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Diplomacy Despite It All – Kissinger’s India Fix

Secretary of State Henry Kissinger visited India October 28, 1974 to discuss its nonalignment policy, which aimed at preserving India’s post-colonial freedom through refusal to join any coalition, including the U.S. or Soviet blocs. Relations between New Delhi and Washington were anything but cordial at this time. The 1971 refusal of Nixon and Kissinger to support India during the Bengali Genocide, combined with India’s testing of a nuclear bomb in May 1974, set the scene for a tense visit.

From denying his speechwriter access to the speechwriters’ office to demanding that his plane turn around to giving a speech he hated, Secretary Kissinger managed once again — despite everything — to score the jump-start of a diplomatic success.

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Foundering Phoenix: Solidarity’s Turbulent Rise to Power

The path of Solidarity from dissident group to governance in the 1980s was far from smooth. Founded on September 17, 1980 at the Gdansk Shipyard, Solidarity (Solidarność) was the Soviet bloc’s first independent trade union. Solidarity’s ascent was of great symbolic importance, marking the end of five decades of Communist rule in Poland. Its leader, Lech Walesa, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983.

Solidarity’s ranks had risen to over 9 million when the Communist regime outlawed the union, imprisoning the movement’s leaders and harassing its members. It was not until 1989 that the group was allowed to reorganize with the establishment of the Round Table Agreement, at which point Solidarity began to run candidates in the parliamentary elections. Walesa would eventually become the first freely elected President of Poland in 63 years; he governed from 1990-1995.

With the dissolution of a common Communist threat, the coalition of workers, intellectuals, and clergy that constituted the movement began to disintegrate. Combined with tough economic times caused by the transition from a statist to a market economy, Solidarity began to lose much of the popularity it held in the early 1980s.

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Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child: A Caning in Singapore

During the spring of 1994, Americans were gripped by an incident in Singapore which unexpectedly became a cause celebre:  the caning of Michael Fay, who was sentenced for his role in vandalizing property in Singapore. The sentence caused outrage in the United States and even President Bill Clinton became involved in the court proceedings. The seemingly minor incident became such an issue that it threatened to derail the normally friendly bilateral relationship. The Singaporean government eventually lowered the penalty to four lashes from six; the caning was administered on May 5, 1994. Read more

Starting an Embassy from Scratch in Papua New Guinea

In the decades following World War II, as colonies across the globe gained independence, the United States worked to establish embassies and consulates in these new nations, some in the remotest areas of the world. Papua New Guinea, which gained autonomy from Australia on September 16, 1975, was one such case.

Mary Olmsted was assigned as the first Consul General to Papua New Guinea in early 1975 and was later promoted to become the first U.S. Ambassador to the country after independence. She describes the challenges she and her small staff faced in pioneering America’s first diplomatic outpost in this developing country, including dealing with such minor details as not having enough chairs for guests. She spent five years watching Papua New Guinea evolve from colony to independent nation, and her diplomatic status changed with that of the country in which she served.

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Turning Out the Lights at U.S. Embassy Havana, 1961

The United States and Cuba officially severed diplomatic relations on January 3, 1961, the culmination of months of increasingly hostile bilateral relations. Fidel Castro had seized power in early 1959; relations between Cuba and the U.S. deteriorated rapidly as Cuba nationalized American and other foreign property and companies. The U.S. began to cut back trade with Cuba, barring U.S. companies from exporting to the island. Castro established trade relations with the USSR and, amid rumors that the U.S. embassy was a base for spies, demanded that the embassy staff be reduced.

Ambassador Philip W. Bonsal was recalled in 1960 and in 1961 the United States broke all ties, closing the Embassy and lowering the U.S. flag. At the time the embassy closed its doors, more than 50,000 visa applications were on file from Cubans wanting to come to the U.S. Read more

Which Witch?

When stationed abroad, Foreign Service Officers may face dangers such as carjackings, bombings, or even assassination attempts. However, for some, the most serious threat may be a supernatural one:  being cursed by a local witch doctor. The supernatural threats encountered by FSOs must always be taken seriously; otherwise, one risks temporal pain and spiritual punishment (probably even greater than dealing with HR).

Fred Coffey, Jr., was serving as a Public Affairs Officer in Surabaya, Indonesia, when locals sought out a witch doctor to bring about his demise. While working in Kuala Lumpur as a Political Officer (1969-1973), John Helble was forced to seek help in performing an exorcism on his house when word came out that his home was cursed.  Read more

The PFLP Hijacking of TWA Flight 840

Thomas Boyatt was on his way to Cyprus to resume his post as political officer on August 29, 1969 when his flight, TWA 840, was hijacked by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).  They believed that Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S., was aboard the flight. The hijackers, Leila Khaled (seen at right) and Salim Issawi, forced the pilots to land in Damascus, evacuated the Boeing 707, and blew up the nose section of the plane.

Boyatt took charge of negotiations and the personal safety of fellow passengers. Syrian authorities arrested the hijackers and released all but the six Israeli passengers immediately. No one was killed, and all the passengers were ultimately released.

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The Israeli Strike on the Iraqi Reactor at Osirak

Increasingly concerned by Iraq’s illicit program to produce nuclear weapons, Israel ordered its air force on a secret mission on June 7, 1981 to take out the Osirak nuclear reactor. The mission, code-named Operation Opera, shocked leaders across the Middle East as they saw Israel’s ability to strike unilaterally and preemptively as a threat to their own national security. One Arab leader claimed to have seen the operation unfold and tried to warn the Iraqis. Read more

The Coup Against Iran’s Mohammad Mossadegh

Mohammad Mossadegh became Prime Minister of Iran in 1951 and was hugely popular for taking a stand against the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, a British-owned oil company that had made huge profits while paying Iran only 16% of its profits and often far less. His nationalization efforts led the British government to begin planning to remove him from power. In October 1952, Mosaddegh declared Britain an enemy and cut all diplomatic relations. Britain was unable to resolve the issue unilaterally and looked towards the United States for help. However, the U.S. had opposed British policies; Secretary of State Dean Acheson said the British had “a rule-or-ruin policy in Iran.”

That changed after Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected President in 1952. Now, pleas from British intelligence officials and Winston Churchill to oust Mossadegh had a more receptive audience. Beginning in January 1953, the U.S. and the Britain agreed to work together toward Mosaddegh’s removal.  Read more

The Enigmatic Jackie Kennedy

Popular U.S. politicians and their wives often become celebrities to the public, both home and abroad. This can make state visits incredibly thrilling for the public and exciting for the Foreign Service Officers who are involved in making the visit run seamlessly. Jacqueline Kennedy was one of those celebrities who caused a stir wherever she went. Known for her beauty, fashion sense, and command of the French language, she made quite an impression on the places where she visited, both with and without the President, and there was always a big to-do when she came to town.

The following excerpts describe her visits to Pakistan in 1962, where she was both difficult and charming, as well as to Cambodia in 1967, at the height of the Vietnam War, when the U.S. did not have formal diplomatic relations with that country. Read more