- The Washington Times - Friday, September 25, 2009

FORTRESS AMERICA

The U.S. ambassador in Poland criticized the construction of “fortresslike” American embassies throughout the world, warning that massive diplomatic missions built for maximum security send an unfriendly message in countries where Americans face little danger of terrorist attacks.

Ambassador Victor Ashe, in a farewell message posted on the embassy’s Web site (https://poland.usembassy.gov), also complained about the cost of the projects. The new U.S. Embassy in China, for example, cost $434 million. The one in Iraq, the largest U.S. Embassy, cost nearly $700 million.

Some, like the new embassy in Germany, required local authorities to reroute traffic for security reasons, and others are located away from the centers of the national capitals, also for safety requirements.

“The design of many of these buildings quite often creates a fortresslike atmosphere, and the impression given to host nations can be less than friendly; not the warm, welcoming impression we should offer as Americans,” said Mr. Ashe, a political holdover from the George W. Bush administration who is returning to private life after five years in Warsaw.

“Many of these new embassies and consulates are located far outside the hub of activity in the center of the city, making it difficult for employees and visitors to the embassy to get there due to lack of public transportation.”

Mr. Ashe noted that the U.S. government demolished a “beautiful, historic” building used as the ambassador’s residence in Warsaw in the 1960s and replaced it with a structure that “many regard as an eyesore.”

He complained that the State Department is imposing security requirements and design elements for all new U.S. embassies regardless of the threat posed in more peaceful nations.

“Given different security situations in virtually every nation, wide flexibility in construction design and location is needed, as opposed to a one-size-fits-all approach,” Mr. Ashe said.

“As such, different sites and designs can be adopted at less cost and with greater architectural warmth.”

The State Department imposed greater security requirements for new embassies after the terrorist bombings of U.S. diplomatic missions in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

“Security measures are set in place for a reason,” said a State Department spokesman. “We need to protect our people.”

Mr. Ashe, a former Republican mayor of Knoxville, Tenn., stayed on for eight months after the presidential election at the request of President Obama. The new U.S. ambassador, Lee Feinstein, another political appointee, was confirmed by the Senate on Wednesday.

WARNING KENYA

The United States accused 15 senior Kenyan officials of blocking reforms to deal with political violence from last year’s bloody elections, U.S. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger said Thursday in Nairobi.

He declined to name the officials, who received warning letters from the State Department, but explained that they include government ministers and other members of parliament.

Mr. Ranneberger said Washington is also considering tougher measures including travel bans against some of those on the list.

“These steps reflect the view at the highest levels of the U.S. government that implementation of the comprehensive reform agenda must proceed with a much greater sense of urgency,” he said.

The letters from Johnnie Carson, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs, followed a warning from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who visited Kenya last month.

“These steps follow an awful lot of public diplomacy,” the ambassador said. “It goes hand-in-hand with what we said: No business as usual.”

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

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