A frustrated Henry Kissinger once complained about a Europe of more than two dozen countries, divided by the Iron Curtain and each with a different foreign policy challenge for the United States.
“If I want to call Europe, who do I call?” asked the German-born secretary of state.
That was in the early 1970s, when only nine nations were members of the European Economic Community, the predecessor of the European Union. Today, the EU has 27 member nations, with more than 500 million citizens throughout most of Europe.
Europe also finally has an answer to Mr. Kissinger’s question.
“In this area code, you call me,” said Joao Vale de Almeida, the first EU ambassador to the United States to represent all of the member nations in common foreign policy issues with Washington.
The EU’s Lisbon Treaty, which went into effect Dec. 1, created a European foreign service with a new foreign minister. Mr. Vale de Almeida represents Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, which includes all EU leaders, and Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, the executive body of the EU.
“I’m the only ambassador who represents two presidents,” he quipped.
Mr. Vale de Almeida must practice a new type of diplomacy with the United States and with the 27 other ambassadors who represent EU nations in Washington. He must advocate EU foreign policy without interfering with the bilateral relations between the EU member nations and the United States.
“It’s an interesting position,” the Portuguese-born diplomat told Embassy Row on Tuesday.
“I do not wish or will impose myself on the member states’ ambassadors. … Where we have a common position, I am the one leading the show. Bilateral matters are the mandate of the 27 [other] ambassadors.”
Mr. Vale de Almeida was scheduled to present his diplomatic credentials to President Obama on Tuesday.
In remarks prepared for the White House ceremony, Mr. Vale de Almeida stressed the common goals of the U.S.-EU agenda and concerns that the rising economic clout of China will distract Washington from its traditional ties to Europe.
“Our common values and shared goals are strengthened by our deeply interdependent economies and the long-standing ties between our peoples,” he said. “My ambition is to move beyond what exists today to build a stronger and even more positive EU-U.S. agenda with solid bilateral and global pillars.”
When Hugo Chavez, the blustering strongman of Venezuela, wants to send a message, his words are unmistakable. On Sunday, he made it clear that he will not accept President Obama‘s nominee to serve as U.S. ambassador in Caracas.
“He disqualified himself by breaking all the rules of diplomacy,” Mr. Chavez said on his radio program, “Alo Presidente.” “He can’t come here. The best thing the United States government can do is to look for another candidate.”
Mr. Chavez was in a rage over comments by Larry Palmer, a career U.S. diplomat, who told a Senate hearing that Cuba is influencing the Venezuelan military, which is suffering from low morale, and the Chavez government is aiding communist rebels from neighboring Colombia.
Despite his clear words, the State Department insists it did not get the message.
Asked about Mr. Chavez’s outburst, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told a reporter, “You’re referring to something we have not heard officially.”
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