- The Washington Times - Monday, January 19, 2009


When foreign ministers come to Washington, they usually get special attention from officials at the State Department and lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

However, on Inauguration Day, they hardly get noticed. Today is a day for the ambassadors, the same diplomats who would ordinarily be nervously following their foreign ministers to ensure they make the right contacts.

As routinely as a presidential inauguration comes every four years, the State Department sends out letters to foreign ambassadors to inform them that they, not some higher-ranking official visiting Washington, will represent their countries at all official inaugural ceremonies.

This practice shelters ambassadors from foreign leaders who might demand seats at the swearing-in ceremonies or tickets to inaugural balls and keeps attention focused on the inauguration, according to a retired official from the State Department’s Office of Protocol.

“This is really an American celebration,” said the former official, who asked not to be identified because he no longer speaks for the government.

“Foreign leaders are invited to observe. You can imagine how embarrassing it would be for an ambassador to have to say ‘no’ to a head of state.”

In past inaugurations, some ambassadors “got leaned on” by their superiors, he added.

Meanwhile, ambassadors are driven to the Capitol in special buses and escorted to their reserved seats on the inauguration platform on the West Front.

So while Kenyan Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula and Tourism Minister Najib Mohamed Balala are in Washington for the inauguration of an American president with Kenyan roots, it will be Ambassador Peter N.R.O. Ogego who will get one of the best seats for the ceremony.

“They are very good seats,” the former protocol official said.


Hundreds of activists plan to line the route of the inaugural parade Tuesday and hold signs to remind Barack Obama of his campaign pledge to end the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan.

They will gather in eight locations from the Capitol to the White House, wearing green baseball caps with the slogan “Save Darfur” imprinted on them and yellow T-shirts bearing the message: “End the Genocide: www.addyourvoice.org,” organizers of the Save Darfur Coalition said Monday.

The activists will also urge supporters to sign a post card bearing a similar message to be sent to the White House. Organizers said more than 200,000 people have already signed post cards, and they hope to send 1 million to Mr. Obama within the first 100 days of his administration.

“The coalition is currently driving the ‘Be-a-voice-for-Darfur’ postcard initiative to remind President Obama of a promise he made as a candidate [when he declared his] ‘unstinting revolve’ to end the Darfur genocide,” said coalition spokesman Allyn Brooks-LaSure.

The conflict began in 2003 with fighting between government-backed Arab militias and black African rebels, but since then, the Bush administration and human rights groups have accused the government of encouraging the militias to kill civilians indiscriminately. Some groups accuse the militias of killing up to 200,000 civilians.

The coalition also applauded Mr. Obama for selecting Susan Rice, a foreign policy adviser to his campaign, as his nominee to serve as ambassador to the United Nations.

“She has been a tireless advocate for the use of stronger measures against the … regime [in Sudan], including increased sanctions and the threat of force to stop the bloodshed,” Mr. Brooks- LaSure said.

In testimony last year before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Ms. Rice said, “Make no mistake. Darfur has been a genocide. It continues to be a genocide; and unless the United States leads the world in halting the killings, it will remain a genocide.”

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected]

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