Moments in U.S. Diplomatic History

ADST BenSeveral times a month, ADST highlights compelling moments in U.S. diplomatic history, using our substantial collection of oral histories.

Note: These oral histories contain the personal recollections and opinions of the individual(s) interviewed. The views expressed should not be considered official statements of the U.S. government or the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training.

USS Vincennes Shoots Down Iran Air Flight 655

ir655 - similar iran air planeThe Iran-Iraq War created turmoil in the Persian Gulf as the combatants attacked civilian oil tankers, merchant ships, and other foreign vessels in the area. This resulted in several conflicts between Iranian and American ships. In May 1987, the Iraqi Air Force killed 37 American sailors on board USS Stark, an American Navy frigate. Another frigate, the USS Samuel B. Roberts, sustained severe damage after striking an Iran sea mine in 1988. The United States responded with Operation Praying Mantis, in which the U.S. sunk an Iranian frigate. The U.S. Navy subsequently offered protection to all friendly neutral shipping in the Persian Gulf, sending several guided missile cruisers throughout the area.

On July 3, 1988, one such cruiser, the USS Vincennes, shot down an Iran Air civilian passenger plane, Iran Air Flight 655. IR655 was flying from Bandar Abbas to Dubai on a half-hour trip across the Persian Gulf. While pursuing Iranian gunboats through the Strait of Hormuz, in Iranian territorial waters, the operators misinterpreted the plane’s signals as those of an F-14A Tomcat preparing to attack. IR655 failed to respond to multiple radio challenges, although it had previously been transmitting the correct civilian “squawk” code. USS Vincennes exploded the airliner with two surface-to-air missiles, killing all 290 people on board. continue reading »


The Vietnamese Boat People

boatAfter the United States withdrew from South Vietnam in 1975, communist North Vietnam quickly took over and established the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The leaders of the new government then began to exact revenge against those who had been their enemies and who had sided with the U.S. to fight the North. As a result, an estimated two million Vietnamese risked their lives in crowded boats and fled across the South China Sea to countries throughout the region. These refugees, known as “boat people,” forced the United States, Australia and others to scramble to find them a home. The countries neighboring Vietnam struggled to find a balance in receiving refugees – and also refusing entry to people from China deemed to be economic migrants — and passing them onto larger nations to become permanent residents. The U.S. ended up receiving well over a million refugees, who started new lives in communities across the country. The crisis has received renewed attention in the wake of the ongoing flood of migrants from Central America, many of them children. continue reading »


Broken Bones, Broken Dreams, Broken Homeland: The First Intifada, 1987

LA PREMIERE INTIFADAH - THE FIRST INTIFADAIn December, 1987, the deaths of four Palestinian refugees plunged the nation of Israel into four years of strikes, boycotts, beatings, shootings, and gassings as Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem rebelled against their Israeli occupiers.  When Palestinian fighters attacked with stones and Molotov cocktails, killing military personnel and destroying the nation’s infrastructure, Israeli soldiers responded with a devastating campaign of retribution and repression. At one point, Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin infamously ordered his soldiers to use “force, might, and beatings” in order to subdue the Palestinian rebels, earning him a reputation as the “bone-breaker.” After thousands of deaths, the Intifada ended at the Madrid Conference of 1991, but tensions festered and erupted in a second Intifada nine years later and violence continues to this day. continue reading »


The Paris Peace Conference — 1946

paris4At the Paris Peace Conference, which lasted from July to October 1946, negotiators from the United States, Soviet Union, United Kingdom, France, and other Allied powers agreed upon the provisions of the Paris Peace Treaties, signed in February 1947 with Italy, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Finland. These agreements included monetary reparations, territorial adjustments, and political commitments intended to promote democracy and peace. Jacques J. Reinstein, interviewed by Thomas Dunnigan beginning in February 2001, served as an economic advisor and negotiator in the State Department throughout the postwar peace negotiations. After developing American proposals for the peace treaties in London, Reinstein represented the United States in reparations discussions in Paris both prior to and during the Paris Peace Conference and discusses the difficulties he had dealing with the Soviets, the shock experts felt over the Potsdam Agreement and the role of Madeleine Albright’s father.   continue reading »


India and Pakistan on the Brink: The 1998 Nuclear Tests

india-pakistan - indian nuke (1)In May 1998, India conducted its first nuclear bomb tests since 1974 at the Indian Army Pokhran Test Range. Known as Pokhran-II, the tests involved five detonations and were followed by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee declaring India a full nuclear state. India’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had come to power in the 1998 elections with a platform promising to be “openly nuclear” and challenge Pakistan’s control of parts of Kashmir. After the Indian detonations, American diplomats attempted to dissuade Pakistan, led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, from following suit. Fifteen days after India’s tests, Pakistan conducted six underground nuclear tests at the Chaghi and Kharan test site.

The nuclear tests were swiftly met with international condemnation. The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution condemning the tests and renewed efforts to pressure the two countries to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). By law, the United States was required to impose immediate economic sanctions on both countries. U.S. intelligence was also sharply criticized for failing to detect the preparations for the test. Several other nations reacted with their own sanctions and condemnation.

continue reading »


Kashmir and the 1965 Indo-Pakistani War

1965 war_flag_finalIn the summer of 1965, India and Pakistan returned to the battlefields of Kashmir in a renewed attempt to establish their respective claims over the disputed, fertile region. On August 5th, more than 25,000 Pakistani soldiers, disguised as Kashmiris, infiltrated the area, mingling with their Muslim coreligionists and encouraging insurgency. Indian forces responded violently, launching Kashmir into a bloody, but ultimately indecisive, summer of invasions, tanks and aerial bombardment. The United States and Soviet Union eventually facilitated a ceasefire which restored pre-war boundaries, and the conflict ended on September 22. To this day, Kashmir remains a disputed territory, and its populace continues to pursue a uniquely Kashmiri identity, independent from Indian or Pakistani influences. continue reading »


The Overthrow of President Obote and Evacuation from Uganda

Obote ugandaAfter a disputed election brought Milton Obote (at right) to power in Uganda in 1980, one of his opponents, Yoweri Museveni, led an armed resistance against the government. The subsequent Ugandan “Bush War” between Museveni’s National Resistance Army (NRA) and the government’s Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA) lasted from 1981 to 1986. In 1983, ethnic tensions began to fracture the UNLA. President Obote, an ethnic Lango, was accused of favoritism at the expense of the Acholi, who mostly comprised the officer corps. After confronting Obote with these and other complaints, General Tito Okello staged a coup d’état with the help of a group of Acholi. Okello ousted Obote and installed himself as president on July 27, 1985. Okello was later ousted himself by Museveni and the NRA six months later. continue reading »


You’re Outta Here!

url-17When a nation declares a diplomat “persona non grata,” it is essentially kicking him or her out of the country. The host nation does not have to explain why it wants to PNG someone, but that person must leave the country in a given time period, often within 24-48 hours. Governments declare people persona non grata for many reasons, most notably for espionage; this will usually lead to the other government PNGing someone of equal rank and responsibility from its country as a quid pro quo. continue reading »


An Iraq War Dissent

Ann Wright Veterans for Peace MarchIn 2001 Ann Wright served as the first political officer in the newly reopened U.S. Embassy in Kabul. Two years later she was one of three diplomats to publicly resign from the Foreign Service due to disagreements with the Bush Administration’s foreign policy on Iraq and other issues. Prior to her resignation Wright had a long career as an Army colonel and later Deputy Chief of Mission in Sierra Leone and Mongolia. She received the Department’s Award for Heroism as Charge d’Affaires during the evacuation of Sierra Leone in 1997 and   attained the rank of Colonel during her 26 years in the military. In a 2003 interview with Stu Kennedy, shortly after her resignation, she discusses the reasons behind her departure and shares her letter of resignation addressed to Secretary of State Colin Powell. continue reading »


Jordan’s King Abdullah I, The Man Who Would Be Peacemaker

abdullah IAbdullah I bin al-Hussein  fought along side Lawrence of Arabia against the Ottoman Empire and became Emir of Transjordan and later, Jordan’s first King. He is the great-grandfather of the current King, Abdullah II. As a child, Abdullah I supported his father, a political leader, and maintained cordial relationships with British leaders. He joined the military and rose in leadership roles, ultimately gaining Transjordan’s independence from Great Britain on May 25, 1946.  Though convinced to join Palestine and other Arab nations in protesting the creation of Israel, Abdullah did not trust the other leaders and eventually entered into secret negotiations with Israel. Ultimately, the negotiations were fruitless and were cut off in 1950. However, Abdullah emphasized that he would continue to work on a treaty of some sort. He was held in high regard by the people of Transjordan as well as by the Foreign Service officers who worked with him, giving them a view into his royal lifestyle and cooperating often with Americans.  continue reading »



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