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Former Envoy Offers Advice for New Diplomats in D.C.
The Washington Diplomat / January 2010

By Larry Luxner

Back in 1997, veteran diplomat Denis G. Antoine told this newspaper how difficult it is to be noticed in Washington when your country has only 98,000 people and your entire embassy staff consists of only three officers and a secretary.

Few could imagine that Antoine would represent the island of Grenada here for another 12 years — a period spanning three White House administrations and a devastating hurricane that nearly destroyed his tiny Caribbean nation.

This summer, Antoine finally stepped down from the job that had made him a longtime fixture on the Washington embassy circuit. The 61-year-old retired ambassador has since put his thoughts together into a 218-page handbook for diplomatic officers.

"Effective Diplomacy: A Practicioner's Guide" provides some practical insights for diplomats coming to Washington for the first time and addresses the challenges they face in a post-9/11, security-conscious environment.

In 15 chapters, Antoine — who also represented Grenada before the Organization of American States — discusses the practice of multilateral diplomacy within the context of the OAS while offering a step-by-step guide on how to maneuver Washington itself.

From the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia to the 1961 Vienna Convention that spells out the priveleges and immunities of a diplomatic mission, Antoine traces the history of international diplomacy.

Among other things, the book describes the presentation of credentials by foreign ambassadors to the United States. Antoine explains in detail how the big day unfolds — right down to how diplomats should dress and what they should say to the president.

When attending diplomatic receptions, Antoine suggests, "try to identify the movers and shakers. After several social events, seek to draw up a short list of persons to meet, and pay attention to the invitations that come into your office to learn where they may be showing up. Diplomats should be warned not to hold a conference when on the receiving line at a social event. It is distasteful to have a very long line waiting."

In a chapter on media, Antoine urges new diplomats to "use the press as a tool to promote one's country" and explains how to write an effective press release.

"Learn deadlines and send press releases only to one person at each media center or news outlet. Always follow up with a phone call and offer to answer any question they wish to ask," he advises, adding that "throughout a press conference, the name of the country should be used as often as possible so that people will remember it."

Antoine stresses the importance of getting to know the United States outside of Washington. In this regard, he recommends Sen. Charles Grassley's tour to Iowa and a State Department program that brings foreign diplomats to Florida, among other things. A useful glossary of legislative terms — from appropriations to voice veto — follows the main text to help new foreign diplomats understand the unique language of Capitol Hill.

Personal security is also quite high on Antoine's priority list.

"Ambassadors and diplomatic officers need to be aware of their surroundings. This caution relates to the fact that they are found genearlly gazing and faltering when shopping and driving," he wrote. "It is strongly encouraged that navigation systems be installed in all diplomatic vehicles as a welcome aide to prevent diplomats from stopping on the roadside to ask for directions."

In this context, he said, a new ambassador would appreciate the value of a well-trained, competent and reliable driver as a very important part of being safe in Washington.

"Do not underestimate the danger of being foreign and disoriented in the Washington, D.C., area or anywhere within the United States on roadways and official U.S. government space after Sept. 11, 2001, even while sporting diplomatic tags," Antoine added. "Today it is a security risk, which could lead to serious inconvenience and possible uncomfortable interpretation of a diplomat's performance of duty with very compromising embarrassment and other consequences."'

By the same token, he adds, "try not to be embarrassed when invited to the State Department by going there with anything in your pockets and on your body because you will be electronically scanned and searched."

Other tidbits of advice: "Embassies should consider investing in a handheld metal detector to scan packages and suspicious letters. Upon entering a hotel room, diplomats should make it their duty to read all fire evacuation plans and learn the escape and emergency routes. And when parking a vehicle, always consider backing into a space to avoid having to back out."

"Effective Diplomacy" is published by Xlibris and costs $19.99 (paperback) or $29.99 (hardcover). For more information, call Xlibris at (888) 795-0294 or go to

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