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The Chatter Over Sauerbrey

By Al Kamen
Monday, June 20, 2005

The buzz among the refugee aid groups is that Ellen Sauerbrey , former Maryland state legislator, two-time unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate and now ambassador to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, is being looked at to be assistant secretary of state for refugee matters.

If so, there is bound to be a battle, largely over abortion rights. Sauerbrey has a fair amount of diplomatic experience in -- and gets substantial kudos for -- being a tireless advocate for human rights and women's rights. About 70 to 80 percent of refugees are women and children.

But she staunchly opposes abortion rights, a view that has had her sparring with other international rights advocates over abortion-related issues. Recently, Sauerbrey insisted that a U.N. declaration supporting women's equality specify that the 1995 Beijing women's conference did not create new human rights, such as the right to abortion. The move was dropped amid widespread opposition.

Sauerbrey also has criticized "activist" nongovernmental organizations -- doubtless including some with which she would have to work -- that likely will gear up to oppose her.

The chatter at Foggy Bottom is that if this appointment happens, it will be after resolution of the Senate battle over U.N. ambassador nominee John R. Bolton .

We Take It That's a Yes

The Bush administration, joining all its predecessors, has deplored the media's use of anonymous sources to criticize administration actions. Reporters themselves would much prefer to have sources on the record, as that always enhances a story's credibility.

Sometimes confirmation of an article based on background sources takes a while. Last week, for example, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard G . Lugar (R-Ind.) used a committee hearing to decry leaks involving North Korean matters.

"I am particularly concerned," he said, that U.S. officials "have pressed Russian, Chinese, Japanese and South Korean officials for cooperation in moving North Korea back to the table, [but] their initiatives have been complicated by others who have leaked sensitive information related to administration strategy."

"For example," Lugar said, "on May 7th of this year, a Washington Post article revealed sensitive and confidential details of discussions held between [Assistant Secretary of State Christopher R . ] Hill and Chinese officials in connection with the six-party talks. Chinese officials later protested to United States officials regarding the betrayal of confidence."

So that means the story must have been true?

And Here's Back at You

Speaking of unnamed sources . . . It seems the gratuitous use of them is spreading beyond media circles. The House Energy and Commerce Committee, for instance, knowing how shiftless reporters are, has taken to writing news releases about its hearings in the style of news stories.

The dispatches are quite well done and look much like the real thing -- even to the use of anonymous critics.

Take, for example, one release last week after a Medicaid hearing. Two governors -- Democrat Mark R . Warner of Virginia and Republican Mike Huckabee of Arkansas -- told the committee something had to be done about runaway Medicaid costs.

But "the . . . unified, bipartisan approach was not completely embraced on the committee," the release said. " 'I think there is a real moral deficit in the Congress and in the budget,' said one critic. 'This is wrong. I think we should start over,' said another. . . ."

And who are these scurrilous "critics"? readers demanded.

Wouldn't you know it. They were just two Democrats on the committee: Reps. Anna G. Eshoo (Calif.) and Jan ice D. S c hakowsky (Ill.), speaking on the dais at the hearing.

Sounded more mysterious when they were anonymous.

'Millennium': Challenged

Paul V. Applegarth , head of President Bush 's oft-criticized major foreign aid initiative, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, is resigning after just 18 months on the job. The announcement came two days after the leaders of five African nations complained to Bush that bureaucratic bottlenecks are making it hard to get assistance.

Congressional critics, noting the slow pace of disbursement, say that although the MCC has approved hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to four countries, much of that remains in the pipeline. And on Thursday, a House subcommittee recommended $1.75 billion in funding for the aid program, $1.25 billion less than Bush had asked for.

Supporters point out that it is very hard to start an agency from scratch, something that cannot be done quickly. But eyebrows were raised recently when the MCC announced it had approved turning over the financial management of a large grant to Madagascar to a nonprofit, German-government-owned corporation.

In Other Moves

The expected nomination of diplomat Ross L. Wilson to be ambassador to Turkey is moving along at a brisk pace. Wilson, former ambassador to Azerbaijan, is now a top aide to Deputy Secretary of State Robert B . Zoellick .

Former Senate majority leader Thomas A. Daschle (S.D.), now working in the private sector, has signed on to be a "distinguished senior fellow" at the liberal Center for American Progress, where he will focus on health care and international issues.

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