Why I Left the Foreign Service V
North Korean Nuclear Proliferation Issues. One of my responsibilities in Rome was maintaining a dialogue with Italy and the EU on North Korean nuclear issues, in particular the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO). During the six months more or less that I was in Rome, Italy held the presidency of the European Union, so that our dialogue was on sort of a double basis, one dialogue as the US to Italy, and the other as US to EU. At that time the US was part of KEDO and had promised funding for proliferation resistant light water reactors for North Korea, and in the interim, funding for fuel oil to North Korea to generate electricity by conventional power plants. As part of the Gingrich/Republican budget cuts, the US did not appropriate funding for its part of the fuel oil. Therefore to prevent the US from breaching its agreement with North and South Korea and Japan, part of my job was to go hat in hand to the Italians and ask them bilaterally, or as the head of the EU, to help make up the difference between what the US had appropriated and what it owed under the agreement.
I had just gone through a similar situation in Warsaw when the US cut off funding for our joint science cooperation program years before the agreement was to expire. Once again, I was in the position of saying that the US would not fulfill its international agreements. I always did what I was told, but I was not a happy camper. I did not like representing an America that was a deadbeat dad, that made promises and then didn’t fulfill them. I don’t remember where I left this matter. The Italians were somewhat horrified that the US might default, and thus legally entitle North Korea to resume its proliferating ways. But I don’t recall that they said definitely that they would help. I think we were only asking for about $2 million.
But I didn’t like it. If I had wanted to do this kind of thing, I could have become a criminal lawyer or a bankruptcy lawyer. I wanted to be a diplomat for the greatest nation on earth; I didn’t want to be like Hitler’s German diplomats negotiating the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. The American government was too corrupt and dishonest for me, and so I left.
Helms-Burton and Children’s Visas. Another nail in coffin of my career came late in my stay in Rome. I was at a reception for a satellite launching, celebrating a satellite that the US was going to launch for Italy. The launch did not take place as scheduled, but that wasn’t the issue. At the reception I struck up a conversation with a man who worked on communications satellites for the Italian phone company. He said something like, “You must really hate me to deny a visa to Disney World to my daughter, just because I work for the Italian phone company.” I was taken aback and asked him what had happened. He said his daughter had been denied a US visa under the Helms-Burton Act because the Italian phone company had some tenuous connection to Cuba through its cooperation with the Mexican phone company. Later I went and talked to the head of the consular section in Rome, and it sounded like this was indeed the case.
Unfortunately it reminded me of some books I had read when I first joined the Foreign Service. One of my friends from law school had been reading them, and said they had quite a lot about the Foreign Service. They were “The Winds of War,” and “War and Remembrance” by Herman Wouk. They are a fictional account of several families, some American military officers and diplomats, and one a Jewish family living in Europe. A Jewish mother and child are trying to get out of Europe and go to Palestine, soon to become Israel, but she can’t leave without a visa (shades of “Casablanca”). The German embassy in Rome is willing to give the mother a visa, but not her child. It was just too close to what America was doing to this Italian engineer. Punishing children for the crimes of their fathers is not something I am enthusiastic about, especially when the father’s crime is just working for a company that has some weak connection to Cuba. I think by the time this happened, I had already decided to retire, but this made me glad that I had.
This was not Ronald Reagan’s “shining city on a hill.”