were forced to take charge of the Finnish economy when Finland was attacked by the Soviets in 1939 and the men were defending their country.

A country of only five million, women’s participation was crucial, 'the key to our survival,' the Ambassador says, 'was the ability to continue a normal life, even in time of war.' The contributions of Finnish women were recognized and appreciated. In 1906, with the Czar forced to establish a system of popular representation in Russia, Finland’s old Four-Estates Diet was replaced by a unicameral Parliament. At the same time, Finland was the first country in Europe to grant women suffrage and eligibility. Women played important roles in both industry and the military during WWII, and today more than 70% of Finnish women work full-time outside the home, with another 10% working part-time.

In politics, women have played equally large roles. In the first election in which they could stand, women won 10 percent of the seats. Since then, women have continued to win seats in the parliament, the high point being in 1991, when women won 39 percent of the seats. The number of women in parliament since then has dropped slightly, but is still above 35 percent. Women have also held various ministerial posts, including health, education and defense. Finland’s representative at the Central European Bank is a woman, as are a number of Finland’s representatives in the European parliament. And last year, for the first time, a woman was chosen to occupy the highest executive office of the country, when Tarja Halonen, a well-known human rights activist and former Foreign Minister was popularly elected to be the 11th President of the Republic.

In addition to sexual equality, social equality is a mainstay of Finnish society. While many in the West view 'the welfare state' with trepidation, the Finns — like other Scandinavians — see the well-being of all citizens not only as a cornerstone of a just and democratic society, but also as an advantage in global competition. In addition to the safety net of social security, Finland offers its citizens the means to provide for themselves. Chief among these is a strong educational system. Following the Reformation, the Lutheran Church became strong in Finland, with the vast majority of the population members of the Church. The Church greatly contributed to the ideal of universal education: couples were not allowed to marry unless both knew how to read and write — skills needed to know their Bible. Finland’s literacy rates have therefore always been high.

Finland’s goal has long been to provide the opportunity for a quality education for everyone, with very good results. 'In today’s global marketplace,' the Ambassador says, 'Finns must be globally competitive in business from hour one. Therefore we must rely on knowledge, and build on the basis of our educational system.' While the Ambassador admits that Finland cannot compete with the likes of the US and Germany in mass-production, in the area of value-added goods and in research and development, Finland can, thanks to its schools, strive for excellence in all its endeavors.

In the realm of the arts, Finnish independence also comes to the fore. Renowned for their design skills — think of Finnair’s simple logo that imparts the ideas of movement and speed, or the Finnish embassy here in Washington — the Finns have internalized their surroundings and given them solid form. Discussing utilitarian items, Ambassador Laajava notes that 'whatever was made for use had to be something that would last. Once you had decades of use in front of you, you wanted to simplify its form to conserve resources, and to make it beautiful — you’re going to see it for years.'

The Finns have also taken an independent course in the creative arts. For Finland, which has never had an aristocracy, 'our culture is deeply rooted in the people — making use of the resources you have. Thus opera and theater are really original, not a celebration of the nobility.' Proof of the Finns’ productivity is that in 2000, 16 new operas were composed, with themes ranging from the beginnings of agrarian society to the difficult times fighting to maintain Finnish independence. A visit to the Savonlinna Opera Festival in the summer time is a must for opera lovers. Together with Salzburg and Bayreuth, the Savonlinna Opera Festival is one of the oldest in Europe and displays the brightest of Finnish and international stars year after year.

Europe and U.S. Complementing Each Other

Despite all this, both Finland, and its Ambassador to Washington, recognize the interdependent nature of international relations. Ambassador Laajava, born in 1947, was appointed Ambassador to the US in April 1996. He has served the Finnish Government since 1971, working at the Finnish Delegation to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe from 1973 to 1975. He has held posts in Yugoslavia, Spain and Poland, and after a year’s sabbatical at Harvard in 1985 ('the best year of my life'), he served as Deputy Chief of Mission in Washington from 1986 to 1990.

In Helsinki, Mr. Laajava has held senior positions in arms control, security policy and multilateral affairs. He was closely involved in formulating Finland’s foreign policy after the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. He was also instrumental in advancing Finland’s negotiations for EU membership, which took effect in 1995.

Given this background, the Ambassador is well equipped to promote cooperation between Finland and Europe, the US and Russia. Russia especially looms large to Finland, given the two countries’ history. 'We all want to see the transformation of Russia into a modern democratic, capitalist society,' he says. 'There are many policy tools to try to help.' Finland, he notes, was instrumental in helping the EU develop a methodology to deal with questions pertaining to Russia.

The Ambassador stresses Russia’s importance to Europe: 'Russia has tremendous resources, both human and material, is a large trading partner with the EU, and has important energy resources.' Yet Russia also has many problems, from health care provision to tax policy and collection, from the judicial system to the general rule of law. 'These problems, in our global world, are everyone’s problems,' he says. 'Instability there would affect its neighbors…. It is a question of integrating Russia [into the system of global interdependence] in a realistic fashion.'

While stating that change in Russia is needed, the Ambassador stresses that a generational perspective is needed—change will not be achieved quickly. Finland, he says, 'has great respect for the Clinton administration’s handling of Russian issues, especially in the realm of the nuclear threat reduction under the so called Nunn-Lugar program.' He notes that there may be some change in resource allocation under the Bush administration, but doesn’t think the fundamental idea of helping Russia will go away.

Finland, the Ambassador says, 'would like to see ourselves as part of this broad endeavor.' Working with the US, he says, 'we try to complement each other, and coordinate for the mutually-wanted ends. We want to preserve the identity of our respective European and American programs, but at the same time we want the end result, that is the impact on Russia, to be the best possible.'

With regard to the US, Ambassador Laajava is largely undisturbed by the change of administration. Having spent time here in the late 1980s, he says, 'I’ve been here before,' in reference to the hand-over of power. He said that there is a certain amount of gear-shifting involved, as colleagues change, but the reality of the situation is that most of the people he and other ambassadors deal with have had high positions in earlier administrations.

As for the change in foreign policy under a new administration, the Ambassador says that there may be individual questions — problem areas — which will be dealt with differently. More broadly speaking, though, 'the changes are not that tremendously important. All in all, there is a body of knowledge and established ways to act; the administration does not start from scratch.' There are also changes occurring abroad, he notes, and the new government must act and react to these changes accordingly.

With natural beauty, artistic achievements, a sound infrastructure and a promising economy, Finland’s future looks bright. The Ambassador is upbeat that Finland’s independent streak will help the country both domestically, in the European Union, and in the world at large.

Ambassadors Archive 1

Cambodia: Ambassador Ron Eng


By Hugh S. Galford 

Mention Cambodia and most people will conjure images of pure, unmitigated hell: Pol Pot, the Killing Fields, endless war and destruction. Cambodian Ambassador to the US, Roland Eng, is frustrated by this general perception of his country. 'The realities in Cambodia have changed, but outside perceptions have not.' While not denying his country’s recent past–impossible for a man who has suffered because of it–Eng is more concerned with looking to the future.

The youngest ambassador in Washington–he is 43–Eng has experienced more than most people ever do. Born in 1957, he was sent to France for a year’s studies in 1968. His father, a royalist and deputy in King Norodom Sihanouk’s regime, came to France in 1969 on official business; it was the last time the two would see each other. In 1969, the war in Vietnam reached Cambodia, and Eng was persuaded to remain in France.

He was able to maintain contact with his family until the Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975; from then until the early 1990s, Eng had no news of his family. Focusing on his studies, Eng received his Baccalauréat in Marseilles in 1976, and a Degree in Public Administration from Aix-en-Provence in 1980. He later obtained a Certificate in Public Relations from London in 1989, and a Certification in Public Administration from Paris in 1991.

While in France, Eng worked as a motorcycle messenger for a construction company and as a photographer for a French fashion magazine. In 1979, he volunteered his services to the exiled King Sihanouk, serving as His Majesty’s Private Secretary in various countries until 1983. At this point, Eng’s career took two distinct paths: he helped a friend open a restaurant in the south of France, and he became involved in FUNCINPEC (the United Front for an Independent, Neutral and Peaceful Cambodia). Between 1983 and 1990, Eng served as head of FUNCINPEC’s Administration, Information, and Humanitarian Aid Departments in succession.

In 1991, Eng served as Ambassador for the Supreme National Council of Cambodia to the United Nations, coordinating UN activities in Cambodia with the Cambodian authorities, and helping to bring about the peace accord and general elections. He ran for Parliament, winning his seat for Kampot. He served in Parliament for two years, holding the post of Minister for Tourism. Eng retired from politics at the end of his term, in 1994.

'I helped liberate my country,' Eng says; 'now I wanted to liberate myself.' He established a private consulting group within Cambodia, wanting to suggest paths that Cambodia should take both domestically and internationally, and to help bring much-needed financial assistance to the country. His self-liberation campaign was short-lived, however; he was in business for only a few months. The King called him back to reopen Cambodia’s embassies in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. 'I oversaw everything,' Eng tells us. 'Re-establishing diplomatic ties, staffing the new offices, even renovating the old buildings.'

As varied as his duties were, Eng was the perfect choice for the job. In 1993, as a member of FUNCINPEC, he had worked in a refugee camp on the Thai-Cambodian border; he therefore knew Thailand and the situation there very well. The refugee camp, Eng says, was daunting. 'At the time, it was the largest refugee camp in the world. There were over 400,000 refugees along the border in Thailand. I was there lobbying for an improvement in conditions.' He was also there looking for his family, and to help others separated by war to find their families. It was during this time that Eng discovered the fate of his family: all nine members–his parents, five sisters and two brothers–had died during the Pol Pot regime and its aftermath.

It was also at this time that Eng, though single, became a father: to seven adopted children from the refugee camp. In the ensuing years, that number has grown to 68. Having lost his siblings, Eng first adopted five girls and two boys. 'But in the camps, children would come and beg, ‘Take me, take me,’' he says. 'You can’t turn away from them.' His children have grown so numerous that Eng has established a Foundation in Phnom Penh to see to their well-being. The 'kids' range in age from two to 26. 'Some of them have gotten married,' Eng says, adding with a smile, 'I’m going to be a grandpa soon.'

Eng was named Ambassador to the US in 1999. He hopes for a constructive approach towards Cambodia from the new administration. Cambodia, Eng notes, is still seen by most people as a pariah state. 'This isn’t true anymore,' he says. 'If it were, I wouldn’t be here. I didn’t spend ten years of my life fighting the Vietnamese to then represent a repressive state.' Cambodia’s overarching priority now is to rebuild the country.

'Cambodia was a victim of war; now it’s a victim of peace, too. I mean, if you have 20 years of war, you’re not 20 years behind, but 40: your development was stopped for 20 years, while the rest of the world was moving forward for those 20 years.' His country must reach self-sufficiency. 'Only two percent of the roads are paved, only 11 percent of the population has access to clean water, only 30 percent have electricity.' The war damaged not only Cambodia’s infrastructure, but its human resource reserve as well. 'In 1968, we had 8,000 doctors. Now, we have less than 100, and many of those have gone overseas. Within the country, we might have 20-30 doctors.' And this for a population of 12 million. Happily, Cambodia’s intellectuals are slowly returning home; fully ten percent of the Government’s Cabinet are individuals who hold dual citizenship.

Cambodia has received money from the World Bank in order to implement reforms. 'The World Bank is very pleased' with Cambodia’s progress. China is also a large donor; moreover, 'all the Chinese grants and loans are unconditional,' Eng says. Assistance from the US, however, 'is less than $20 million. All of it goes to NGOs…none of it goes to the central government.' Eng feels that the US can, and should, play a larger role. 'The US can do so much, so much,' Eng says. 'A drop of water in an empty glass means a lot.'

Cambodia’s main strength, in Eng’s opinion, is its open, progressive outlook. The country has opened up through both economic reforms and greater political freedoms. Eng says that 'the two must be parallel. When you talk about progress, prosperity, and development, if you don’t have a minimum of political freedom, you can’t progress.' While Cambodia is still one of the poorest nations in the world, there are hopeful signs. Since independence and self-rule in 1993, the economy has grown by five to six percent per year. Cambodia has also received Generalized System of Preferences and Most-Favored Nation status with its main trading partners, the US included.

In the past year, tourism has increased 40 percent, with Americans topping the list of visitors for the first quarter of 2001. There are top of the line hotels in the country, as well as a booming business of smaller hotels and guest houses. The country is tapping ever more business travelers, as well as 'educational tourism.'

The main tourist attraction is Angkor Wat, the massive complex of temples in what was once the country’s capital. Built between AD800 and 1200, Angkor boasts more than 700 temples, 100 or more of which are open to tourists. The grand scale of Angkor is underlined by Eng, who says that as Minister of Tourism in the early 1990s, he was able to visit 45 temples at most. 'You really must see Angkor Wat at least once in your lifetime,' Eng says. 'It’s such a mystical place; you can visit 50 times and have 50 different experiences.' In the ninth century, Eng says, Angkor was the largest capital in the world, with a population of over two million. Researchers are still trying to figure out how such a city could exist, with a sophisticated irrigation system, three crops of rice per year, and a system to bring water from the low-lying regions to the top of the buildings, where reservoirs were situated. In addition to the engineering feats, Angkor offers a dazzling architectural array. Each king had temples built, all in varying styles. The main temple, Angkor Wat, is a three-level structure, 1.5 x 1.3 km in size, surrounded by high walls and moats, and covered in bas-reliefs.

The country has a 'very open-minded, pro-business government.' Cambodia has implemented a 'One-Stop Service' for foreign investors in the country, stressing government transparency and responsibility. The country has also stressed a 'Build-Own-Transfer' scheme. The highest rebuilding priority is the roads network. Cambodia suffered its worst flooding in 50 years last year, which washed out many of its roads. Combined with the damage from the war, the result is devastating. 'You can’t move the economy without roads,' Eng states matter-of-factly. 'Without roads, there are no goods, no information, no communication.'

Cambodia’s main resources are rubber, soya, agriculture, and timber, although logging has been completely stopped. This was a condition of the World Bank for increased direct foreign assistance. Cambodia is also the only country to have signed an agreement with Washington linking trade and labor. In 1994, Cambodia exported just $700,000 of goods to the US; six years later, it exports over $826 million to the US. Cambodia also offers intensive labor–cheap, well-trained and competitive. The people, he says, are hard-working and eager to learn. The strides that Cambodia has made in the last decade, he says, show that 'Cambodia can produce international standard products to sell in the US.'

Ambassador Eng’s main goal while in Washington is to foster a 'better understanding, a greater compassion for the situation in Cambodia.' His dream is that of the 'greatest America–in the sense of noblesse–the grandeur of the Great Power.'

'The people of Cambodia have suffered so much. We’re opening up now, and the US should help, without too many conditions,' Eng says. The US should not expect Cambodia to offer a full democracy in such a short time after its reestablishment. The country has made great strides in laying the foundations for a full-fledged democracy, but as Eng notes, 'The thing about foundations is that you don’t see them.'

'You cannot talk about real democracy when people are still starving,' the Ambassador says. 'The basic human rights are food, housing, clothing, and education.' The US should play a larger role in working towards these goals. Eng views criticisms of his country on Human Rights issues as quite unfair. Again, he emphasizes the transparency of the government. He notes that the UN has a Human Rights office stationed in Cambodia. Furthermore, he says that there are more than 600 NGOs registered in the country. 'How do you control 600 NGOs? You can’t control two. The NGOs don’t even report their activities to the government.'

From the start of independence, the government has looked to the rest of the world for assistance. 'We have an open culture and society,' Eng says, 'and a government that is concerned with, interested in, and aware of the world.' Unlike other countries that deny internal problems, Cambodia has always openly said to the world, 'We need X in order to achieve our goal. Please come help us,' Eng says. The country is a constitutional monarchy and, more interestingly, an elected monarchy: a left-over of the French Protectorate period, the king is elected from among the royal blood. 'The king rules, but has no power,' Eng says. 'He’s the umbrella.'

The country, he says, is small enough to allow rapid change. In addition, 'you’re dealing with survivors. I define a survivor as someone who has the capacity to adjust himself to a new situation very quickly.' Cambodia is looking for new situations, as 60 percent of its population are teenagers, who represent a growing work force for whom jobs will have to be found.

Ambassador Eng is adamant about his country’s standing in the eyes of the world. 'I am a democrat. I cannot accept that those people say that I represent a non-democratic country. If you say that, you have to go to Cambodia and see with your own eyes the achievements we have made in the last ten years.'

The Ambassador’s Washington schedule is daunting, starting at 7 a.m. and ending at midnight most days. 'I wish I had a hobby. It used to be photography; now I’m becoming a workaholic.' His dedication, commitment and love of his country from an early age might be seen as heroic. This he flatly denies. Ambassador Eng states, 'I’m not a hero. All the heroes are dead.

Ambassadors Archive 1

Cyprus: Ambassador Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis

Cyprus' First Woman Diplomat to Washington

By Patrica Keegan

Stalemate on Cyprus

'Despite the changes that have taken place throughout the world, the Cyprus problem remains stalemated. The country is divided, the people are divided, nothing has changed. Other countries, embroiled in conflict for years-some even for centuries, are finding solutions. Look at South Africa, East and West Germany, Ireland. Remarkable changes have taken place all over the world, others have been willing to compromise and reach agreements. But Cyprus remains divided, the same situation continues. It is so frustrating!' says Ambassador Marcoullis, the new ambassador to Washington.

Cyprus' first woman ambassador to take up a post in Washington is not only frustrated, but saddened, by the current stalemate.

The northern part of Cyprus, comprising 38% of Cypriot land, has been under Turkish military occupation since 1974. Turkey has more than 30,000 troops in the region,and recent reports show increasing levels of armaments flowing into the area.

Since 1974, there have been several occasions when both sides seemed ready to work out a solution which would benefit all the people of this small island-but talks have always broken down. Now, the Greek Cypriots, who have practically begged for years for total demilitarization of the entire island, declared they are not going to leave themselves vulnerable to attack, and have ordered S-300 anti-aircraft missiles from Russia. In June of this year President Clerides called on UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to undertake a personal initiative to achieve progress in reducing military tension on the island.

Hopes were raised to an all time high when President Clinton appointed his prime negotiatorRichard Holbrooke as his special envoy for Cyprus. With direct intervention by the U.S., surely an agreement could be reached to bring a viable conclusion to the raw divide which cuts though the very heart of the capital, Nicosia. Holbrooke went though a process of mediation with both sides, but to no avail. Holbrooke reiterated the U.S. position on a Cyprus solution, saying it should be based on 'a bizonal, bicommunal federation as prescribed by UN resolutions.' The two sides could not agree. Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash wants a confederation of two sovereign and equal states on the island. All hopes to return the island to the Cypriot people were once again thwarted.

President Clerides said, on October 1, during the celebration of the 38th anniversary of independence from British colonial rule, that the Turkish side has been 'hypocritically pretending' they want a solution based on a federation, when in fact they want a confederation. The President said that any confederation approach would have 'serious negative consequences resulting in the permanent division of Cyprus, increased alienation between the two communities and increased friction between Greece and Turkey.'

He does not believe there should be such divisions between the Cypriots. He called on the international community 'whose strategy regarding the Cyprus problem is served only by unification and cooperation and not by further division and confrontation,' to take effective action. 'What is required above all, is for the international community to intervene in a more decisive manner in the direction of the Turkish side'.

Any solution, the President stated, must be negotiated to assure security for both sides. Clerides envisions a federal constitution that will require a partnership and political equality of the constitutional parts.

In speaking with Ambassador Marcoullis, her love for the island of Cyprus is palpable. She has written a collection of poetry that defines her deep connection with the pain, beauty and pathos of her island.

'I wrote this collection in 1977 when I was a student in Finland. I was remembering my homeland, thinking about the past, the future, and the traumatic experience of the invasion.' She sees Cyprus as a source of inspiration for artists and poets because of its beauty and ancient, poignant history. During a recent speech on Cyprus to the Smithsonian Associates, she shared the following poem with the audience.

Having been to Cyprus in April 1991, I had, in a short space of time developed an appreciation for this 9000 year old civilization. Yet what stands out clearly in my mind were the tears on the face of my guide as I left her to walk cross the Green Line into the occupied area of Nicosia. She wanted to cross with me, but was forbidden because she was a Greek Cypriot. Though she was born in the Turkish occupied north, during the invasion her house in the north was bombed. She and her family fled, watching their home crumble in flames behind them. They could never return.

I spoke with women on both sides of the divide who believe it is crucial to come to know each other and to begin healing the past. There is no contact between the people. Denktash is adamantly opposed to cultural exchanges, which were started, but abruptly ended.

I asked the ambassador where the Cyprus people find hope for an ending to this long nightmare.

'We have remarkable stamina, which is why our people have endured throughout the centuries. Since the 1974 invasion, people have poured their energies into recovery. People who lost everything, home, livelihood, business, everything, had to start from scratch. Recovery, survival and then the drive to belong to different international structures, especially the European Union, has kept us focused. Now we are proud to say we are one of the most developed countries in the whole region, in the whole of Europe. Our economic indicators are much better than some European countries. It is our drive for survival that is keeping us going. Membership in the European Union will be a major accomplishment for Cyprus.'

Substantial accession negotiations between the European Union, Cyprus, and the other five candidate countries begin November 12. By unanimous decision the EU's target for Cyprus is to support 'a bizonal and bi-communal state based on the overall political settlement of the Cyprus issue on the basis of UN resolutions.' In his address to the United Nations, Wolfgang Schussel, Austrian Foreign Minister and EU Council President, stated: 'The EU stresses once again that the current status quo in Cyprus is not acceptable.' He reminded the General Assembly that Cyprus' accession to the EU would 'benefit all communities and help bring about peace and reconciliation.'

As a child, Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis was enthralled by the theater. She had dreams of becoming an actress, but fate sent her in another direction, as large and magnetic, to help her beloved country. She studied law and political science and completed a Ph.D. She served as consul in New York, and was a member of the Permanent Mission of Cyprus to the United Nations from 1982 until 1988, and returned to the Foreign Ministry until 1996 when she was posted as ambassador to Sweden with con-current accreditation for Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. She is married to Dr. George Marcoullis, a prominent oncologist- hematologist, and has a son, Panos, who is studying in the U.S.

Accession to the European Union, which Cyprus has worked long and hard to achieve, is now on the horizon, and with that comes an urgency for a solution to the problem. The European States, desiring a reunited Cyprus, are now involved in finding a solution. Despite her frustration, which is a composite reflection of the people of Cyprus, Ambassador Marcoullis is looking forward to important, positive changes in the coming year and the E U and the U.S.'s support for the new UN iniatiative currently underway.

Ambassadors Archive 1

Ghana: Ambassador Koby Koomson

An Interview with Ambassador Koby Koomson

By Hugh Galford

Pulling Ghana from the laid-back 50's into the wired, fast-paced world of the 21st century is a daunting task by any standard. In a recent interview with Ambassador Koby Koomson, one begins to realize that what would have been considered impossible 10 years ago is now more than probable.

A man on a clearly-defined mission, this elegant and articulate ambassador exudes a positive 'can do' attitude. One gets the sense that if he could, he would literally carry Ghana on his back into the modern world. Appointed to Washington two years ago, but with 25 years of U.S. experience, (he attended Arkansas State University in 1975), the Ambassador sees the value of the strong bond of a 'warm' mutually beneficial relationship between the United States and Ghana. Ever since its independence from British rule in 1961, Ghana has struggled to maintain its own well-being, while keeping the rest of Africa in mind. 'Ghanaians themselves,' the Ambassador said, 'noted back then that Ghanaian independence would be meaningless if the rest of Africa remained colonies.' Since the election of Jerry John Rawlings as President in 1981, this pan-African outlook has been strengthened, especially through the work of First Lady Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings.

The Ambassador is duly proud of his country's achievements, but expressed displeasure at the international media's portrayal of Africa and its nations. One incident in particular stood out in his mind. 'During the recent flooding in Mozambique, it was the African nations who were there first, offering aid and shelter. But look at the news, and what did you see: Americans and Europeans providing aid, and not an African in sight.' Ambassador Koomson terms himself an 'Economic Ambassador.' As such, he sees his main role during his tenure in Washington as fostering continuing good relations between Ghana and the United States. Such relations, he hopes, will lead to further mutually beneficial trade and investment between the two countries.

The 'warmth' of the Ghanaian-US relationship has already borne many fruits. In February, 1999, Ghana signed two agreements with the US, namely the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement and the Bilateral Investment Incentive Agreement. In addition, Ghana and the US have this year concluded negotiations for a Bilateral Air Service Agreement and the establishment of a Consultative Committee on Agricultural and Rural Development. Each of these agreements strengthens the already close ties that the two countries share. They have also instilled confidence in corporate America; the US now ranks fourth among sources of investment in Ghana over the past four years. Due to these agreements and the success of the Rawlings' programs and policies, Ghana is the leading recipient of Export-Import Bank loans to sub-Saharan Africa. The Ambassador proudly noted, 'Out of a total of 84 loans and insurance approvals made to the region between October, 1999 and May, 2000, 53— or 63% of the total—were made to Ghana.' Ambassador Koomson attributes some of the stability and economic success to the work of Ghana's First Lady, who has given new impetus to the role of women in Ghanaian society. Ambassador Koomson said that he has 'never met a first lady in the world like Mrs. Rawlings.' After her husband's election, she decided to make a difference in the lives of rural women. This has been accomplished through the establishment of artisanal and agricultural cooperatives and the encouragement of women entrepreneurs.

These projects, Ambassador Koomson pointed out, have led to a number of beneficial, and somewhat surprising, outcomes. The first is the greater confidence of, and role played by, Ghanaian women. Whereas traditional Ghanaian society is largely male-dominated, the projects initiated by Mrs. Rawlings have allowed women a greater degree of financial and social independence. Thanks to her programs, the Ambassador said, 'Many of the women in rural areas are either entrepreneurs or have some form of independent income.' The projects have also produced a larger pool of trained Ghanaians. As individual enterprises have expanded, more workers have been hired and trained. These workers see the benefits of work not only in the income obtained, but in the opportunity to do the same themselves. 'Neighbors working for a woman entrepreneur look at their success and think to themselves, 'I can do this with the basket-weaving business,' ' the Ambassador said. 'They therefore start saving a little each month to start their own business and to become eligible for loans to help them expand once they've started.' Mrs. Rawlings' projects have also garnered international support, both moral and economic. Ambassador Koomson noted that in recent years the World Bank and other international lending agencies have begun 'micro-lending' projects, giving Third-World small businesses loans of $100 to $200. But the Ambassador is adamant in his view that these loans are totally insufficient. If, however, small businesses were given $5,000, they would be allowed to expand to the degree that Mrs. Rawlings would like to see. Such loans are now available, though on a still too-limited basis. Mrs. Rawlings' initiatives have also gained the attention of the international banking and financing world, and she has been asked to spread her ideas and programs to neighboring African nations. Mrs. Rawlings' programs add to Ghana's importance to the economic life of Western and sub-Saharan Africa.

Ghana has a major role in both the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Organization of African Unity. Ghana has spoken for Africa in various economic fora, both within and outside the continent. Ambassador Koomson is also a member of the US Export-Import Bank's Advisory Committee on sub-Saharan Africa, and speaks at Ex-Im Bank meetings, urging the Bank to expand its lending and insurance programs in Africa. Within both ECOWAS and the OAS, Ghana has assisted in dispute settlement among member states, aiming to restore peace and provide shelter for refugees. In addition to these external activities, Ghana has taken steps to secure its own internal future. Since 1981, the Ambassador said, the country has had, in the person of President Rawlings, 'a strong, visionary leadership that recognizes the importance of democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights. Mr. Rawlings recognized early that good government led to stability, which in turn led to good government.' During his tenure, Rawlings has instituted pragmatic policies and encouraged a private sector-led economy. The former has led to Ghana's high regard in international circles, while the latter has poised the country on the brink of fiscal security. One example of the strength of Ghana's economy is its stock market. While most people would think of New York, London, or Tokyo as among the world's major stock markets, it would come as a surprise that Ghana's stock market was recently ranked ninth in the world. The Ghanaian stock market has witnessed a return of 28% in recent years, marking it as a major, if little-known, entity. Ambassador Koomson is looking to change this ignorance of his country's stock market. 'In late July or early August of this year, we are going to bring the heads of the companies traded on the Ghanaian stock market to the US.' The aim of the trip is to both encourage Ghanaians to buy US stocks and to get American investors to invest in Ghana and Ghanaian companies. The Ambassador enumerated a number of reasons why Americans and other foreigners should be interested in investing in Ghana. In part, its safety as an investment stems from its political stability and the success of its economic reforms. Other advantages include a commitment to market liberalization, a relatively low inflation rate, a relatively well-developed infrastructure, and a transparent legal system which facilitates the establishment and incorporation of new businesses.

In addition, Ghana has an advanced financial sector, a high level of human capacity, a warm and friendly people and a high degree of personal safety. In addition to these international economic programs, Ghana's historical and natural treasures have much to offer, in terms of tourist dollars and visitors. Numerous forts and castles exist throughout the country, three of which, Cape Coast Castle, Elmina Castle and Fort St. Jago, have been declared World Heritage Sites by the UN. Ghana also boasts the National Park Canopy Walk at Kakum, the only one of its kind in Africa. Its entertainment and recreational facilities, wildlife reserves and good beaches add to its allure for visitors. Perhaps most alluring, however, are Ghana's people and their crafts.

Two weeks prior to this interview, the Embassy hosted an arts and crafts show, bringing several dozen craftsmen and businesses to the US to exhibit their wares. Masks, figurines, chairs and stands in wood, pillows in leather, and vases in stone were chief among the exhibitions. Such crafts play an increasingly important economic role, as Ghana has, since 1983, emphasized the need to diversify its exports. Traditional exports have included gold, cocoa, timber and minerals, but the artwork of Ghana's people — wood, stone, Kente cloth — have begun to make an impact on world markets. In 1983, non-traditional exports accounted for about $1 million; in 1999, that figure had increased to $404 million. Of these figures, handicrafts increased from less than $200,000 to about $7 million in the same period. These handicrafts should not, however, be seen only in terms of their economic utility. More importantly, they contribute to the maintenance of Ghana's deep traditions and culture. As evidenced by the Ambassador's remarks, and by the entrepreneurial energy and creativity of its artisans and craftsmen, Ghana appears poised for economic and political success in Africa.

It is indeed exciting to see a country on the verge of greatness; more people should see it for themselves.

Ambassadors Archive 1

Malaysia: Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir


By Dr. Nancy E. Snow 

"Ideologies which are forced on people invariably end in rebellion and rejection; this is as true of economic systems as it is of political systems and cultural values," said Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad, physician turned Prime Minister of Malaysia, at the last meeting of the Pacific Basin Economic Council (PBEC) in Washington, DC.

"There is a sincere belief among many in the West that their values and beliefs are universal-universally valued and believed in by all civilized and civil men and women everywhere," said Mahathir, an outspoken advocate for "unity in diversity" when it comes to the universal values debate.

While he acknowledges "a large common ground" in values, he also strongly emphasizes natural differences in those values. For instance, values vary as greatly within countries (rural vs. urban) as they do from one country to the next. Big cities on every continent share a common culture, much as do the starving and the very wealthy in all societies.

Dr. Mahathir noted that in an era of rapid expansion of Western industrialized values, Asian values are often considered second-rate. "Why must we change ourselves to suit the West and their values? Why are so many in the West insisting that we become just like them. This the strong among us will not do. The weak, unfortunately, have little choice." What then are Asian values, and how do they compare with U.S. values? Acknowledging that exceptions can be found for every generalization, Mahathir pointed to a 1994 survey comparing East Asian and American values conducted by the Office of East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the U.S. Information Agency. A group of Americans and East Asians, (Japanese, Thais, Chinese, Koreans, Malaysians, Singaporeans, Indonesians, and Filipinos), were asked to rank six "societal values" and five "personal values" which they regarded as core and critical. The revealing results were presented in a publication entitled, Asian Values and the United States: How Much Conflict?

The six societal values most valued by East Asians were: first, "having an orderly society;" second, "societal harmony;" third, "ensuring the accountability of public officials;" fourth, "being open to new ideas;" fifth, "freedom of expression;" and sixth, "respect for authority." In contrast, the six most important societal values for those Americans surveyed were: first, "freedom of expression;" second, "personal freedom;" third, "the rights of the individual;" fourth, "open debate;" fifth, "thinking for oneself;" and sixth, "the accountability of public officials."

Fundamental differences were discovered with regard to personal values as well: Americans stressed "self-reliance, personal achievement, hard work, achieving success in life, and helping others," while the East Asians polled stressed "hard work, respect for learning and education, honesty, self-reliance, and self-discipline."

Whereas 59 percent of the Americans surveyed stressed "achieving success in life," half as many East Asians did; only one-third of East Asians stressed "personal achievement" as a personal value while slightly under two-thirds of Americans did. Nearly 70 percent of East Asians in the study emphasized "respect for learning," compared with only 15 percent of Americans. Half as many Americans stressed "self-discipline" as did East Asians.

What conclusions can one reach from such a study? According to Mahathir, the study lends support to the preeminence of cultural difference in how societies organize. Many of the East Asian values reflect a group orientation (i.e. "having an orderly society, societal harmony") while the American values stress more the individual's role (i.e. "freedom of expression, personal freedom, thinking for oneself.") Some Asian values, acknowledges Mahathir, "are obviously a function of our stage of development and will be challengedand discarded, to our gain or to our loss, as we move forward."

Mahathir's aim is not to elevate one set of cultural values over another but rather to seek a balanced perspective and "mutual respect" between Western and Asian values.

"I believe in community building. There is much in the West that commands respect, but at the same time, it is right and it is time that Asia, too, is accorded the regard and the respect that it is due."

He cautions against those who would, however, promote atrocities while hiding behind the cloak of cultural relativism. Atrocities, he instructs, are universal and have no fixed address.

"Let us all admit that no one has a monopoly of wisdom. Let us deliberately prepare for, and enthusiastically partake of, a feast of civilizations, where we take the best that all of us have to offer-and together build, for the first time, a single global civilization such as the world has never seen."

Ambassadors Archive 1

Taiwan: Representative C.J. (Chien-Jen)

Representative to the U.S.  

By Patricia Keegan

Since 1949 the Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan has been speeding on breathtaking parallel paths to meet the needs of its 23 million inhabitants — first, the need for basic survival, and second, the need for freedom of expression through a democratic system of governing. Like an Olympic runner, sprinting for 50 years without pausing a moment to contemplate its achievements, Taiwan has lived with the impending threat from Mainland China just 100 miles from its coast. The most recent presidential election has brought this small island some untidy challenges characteristic of the democratic processes, nevertheless Taiwan’s people continue to deal with all the obstacles to smooth governing with a combination of fortitude and a strong belief in their own identity.

Taiwan’s meteoric economic and technological advances are well known in the United States but less well known is its rapid transformation into a thriving democracy. Taiwan’s recently appointed Representative to the U.S., Mr. C.J. (Chien-Jen) Chen, would like more Americans to understand that his country’s seemingly boundless energy and creativity extend beyond economics to politics as well.

Representative Chen is singularly well placed to achieve his goal of raising American consciousness about his island nation. Because of his previous appointments in Washington he brings a unique historical perspective. This is, he said, his third tour of duty in Washington. His first tour, as a junior diplomat, was from 1971-1980, a period of fundamental change in the U.S.-Taiwan relationship. His second tour was from 1982-1989, while his current tour began in July of this year. Intimately familiar with American society and our political structures and culture, he brings nearly 20 years of direct experience to bear on the current situation.

When Mr. Chen arrived for his first tour, in 1971, Taiwan and U.S. had full diplomatic relations, but 'already we had difficulties…we could see change coming.' President Nixon went on his state visit to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1972; U.S.-Taiwan relations continued till 1978, when President Carter and Deng Xiaoping reached their historic agreement. This was, Mr. Chen said, 'a very sad situation. The peoples of the two countries were very close, but because of ‘global strategic considerations,’ our best friend in the international community–that is to say, the United States–decided to switch diplomatic recognition.'

'We felt we had been betrayed, and many of our friends in the U.S. felt the same way.'

Yet the change of diplomatic recognition led to the current 'bedrock foundation' of US-Taiwan relations. Following recognition of the PRC, Carter introduced a short, untitled bill to Congress that would outline U.S. relations with Taiwan, a bill that contained not a word about the security of the Taiwan Straits. Both houses of Congress stopped the bill and drafted their own, which eventually became the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA).

Mr. Chen is aware of, but unworried by, the seeming ambiguity of certain clauses in the TRA. Certain aspects or principles of the Act, he noted, are very clearly laid out: the security of Taiwan and the continued relations between the two countries are two examples. Yet he noted that 'there are about 20 executive discretions in the TRA, decisions that have to be made by the U.S. government as circumstances arise.'

The main area of ambiguity, he said, concerns the US response to any given action by Mainland China towards Taiwan. This area 'was ambiguous before; now it is clearer. We’ve accumulated 20 years of experience, from the signing of the TRA till now. From those 20 years, we can perhaps foresee situations and the likely reactions from the United States.'

A clear, concrete example of this was the PRC’s 1996 'missile exercises' in the Taiwan Straits, when the U.S. sent two aircraft carriers to the region. 'Is that clear enough?' Mr. Chen asked. Taiwan, the U.S., and the PRC hold a number of common interests, among them peace, security and stability in the region. Furthermore, Taiwan and the US share ideals: both enjoy peace and democracy, and uphold human rights. Such shared principles are an important aspect of the bilateral relations between our two countries. 'I can’t imagine that the U.S. would just ignore a country which shares the same values as the United States, to be invaded or attacked–or even threatened,' Mr. Chen said.

These shared values are at the heart of Taiwan’s recent and rapid process of democratization. While the country has come a long way very quickly, the development of its political liberalization started later than its economic growth. Taiwan’s economy, Mr. Chen said, dramatically improved in the early 1980s: their foreign trade soared, foreign reserves grew rapidly, and per capita income and gross national product increased markedly. Mr. Chen noted that there were several factors involved in such growth. 'From 1949,' he said, 'China has had two governments: one on Taiwan, the other on the Mainland, with different economic and political systems. From the very beginning, we have had to rely on ourselves.'

Such self-reliance was manifested in many ways. Taiwan’s success has been due, in part, to the fact that for the last 50 years, it has enjoyed relative peace. In addition, its people are hard-working and educated, it has had good leadership ('None of our leaders were corrupt,' Mr. Chen noted), and it has followed intelligent developmental strategies. In addition, the international environment–especially solid relations with the U.S.–has made a difference.

Taiwan’s outlook has been so positive that people often ask Mr. Chen people on Taiwan are concerned about the lack of diplomatic recognition; the country has done well without it, so why bother? 'We have achieved a great deal, but I say that if we had had diplomatic relations, we could have done much better.'

Mr. Chen said that it was 'very exciting to see democracy at work in Taiwan.' While the economy came first for a long time, the general direction of politics in Taiwan was clear. The Constitution was promulgated in 1947, but the real changes came in the late 1980s. In 1987, the country lifted martial law, a major step on the way to liberalization. The same year, Taiwan lifted its restrictions on travel between it and the Mainland, thus opening up the possibility of increased contact and dialogue.

In the last four years, Mr. Chen said, Taiwan has had two direct presidential elections, both free and fair. The pace of change, he said, has been very rapid. 'For 5,000 years, China never had democracy. Many scholars and professors even thought for a while that it was not possible for Western democracy to transfer to any Chinese society, because of our tradition or our culture. But within 13 or 15 years, democracy has finally and rapidly implanted itself on our soil.' And for the first time in Taiwan’s history, the Kuomintang party was voted out of office in the most recent election, replaced by the long-time opposition, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Mr. Chen said that Taiwan’s democracy is very vibrant and energetic, but 'sometimes very noisy.'

The new DPP government has moderated some of the planks in its platform since taking power. This, Mr. Chen said, was a sign that democracy in Taiwan is alive and well. While the party platform may call for a nationwide referendum on independence from China, it cannot unilaterally make such a decision without consulting the 23 million people of Taiwan, whom such a decision would directly affect. The new government is showing prudence in its policies, and while some may wish for more rapid change, the DPP has had the difficult job of transition from opposition to government. 'Such changes take time,' Mr. Chen said.

Mr. Chen’s sole objective during his current tour in Washington is to 'improve further the relations between Taiwan and the United States.' It looks very simple, he said, but in actuality it is much more difficult. One difficulty is that there are so many aspects to the Taiwan-U.S. relationship. 'I would like to improve relations with the administration further, with Capitol Hill, with the media, with the think tanks, with the Chinese communities in the U.S., etc., ' he said.

The most important aspect of his objective is to 'let the American people understand Taiwan. The more they understand Taiwan, the more they will like and support us.' Mr. Chen emphasized that 'Taiwan has been doing all positive things: making a poor, backward, underdeveloped society into a rich and prosperous one, and making a closed authoritarian society into an open democratic one.'

'Our people are still working so hard and diligently,' he said. 'There is no reason not to like what we are doing.'

Mr. Chen feels that the American public should know Taiwan better now than in the past. First, there is more access to information, given the telecommunications and research tools now at hand. Second, the world has changed. In the 1980s, a bipolar world existed, with 'people not so sure if everyone in the ‘democratic camp’ was really democratic.' Dictatorships sided with the free world, while even in the world of Communism.

'Now people look at each individual country not as part of some particular camp, but by itself. Because of that, people come to know each country better.' The numbers of people traveling between the U.S. and Taiwan contributes to better understanding. Mr. Chen also seizes on opportunities to speak to schools, in order to explain the differences between Taiwan and the PRC.

Tourism also plays a role in such education. Strategically placed at the center of Pacific travel, Taiwanese tourism has great potential. 'To be honest, though, we haven’t paid enough attention to tourism.' Now under the Ministry of Transportation and Communications, the Tourism Bureau should, Mr. Chen feels, be elevated, as it has been in Spain. He cited Spain and Ireland as two countries where tourism has contributed much to their economy and international standing.

Given Taiwan’s situation, 'survival always came first. Now that we are secure and peaceful, we should take a look at tourism. Tourism helps you physically and mentally, even spiritually,' he added. 'You expose yourself to the outside world.'

Taiwan has much to recommend itself for tourism: its natural beauty, its cutting-edge technological sector, its modern society and cities all contribute to its appeal. Taiwan holds the greatest collection of ancient Chinese artifacts in the world–a fact recognized even by PRC officials. And it is never dull.

'After my last tour here, I spent 11 years in Taiwan. Every day, something new occurred. In some places, you can spend 10 years and nothing changes. Taiwan has an unusual energy; it changes all the time.' Visitors to Taiwan come away impressed with this spirit of dynamism and can-do attitude that has been historically identified as an American trait.

Mr. Chen was born August 11, 1939. He earned his LL.B. degree in Diplomacy from National Chengchi University (Taipei) in 1960, and attended the University’s Graduate School of Diplomacy in 1962. In 1965, he earned an LL.B. from King’s College, Cambridge, and in 1966 studied at the School of Political and Economic Science at the University of Madrid. He continued his advanced studies at Georgetown University in 1976. Mr. Chen has served in various positions in Taiwan’s Embassy and Representative Office in the U.S., in Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan as chairman of the foreign relations committee, as foreign minister in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and as director-general in the Government Information Office. Since 1998, he has also been Associate Professor at the Department and Graduate School of Diplomacy at National Chengchi University.

Ambassadors Archive 1

Albania: First Lady Lidra Meidani

Lidra Meidani, activist First Lady, is elegant, yet strong.

By Susan E. Pritchett Post 

Just a year ago, pictures of ethnic Albanian refugees streaming into Albania from nearby Kosova filled our media, and Albania was brought into the international spotlight for a brief moment. During that time we witnessed atrocities and the ravages of war, and we were torn in our longing to help and our horror at the events as they unfolded.

Now Albania is quiet. Most Kosovar refugees have returned home, and Albanians have turned their focus back to their own country. Foreign and domestic investment has increased as evidenced by vast numbers of new buildings, hotels, and restaurants in Tirana, the new Millennium Movie Theater in the heart of the capital as well as movie theaters in other major cities, a Hyundai car dealership, a Mercedes Benz service center on the road to the airport, and a juice processing and packaging joint venture. Where once kiosks and amusement park rides stood in the center of Tirana, small parks are being reclaimed. Cybernet cafes, business centers and private companies of all sorts have sprung up throughout the city. 

Despite the positive economic changes, the optimism that characterized the early post-communist period has been replaced with what some call 'pessimism,' but others identify as 'realism.' In addition to increased support from the United States and other countries, many Albanians are committed to building something real and enduring in their country, something they can be proud of. As one businessman observed recently, 'Before 1997, (when the pyramid schemes that had been operating since the fall of communism in 1992 collapsed), our projects were built on fantasies. Now we are more realistic and are building our plans on a firmer foundation.'

In homes, however, there is a pervasive sadness, as the society is torn apart through emigration. In a culture where the core value is the strength of the family, this is a national tragedy. Until 1997, there was a belief that the emigres would work for a time outside the country and then return, but that hope no longer exists as increasing numbers of young people have made the decision to make new lives for themselves in other countries. While older people struggle to find opportunities as they mourn the loss of their children, the young people feel lost in foreign cultures that do not support them in ways they have been raised to expect.       

Lidra Meidani, activist First Lady, is elegant, yet strong, direct, and totally involved in the issues that are paramount to her. Her activities are more than sheer idealism. Her objectives are to make Albania a desirable country that her children and others will want to return to.  She would like to see them plant themselves firmly in their culture and society while taking their place in the international community.

'I was brought up to love my country, to be proud of it. One grandmother taught me to recite the patriotic verses of Naim Frasheri, and my other grandmother taught me the history of my family and how it was interwoven with the history of our country. This has taught me always to look for the best in Albania.'

As an experienced teacher of Mathematics at Ismail Qemali School, a public high school in Tirana, she has a historical perspective on the issues that have faced families from the time of  communist dictator Enver Hoxha through the post-communist period in which the country has struggled toward democracy. 

The struggle which began in the early 1990's led to free elections in 1992 and the establishment of a democratic government under the Albanian Democratic Party of Dr. Sali Berisha. That party's control ended in 1997 when rioting and chaos broke out throughout the country following the collapse of the notorious pyramid schemes. When elections were held later that year, the Socialist Party and a number of smaller moderate parties were able to form a coalition government and Rexhep Meidani became President of Albania. Mrs. Meidani then added the job of First Lady to her roles as teacher, wife, and mother, and found a platform to realize her goals for improving the lives of women, children and families in Albania.

In a recent interview, First Lady Meidani spoke of her public work, as well as of her own experience as a mother, in facing the challenges of emigration and its impact on Albanian society. Focusing on issues pertaining to the most vulnerable children, Mrs. Meidani noted,

 'In the past few years public awareness has been heightened in Albania regarding the needs of children, especially the orphans and abandoned babies. Although the positive results of programs in this area have not been adequately recognized by the media, nevertheless, good work has been done. Public and private centers have been established. These 'homes' are designed so that the children live in multi-age groups with a consistent core of caretakers, many of whom are young people who volunteer their time to these children. In addition, we have started programs that allow families to take these children into their homes over weekends and holidays to give them a place to experience family life. (The beginnings of a foster care system.)  A next step would be to establish a school that would provide specialized training for the caretakers.'

Mrs. Meidani's interest in and activities on behalf of the development and welfare of children ultimately led her to become a member of the Board of Directors of the Albanian Children's Foundation.  This Albanian charity is supported by the Albanian Children's Fund, established in 1996 by Domenick G. Scaglione, Chairman of the Albanian-American Enterprise Fund. It assists abandoned, orphaned, poor and destitute children in Albania, with a focus on assisting children affected by various diseases, particularly Thalassemia-Beta, a common genetic blood disease in Mediterranean countries.  Without regular and frequent blood transfusions, children with this disease have a life expectancy of less than eight years and experience bone deformities and growth retardation, as well as a condition in which the over-production of blood cells in the bone marrow leads to paralysis. 

First Lady Meidani explained why she so whole-heartedly supports the activities of the Albanian Children's Foundation.

'Much needs to be done now for handicapped children in this country. They suffer from the attitudes of parents who have tended to shut them away in shame. It is the goal of the fund to heighten public awareness, to improve the treatment of these children, and to help reduce the incidence of the disease through pre-marital screening. For this reason, one of the first objectives of the foundation is to establish a laboratory in Albania where blood analyses can be done. Longer term, our hope is to be able to save children's lives by supporting a bone marrow transplant program.'

As First Lady and an activist on behalf of women, Mrs. Meidani has also participated in women's organizations and conferences in both Albania and the region, seeking to support the role of women in society and the economy, as well as in politics. She explained her position:

'The central issue is that women should occupy important positions in society and be decision-makers in organizations. This is especially true in government where more women need to be in high positions, such as Minister and Mayor. In the upcoming elections, some effort will be made by the different parties to promote women through quota systems. This is a start.'

Looking to the future and her country's needs, Mrs. Meidani makes the education of young women a top priority.

'Young women must be well educated since so much depends upon them. A recent survey showed that in 80% of Albanian families financial matters are decided by the woman and, of course, mothers have a strong voice in the education of their children. Unfortunately, there are still areas of the country where families interfere, brutally denying the civil rights of their daughters to attend school. However, our responsibility and our challenge as a society is to provide high quality education and access to schools to overcome the objections of the parents and to encourage the intellectual development of young women. This problem is most difficult in the villages where there are so few children and such long distances for them to go to school. A good idea would be to build a school that would serve three or five villages and bring the children to school on buses.  For now, this continues to be a problem due to lack of infrastructure, however.'

Mrs. Meidani also noted the need to raise public awareness of the educational system and of involving businesses, foundations, and non-profit organizations in funding and supporting education and individual students through grants and donations of time and other resources.  'This,' she said, 'is critical to the development of our country.'

The First Lady turned at this point to a critical issue for the current generation of young people - what education means to them today. She told a story of a young woman who was interviewed on television recently. She said that while she continues to pursue her studies, she becomes pessimistic about her future, especially about her job prospects when she sees her father, who is an engineer, being out of work for so long. Mrs. Meidani discussed this interview with her students, asking them what they thought of the young woman's pessimism.  They concluded that, instead of becoming pessimistic, it might be better for this young woman to study the situation to see how she might prepare herself for the new economy so that she would be ready to take advantage of opportunities in a way that her father cannot.  She added with emotion, perhaps thinking of her own son who is studying in Boston and her daughter who is studying in France,

 'Many young people who subscribe to the pessimism expressed by this young woman think only to emigrate, to have educational and work opportunities elsewhere. Of course it is a wonderful thing that our children can go outside of our country for their education, but it is the duty of our society to work to make them return to Albania - to make this country a place of opportunity for them as well.'

Ambassadors Archive 1

Ireland: Ambassador Sean O'Huiginn.

Committed to Peace

By Susan E. Pritchett Post 

As the Irish-American community, comprising 1 of 7 Americans, looks forward to the celebration of St. Patrick's Day on March 17th, thoughts of cultural unity and international harmony have been overshadowed by current events in Northern Ireland. There, anger and sadness, dismay and frustration have followed in the wake of the February 12th suspension of the democratically- elected coalition government established under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Irish Ambassador Sean O'Huiginn is uniquely qualified to provide perspective on these recent events. A native of County Mayo and career diplomat who has served as the Ambassador of Ireland to the United States since September of 1997, Ambassador O'Huiginn has been actively involved in the conduct of his country's policy in Northern Ireland for over a decade.

During this time he was centrally involved in implementing the structures envisioned in the 1985 Anglo-Irish Accord. This agreement gave the Irish Republic a consultative role in Northern Ireland and set up an inter-governmental conference of ministers and civil servants with its own secretariat. From 1987 to 1990, Ambassador O'Huiginn led Irish diplomats assigned to the Anglo- Irish Secretariat in Belfast. Then from 1991 to 1997 he headed up the Anglo-Irish Division in Dublin where he was involved in the negotiations of such historic agreements as the 1993 Downing Street Declaration and the 1995 Framework Document, the cease fires initiated by the IRA and loyalist paramilitary groups, and the establishment of an inclusive talks process open to all parties in Northern Ireland. Now as Ambassador to the US, an untiring advocate of the Good Friday Agreement, he plays a key role in working directly with President Clinton, Senator Mitchell and other US leaders on issues pertaining to Northern Ireland.

In a recent interview Ambassador O'Huiginn not only highlighted some of the root causes of the current situation, but also expressed his optimism that with 'hard work and imaginative effort' the parties could resolve their differences.

By way of background it should be noted that the Good Friday Agreement, which summarized the importance of cooperative effort and outlined a structure to be established for local government, was signed by the Nationalists and Unionists of Northern Ireland as well as by Britain and the Republic of Ireland on April 10th, 1998, after intensive negotiations on all sides. In a public referendum held in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland on the 22nd of May of that year the people ratified the agreement by an overwhelming margin (71.2% in Northern Ireland and 94.4% in the Irish Republic). An assembly was elected in June of 1998, but it took another 18 months, until December of 1999, to appoint an Executive (cabinet).
In order to obtain his party's participation in the local government, David Trimble, the head of the Ulster Unionists, promised his constituents that he would resign from his post as head of the new coalition government if the IRA did not make significant progress in decommissioning by the end of January. Since initial feedback on the IRA's decommissioning progress presented by the De Chastelain Commission report of 31 January was disappointing and the Unionists increasingly felt that adequate progress was not being made. Mr Trimble and his unionist colleagues threatened to resign from the Executive before a key meeting of their party on 12 February.

In order to avoid the collapse of the government by virtue of Mr. Trimble's resignation, Peter Mandelson, the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, suspended the local coalition government on 11 February. Many issues have been raised by his actions not the least of which is the appearance that his actions were premature since the second of the De Chastelain reports, showing a positive effort on the part of the IRA, was delivered on the same date. Also, the suspension of the government unilaterally by a British politician raises political and legal issues since the Good Friday Agreement, and the structures it anticipated, have been ratified by the people of the Republic of Ireland and have been incorporated into their constitution.
In his assessment of the circumstances leading to the suspension of the government, Ambassador O'Huiginn pointed to the differences of perception that have arisen on the critical issue of decommissioning.

'The decommissioning issue has taken on different symbolic meanings for the two sides in Northern Ireland. For one side, the Unionists, it was seen as an issue of good faith since guns can have no role in the operation of democratic institutions. For the other side, the Republicans, it was seen as a test of good management, a very delicate issue which had to be handled sensitively to preserve a unified Republican commitment to the peace process. Unfortunately, primarily due to pressures from their constituencies, the leaders have not able to reach out sufficiently to each other so as to ensure that both of these valid concerns are fully met.'

Ambassador O'Huiginn added that the risk in suspending the government is that a political vacuum is created and there is the risk of de-stabilization associated with disappointment and anger. His ideas for the prompt re-establishment of the government reflect his experience, idealism, and pragmatism. He called on all sides, all people, to step back and to put the decommissioning issue into its proper perspective as an important confidence building objective, which will be achieved over time building on the significant progress already made. Specifically, he urged that people focus on the 'enormous and unprecedented' nature of the Good Friday Agreement, as a whole, which is central to the current plan for peace and is the democratic mandate of the people.

In addition, Ambassador O'Huiginn noted that the institutions created under the Good Friday Agreement have had excellent management successes during their short tenure. 'It is important,' the Ambassador stated, 'that we remember that we are not starting from zero. Democratic processes are in place and the objective now must be to improve the public's confidence in those processes and the structures created.'
Specifically, Ambassador O'Higuinn suggested some steps that would increase public confidence and aid in the restoration of the government.

'First, there needs to be broad recognition of the Good Friday Agreement as a cornerstone for peace, and of the processes it embraces as the expression of democratic determination. Then there needs to be a focus on the broader range of commitments covered in the Good Friday Agreement. Decommissioning must go forward, but it is not the only issue addressed there. Other aspects of the agreement can be implemented, even during the suspension of the local government. In fact, confidence that these aspects - which relate to fundamental issues of equality and human rights - will be carried out is critical to the ultimate success. Finally, it is clear that the leaders of Britain, Ireland, and the United States, as key protagonists in the Agreement, are working and will work very hard both publicly and behind the scenes to resolve the issues and I have great hopes that all this hard work will bear fruit.'

Despite the risks and frustrations in Northern Ireland, the Irish Embassy is making preparations for St. Patrick's Day. Ambassador O'Huiginn indicated that this is always a time of 'stock-taking of the close relationship between the United States and Ireland' and reminded us that 'the celebration of St. Patrick's Day is not based on nostalgia and historical connection alone, but on current strong political, economic, and cultural ties. The good news story of the Irish economy is in large part based on the closeness of the two countries and, specifically, on US investment in our country. The peace process has had an enormous input from the US. So the American dimension is crucial for the two most important objectives of the Irish people - peace and prosperity on our island'.

St. Patrick's Day is, however, always a time of celebration of our cultural heritage, the common roots we share, Ambassador O'Huiginn reminded us.

'We are proud of the recognition of the quality and contribution of Irish culture and the strong ties that exist between the Irish and American cultures. The up-coming Island of Ireland event at the Kennedy Center in May is testimony to the significance of that relationship. We are grateful to former US Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith for making this happen and for the support given to it by Ambassador Mike Sullivan. We hope that our President Mary McAleese will be able to attend this expression of the rich diversity of Irish culture. This is definitely a 'save the date' occasion that we can all look forward to.'

Good Friday Agreement - Declaration of Support
(Preface to Good Friday Agreement)
1. We, the participants in the multi-party negotiations, believe that the agreement we have negotiated offers a truly historic opportunity for a new beginning.

2. The tragedies of the past have left a deep and profoundly regrettable legacy of suffering. We must never forget those who have died or been injured, and their families. But we can best honour them through a fresh start, in which we firmly dedicate ourselves to the achievement of reconciliation, tolerance, and mutual trust, and to the protection and vindication of the human rights of all.

3. We are committed to partnership, equality and mutual respect as the basis of relationships within Northern Ireland, between North and South, and between these islands.

4. We reaffirm our total and absolute commitment to exclusively democratic and peaceful means of resolving differences on political issues, and our opposition to any use or threat of force by others for any political purpose, whether in regard to this agreement or otherwise.

5. We acknowledge the substantial differences between our continuing, and equally legitimate, political aspirations. However, we will endeavour to strive in every practical way towards reconciliation and rapprochement within the framework of democratic and agreed arrangements. We pledge that we will, in good faith, work to ensure the success of each and every one of the arrangements to be established under this agreement. It is accepted that all of the institutional and constitutional arrangements - an Assembly in Northern Ireland, a North/South Ministerial Council, implementation bodies, a British-Irish Council and a British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference and any amendments to British Acts of Parliament and the Constitution of Ireland - are interlocking and interdependent and that in particular the functioning of the Assembly and the North/South Council are so closely inter-related that the success of each depends on that of the other.

6. Accordingly, in a spirit of concord, we strongly commend this agreement to the people, North and South, for their approval.

Ambassadors Archive 1

Brazil: Ambassador Rubens Antonio Barbosa

New to the Washington Scene

By Susan E. Pritchett Post 

Ambassador Rubens Antonio Barbosa, a newcomer to Washington's embassy community, is a man with a sharply focused, clear agenda for further improving already close ties between Brazil and the United States.

In October, Ambassador Barbosa launched his 'Visit Brazil' program, a public-private initiative aimed at better promoting tourism and investment in Brazil. Although about 500,000 tourists from the United States visited Brazil last year, second only to the 1 million tourists from Argentina, Ambassador Barbosa believes there is a largely untapped American market. The Ambassador explains the program:

'The idea is to develop a coordinated effort to target tour operators, travel agents, and other travel related companies. Our goal is to make people aware of the diversity of travel destination options beyond Rio, including the coastal areas of the northeast, where there are many new tourist facilities, and it is sunny year round; also the southern farming area; as well as eco-tourism in the Amazon. We also want to focus on our cultural diversity as well as the diversity of our geography. We plan to do this by publishing books and brochures and by holding four meetings over the next year in different parts of the United States: Los Angeles, Houston, New York and Miami.'

Ambassador Barbosa also points out the importance of local tourism.
'There is a large domestic tourism industry with millions of Brazilians traveling each year, exploring the diversity of our own country. For this reason, there is a further need for development of the domestic tourism industry, and so we are particularly interested in attracting foreign capital for the construction of more hotels and resort facilities.'

'Visit Brazil' is, however, only one piece of Ambassador Barbosa's clearly outlined agenda in which he seeks to capitalize on Brazil's importance to the US as a trading partner and to further expand trade opportunities. With a gross domestic product of more than $750 billion, Brazil has the eighth largest economy in the world and is the third largest market for US exports in the Western Hemisphere. Ambassador Barbosa hopes that his campaign will increase US investment and imports of Brazilian goods. Furthermore, Ambassador Barbosa plans to build a 'Brazilian constituency' on Capitol Hill beginning with Congressional representatives from the 10 states that each export goods and services to Brazil with a value in excess of $500 million annually. 

Ambassador Barbosa cites the January, 1999, devaluation of the Brazilian currency, the Real, as a positive factor for his program since Brazilian goods and services are now more competitively priced. He is encouraged and optimistic about the recent turnaround in Brazil's economy.
'Originally analysts' forecasts after the devaluation were for negative growth of 4 to 6% and 40 to 60% inflation, but our economy showed greater resilience due to the fundamentals and our government's strong measures. The recovery has been tremendous, with inflation below 10% and the prospect of growth in December already marking the beginning of a turn around. In fact, if the US economy continues at its current pace and there are no dramatic overseas events, we are projecting growth of 3 to 4% in 2000.

This prediction of growth for Brazil's economy is based on Ambassador Barbosa's belief in the fundamental strength of the economy and the impact of tight governmental fiscal controls combined with expected tax reform and social security legislation. Although there is optimism for the future, Brazil's economic recession over the past few years and this year's imposition of tight fiscal controls have had an impact on social and environmental programs.

Ambassador Barbosa spoke particularly of the urban poor and the problem of street children.
'Only economic growth will help the poor rural people who have moved to the cities, the 'swollen cities,' as they are called by the social scientists. The problem of street children is primarily in our large cities and is not as large an overall problem as people outside the country perceive.

There are about 3-4,000 street children in Sao Paolo and about the same number in Rio. A particular concern we have is that since our social welfare system is based on the contributions of working people, the children fall outside of the system. Fortunately, our government has been able to work with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to attack this problem, and 'volunteerism,' a new concept in Brazil, has been introduced as a way to combat the problems of this population.'

In the environmental area, Ambassador Barbosa notes, Brazil has been left to finance the protection of the Amazon with its own limited budgets, despite the pledges of assistance from developed countries at the Rio Conference in 1992 totaling over $250 million. Of those pledges, only $35 million (from Germany) has been received to date. Therefore, although the government is committed to preserving its natural resources, funds are not available for activities such as expanding the number of guards in the Amazon. Despite these limitations, there is an ongoing project to place sensors throughout the forest to detect degradation through fire, deforestation, and illicit activities, including contraband and drug businesses.

None of these problems-economic, social or environmental-has a simple answer, but Ambassador Barbosa believes that developing the economic underpinnings of the country is critical to the success of the other programs. To that end, he has dedicated much of his professional career to promoting trade and economic development of his country, within the region and world wide.

As Undersecretary-General for Regional Integration, Economic Affairs, and Foreign Trade, and Coordinator of the Brazilian Section of Mercosul from 1991 to 1993, he worked closely with the Southern Common Market (Mercosul) and thereby contributed to the vast expansion of intra-regional trade from $4 billion to $20 billion in six years.

The history of Mercosul dates back to 1960, just three years after the creation of the European Economic Community, when the countries of Latin America signed a treaty creating the Latin American Free Trade Association (ALALC), providing for a free-trade zone negotiated by individual member states. Although initial acceptance was good, the implementation and results did not live up to expectations.

Therefore, in 1980, the Latin American Integration Association (ALADI) was created replacing ALALC and establishing an economic preference zone with the ultimate objective of creating a common market. In 1986, under the framework of ALADI, Brazil and Argentina signed 12 commercial protocols, followed in 1988 by a Treaty of Integration, Cooperation, and Development. Its goal was development of a common market between these two countries within 10 years, the gradual elimination of all tariff barriers, and harmonization of macroeconomic policies.

In March, 1991, Ambassador Barbosa negotiated and signed a new treaty that provided for the inclusion of Paraguay and Uruguay, identifying the treaty signers for the first time as the Mercosul, the Southern Common Market. Chile and Bolivia are now included as associate members of the group.

Although Ambassador Barbosa has been in Washington only since June of this year, he has been quick to put his economic experience and his commitment to trade issues to work. Clearly, he brings to his Ambassadorship in Washington a highly focused and well-constructed plan-one that he hopes will be both mutually beneficial and have broad and positive implications for the issues facing Brazil today.