- The Washington Times - Friday, June 20, 2008

HELLO, GOODBYE

The Bulgarian ambassador bid farewell to Washington as the Bulgarian prime minister began a three-day visit to the capital this week to hold talks with President Bush and members of Congress.

For Ambassador Elena Poptodorova, the reception Tuesday for Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev was a bitter-sweet affair. The vivacious diplomat with flashing eyes and enchanting smile came to Washington in 2002 and served here as her country solidified its roots in Europe by joining NATO in 2004 and the European Union in 2007 and proved its alliance with the United States by sending troops to Afghanistan and Iraq.

“I will be taking with me the best memories of the Bulgarian-American success story,” Mrs. Poptodorova told guests at the reception on the top floor of the Newseum with its panoramic view of the heart of Washington.

“You have everybody who’s anybody in this town here tonight. You’re all friends of Bulgaria.”

Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, addressing the guests, told the ambassador, “I’m sorry to see your tenure here come to an end. You have been an effective representative of your country.”

He added that he could think of “no more complex country [than the United States] to be an ambassador to.”

Mr. Negroponte called Bulgaria “a valued ally of the United States committed to winning the war against terrorism.”

Rep. Joe Wilson, co-chairman of the House Bulgaria caucus, disclosed he developed a love affair with Bulgaria after visiting the capital, Sofia. The South Carolina Republican also confessed that Bulgaria was the first European country he ever visited.

“This is a dream come true for me to see the flags of the United States and the flags of Bulgaria together over the capital of the United States,” he said, standing on a stage flanked by both flags.

Mr. Stanishev, prime minister since August 2005, recalled how the U.S.-Bulgarian relationship has developed since the fall of communism in Bulgaria in 1990.

“Eighteen years ago what did Americans know about Bulgaria, and what did Bulgaria know about the U.S.A.?” he asked, adding his own amazement at “how rapidly the relationship has changed.”

On Wednesday Mr. Stanishev visited Mr. Bush at the White House, where the president praised Bulgaria as “a constructive force for stability, a constructive force for hope.”

DISSENTING DIPLOMATS

As ambassador to Lebanon, Jeffrey Feltman fought officials in Washington who wanted to build a new U.S. Embassy near the headquarters of a terrorist group.

After a tour in Iraq, diplomat Rachel Schneller developed war-zone anxieties diagnosed as post-traumatic stress syndrome but received no treatment from the State Department. She began speaking out publicly.

Thursday, both received awards for “constructive dissent” from the American Foreign Service Association.

“The State Department is unique in its full acceptance of dissent,” said AFSA spokesman Tom Switzer. “There is even a dissent channel directly to the secretary of state.”

Mr. Feltman’s objections were so strong the State Department delayed any decision on whether to build on a U.S.-owned site in Beirut that is near the headquarters of Hezbollah, which is on the State Department’s blacklist of terrorist groups.

“His willingness to stand on principle and to question conventional wisdom in order to protect his embassy personnel exemplifies the best qualities of constructive dissent,” according to the award citation.

Ms. Schneller “showed enormous courage in challenging the system on an issue of life and death importance to career diplomats and their families,” her award citation said.

Ambassador Thomas D. Boyatt received the association’s highest award for “Lifetime Contributions for American Diplomacy.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.