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Road Map in the Back Seat?

By Al Kamen
Friday, June 27, 2003; Page A27

Imagine our surprise Wednesday to read in the Israeli paper Haaretz (online), that Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Abu Mazen, meeting recently with militants to enlist their support for a truce with Israel, said that, when they met in Aqaba, President Bush had told him this: " God told me to strike at al Qaeda and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam [ Hussein], which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East. If you help me I will act, and if not, the elections will come and I will have to focus on them."

So who needs to find WMD or a link with al Qaeda when the orders come from The Highest Authority?

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Two calls to the White House for clarification went unreturned, but colleague Glenn Kessler did some digging. The Haaretz reporter, Arnon Regular, read what the paper said were minutes of the Palestinians’ meeting to Kessler and another colleague, who is an Arabic speaker.

The Arabic-speaking colleague’s translation, was this: "God inspired me to hit al Qaeda, and so I hit it. And I had the inspiration to hit Saddam, and so I hit him. Now I am determined to solve the Middle East problem if you help. Otherwise the elections will come and I will be wrapped up with them."

Even then, there’s uncertainty. After all, this is Abu Mazen’s account in Arabic of what Bush said in English, written down by a note-taker in Arabic, then back into English.

But one thing seems consistent: The election season is going to be a huge distraction from the Road Map, something the White House has always insisted would not be the case.

Detour for an Envoy

Speaking of the Middle East and such, there are rumblings that Robert Blackwill, last seen as our man in India, where he proved most pro-India and got some seriously bad grades on employee morale, might not be returning to Harvard after all.

The talk now is that Blackwill, mentor to national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, could be stopping in Washington to take a senior post involving that region. Unclear what the contours would be, but it might entail some shuffling of portfolios amongst incumbents, including Zalmay Khalilzad, who is, among other things, Special Envoy for Free Iraqis and special envoy to Afghanistan. Khalilzad could end up as the L. Paul Bremer of Afghanistan.

Short List Gets Shorter at EPA

Time to take Environmental Protection Agency Deputy Administrator Linda Fisher off the list of potential candidates to replace chief Christine Todd Whitman, who’s leaving today. Fisher yesterday announced that she, too, was leaving, though she’ll stay on as acting director until July 11.

No official word from the White House as to a nominee for the top slot. Heavy odds are still favoring former senator and Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne (R), but it’s unclear if that’s a done deal, as they say. The enviros reportedly are planning a major battle if Kempthorne’s the pick, but they would be expected to oppose most anything the White House puts forward for the post. Still also mentioned is EPA Chicago regional director Tom Skinner, former head of the Illinois environmental agency and son of Samuel K. Skinner, White House chief of staff during the Bush I administration.

Yesterday, Whitman said farewell to EPA employees during a sentimental reception and photo session at the agency’s headquarters. Her immediate plans include a trip to Cambodia to observe the elections, a family vacation to North Carolina and some possible college speaking engagements later this year.

"I’ll just relax a little bit and see what the future holds," Whitman said. "Right now I have no idea."

Last Off the Ship

Staying on even after the ship has sunk? EPA’s top two officials will be gone by July 11, but agency spokesman and veteran Washington PR hand Joe Martyak is hanging on until July 18 as associate administrator for public affairs.

Martyak, who was deputy undersecretary of interior in the Reagan administration and worked on the Hill and in corporate public affairs before heading back into government, is moving back to private PR work as vice president of communications and client relations at Van Scoyoc Associates.

Does Medicare Cover Spinning Heads?

Back in April, when last we checked in on Thomas A. Scully, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, he was being sued by a Gallup Organization managing partner who accused him of threatening and intimidating him.

Now Scully, known for his colorfully blunt approach, is in hot water again, this time accused of saying that one of his employees, CMS Chief Actuary Rick Foster, would "be fired so fast his head would spin" if Foster gave some important Medicare data to Congress.

This didn’t sit well with Rep. Fortney "Pete" Stark (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means subcommittee on health. Stark said it was "outrageous" that Scully was "threatening a longtime public servant with being fired for simply doing his job." The post has always been nonpartisan, Stark said, but "apparently that no longer holds true."

CMS folks say Stark has it wrong, both with regard to Scully’s comments and the data. Stark will get the stuff, maybe as early as Thursday evening, after CMS brass has a chance to look at it.

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2003 The Washington Post Company

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