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Embassy Row: No comment

- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 4, 2012

An ambassador, it is said, is someone who thinks very carefully before saying nothing. Never is that old saying truer than during an American presidential campaign.

U.S. ambassadors abroad and foreign envoys in Washington have been ducking reporters' questions for weeks when asked about their preference for President Obama or Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

Jeffrey Bleich, U.S. ambassador to Australia, was the latest to avoid the question.

"The best way for a diplomat to become an ex-diplomat is to comment on elections," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. last week.

Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, spent an evening dodging questions about the election when he addressed a Jewish audience in Brooklyn early last month.

"I'm so not going to answer that question!" he told the crowd at Congregation Beth Elohim, according to a report by Colin Campbell of the New York Observer.

"I watch the debates. I see the commercials. They're all trying to show how much they love Israel," he said.

Mr. Oren added that he was amazed at the support Israel has in Congress, especially during an election year. The Senate recently voted 90-1 on a resolution to endorse Israel's right to defend itself against Iran.

"What piece of legislation in Washington today passes with that kind of majority?" he said.

Even an old diplomatic war horse like Zalman Shoval, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States and a founder of the conservative Israeli Likud Party, has refused to criticize Mr. Obama, who remains unpopular in Israel because of the perceived Arab tilt of his Middle East policies.

"Whoever is elected in the U.S. presidential election will be Israel's ally. Our interests are so close that personal chemistry is less important," he told the Jerusalem Post last week at a Likud Party conference.

Mr. Shoval, 82, was ambassador in Washington from 1990 to 1993 and again from 1998 to 2000, and remains a close adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has a frosty relationship with Mr. Obama.

The ambassador who best expressed what a diplomat should say about a U.S. presidential election is Ichiro Fujisaki of Japan.

Mr. Fujisaki, who is leaving after more than four years as ambassador, told the Brookings Institution last month that he will not depart until after the election because he wants to be in Washington for the excitement of election night.

"I'm always encountered with a question: 'Which candidate does your country like?'" he told the think tank.

Like any good diplomat, he evaded the question and said he supports the one who wins.

"It's like a Christmas gift," he said. "You don't say anything until the day you open the box, and then say, 'This just what I wanted.' The only difference is that you can't get the receipt and go and exchange it."

BOTTOMS UP

If President Obama loses Tuesday's election, he might find a use for a special gift that his old friend, the U.S. ambassador to Australia, is planning to send him.

Jeffrey Bleich, who has known the president for 20 years, bought Mr. Obama a couple of bottles of single-malt whiskey from the Australian island of Tasmania, which is becoming renown for its strong, peaty tipple and gaining the nickname "The Scotland of the South."

"He likes whiskey," Mr. Bleich told Australian reporters before visiting the Tasmanian capital, Hobart. "I've already promised I'm going to bring back some Tasmanian whiskey with me."

Mr. Bleich, who has been ambassador in Australia since 2009, is a California lawyer who served as co-chairman of Mr. Obama's national campaign finance committee in the 2008 presidential campaign.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email jmorrison@washingtontimes.com. The column is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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