Flunking Foreign Affairs 101

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Hilton Hotel Corp. is in trouble in Norway for refusing to book rooms for a Cuban delegation at an Oslo hotel. How Hilton handles the situation will speak volumes about its attitude toward hospitality, not to mention diplomacy.

The Associated Press says the delegation was scheduled to attend a travel fair in Oslo this month and planned to stay at the Scandic Edderkoppen Hotel in the city center, as it had on five previous visits. But that was then, before Hilton bought the 140-hotel Scandic group last March. Now, Hilton says, it has to abide by U.S. law, which bars U.S. companies from doing business with Cuba.

That could be costly both in terms of money and foreign relations: Scandic's refusal to accommodate the Cubans has prompted protests and a police complaint. In addition, the 300,000-member Norwegian Union of Municipal and General Employees has decided to boycott all Scandic hotels in Norway, and the country's strongest labor force, the 830,000-member Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions, wants the government to bar Scandic, which that union says abides by the "United States' illegal boycott and blockade and not Norwegian law," from doing business in Norway. Word is the government is considering opening a case against Scandic.

Perhaps now that the Democratic Party is in charge of Congress, it can take steps to kill the Cuban embargo, a Cold War relic that perpetuates fossilized attitudes and partisan politics. Hilton says it's bound by U.S. law. It's time for Hilton to challenge that and come down on the side of reason, business sense and diplomatic savvy.

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