'Regime' Changed

By Al Kamen
Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The annual State Department human rights reports on conditions in various countries often spark internal tussling over tone and nuance.

The battles generally pit folks in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL), who tend to be hard-line human rights advocates, against the regional bureau diplomats, who tend to be more, well, diplomatic.

This is especially true when it comes to places such as nuclear North Korea, run by the somewhat offbeat Kim Jong Il, where Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is hoping endless six-way negotiations will get the North Koreans to stop their nuclear program.

So on Friday, Glyn Davies, the principal deputy assistant secretary in the East Asia bureau, sent an e-mail to Erica Barks-Ruggles, a deputy assistant secretary in the DRL bureau, regarding some changes in the introductory language of a report on North Korea.

"Erica," he wrote, "I know you are under the NSC [National Security Council] gun," apparently to get the report done so the NSC can review it, "but hope given the Secretary's priority on the Six-Party Talks, we can sacrifice a few adjectives for the cause.

"Many thanks. Glyn."

And the changes? Eliminated words are in brackets, and additions are in italics:

"The [repressive] North Korean government[regime] continued to control almost all aspects of citizens' lives, denying freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association, and restricting freedom of movement and workers' rights. Reports of extrajudicial killings, disappearances, and arbitrary detention, including of political prisoners, continue to emerge [from the isolated country]. Some forcibly repatriated refugees were said to have undergone severe punishment and possibly torture. Reports of public executions continued to surface[were on the rise]."

As Hemingway might have written: For Whom the Kowtows?

Manila's Papaya Princess

U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Kristie A. Kenney is hugely popular in Manila. There's speculation in the press that she might even win the presidency there if she were eligible to run.

Some of her popularity may relate to her diplomatic skills, especially her efforts to restart stalled peace talks between the government and the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the southern Philippines.

She was spotted a couple of weeks ago at the main rebel base, where she met with rebel chief Al-Haj Murad Ebrahim, reportedly to press him on talks to finally end the rebellion, which began in 1978.

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