"Why Not Eritrea?" That's what the government of Eritrea, a poor African country, wants to know and what it has its lobbyists asking in Washington.

The issue paper "Why Not Eritrea?" pushes the country's plan for the United States to take advantage of its strategic location in the Horn of Africa as a military staging ground in the buildup toward a looming war with Iraq. After all, the surrounding nations are members of the Arab League and not what one would call very supportive of U.S. interests, the paper says. Even Djibouti, already host to about 3,200 U.S. troops who are being trained in desert warfare, has voiced reservations about U.S. intentions.

Eritrea notes that it is pro-American and half Christian, half Muslim.

U.S. officials are considering Eritrea's offer, and Gen. Tommy Franks has visited the country.

But to help make sure its message gets heard -- and accepted -- Eritrea has hired Greenberg Traurig, the law firm that includes a lobbying team headed by Jack Abramoff, who has close ties to the new House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.).

According to Greenberg Traurig's contract with Eritrea, included in the firm's Foreign Agents Registration Act filing at the Justice Department, the country is paying Greenberg Traurig $50,000 a month for helping "in implementing its public policy goals in Washington." That's $600,000 for the yearlong engagement from April 15, 2002, to April 14, 2003.

By the way, the CIA World Factbook 2002 pegs Eritrea's per-capita gross domestic product at about $740 for last year. Eritrea, which gained its independence from Ethiopia in 1993, went through a punishing war from 1998 to 2000 with its neighbor. Eighty thousand people were killed, and hundreds of thousands were displaced.

"Their biggest issue is they want to reach out to America and have better relations," says Padgett Wilson, director of governmental affairs at Greenberg Traurig.

Wilson notes that having a U.S. base in Eritrea would bring in much-needed capital and encourage U.S. companies to do business there, helping the country develop a middle class and "providing economic stability for U.S. companies."

The lobbyist acknowledges some U.S. officials believe Eritrea hasn't moved fast enough toward democracy. There was a widespread crackdown on government critics last year, with some dissidents held without charges and private newspapers shut.

"They have problems; they have a way to go," Wilson says, but Eritrea is working on it, and a closer relationship with the United States would help.

"Based on the current sentiment of the Arab community and the geography of the region, it is increasingly clear that failure to form an alliance with Eritrea is unconscionable," the issue paper states.

Taking Foreign Policy to Stonebridge

Joy E. Drucker has left the Council on Foreign Relations, where she was deputy director of the Washington office, for Stonebridge International, the international strategy company started by former Clinton national security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger. In her new job as director of government and international affairs at Stonebridge, Drucker will be lobbying and handling foreign policy matters and communications on behalf of clients.

Earlier, Drucker was legislative management officer for Near Eastern affairs at the State Department and was an adviser to then-House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.).

Former President of Costa Rica Tapped

Also on the foreign affairs front . . . Manatt Jones Global Strategies has appointed former Costa Rica president Miguel Angel Rodriguez chairman of its international advisory board. The board, which includes former North and South American ambassadors and government officials, provides "country-specific expertise" to the consulting company, a subsidiary of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, the law and lobby firm. Co-chairmen of the subsidiary are Charles T. Manatt, former U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and James R. Jones, former U.S. ambassador to Mexico.

Furthermore . . .

Ruth Ravitz Smith, a former research analyst at the National Republican Congressional Committee, has left Northeast Utilities, for whom she started the company's first full-time Washington office, for Travelers Property Casualty, where she will be vice president for federal government relations. Earlier, she worked for John G. Rowland in his Washington office when he was a member of the House and was director of his Washington office during his first term as governor of Connecticut.

Fred J. Fowler, president of the energy transmission group at Duke Energy Corp., is the new chairman of the board of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, which represents the interstate and interprovincial natural gas pipeline industry. He succeeds John W. Somerhalder II, president of the pipeline group at El Paso Corp.

David B. Sandor has moved in house at Home Depot as director of public relations, from Powell Tate, where he was executive vice president. He worked for the transition of former president George H.W. Bush and for then-Transportation Secretary Samuel K. Skinner.

D. Ashley Carr, the former public affairs director for the National Endowment for the Humanities, has signed on with the American Association of University Women as director of communications.