Slovenia's Energy-Minded Premier Shares Hopes for a Solution on Iran

By Nora Boustany
Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Iran was high on the agenda of Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa , who made his first visit to Washington as head of government this week and is hoping to help mediate efforts to bring Tehran on board with a package of proposals regarding its nuclear capability.

"We are a nuclear energy country. We use atomic energy for 20 percent of our electricity," he said over lunch at the Willard Hotel yesterday. He met with President Bush on Monday and with Vice President Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday.

Slovenia's interest in seeing the situation with Iran regularized has to do with natural gas. Slovenia imports 40 percent of its natural gas requirements from Russia. Energy security is a priority for Slovenia and it would like to see gas pumped from Iran via Turkey to Europe, Jansa said.

During his morning meeting with Cheney, Jansa said he learned that Iran would not give its response to Western proposals until August. "We had wanted them to decide by the G-8 meeting. But if the decision is positive, we can wait until August. They did not refuse but asked for more time," he said, noting that there was still disagreement on the time frame. The Group of Eight meeting of industrial nations starts this weekend.

Jansa said he believes that the next crisis the European Union will have to grapple with after Iran is Ukraine. He added that the question of gas and oil was important not only because it could be used as a political tool but also because of high prices. Skyrocketing oil prices accounted for 60 percent of inflation in Slovenia this year, he said.

Jansa, on his sixth visit to Washington, but his first as prime minister, is here with Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel , a former ambassador to Washington.

Jansa was once a freedom fighter, journalist and critic of Yugoslav army excesses. His arrest in 1988 along with three others for critical articles and his six-month detention without legal representation helped spark massive street protests in Ljubljana that eventually allowed Slovenia to break away from Yugoslavia and declare independence in 1991. "That changed my destiny," Jansa said.

Under his leadership, the tiny nation of 2 million, which became a European Union member in 2004, is playing an increasingly visible international role. In September its ambassador to Vienna and its first ambassador to Washington, Ernest Petric , will head the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency. By January 2007, Slovenia will enter the Euro monetary zone and at the beginning of 2008, Slovenia will take over the presidency of the European Union.

On Iraq, Jansa said he feared a withdrawal of foreign troops now could set off chaos but agreed with the U.S. leadership that Iraqi security forces should gradually take over the task of keeping law and order. Rupel said there were several Slovenian instructors in Iraq helping train Iraqis as part of a program put together by members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. There are 50 Slovenians in Afghanistan helping run the regional government in Herat.

Toast of the Town

After 17 years as president of Meridian International Center, serving as host, mentor and liaison for the diplomatic community in Washington, Walter L. Cutler , a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, bowed out in style Monday night at a festive dinner among friends in one of the dining halls of the Inter-American Development Bank.

In toasting Cutler, host Luis Alberto Moreno , president of the IDB and previously Colombia's ambassador for more than seven years, said Meridian, its activities and annual autumn ball in the garden-enclosed mansion on Crescent Place, off 16th Street, were part and parcel of Washington's special magic. Founded in 1960, the Center is a nonprofit organization with a mission to promote international understanding.

"When ambassadors are sent to Washington, their governments actually think they will get to meet the American president every week. Instead, they are embraced by people like Walt Cutler who help them traverse and navigate the maze of official and diplomatic life like pros," Moreno said.

Cutler assured the guests that despite the many farewells, he really was leaving the job to retire. He could not remember the time when Colombia did not donate the flowers that make up the majestic arrangements adorning the dance floor and banquet rooms of Meridian's yearly ball, Cutler reminisced.

He recalled that the many exchange programs for young aspiring diplomats and public servants that Meridian has organized over the years have yielded 120 heads of state from 69 countries, among them three Latin American presidents, including Colombia's incumbent President Álvarez Uribe, who first came to Washington on a 1988 visitors' program.

Cutler will be replaced by Stuart W. Holliday , 41, the Meridian International Center announced Tuesday afternoon. The former ambassador for special political affairs at the United Nations from 2003 to 2005 was recently director of Quinn Gillespie & Associates here, a public affairs firm, and a former U.S. diplomat at the U.N. Security Council.

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