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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

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

Escape from Japanese Internment in China

In June of 1937, Beijing became one of the first cities to fall as Japanese forces began their conquest of China. In contrast to the atrocities committed by Imperial forces during their capture of Nanjing in December of that year, residents of Beijing lived relatively peaceful lives after occupation. This included the city’s population of Westerners, who could move freely throughout the city even under Japanese rule.

This all changed after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7 (December 8 in China) 1941. With Japan’s entrance into World War II, Westerners from Allied countries living in Beijing were placed in a walled off portion of the city and put under heavy surveillance. On March 25, 1943, these expatriates would be forced into the Weixian internment camp in Shandong Province where they would spend the remainder of the war. (Picture at right by William A. Smith)

Arthur Hummel Jr., at the time a twenty-year-old English teacher, was one of the American civilians imprisoned by Japanese forces in Beijing. After being interned for three years, Hummel was finally able to escape in May of 1944 and would spend the rest of the war aiding a Nationalist guerilla group as it fought both Japanese and Communist armies. Read more

The Return of the King — Saud Visits the U.S.

Visits by dignitaries of other countries can be quite productive and even pleasant or, depending on the state of bilateral relations and the scale of faux pas, tetchy and awkward.

Such was the case with King Saud, who ruled over Saudi Arabia from 1953-1964 and visited the United States two times during his reign— an official visit in 1957 and an informal visit in 1962. The first visit had more than its share of tensions — a three-day visit stretched out to nine, an excessively large coterie with some Saudis sleeping in tents across from the White House.

But it was the second, when Saud was in the U.S. for medical care, which really threatened to set relations back, as President Kennedy had to be dragged to see the King, while the White House insisted on serving alcohol during the dinner — during Ramadan no less. Read more

 Taking the Chill off the Cold War: The First Reagan-Gorbachev Summit

The Geneva Summit of 1985 was the first meeting between President Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev to talk about the arms race, particularly the Strategic Defense Initiative, and to establish personal relations between the leaders of the world’s superpowers.  Held November 19, 1985 at a chateau owned by the Aga Khan, the first meeting went over schedule by half an hour.  It was a promising start, and Gorbachev accepted Reagan’s invitation to visit the U.S. within the year.

The summit helped transform U.S. relations with the Soviet Union. But as with all such major diplomatic events, a vast amount of preparation took place behind the scenes before the first words were spoken by the heads of state.

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Warriors without Weapons – Recruiting FSOs to Rebuild Iraq

In the lead-up to the 2003 American invasion of Iraq, State Department officials realized they would need to deploy scores of Foreign Service Officers familiar with the language and culture of Iraq to put the country back on the path to successful governance once the fighting was over. Finding officers with the necessary skills to rebuild Iraq from the ground up when the ranks of Middle East specialists were already stretched thin meant reaching out to retired as well as active-duty officers. The ready agreement of those recruited for Iraq to put their lives on hold for months and fly into a war zone was indicative of the willingness of Foreign Service Officers to make personal sacrifices, even after retirement, to fulfill the “needs of service.”

James Larocco served as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Near Eastern Affairs Bureau (NEA) from 2001-2004. During his time at NEA he was charged with assembling as many FSOs with experience in the Middle East as possible in advance of the Iraq invasion. Read more

Surviving the Coup that Transformed Liberia

Liberia erupted in violence on April 12, 1980 as Master Sergeant Samuel Kanyon Doe seized power from President William Tolbert, ending 133 years of political dominance by Americo-Liberians. Americo-Liberians traced their ancestry to African Americans and Black British subjects who immigrated to Africa and became the founders of the Republic of Liberia, in power from 1847-1980.

In October 1985, having promised to return Liberia to civilian rule, Doe was declared the winner of Liberia’s first multi-party elections. The results were largely rejected by the international community after his own staff took the ballots to a hidden location to be counted.  Lacking experience in government, Doe’s rule was characterized by civil unrest and the murder of political opponents. He was murdered in September of 1990 by members of a rival faction.

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Iran-Contra: Who Knew What When?

In the Iran-Contra Affair, Colonel Oliver North and others within the National Security Council and CIA used back channels and secret bank accounts to funnel money from arms deals with Iran, which was then under an arms embargo, to the Contra rebels fighting the Marxist Sandinistas in Nicaragua. One aim of this plan was to circumvent Congress, which had prohibited the Reagan administration from providing more money to the Contras.  A secondary goal was to curry favor with the Iranians, who would in turn pressure Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia militia, to release American hostages it had taken throughout the 1980’s.

When the full extent of the illegal scheme was revealed and justified by President Reagan in a televised statement on November 13, 1986, the political fallout impacted not only Colonel North and his superiors, but also State Department personnel working in the Middle East who came under suspicion of facilitating the plot. John Kelly, at the time the Ambassador to Lebanon, experienced this fallout, being interviewed by the FBI and facing off against Secretary of State George P. Shultz.

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