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    Conventions Draw Unprecedented Foreign Interest

    DRM President, Minister Nassib Lahoud, is participating in the Democratic National Convention in Denver – Colorado, during which Senator Barack Obama will officially become the US Democratic Party’s official candidate for President.

    Denver leading newspaper, The Denver Post, published an article about the unprecedented foreign interest in the convention, mentioning Minister Lahoud.

    Politicians from across the globe are flocking to this year’s Democratic and Republican conventions to see where U.S. foreign policy is headed and to try and influence the candidates’ views, organizers say.

    Illinois Sen. Barack Obama’s nomination in Denver appears to be the bigger draw. At least 500 leaders, diplomats, foreign ministers, lawmakers, party officials and others from 107 countries are arriving this weekend, coordinators with the National Democratic Institute said Friday. Affiliated with the Democratic Party, NDI hosts foreign dignitaries and holds forums at conventions as part of its mission of encouraging democracy.

    Among those due in Denver: Ambassadors representing 10 Asian nations and the European Union, the prime minister of Mauritius, Haiti’s senate president, former Chilean President Ricardo Lagos, the secretary general of the Organization of American States.

    It is unprecedented interest,” NDI president Ken Wollack said. “There’s this sense of newness, of something that is different… It’s a new period in America’s relationships with the rest of the world.”

    The list of foreign dignitaries headed to the Republican convention include at least 150 ex-leaders, party officials and others, said Trygve Olson, a former McCain staffer now charged with organizing international activities at the convention.

    There’s a really high interest on both the Democratic and the Republican side. I’ve gotten calls from maybe 35 embassies that are interested in their ambassador coming,” Olson said.

    I had one person who called from a European country – he was a minister of defense. He was going to Denver and wanted to go to Minneapolis. He wanted to know if there were any think tanks dealing with defense issues,” Olson said. “They are interested in foreign policy stuff: ‘What would the foreign policy of Obama or McCain look like?’

    McCain certainly “has a long track record” as a lawmaker engaged in global affairs, Olson said. As director of the International Republican Institute, NDI’s Republican counterpart, McCain traveled often to promote democracy “in places like central and eastern Europe when they were struggling to be democratic.

    Obama’s recent swing through the Middle East and Europe drew wide attention including a speech in Berlin that drew tens of thousands.

    America is still looked to for leadership despite its diminished stature,” said Denver-bound convention delegate Christine Schon Marques, an American living in Switzerland who chairs the delegation representing Democrats abroad.

    Obama’s overseas trip “signaled a real commitment to re-engage, to find solutions to global challenges from the environment to the growing financial crisis,” said Marques, who was in Berlin for the speech. “People told me they still liked Americans, but just couldn’t understand how George Bush was elected twice.”

    Convention organizers say they’ve set up waiting lists for foreign officials trying to line up hotel space in the Denver area and Minneapolis.

    More than 100 foreign ambassadors are heading to Denver from their embassies in Washington, D.C., organizers said.

    Others such as Nigerian lawmaker Ken Nnamani, the former president of Nigeria’s Senate, are traveling from afar to study U.S. voting practices and hear directly from candidates if possible.

    Before this time of war,” Nnamani said from Nigeria, people saw the United States as a positive force. “Now people are saying that, if we can achieve a lot of dialogue, that would be a lot better than military conflict.”

    Given the chance to speak with Obama, Nnamani said he hoped to convey “the idea of achieving peace through dialogue,” he said. “Give dialogue a chance. And, if there’s a conflict, make sure you don’t do it alone. Do it with allies.”

    Starting Monday, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will help run panel discussions. These are bipartisan events designed to show off how the U.S. political system works and serve as a forum where like-minded leaders can share ideas.

    Hosting foreign officials at conventions could help regain U.S. stature. Polls show the U.S. war in Iraq and global war on terrorism have eroded trust in the United States.

    Given some of the controversies and the polls there is an effort, discussions going on about how the United States reaches out in a way that enhances its standing,” the NDI’s Wollack said.

    There’s no doubt that the international community wants the United States to have a leadership role. They also want the United States to work with others…. This is part of the process of reaching out to the international community sharing our experiences here, brining people together. It’s all about being part of something larger than ourselves.”

    Among some 500 foreign dignitaries in Denver for the convention:

    • Navinchandra Ramgoolam, Prime Minister of Mauritius

    • Lord John Alderdice, former speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly

    • Brigitte Zypries, German Minister of justice

    • Tidiane Gadio, Foreign Minister of Senegal
    • Dimeji Bankole, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nigeria

    • Nassib Lahoud, Minister of State, Lebanon

    • Abdul-Karim Al Eryani, former Prime Minister of Yemen

    • Ricardo Lagos, former President of Chile
    • Kjell Magne Bondevik, former Prime Pinister of Norway
    • Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland

    • Alejandro Toledo, former President of Peru

    • Zlatko Lagumdzija, former Prime Minister of Bosnia-Herzegovina
    • Kim Campbell, former Prime Minister of Canada

    Bruce Finley

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