U.S. Embassy rents some pricey land in Kabul

By Al Kamen
Friday, April 2, 2010; A16

Some things may be cheap in Afghanistan. Renting land anywhere near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul apparently is not. Seems the embassy is leasing a 4.8-acre property from an Afghan landlord to build a 45-meter-wide access road during new construction at the embassy. Later, the land could provide additional access to the expanded embassy compound.

In the short term, this avoids having trucks rumbling about the compound across from the embassy -- which would appear to pose serious safety issues -- and in the long term it makes for a fine alternate entrance to the area.

So who's the landlord? It's the Cooperative of the National Army of Afghanistan, which the embassy describes as "a cooperative created to provide support for current and retired Afghan soldiers." Is it a 501(c)(3)? The co-op owns "substantial acreage adjacent to the embassy compound," we're advised.

Okay, so how much is this costing us? The rent is $859,440 a year, the embassy said in a recent letter to the Senate. That comes out to just under $4.50 a square foot. "In addition to the rent, the lease provides for payment of $550,000 as compensation for buildings and improvements" on an adjacent site already taken over by the embassy and a "one-time payment of $150,000 for the demolition and removal of a small mosque" on the new parcel, which is "the cost for the landlord to rebuild the mosque elsewhere."

This is a five-year lease, renewable "automatically and indefinitely" unless the U.S. government cancels. Nine hundred grand to lease the land? Was this a talking point that President Obama forgot to raise with President Karzai the other day?

The key word is 'global'

Reta J. Lewis, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's new special representative for global intergovernmental affairs, has hit the ground running. Last week, for example, she was off to Martinique to attend the International Conference of World Cities and Regions for Haiti, and then, we're told, she faced a long flight that Thursday morning to get to Rio de Janeiro, where she plunged "directly into a full work agenda" joining the U.S. delegation at the World Urban Forum.

Good thing she moved quickly -- the forum ended Friday at noon. She and an aide, provided by the embassy with a car and driver, stayed Friday and Saturday at the Copacabana Marriott. She conducted "bilateral meetings," we were told, before checking out Sunday.

In case you're wondering what her job title means, the department tells us she "works to build and enhance relationships between state and local officials in the U.S. and their foreign counterparts around the world; to promote effective local governance and local capacity building efforts; to serve as a point of entry for the global needs and goals of U.S. state and local officials."

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