- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 4, 2009

LOCATION, LOCATION

The U.S. Embassy in Britain on Tuesday announced the sale of the modernist diplomatic compound in London’s posh Grosvenor Square to a firm from Qatar and noted that it hopes to relocate to a less exclusive but more secure location within seven years.

U.S. Ambassador Louis Susman signed the contract to sell the property to the Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Co., chaired by Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamid bin Jasim bin Jaber al-Thani.

“With the signing of this contract, the United States takes another step towards relocating to a new state-of-the-art embassy, which will enhance the urban fabric of London and demonstrate exceptional American architecture,” the embassy said.

“The construction of the new U.S. Embassy in the Nine Elms area of Wandsworth will provide a modern, open and secure American diplomatic facility in London.”



Nine Elms is located in the far northeastern corner of the London borough of Wandsworth, an area with industrial buildings but also pricey town houses on the south bank of the River Thames. The area is also home to Britain’s MI6 secret service and, as London Times noted, “hard-core gay clubs.”

The embassy plans to announce the winner of the design competition for the new diplomatic compound early next year, but some local critics are already calling the new embassy the “iceberg” because it will be protected by a 30-yard security zone.

Although no prices were announced for the sale of the current embassy, the London Evening Standard reported that real estate experts put the sales price at up to $650 million.

The Qatari company actually bought the 225,000 square-foot embassy building and the remaining 945 years on the lease of the land, which is owned by the 6th duke of Westminster, Maj. Gen. Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor.

Many buildings in London are actually sold as lease-hold properties, but few get the outlandishly cheap rent as the U.S. Embassy. The duke, one of world’s richest men, signed a lease for the land with the U.S. government in 1954 for the annual rent of one peppercorn.

The embassy, which opened in 1960, was designed by the Finnish architect, Eero Saarinen, who also designed Washington Dulles International Airport. The embassy building is topped by a gilded aluminum eagle with a 35-foot wingspan.

When the United States leaves Grosvenor Square it will close a chapter of American history. The United States established a presence there in 1785 when John Adams was appointed the first American ambassador to Britain and settled in a house in the square. Adams was elected the second president of the United States in 1796.

LOSING SUPPORT

A former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan is warning President Hamid Karzai that the “world is beginning to question” whether Afghans, themselves, are capable of taking responsibility for their own future.

Zalmay Khalilzad, ambassador from 2003 to 2005, told the Council on Foreign Relations that Mr. Karzai needs to build a coalition government with Abdullah Abdullah, his rival in the recent presidential election who dropped out of a runoff.

Mr. Khalilzad, in an interview with the council’s contributing editor, Bernard Gwertzman, said he conveyed his recommendation for a unity government in conversations with both Afghan leaders last month.

“I wanted to stress to them that this was a moment of great importance for Afghanistan, that the world is beginning to question whether the Afghans have it within themselves to do what is necessary for the country to succeed and that, therefore, they needed to come together to form a strong government to move Afghanistan forward,” Mr. Khalilzad said.

“Both agreed there should be a unity government,” he added, but they disagreed on how to form one.

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

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