July's Calm Disrupted by Stormy Events

Andrés Pastrana resigned as Colombia's ambassador here after his rival, Ernesto Samper, was named ambassador to Paris. Samper declined the post.
Andrés Pastrana resigned as Colombia's ambassador here after his rival, Ernesto Samper, was named ambassador to Paris. Samper declined the post. (2005 Photo By Javier Galeano -- Associated Press)
By Nora Boustany
Friday, July 14, 2006

In mid-July, Embassy Row usually quiets down as occupants retreat to their home capitals to sip lemonade in the shade or escape to a favored vacation spot. But Washington's diplomatic world was in the grip of high drama this week with the resignation of Colombian ambassador Andrés Pastrana and the Lebanese government's decision to recall its ambassador, Farid Abboud .

Abboud was recalled after provoking anger in Beirut with remarks on CNN about the seizure Wednesday of two Israeli soldiers by the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah and its demands for a prisoner swap. The kidnapping south of the Lebanese border triggered a massive retaliation in which Israel bombed main runways at Lebanon's international airport, shelled fuel tanks and imposed a sea blockade. Dozens of people were killed.

When asked by CNN international anchor Michael Holmes why Lebanon would not return the soldiers to Israel to halt the military escalation, Abboud replied: "Because we have Lebanese prisoners detained by Israel."

"We have our prisoners, they have prisoners. An exchange would be appropriate, and I think it will resolve the problem," Abboud said, according to a transcript of his comments. He insisted, however, that his call for negotiations rather than war to resolve the issue represented the government's position.

Information Minister Ghazi al-Aridi said in a statement: "The Council of Ministers decided to ask its Foreign Minister to recall Lebanon's ambassador in Washington (Farid Abboud) immediately, due to irresponsible declarations conflicting with the government and its policies." The cabinet communique, issued after an emergency session Wednesday, disavowed any link to the Hezbollah operation and said it "had no knowledge of, and would not claim any responsibility or adopt what has happened and what is happening along the international border."

Reached by telephone yesterday, Abboud said he had not been officially notified by his foreign minister, who is traveling, but that he would leave if asked. He also said he had sent a transcript of his comments to the Foreign Ministry for closer review and argued that he was representing the views of some Lebanese who are supportive of Hezbollah's role in southern Lebanon.

Meanwhile, Pastrana flew to Bogota, Colombia, early Monday to protest President Á lvarez Uribe 's appointment of former president Ernesto Samper as ambassador to Paris. After two rounds of discussions with Uribe, one lasting 2 1/2 hours, Pastrana resigned, according to a spokesman at the Colombian Embassy.

Pastrana, also a former president, told journalists outside the presidential palace late Tuesday that it was "morally impossible to accept and defend" Samper's nomination if officials in Washington sought his opinion on the matter, but that it was up to the president to "weigh the consequences" of his decision.

Samper was banned from traveling to the United States after a judicial commission conducted an inconclusive inquiry into intercepted conversations about an alleged $5 million contribution from drug cartels to his 1994 campaign. Samper and Pastrana are bitter political rivals.

Uribe accepted Pastrana's resignation and minutes later announced that his foreign minister, Carolina Barco , would assume the diplomatic post in Washington. Uribe said in a statement that Samper had declined the Paris appointment to protect Colombian interests. Instead, Maria Angela Holguin , Colombia's ambassador to the United Nations, will go to Paris.

Samper turned down the job in a letter in which he said he had considered accepting it and attacked Pastrana for creating a "crisis with clear international implications." Some Colombian commentators criticized Uribe's move to rehabilitate Samper, an old friend from the Liberal Party, and explained that the president was seeking to cater to the Liberal Party's 30 percent share of seats in the legislative assembly.

Barco, the daughter of Virgilio Barco , who was president from 1986 to 1990, has an American mother and is already on cordial terms with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and President Bush .

Hong Kong Envoy Also Departing

Also leaving, albeit somewhat more gracefully, is Jacqueline Willis , Hong Kong's commissioner for economic and trade affairs to the United States. She will depart next week after 7 1/2 years as her government's senior representative in North America.

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