Political Wars and the Middle East Peace Initiative

Late November 1977

Late in the afternoon Am Embassy Amman Communications & Records Officer Paul Messenger handed me a heads-up confidential message from my boss in Karachi, RCO Roberson. Basically, it stated that my partner-in-crime in Karachi, Al, and myself would be supporting the Secretary of State Cyrus Vance detail during the Middle East peace initiative December 9-15:

  • Cairo December   9–10, 1977
  • Jerusalem December 10–12, 1977
  • Amman December 12–13, 1977
  • Beirut December 13–13, 1977
  • Damascus December 13–14, 1977
  • Riyadh December 14–15, 1977

Bob authorized me “comp time” (compensatory time in lieu of overtime) to go with my paid vacation over Christmas and New Years. I thought this was very fair and would let him know upon my return. Roberson’s only stipulation was that I fit a couple days in at Kathmandu, Nepal to solve a radio problem there. Wow, the mystery of the Himalayas. It couldn’t get any better. Kathmandu would fit perfectly into my Christmas vacation in Bangkok.

Bob’s last sentence was, “Be prepared to continue support SECSTATE/CV in subsequent early January ’78 visit.”

Middle East Peace Initiative

The peace initiative hadn’t been a big subject of discussion in the RCO office. The techs mostly talked “tech talk.” Admittedly, I knew little about the world geo-political scene in late 1977. Overseas, we didn’t have access to the American television news. The wise words of Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley were replaced by dated articles in Time and Newsweek magazines, the International Herald Tribune newspaper, and, of course, conversations with embassy Foreign Service officers who had a more vested interest in what was going on in the world.

In ‘77 embassy scuttlebutt was still concentrated on the accomplishments of Henry Kissinger (under the Nixon administration). The jury was still out on President Jimmy Carter. The State Department’s new leader, U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, had spent most of his time heretofore gearing up for Middle East peace talks that would begin to evolve next month.

Secretary Vance’s scheduled official visits to the Middle East next month would suggest that the main Arab players in the peace talks would be Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, King Hussein of Jordan, Beirut’s political goulash, Syrian leader, Hafez al-Assad, and Saudi Arabia’s ruling family.

Carter seemed hell bent on getting a peace agreement signed although back home the economy wasn’t doing so well. In a Boston bar before I left the states my mentor CEO/R Norm Bates expressed his opinion that the United States should withdraw from the world into isolationism. That seemed odd coming from a guy that had spent most of his adult life overseas. Although I was pretty sure I didn’t agree with him I didn’t argue the point simply because I hadn’t much knowledge about the subject.

I had heard from a political officer at CRO Messenger’s get together last night that Henry Kissinger had said, You can’t make war in the Middle East without Egypt and you can’t make peace without Syria.” It reminded me that Damascus was the only Top Ten threat assessment mission that I had not visited on this trip (the other four missions—Cairo, Athens, Nicosia, and Beirut had been solid accomplishments).

Speaking of Damascus, another attached message from RCO Roberson responded to an immediate telegram from the CRO in Damascus who unbeknownst to me had requested my immediate assistance.

Here we go again.

Bob (Roberson) had surprised me. He responded with a NIACT Immediate to the Damascus CRO stating that I was returning to Karachi ASAP. He requested the CRO to forward him a full report of the radio work required at Am Embassy Damascus.

I was tired and glad that Roberson had delayed the visit. Damascus was third in the Top Five threat assessment list. That and the fact that Bob had info’d several offices in SECSTATE including OC/PE and SY, which raised a flag that there must be something else going on between RCO Roberson and the CRO at Damascus. Political battles were beyond my pay grade.

SECSTATE and the Foreign Service overseas seemed worlds apart. Most of the employees at the U.S. Department of State were under the General Services (GS) pay grade while those officers attached to missions overseas (like myself) were in the Foreign Service (FS) pay grade. Many of SECSTATE’s GS employees had never been overseas before, yet were US State Department area experts. It didn’t make a lot of sense to me (yeah, it was beyond my pay grade).

Before I bid goodbye to CRO Paul Messenger and his co-workers I thanked him for dinner last night and sent off a travel message to RCO Karachi regarding my arrival tomorrow morning and to please arrange my pick up at the airport.

I was going home (well, sort of).

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