Monday, November 24, 2008

Our Man in Tripoli, 36 Years Later

Career diplomat Gene Cretz, nominated by President Bush in 2007 to be Ambassador to Libya was finally confirmed on November 20, 2008.

The Senate confirmation reportedly came late Thursday after Senate Democrat, Frank Lautenberg, (D-NJ) lifted his hold on the nomination. The senator who had led the effort to block the nomination cleared the way for confirmation by noting that Libya last month paid $1.5 billion to relatives of victims of acts of terrorism that Libya took responsibility for.

At the DPB on November 21, the Department’s Spokesman indicates he was not sure when Ambassador Cretz will take up his post in Tripoli but says, “We’re anxious to get him out there.” One reporter points out that this has the potential to be probably the shortest lived ambassadorship ever, speculating that presumably, Ambassador Cretz is not going to go out until after Thanksgiving, and then there is Christmas coming up, and then he has to resign. Mr. McCormack clarifies: “Well, what’s happens – (laughter) – is ambassadors – all -- as we’ve gone through before, all political appointees, including ambassadors, offer their resignation. It is up to the next administration to decide upon which of those, especially the ambassadorships, which of those ambassadors’ resignations they decide to accept and which ones they ask to – which ambassadors they ask to stay on.”

A reporter quoted in the DPB transcript says that Mr. Cretz “could be an ambassador without ever setting foot in the country, it looks like, at this point.”

Here’s the brief stormy story of our Tripoli Mission: The Legation in Tripoli was established Dec 24, 1952, with Andrew G. Lynch as ChargĂ© d'Affaires ad interim. Our first U.S. Ambassador was Foreign Service officer, Henry S. Willard who presented his credentials on Mar 6, 1952 and left post on Jun 24, 1954. In September 25 of that year, the Legation in Libya was raised to Embassy status.

According to the Department’s Office of the Historian: The following officers served as ChargĂ© d'Affaires ad interim from Nov 1972–Feb 1980:

Harold G. Josif (Nov 1972–Dec 1973)

Robert A. Stein (Dec 1973–Dec 1974)

Robert Carle (Jan 1975–Aug 1978)

William L. Eagleton, Jr. (Aug 1978–Feb 1980)

Mr. Eagleton was recalled to the United States on Feb 8, 1980, and Embassy Tripoli was closed on May 2, 1980. Twenty four years later, on Feb 8, 2004, the United States established an Interests Section in Tripoli. It became the U.S. Liason Office on Jun 28, with Greg Berry as the Principal Officer. The United States resumed diplomatic relations with Libya on May 31, 2006, and the Interests Section in Tripoli became an Embassy. Gregory L. Berry became Charge d'Affaires ad interim, serving until Oct 10, 2006. Charles O. Cecil succeeded him on Nov 15, 2006. The current Charge’ d’Affaires, Chris Stevens arrived in Tripoli in June 2007 as Deputy Chief of Mission and assumed his current position in January 2008.

Ambassador Cretz of New York is a Career Member of the Foreign Service. He was Deputy Chief of Mission at the United States Embassy in Tel Aviv. Prior to that, he served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the United States Embassy in Damascus. Earlier in his career, he served as Minister Counselor of Economic and Political Affairs at the United States Embassy in Cairo. Mr. Cretz received his bachelor's degree from the University of Rochester and his master's degree from State University College at Buffalo. Mr. Cretz has 27 years of experience in the Foreign Service. Click here (PDF) to read his testimony at the Foreign Relations Committee.

If he gets to Tripoli to present his credential before January 20, Ambassador Cretz will be our first ambassador to Libya in 36 years. Mr. Cretz is a career diplomat and since his ambassadorship is not tied to the belly button of a political patron, he’ll probably be asked to stay on. But even if his resignation is accepted by the new administration, his will not be the shortest lived ambassadorship. That unfortunate, sadly forgotten record still belongs to Francis E. Meloy, Jr. who was assassinated in Beirut, Lebanon, on June 16, 1976 while on his way to present his credentials to the Lebanese president.

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