The White House’s secret diplomatic weapon

AtlanticWilliam J. Burns has been the secret weapon of U.S. secretaries of state for more than two decades, serving consecutively under three Republicans and three Democrats. So it came as no surprise that John Kerry wanted to be the seventh chief diplomat to lean daily on Burns, currently the country’s highest-ranking career diplomat, by keeping him on as deputy secretary of state, a position to which Burns was appointed by Hillary Clinton.

“Bill is the gold standard for quiet, head-down, get-it-done diplomacy,” Kerry said of Burns. “He is smart and savvy, and he understands not just where policy should move, but how to navigate the distance between Washington and capitals around the world. I worked with Bill really closely from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and I’m even more privileged to work with him now every single day. He has an innate knack for issues and relationships that’s unsurpassed…”

America’s other army

FPThe mob that had gathered at a soccer stadium descended on the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade, determined to avenge Washington’s recognition of Kosovo — a Serbian province until five days earlier — as an independent state. On that day in February 2008, the Serbian riot police stationed in front of the embassy at the request of U.S. Ambassador Cameron Munter conveniently vanished just before the hundreds-strong horde arrived. “The police marched away, got on buses, and drove away, so when the hoodlums came there was no one there,” Munter recalled.

A part of the embassy was soon ablaze. “One of the protesters who was drunk managed to get in and burned himself to death,” Munter said. Several others climbed the fence. The U.S. Marines guarding the compound had every right to shoot, but they managed to drive the intruders away with warnings and instructions instead…

EU diplo corps gets messy before launch

If anyone had any doubts that putting together the European Union’s new diplomatic service would be an utterly messy task, that is now an undisputed fact. A high-profile ambassadorial list released this week provoked publicly aired quarrels rather uncharacteristic of diplomats, and it raised questions about the future effectiveness of the EU corps.

The long-anticipated list, unveiled by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in Brussels, was apparently based not on merit, but on what Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski called “esoteric considerations.” What are those? A quick look at the list shows that the most important ambassadorships are going to diplomats from the oldest EU members in the West — China was given to the Germans, Japan to the Austrians and South Africa to the Dutch.

U.S., EU face off over travel, again

Why is it that most major disputes between the United States and the European Union have to do with travel? First it was the war between Boeing and Airbus, then the furor over personal passenger data, and now it’s a new fee Washington is about to impose on visa-free travelers to the United States.

It was stunning to read a public statement by the EU’s top diplomat in Washington earlier this month that was anything but diplomatic and compared America to Alice’s Wonderland. It seems the Europeans have had it. They can’t quite understand why Washington is so intent on making traveling to America more difficult for them year after year, coming up with one policy or requirement after another…

Diplomatic reorientation

Thomas R. Pickering was a fresh college graduate in 1953 when he braved the notoriously lengthy entrance process at the State Department, prolonged even further by an ongoing investigation of suspected communists in the agency’s ranks.

Although he was offered a job earlier than he expected, Mr. Pickering by then had enrolled in the graduate program of Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Medford, Mass. He later left for Australia on a Fulbright scholarship to the University of Melbourne, which was followed by three years in the Navy.

So it was 1959 when the 28-year-old finally became a Foreign Service officer — or, to use the better-known term, a diplomat…

You can’t hurry love

She lives in Notting Hill, he in Washington’s slightly bohemian equivalent, Adams Morgan. Their 14-month marriage has been a whirlwind of weekend rendezvous and transatlantic phone calls. The world sees them on television, sometimes even sharing a split screen, more frequently than they see each other in person.

But the prospect of their first child — due in early April — has already started to change the way they live. They have spent more time together over the past few months and, though the decision where the baby will be born is yet to be taken, they both realise that compromises will be inevitable.

For CNN’s chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, and State Department spokesman James Rubin, the forthcoming member of their family has become a way to show the world that “some of us can have everything” — successful careers and a normal personal life.

Albright’s final bow

Madeleine Albright is almost shouting. She can’t hear me any more, she says. The noise on her aircraft has, indeed, become more deafening; but she also seems to be deliberately avoiding my question, and with good reason. This very moment is probably her happiest as secretary of state because of “the most important thing that has happened” during her nearly four-year tenure.

She has just received news about the Belgrade revolution and the ousting of Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, and here I am, asking how she feels about having to leave office in three months. We’ve just spent a 30-hour day, having saved six hours by flying east-west from Egypt to Washington, and she says that’s exactly what she intends to continue doing for the rest of her term — “working every minute and extending the days”…