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Retired U.S. diplomats to teach Mideast lecture series at AFSA
Diplomatic Pouch / January 23, 2017

By Larry Luxner

Five retired Foreign Service officers will share their expert knowledge of the intricacies of Middle East politics through a timely four-part evening lecture series to be taught in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution.

“The New Middle East” offers participants the chance to learn about major events and trends shaping this crucial region of the world, through the perspective of diplomats who have served there.

On March 15, Molly Williamson discusses the seemingly intractable conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. On March 22, Elizabeth Shelton analyzes current issues creating unrest and instability within Turkey. On March 29, retired Ambassador John Limbert — a former U.S. Embassy hostage in Iran — traces the path that led to the current troubled U.S. relationship with Iran. Finally, on April 5, Ambassador Kenton Keith examines the ongoing civil war in Syria and escalating tensions between the United States and Russia.

Each class will take place from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the headquarters of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), 2101 E St., NW, Washington, DC 20037. The cost is $95 for members of the Smithsonian, and $145 for non-members.

As part of the first program, AFSA President Barbara Stephenson offers an overview of what the U.S. Foreign Service does in order to provide a context for the issues of diplomacy examined in the series. Stephenson was formerly deputy coordinator for Iraq at the State Department and was also U.S. ambassador to Panama.

Williamson, who speaks extensively on U.S. foreign policy, is a scholar at the Middle East Institute and a frequent lecturer at Johns Hopkins University. A California native, Williamson is fluent in Hebrew and Arabic. Her postings span six administrations and include a stint as U.S. interim ambassador to Bahrain and chief of mission at the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem.

Shelton is executive director of the American Friends of Turkey, which began as an informal organization in the 1970s by U.S. diplomats and Peace Corps personnel who believed that Turkey was not well understood in the United States. Shelton is a former U.S. consul in Adana, a major Turkish city in south-central Anatolia.

Limbert, interviewed in the February 2013 issue of the Washington Diplomat, spent 444 days as a hostage in Iran along with 51 other Americans. After that ordeal, he went on to serve at U.S. embassies in the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Djibouti, Saudi Arabia, Guinea, Mauritania and Sudan. In 2010, Limbert ended his Foreign Service career as the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for Iran, and is now a professor at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, where he teaches a course on U.S.-Iran relations.

Keith, who was U.S. ambassador to Qatar from 1992 to 1995, retired in 1997 after a 33-year career in the Foreign Service. Among other things, he was cultural affairs officer at U.S. embassies in Istanbul and Paris, and public affairs officer at U.S. missions in Damascus, Fez and Cairo. Upon retirement, Keith became senior vice-president at Meridian International Center, with primary responsibility for overseeing Meridian’s management of the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program.

The AFSA, founded in 1924, is the professional association and labor union of the U.S. Foreign Service. With more than 16,600 dues-paying members, AFSA represents more than 32,000 active and retired Foreign Service employees of the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development and four other federal agencies.

For more information on this lecture series, please call AFSA at (202) 338-4045 or the Smithsonian at (202) 633-3030.

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