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4 describe State Department as mix of olive branch, arrows

SHARE 4 describe State Department as mix of olive branch, arrows

America's efforts in foreign affairs are still crucial, despite the end of the Cold War, according to four high-level State Department officials.

Speaking at a "town meeting" called by the department on Wednesday at Westminster College were James B. Foley, deputy assistant secretary for public affairs; Julia Taft, assistant secretary for population, refugees and migration; Robert Seiple, special representative for religious freedom; and John Riddle, senior adviser for the department's resources, plans and policies.The four described a State Department whose efforts are a mixture of olive branch and arrows.

On the one hand are battles against terrorism, the proliferation of horrendous weapons, genocide, repression, worldwide gangs and international drug dealings. On the other are humanitarian relief, peace-making, encouragement of democracy abroad, the protection of U.S. citizens in foreign countries, stimulation of legitimate overseas trade and a new effort aimed at reconciliation among religious factions.

The Cold War was "just a chapter in American history," Foley said. Now the country must prove the lives that were lost and the money spent in that contest were not in vain.

Upholding America's leadership in the world arena is a privilege. Today, most countries fear not American influence but its retreat, not American power but its absence, he said.

"The promotion of a more civilized world is arguably more important than anything, in the long run," Foley said.

One of those efforts is the sponsorship of peace talks between Arab and Israeli leaders, which are going on in Wye Mills, Md.

Taft denounced the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. "They seem to be at war with their own people, particularly women . . . and girls," she said.

She sharply condemned the Serb repression against the ethnic Albanians of Kosovo.

In August, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright sent Taft to Kosovo to get a feeling for what is happening. Taft found it "eerie" to go into what was the most densely populated part of the province "and find virtually no one."

Almost all the towns were trashed, having been bombarded and abandoned. She saw dead cows on the streets and pigs and horses roaming through towns.

About 300,000 people were displaced. Up to 100,000 civilians, terrified of Serb police and military units, were hiding in the hills.

She joined with others in urging pressure on Serb leaders to force a settlement and give relief to the Kosovo people. "We now have seen and are seeing a real response on the part of the Serb authorities" to pull back their forces, she said.

"We have all eyes on the Serbs to continue to make peace with their own people. Let's keep our fingers crossed," Taft added.

Seiple noted that the International Religious Freedom Act passed both houses of Congress without dissent. It is awaiting President Clinton's signature.

The act supports efforts to promote religious freedom in other countries. Speaking of countries where people are repressed for their beliefs, he said, "We're going to hold them accountable."

A main drive will be to promote reconciliation in parts of the world where bitter religious disputes have resulted in oppression, kill-ings and discrimination.

"We will all finally figure out how good we are . . . by how we handle a place like Bosnia," he said.

"There have been small baby steps" toward better understanding, he said. These include sponsoring athletic competitions with people of all backgrounds participating and the resettling of Serbs and Muslims together in renovated housing.

"You look at the places where you can find that much in common," he said. "I think people want to find a better way" to get along together.

Riddle noted that the world is much smaller today. Illicit drugs pour into this country from South America and Asia, costing $15 billion yearly in social disruption and killing 14,000 people every year. Cars stolen here are marketed in Poland; economic collapse in Thailand and Russia gives Wall Street the jitters.

"Foreign policy for us," he said, "is not so foreign anymore."