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Seeking a Peace Settlement with Shimon Peres, Hawk and Dove

The passing of Israeli statesman Shimon Peres on September 28, 2016 was deeply felt by U.S. diplomats who had worked with him through the decades.  Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer wrote: “Some will criticize Peres for his early years as a security hawk, while others will be critical of his later years as a peace dove. Some will focus on his early support of settlements, while others will admire his vision and dream of peace with the Palestinians. Shimon Peres was all of these things and, as such, was a true embodiment of modern Israel.”

Peres’ career spanned nearly 70 years. Born Szymon Perski in Wiszniew, Poland in 1923, Peres was educated in the Jewish faith by his grandfather. In 1934 his immediate family moved to Palestine, where Peres attended school and trained as a farmer and shepherd. Members of the family who remained in Poland died in the Holocaust. Read more

“The Cold War Was Truly Over” — The 1986 Reykjavik Summit

After the 1985 Geneva Summit, where President Ronald Reagan and leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, met for the first time, the Reykjavik Summit, held on October 11-12, 1986, presented an opportunity to try to reach an agreement between the two sides on arms control. While Gorbachev wanted to ban all ballistic missiles and limit the talks to arms control, Reagan wanted to continue to work on the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) and sought to include talks on human rights, the emigration of Soviet Jews and dissidents, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Though ultimately a failure, the Reykjavik Summit changed the relationship between the United States and the USSR, and provided a platform for a continuing dialogue between the two countries. It eventually resulted in the 1987 signing of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), and is often cited as the end of the Cold War. Read more

When the Life of the Party Became Ambassador to France

An effective diplomat, dazzling socialite, and the mother of Winston Churchill’s grandson, Pamela Digby Churchill Hayward Harriman won the respect of fellow diplomats and adroitly handled complex problems related to the war in the Balkans, export subsidies, and intellectual property rights during her tenure as U.S. Ambassador to France from 1993-1997. Richard Holbrooke said of her service in Paris: “She spoke the language, she knew the country; she knew its leadership. She was one of the best ambassadors that ever served the United States.”

Pamela Beryl Digby was born in England in March 20, 1920. The daughter of a baron, she was well-educated and moved in prominent circles from a young age. At 19, she married Randolph Churchill. She soon became the confidante of his father, Winston Churchill, and through him she met the administrator of the lend-lease program, Averell Harriman, whom she would marry 30 years later. Together, the Harrimans worked to raise millions of dollars and rebuild the Democratic Party in the 1980’s. Pamela Harriman played such an important role that one biographer called her the “Life of the Party.” Read more

Kleptocracy and Anti-Communism: When Mobutu Ruled Zaire

Born to a modest family, Joseph-Desiré Mobutu prospered in the Force Publique, the army of the Belgian Congo. Mobutu became army chief of staff following a coup against Patrice Lumumba, and after a second coup on November 25, 1965 assumed power as military dictator and president. He changed the Congo’s name to the Republic of Zaire and his own name to Mobutu Sese Seko.

Leader of Zaire’s sole party, the Popular Movement of the Revolution, Mobutu’s anti-communist stance won him Western support and the funds to combat opponents in adjacent countries. He nationalized the economy by pushing foreign investors out, only to let them back in when the economy began to fail. As president of Zaire, Mobutu was famous for corruption and nepotism while the people of Zaire suffered from poverty and human rights abuses. He embezzled an estimated $4-15 billion during his time in office. His three-decade regime came to an end in May 1997 when rebel forces threw him out of the country. Read more

Anwar Sadat and the Camp David Negotiations  

The Camp David Accords, which were negotiated over a period of twelve days in 1978 between Egyptian, Israeli, and American delegations at the Presidential retreat of Camp David, Maryland, marked a historical watershed as Egypt became the first Arab state to recognize Israel. It led to the signing of the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty in 1979. The negotiation process required constant compromise between the two nations, and there were numerous moments when it appeared that disagreements over parts of the framework would lead to the collapse of the entire process.

The reason it did not collapse can be attributed in no small way to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, whose statesmanship and nearly authoritarian power allowed him to make concessions and negotiate with greater flexibility than his Israeli counterparts. His ability to build a strong rapport with President Jimmy Carter was crucial to the negotiating process, as it allowed the two presidents to speak frankly and approach issues in ways they could not be in a more formal negotiating process. Read more

Admitting the Shah to the U.S.:  Every Form of Refuge has its Price

Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, departed Iran on January 16, 1979, fleeing political unrest led by the Ayatollah Khomeini and seeking medical treatment for lymphoma. Pahlavi first flew to Aswan, Egypt, where Anwar Sadat welcomed him, and would spend the next ten months moving among Morocco, Mexico, the Bahamas and Panama while requesting permission to enter the United States for surgery. The Carter Administration hesitated, recognizing potential consequences for U.S. interests in Iran if Pahlavi were welcomed into the country.

At the same time, many in the United States, notably former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Chase Bank Chairman David Rockefeller, agitated for the Shah’s entry, arguing it was reprehensible not to let him in for medical treatment. Pahlavi was admitted to the U.S. on October 29 and underwent treatment at the Cornell Medical Center. During his stay, anti-American sentiment grew in Iran, concluding in the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979. Read more

Finale of the Persian Monarchy and Prelude to the Iranian Revolution

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, departed Tehran on January 16, 1979 to seek medical treatment and to escape growing political unrest in the country he ruled. The Shah had consolidated his hold on power after the 1953 U.S.-backed overthrow of Mohammad Mossadegh and was considered a vital ally to the U.S., a leader in fighting communism and promoting regional stability.  Iran had been increasingly prosperous and the Shah’s grip on power unassailable.

Pahlavi’s fortunes changed when his “White Revolution” of social, economic and political reforms stalled with the end of the 1960s oil boom and his secret police (SAVAK) ramped up their vicious repression of political dissidents. Observers at home and abroad began to question the regime’s viability in light of reports of rampant corruption and human rights abuses. Self-aggrandizing acts by the Shah, notably an extravagant commemoration of the 2500 years of Persian monarchy held in the ruins of Persepolis, consolidated political opposition and propelled unrest into revolution. Read more

Persistence, Vision and Luck: Creating a Center for Diplomatic Training

Can you imagine the bureaucratic struggles involved in persuading the Department of Defense to hand over acres of prime real estate for a State Department training facility and then convincing Congress to authorize the transfer? This impossible dream was accomplished thanks to vision, persistence and a large dose of luck by a small group of individuals; among them, Stephen Low (seen right). The Department of State was founded in 1789, but it took more than another century before the opening of the first school for diplomats, which provided basic tutelage on foreign policy and consular operations. More detailed instruction was given in a school that opened in 1920.

It wasn’t until the Foreign Service Act of 1946 that Congress mandated advanced training for diplomats, and in 1947 the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) opened in the Mayfair Building in Washington, D.C. FSI relocated to two State Department annex buildings in Arlington, Virginia, then to its permanent home at Arlington Hall, previously the Arlington Hall Junior College, and later an Army installation. FSI opened at its new location, the National Foreign Affairs Training Center, in October 1993. Read more

Observing the Fiftieth Anniversary of VJ-Day in Japan

How to commemorate an important anniversary of the country in which you’re posted when it marks a low point in the bilateral relationship? World War II came to an end when Imperial Japan announced its surrender on August 15, 1945; officials from its government signed the Japanese Instrument of Surrender on September 2 aboard the USS Missouri. It was the end of a series of losses for Japan, including the detonation of an atomic bomb over Hiroshima on August 6, the declaration of war on Japan by the Soviet Union on August 8, and the launch of a second bomb on Nagasaki by the U.S. on August 9.

Fifty years later, American diplomats in Japan struggled with acknowledging the events of that fateful year in a way that would strengthen ties with an enemy-turned-ally yet not minimize the sacrifices of Americans who fought in the war. Read more

Jesse Helms: The Senator Who Just Said No

Jesse Alexander Helms, a five-term Republican Senator (1973- 2003) from North Carolina, was known not only for his conservative beliefs but for the lengths he would go in support of them. A proponent of the conservative resurgence movement in the 1970s, Helms cherished his nickname: “Senator No,” granted for his obstructionist tendencies. As a member and later chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Helms demanded a staunchly anti-communist, anti-leftist foreign policy. He took a special interest in Latin American affairs.

To that end, he obstructed the appointment of dozens of State Department appointments over his three decades in the Senate. Helms’ staff shared their boss’ conservatism and could be as tough to deal with as the Senator himself. Read more