The Cable: Zimbabwe ambassador heckles U.S. official; N. Korea on terror list?

By Josh Rogin
Foreign Policy Magazine
Thursday, May 27, 2010

Zimbabwe diplomat heckles U.S. official

When Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson took to the podium Tuesday night, he probably didn't expect any hecklers.

Carson was speaking at the Africa Day celebration at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Washington, a meeting of embassy officials representing countries across Africa. Carson, a soft-spoken diplomat with a professorial air, spoke on the progress of Africa from a colonial dominion to a group of independent, if struggling, states. His remarks were going along as expected -- until he started to talk critically about the downslide of human rights and good governance in Zimbabwe.

"You are talking like a good house slave!" came a shout from an audience member to Carson's right. Your humble Cable guy nearly choked on his filet mignon as it became clear that the heckler, Zimbabwean Ambassador Machivenyika Mapuranga, was determined to keep interrupting the speech by shouting at Carson.

As the crowd hissed "Boo!" and other condemnations, Mapuranga wouldn't let it go, going on with shouts such as: "We will never be an American colony. You know that!"

But Carson silenced both the ambassador and the crowd when he started speaking again. Changing his tone, he scolded Zimbabwe by pointing out that such outbursts would have evoked vicious punishment in the southern African country, which has been ruled by revolutionary leader Robert Mugabe with an iron fist since the 1980s.

"You can sit in the audience in darkness, but the light will find you and the truth will find you," Carson told Mapuranga, as event staff quietly tried to encourage the ambassador to leave.

Turning to the crowd, Carson said: "It seems that Robert Mugabe has some friends in the room tonight. Unlike in Zimbabwe, they are allowed to speak without oppression, because this is a democracy."

The event staff persuaded Mapuranga to leave, but he shouted all the way. His staff filed out behind him.

Ship's sinking not likely to land N. Korea on terror list

Calls are rising for the Obama administration to take punitive measures against North Korea in response to the sinking of a South Korean ship, the Cheonan.

But the Obama team is clearly signaling that it does not intend to do what many lawmakers want: put North Korea back on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism.

The calculation is that the listing, which administration officials see as having been overly politicized during the George W. Bush years, is more trouble than it's worth.

"With respect to . . . the state sponsor of terrorism list, the United States will apply the law as the facts warrant," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in Beijing on Monday. "The legislation, as you know, sets out specific criteria for the secretary of state to base a determination. . . . If the evidence warrants, the Department of State will take action."

That comment leaves Clinton wiggle room, but the original reasons for listing North Korea, when it blew up half the South Korean cabinet in Rangoon in 1983 and then bombed Korean Air Flight 858 in 1987, do not appear to be enough to put Pyongyang on the list today. Nor do other reasons listed in State Department reports as recently as 2007, namely that North Korea hasn't answered for 12 Japanese abductees and harbors members of the Japanese Red Army.

The sinking of the Cheonan, a military vessel, falls outside the definition of a terrorist act.

Leading Asia experts lament that the process was reduced to a political negotiation at the very end of the Bush administration, when then-North Korea negotiator Christopher R. Hill agreed to delist Pyongyang in exchange for North Korea's promises to keep alive the six-nation nuclear talks. Those promises have gone unfulfilled.

U.S. funding of Lebanese military is questioned

As Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri made the rounds in Washington this week, he faced deep questions about the future of the U.S. military aid to the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Many lawmakers and some at the Pentagon, including Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, are extremely skeptical that continuing to funnel large amounts of cash and supplies to the LAF is a good way to approach the Lebanon problem. They are angry about statements Hariri has made about Syria's alleged transfer of long-range missiles to Hezbollah and question whether U.S. military aid to Lebanon is part of a coherent strategy.

Supporters of the funding, mostly at the State Department and the White House, argue that strengthening the Lebanese military is the best way to bolster Hariri's government against the mounting influence of both Syria and Hezbollah, the radical Shiite militant group, inside Lebanon. The Lebanese military, this faction argues, is most representative of the country's civic institutions; continuing the funding can help convince Hariri that working with the United States is a beneficial way forward.

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