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Early American Diplomacy in the Near and Far East


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Early American Diplomacy in the Near and Far East: The Diplomatic and Personal History of Edmund Q. Roberts (1784–1836)

The ADST-DACOR Diplomats and Diplomacy Series has now reached fifty volumes with the publication of Early American Diplomacy in the Near and Far East by the late Ambassador Hermann F. Eilts, a leading twentieth-century diplomat and scholar.

From the inception of the republic to the Civil War, the United States eschewed political involvement—at least nominally—in the affairs of foreign states, focusing instead on furthering legitimate American commerce abroad. Early American envoys––customarily accorded the lowest feasible diplomatic ranks and invariably underfunded––had to perform their duties largely on their own, dependent on excruciatingly slow communications with Washington.

Edmund Q. Roberts, a merchant from New Hampshire, labored in this diplomatic and commercial milieu. He received a roving diplomatic assignment to ascertain the terms on which American merchantmen might be received in various Indian Ocean and Southeast Asian polities and, if possible, to negotiate commercial treaties with those states. Roberts pioneered U.S. diplomatic dialogue—as opposed to consular relationships—with a few states in the region. He succeeded in negotiating the first U.S. commercial treaties with the ruler of Muscat and Oman and with the king of Siam (Thailand) but was unable to conclude a treaty with Cochin China. His contemplated attempt to open Japan never materialized.

Roberts provided valuable procedural and protocol lessons later used by U.S. diplomatic missions to Indian Ocean states and the Far East. His diplomatic efforts, limited though they were, set the stage for future U.S. diplomacy in Southeast Asia and the Pacific region. His exploits revealed, sometimes graphically, what American diplomats in the East could expect to encounter.

In the Foreign Service from 1947 to 1979, HERMANN EILTS served in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Aden, Yemen, Iraq, Washington, London, and Libya. He was the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia (1965–70) and deputy commandant and diplomatic advisor at the Army War College (1970–73). As ambassador to Egypt (1973–79), he was intimately involved in drafting and negotiating the Camp David Accords. He served on U.S. delegations to the United Nations, NATO, and international conferences and received numerous awards and university honors.

After retiring from the Foreign Service in 1979, Ambassador Eilts founded and directed Boston University’s Center for International Relations and chaired both the international relations and political science departments. Always a passionate scholar of early American diplomatic history regarding the Middle East, he continued to lecture and write until his death in 2006.

Hermann Frederick Eilts was born in Germany in 1922 and immigrated with his parents to the United States in 1926. A graduate of Ursinus College (B.A., 1942) and the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University (MA with distinction, 1947), with diplomas from the National War College (1961–1962) and the Army War College (1972), Eilts earned the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and seven European and North African campaign stars for military service in World War II.