- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 25, 2010

Diplomatic dispute

Rarely do diplomatic disputes get more vocal than expressions of “concern,” or even “grave concern.” However, the Internet is roiling with accounts of angry words and a physical clash between a U.S. and Turkish ambassador during Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Middle East visit earlier this month.

Reports first surfaced on the Web site of the Turkish newspaper, Sabah, which on Feb. 15 posted an eyewitness account of the confrontation in the Gulf emirate of Qatar between U.S. Ambassador Joseph LeBaron and Fuat Tanlay, a Turkish ambassador and policy adviser to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had come to Qatar to meet with Mrs. Clinton.

The two diplomats shouted at each other after a meeting between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Erdogan went on for 40 minutes longer than scheduled and Mr. LeBaron worried she would be late for talks with Qatari Emir Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. Mr. LeBaron knocked loudly on the door of the room where the secretary and the prime minister were meeting.

Mr. LeBaron and Mr. Tanlay then “preceded to grab each other by the neck and had to be separated by officials,” Sabah reported. Mr. LeBaron has denied there was any physical contact between him and the Turkish diplomat.

Foreign Policy Magazine’s respected diplomatic blog, the Cable, picked up the story a few days later and quoted another eyewitness, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, who gave a candid description of the quarrel.

“There was a sharp exchange of words, after which the ambassador banged on the door that led to the meeting location,” Mr. Crowley told the Cable. “I recall that he was pulled away from the door, at which time several of us interceded.”

Mr. LeBaron contradicted Mr. Crowley’s statement, telling the Cable that “no violence or physical contact occurred.”

Sabah’s account of the dispute included direct quotes from Mr. LeBaron and Mr. Tanlay, who were shouting at each other in Turkish. Mr. LeBaron, a career Foreign Service office, speaks Turkish and Arabic.

Mr. Tanlay blocked Mr. LeBaron from entering the room to warn Mrs. Clinton she was running late for her meeting with the Qatari leader, according to Sabah, which provided the following account of the verbal clash:

“The meeting is going on. You can’t go inside,” Mr. Tanlay said.

“This meeting has to end,” Mr. LeBaron insisted. “The meeting with the Qatar sheik is more important.”

Mr. Tanlay replied, “You are not the one to decide how important we are. You cannot insult my country.”

Heritage returned

The Iraqi ambassador is praising U.S. immigration officials for returning priceless artifacts that date back more than four centuries and include a few modern items like a military assault rifle engraved with the image of Iraq’s executed dictator, Saddam Hussein.

“On behalf of the Iraqi people, I want to thank the ICE for their continuing efforts to seize and return these cultural heirlooms to Iraq,” Ambassador Samir Sumaida’ie told Embassy Row on Wednesday.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency on Thursday will present the ambassador with artifacts that include a Babylonian clay foundation cone from 2100 B.C., a Sumerian bronze foundation cone and stone tablet dated between 2500 and 1800 B.C., an Iraqi coin from 250 B.C., neo-Assyrian gold earrings from the 8th or 7th century B.C. and an AK-47 with Saddam’s image that might have been a gift to one of his cronies.

“We have a long and rich history in Iraq, one which unites all Iraqis, regardless of ethnic or religious differences,” Mr. Sumaida’ie added. “The preservation of our Iraqi heritage should be the concern of all nations because it is an important part of world heritage.”

John Morton, assistant secretary of Homeland Security for ICE, is due to present the items in a 12:30 p.m. ceremony at the Iraqi Embassy.

Billion-dollar baby

The U.S. ambassador to Britain on Wednesday announced that a Philadelphia architectural firm won the design competition to build a new American Embassy in London, calling the award of the contract an “exciting moment in the history” of U.S. diplomacy in the British capital.

The cost, estimated at about $1 billion, will be partially offset by the sale of the current embassy in London’s posh Grosvenor Square, where a young United States established a diplomatic presence when John Adams, the second president-to-be, moved to the square as America’s first ambassador to Britain in 1785. The value of the current embassy had been estimated at up to $650 million.

The United States is “creating a new home and focal point for one of our most cherished and valuable bilateral relationships,” Ambassador Louis B. Susman said as he announced that the firm of KieranTimberlake won the contract, beating out 36 other architectural firms. He praised the design for its sleek modern lines and energy-efficient features.

The new embassy will be located in an area of London known as Battersea and is expected to open by 2017.

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

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