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The Stolen Victory and Mysterious Death of Moshood Abiola

In June 1993, Chief Moshood (M.K.O.) Abiola, a Muslim businessman and philanthropist, ran for the presidency of Nigeria and appeared to win the popular vote in what was considered a free and fair election.  The vote was annulled by Nigeria’s military leader on the basis that the election was corrupt. When Abiola rallied support to claim the presidency, he was arrested for treason by the military regime led by General Sani Abacha and sent to prison for four years. Religious and human rights activists from across the globe called for his release.

In June 1998, General Abacha was found dead under mysterious circumstances.  One month later, on the day that Abiola was to be released from prison, he met with a U.S. delegation in Nigeria which included Assistant Secretary Susan Rice and Under Secretary Thomas Pickering to discuss the country’s planned transition to democratic rule. During the July 7 meeting Abiola suddenly became ill, collapsed and later died in a hospital. Some claimed he had been poisoned by members of the U.S. delegation after drinking tea during the meeting. Read more

Creating Yaounde’s First Consulate

The first official U.S. diplomatic post in Cameroon was founded in 1957 during its waning days as a United Nations trust territory. The country was divided between the French and the British; both colonial powers had been preparing their respective territories for self-rule since the end of the Second World War. With other nations, including Morocco, Libya, and Ghana having declared independence, there was confidence among the people of Cameroon that their turn would be next. In 1959, the people of British Cameroon voted to join their French counterparts to form the greater Republic of Cameroon, which was still technically under French jurisdiction. The following year the largely Muslim two-thirds of British Cameroon in the north voted to join Nigeria, while the largely Christian southern third opted to join the new republic. 

Independent elections were held for the first time, and Ahmadou Ahidjo was elected as the Republic of Cameroon’s first Prime Minister. Although Ahidjo had been a key leader in the independence movement, a political party known as the Union des Populations Camerounaises (UCP) grew impatient with the slow pace of negotiations towards full sovereignty and initiated a guerrilla war to speed up the process.  Cameroon became a sovereign nation in 1960. Read more

The Diplomacy of Extraditing an Alleged Terrorist

In 1973 three bombs, timed to explode with the arrival of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir to the U.S., were found in rental cars in New York City. The cars were parked near two Israeli banks and the El-Al cargo terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport. The explosives did not go off, but rendered fingerprints that led investigators to Khalid Duhham Al-Jawary, a known passport forger affiliated with Black September, a militant group that targeted world leaders during the 1970’s. It took eighteen years to track Al-Jawary down, and once he was found in Rome, the U.S. needed Italy’s permission to arrest him there.

Getting the authority to arrest and extradite Al-Jawary required the skillful negotiations of U.S. Ambassador to Italy Peter Secchia. Secchia spent months working individually with Italian ministers to get the votes for extradition.  He recalled this episode in an interview with Charles Stuart Kennedy in June 1994. Please follow the links to learn more about terrorism, Black September, and the hijacking of the Achille Lauro.

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Brunei: The Richest Little Country You’ve Never Heard Of

Brunei, situated on the northern shore of the island of Borneo in the South China Sea, is one of the smallest yet richest states in the world. With a population of less than 500,000, its socialist society is arguably the closest any nation has gotten to a total welfare state:  the Sultan’s government pays for education, healthcare, and most other living expenses of its citizens, financed through Brunei’s massive oil and natural gas wealth, thus the nickname “Shellfare.” The Sultan is one of the richest men in the world and he flaunts his wealth shamelessly. (At right, the Sultan’s (in)famous gold Rolls Royce.)

The tiny nation, covering only 2200 square miles, has been ruled by the same family for the past 600 years. Due to its long history of monarchal rule, relatively small territory, and fabulous wealth, the nation has a variety of culture and governmental quirks that American diplomats encountered during their time there.  Read more

Julia Chang Bloch’s Whole-of-Mission Approach in Nepal

In 1990, Nepal’s centuries-long history of monarchical rule and more recent autocratic substitutes were finally brought to an end in what may consider to be one of the most notable non-violent revolutions of the twentieth century. With the death of King Mahendra in 1972, the future of Nepal’s government was uncertain. His son, King Birendra, ascended to the throne and implemented amendments to the ancient panchayat system that allotted virtually unlimited power to the monarchy.

All promises of democratic reform were abandoned by the throne, and the Nepalese people began to call for change. The Nepali Congress, a pro-democratic party formally banned by the monarchy, and the United Left Front, a coalition of socialist and Maoist political parties, agreed to campaign together in order to restore the kind of multiparty democracy Nepal possessed in the 1950s, so long as both parties could hold seats in the new Congress after the revolution was over. Read more

Survivor of Two Concentration Camps, U.S. Ambassador to Three Countries

Robert Gerhard Neumann (1916–1999), seen at right with wife Marlen, served as U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia. Born in Vienna, Austria, he belonged to political activist groups as a student. While studying in Geneva, he was arrested by the Nazis and imprisoned for almost a year, spending part of that time in Dachau and Buchenwald. After he was released, he left for the United States. When the US entered World War II, Neumann, as a non-citizen, volunteered to be drafted. He initially served as an interpreter in prisoner of war camps in the US before being sent to England. He was commissioned and also transferred to the Office of Special Services, the precursor of the CIA, although he remained in the army. He went to France a few weeks after D-day. Read more

Negotiating the UNFCCC – Moving to the Endgame

In Part III, Robert Reinstein, the United States’ top negotiator at the United Nations, and Stephanie Kinney, one of the State Department representatives, give a behind-the-scenes look at some of the negotiating tactics and backroom dealing used to draft the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). They discuss the crucial negotiations in Nairobi, which marked the beginning of the endgame, and touch on the flurry of meetings around the globe, many of which were less than productive and resulted only in heated exchanges. Reinstein discusses at length some of the tactics he used in negotiating in a multilateral setting. Read more

Negotiating the UNFCCC – “The Whole World Was Against Us”

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a landmark international climate treaty which entered into force in March 1994, provided the basis for future agreements, including the one reached in Paris in December 2015. 

Robert Reinstein, the United States’ top negotiator at the United Nations, and Stephanie Kinney, one of the State Department representatives, recount the considerable obstacles the U.S. faced in reaching an agreement, including demands by developing countries for an upfront guarantee of money and technology and how they were able to finesse this with well-crafted language — after a high-stakes poker match. They note how then-Senator Al Gore followed the U.S. delegation everywhere and was often critical of its bargaining positions, in part because the U.S. kept to its position of “no on targets, no on money and we’re going to come back to you on technology.” Read more

Negotiating the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

One of the most critical problems facing the world today is the issue of climate change. Scientists have predicted that if drastic measures are not enacted soon, global warming will lead to catastrophic changes in the climate, desertification, and a rise in coastal flooding, which would all but destroy many communities and even small countries located at sea level.

International efforts to address this issue go back more than two decades. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was an international climate treaty finalized at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992, which entered into force in March 1994. The text was initially agreed to by an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee in New York between April and May 1992. The objective of the Convention was to curb and stabilize greenhouse-causing emissions in the atmosphere. Though there were no binding limits on emissions for individual countries and no enforcement mechanism was introduced, the Convention was seen as a key first step in addressing global climate change. Read more

Burundi: With Independence Came Genocide

Coordinated attacks in Burundi in recent years left hundreds dead and forced thousands to flee the country. The State Department advised Americans to depart and drew down the embassy in response to the escalation in violence amid concern that the small African nation could again be on the brink of civil war.  Internal conflicts have pitted ethnic groups against each other and led to genocide throughout the country’s history.  The first was in 1972.  Burundi became independent from Belgium in 1962 and was declared a constitutional monarchy. Members of the Hutu ethnic group, which made up a large majority of the country, won most of the parliament seats in the country’s first election, but the king appointed a Tutsi as prime minister. Resulting Hutu uprisings were put down by the Tutsi-led police and army.

In 1966, the monarchy was deposed and replaced by a republic under the leadership of the Tutsi Prime Minister Michel Micombero, who became the country’s first president. President Micombero’s government more closely resembled a military regime than a republic, and ethnic tension and violence continued to be explosive.   Read more