This Week

Issue: "Face Off," Aug. 9, 1997

Diplomat on the warpath

Citizen William Weld, who quit the governorship of Massachusetts last week to campaign in Washington full-time for the job President Clinton wants him to have-that of U.S. ambassador to Mexico-roamed the halls of the Senate on his 52nd birthday July 31 looking for well-wishers. Characterizing his campaign as "a land war" that may turn into an "air war," liberal Republican Mr. Weld is at odds with the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, conservative Republican Jesse Helms, who says he won't even schedule a hearing to consider the nomination. Mr. Weld supports legalization of the "medicinal use" of marijuana and government-sponsored "clean-needle" exchanges for drug addicts-the exact wrong message the United States should be sending to Mexico, Mr. Helms contends. Mr. Weld has accused Mr. Helms of "ideological extortion" and says the battle over his nomination will also be a battle for the soul of the GOP. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott suggested the former Massachusetts governor look for a different job: "Diplomats are supposed to stop fights, not create fights."

Christian persecution watch: Big words, small deeds

A new report by the State Department acknowledges that countries the United States supports with favorable trade policies and infusions of foreign aid regularly abuse Christian believers. But don't wait around for the revelation to produce a sea-change in diplomacy. In the same week the government issued its first-ever report on Christian persecution, President Clinton waived for six months part of a law that imposes tougher sanctions on Cuba. It was the third time the president refused to impose trade restrictions enacted over a year ago by Congress. Lawmakers charged that Mr. Clinton made a deal with Europeans not to enforce the law if they won't file a complaint about the law with the World Trade Organization. The report criticizes the Castro regime for its rough treatment of Protestant and Catholic church leaders in Cuba. It acknowledges that China is instigating a renewed campaign to eliminate house churches (just weeks after the administration pressed Congress to approve continuing most-favored nation trade status for China). It states flatly that freedom of religion does not exist in Saudi Arabia (where the U.S. government has protected the right of American soldiers to buy alcohol and pornography but is sheepish about holding worship services within U.S. installations). Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally, gets top billing as the worst offender of Christians in the 78-nation report one newspaper report called "unsparing." The document will be a club for Christian and Jewish activists who've lobbied for specified focus on Christian persecution; a goad to groups like the National Council of Churches and even some evangelical mission agencies, who've lobbied for accommodation with offending countries. A yardstick for how Washington handles the issue? Forget it. Even The New York Times editorialized, "The Clinton administration and Congress have become quite skillful at identifying human-rights abuses around the world while not doing enough to end them."

Whither the welfare state?

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Bowing to financial reality, Britain's increasingly pragmatic Labor Party moved to dismantle one of the pillars of the welfare state that the party had erected during its openly statist days-free college tuition. The country's 90 universities, desperate for money and falling behind other countries in academic excellence, pushed for the change. It would require students to pay roughly $1,600 a year for their education. Labor opted for the tuition co-pay plan instead of pushing for a general tax increase. Across the channel in France, the welfare state is alive, if not altogether well. The new socialist government announced a 15-percent tax increase on large corporations, hoping the hike will help France reduce its budget deficit. Business owners complained that the hike will raise unemployment, not money. The jobless rate in France, where corporations face a mountain of government mandates and taxes, stands at 13 percent.

Rejecting restrictions

Under heavy pressure from both the U.S. government and the Vatican, President Boris Yeltsin rejected a controversial bill that would have sharply curtailed religious freedom in Russia. Backed by the Russian Orthodox Church as a means of protecting its theological and geographical turf, the bill had passed overwhelmingly in both houses of the communist-dominated parliament. Religious groups that refused to register with the Soviet government in 1983, or that have sprung up since its collapse, would have faced wide-ranging limitations on their ability to operate. But Mr. Yeltsin pledged to sign the measure if parliament would strike certain provisions. He called for a revised bill that would specifically circumscribe "radical sects"-a term he did not define-saying such a law is needed to "protect the moral and spiritual health of Russians."

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