Foreign ambassadors to the U.S. meet the president in the Oval Office. The State Department is open to them, and members of Congress are eager to greet them.
But the diplomats, with the exalted titles of “excellency and plenipotentiary,” do not really learn the ways of Washington until they have dinner with Esther Coopersmith.
On a recent, unseasonably warm evening, Mrs. Coopersmith initiated the new ambassador from Singapore.
Ambassador Ashok Kumar Mirpuri noted he had heard about Mrs. Coopersmith’s power dinners since he and his wife, Gouri, arrived in town six months ago.
“Esther Coopersmith presents every ambassador who comes to Washington,” Mr. Mirpuri said after he took his seat as the guest of honor at a dinner with more than 50 influential Washingtonians. “Thank you for sharing your friends with us. That’s what a new ambassador needs.”
Mrs. Coopersmith, a U.S. ambassador to the U.N. in the Carter administration, has hosted top hat guests for years at her elegant townhouse just off Embassy Row.
At the dinner for Mr. Mirpuri, her guests included State Department officials, lobbyists, foreign policy specialists and journalists, along with Ambassadors Mohamed M. Tawfik of Egypt and Dino Patti Djalal of Indonesia.
“We are here to welcome a new ambassador and his lovely wife,” Mrs. Coopersmith said. “He has big steps to fill.”
Mr. Mirpuri replaced Ambassador Heng Chee Chan, who spent 16 years in Washington and was the second-longest serving foreign ambassador in the United States when she returned to Singapore last year.
Mr. Mirpuri — who has served as Singapore’s ambassador to Australia, Malaysia and, most recently, Indonesia — called Washington “the capital of the most powerful country in the world” but admitted being puzzled by the U.S. government.
“You have a confusing political system,” he said. “There’s a lot to learn about politics here.”
In his Southeast Asian city-state of 5.5 million people, politics are simpler. The People’s Action Party — with a symbol that looks like a red lightning bolt striking an Obama “O” — has won every general election since independence from Malaysia in 1965.
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