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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 May, 2004, 11:44 GMT 12:44 UK
Why Bush is likely to ignore letter

By Paul Reynolds
BBC News Online world affairs correspondent

The letter to President Bush by former American diplomats complaining about US policy towards Israel and the Palestinians is unlikely to have much of an effect on the White House.

Ariel Sharon and Goerge Bush at White House news conference
The letter objects to US support for Sharon's Gaza plan

The influence of the current State Department on the Bush administration is debatable. The influence of former diplomats is minimal.

And the writers of the letter have a problem in that several of them are connected to a pressure group active in Middle East affairs, often as a voice for the Palestinians.

Another problem is that there are so far few big names on the list of signatures. Washington is a city which likes big names.

American diplomats often join lobbies when they leave the foreign service. It becomes a second career. But in a city of lobbies, their voices have to compete with many others.

Few British diplomats become lobbyists, which is why their letter to UK Prime Minister Tony Blair was unusual and caused a stir.

Every interest group in Washington has a lobby. Among embassies, the top three would probably be the British who run a very discreet one, the Israelis who have a very efficient one and the Saudis with a very influential one.

The American Educational Trust

The group behind this letter carries the bland name of the American Educational Trust (AET).

It was founded in 1982 "to provide the American public with balanced and accurate coverage concerning US relations with Middle Eastern States," as it puts it itself. It publishes the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

The phrase "balanced and accurate" about reporting the Middle East means trying to counter what the AET would see as the too pro-Israeli stance of the US media.

The AET's founding chairman was actually a former British diplomat, an Arabist named Edward F Henderson. He had been a senior British figure in the Gulf and was the first British ambassador to Qatar.

Subsequently he became head of the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding in London, which, as its name implies, is a lobby group promoting the Arab world.

Unlike the British letter, the American one deals almost entirely with Israel

The retired American diplomat who helped to organise this letter, Andrew Killgore, was a US Ambassador to Qatar himself. Mr Killgore also helped found the AET.

The device of sending a letter to the president was copied from the letter sent by 52 former British diplomats to Mr Blair.

It is a clever device since it lifts the protest above the usual round of comments and seminars which abound in Washington.

Concentration on Israel, not Iraq

But unlike the British letter, the American one deals almost entirely with Israel and mentions Iraq only once.

By ignoring Iraq, the writers are leaving out an issue which is of more direct and immediate concern in the United States.

This is surprising since one of the signatories is Greg Thielmann, a senior intelligence official who retired from the State Department not long before the Iraq war.

He had warned that the assessment of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was woefully wrong. A reference to Iraq might have strengthened the impact of the letter.

We're not the good guys any more
William Rogers, ex US diplomat
Of course, being part of a lobby does not discredit your view and the letter must be a reflection of concern within parts of the foreign policy establishment.

One former diplomat who is thinking of signing, William Rogers, Under Secretary for Economic Affairs in the 1970s, said: "We're not the good guys any more and our foreign relations have been and are being damaged. We are viewed as hypocritical."

Perhaps that is one of the main aims of this letter - to send out a signal that not all American diplomats support the present policy even if changing that policy is too large an ambition.

The BBC's Andrew Burroughs
"They are inspired by the example of ex-British envoys taking Tony Blair to task"

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