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Photo-Op Frames a Shot at Iran

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last week withTeodoro Obiang Nguema. president of Equatorial Guinea
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last week withTeodoro Obiang Nguema. president of Equatorial Guinea. Fielding a reporter's question, Rice touched on the subject of Tehran. (Jason Reed -- Reuters)

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By Al Kamen
Monday, April 17, 2006

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will do whatever it takes to smack the nuke-happy Iranians around.

Last week, reporters were told there would be no remarks -- thus no reason to stake out -- a meeting she was having Wednesday with Equatorial Guinean President Teodoro Obiang Nguema.

Obiang, a somewhat unsavory and corrupt character who seized power in a 1979 coup, runs a regime regularly condemned by the State Department for human rights violations, including torture, beatings, abuse and deaths of prisoners and suspects. He's gotten as much as 97 percent of the vote in recent elections, he told CBS's "60 Minutes" a while back, but that was because "there is no one left in the opposition."

Human rights groups and, we hear, folks inside the State Department, were beside themselves that Rice would meet with what one advocate called "one of the most brutal, most corrupt and unreconstructed dictators in the world." (We would opt for the lunatic Kim Jong Il, but let's not quibble.)

Well, at least the meeting wouldn't attract all that much press attention, given that there was only to be a photo-op.

But then Iran announced it had begun enriching uranium and Rice needed a forum -- though perhaps not one specifically arranged to make the United States appear to be scrambling -- to respond.

So reporters were alerted to stand by at the Obiang meeting. Rice appeared with our pal Obiang, even called him "a good friend," then said she would take "one question" from reporters. Of course that question would be about Iran, giving Rice the opening to take a whack at Tehran.

And Obiang certainly went home happy.

Envoy to Indonesia Rails Against Contractor

In the Loop Consumer Corner . . .

Giant services contractor Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR), which works in some tough places around the world, has its share of unhappy customers. The latest is B. Lynn Pascoe , ambassador to Indonesia, who is seriously upset with KBR's efforts on the island of Nias, off the northern Sumatran coast, a surfer paradise that got hammered by the tsunami and then earthquakes.

KBR, a subsidiary of Vice President Cheney's former company, Halliburton, was working on building two elementary schools and two bridges in the "first official U.S. military-Indonesian military" project since "normalization of relations . . . in November 2005," Pascoe wrote in an April 6 letter to Rear Adm. Gary Engle, who runs the Naval Facilities Engineering Command for the Pacific. Relations soured after Indonesian army atrocities in East Timor.

"KBR sold itself as having the ability to work in austere environments providing materials and sub-contract support" for the projects, Pascoe wrote. "Time and again however . . . KBR clearly showed a lack of this ability." The projects were finished "through a number of workarounds," he wrote, but "KBR caused considerable embarrassment to [this government] and left a negative impression on" the Indonesian military and local folks.


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