Diplomat's views make him persona non grata at home


April 19, 1994|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,Berlin Bureau of The Sun

BERLIN -- When U.S. diplomat Doug Jones offered his candid views last week on Germany's problems with foreigners -- i.e. the German propensity to beat them up, spit on them and otherwise make them feel unwelcome -- it was tough talk for a diplomat. Some might even say it was a breath of fresh air in a realm better known for finesse and double-talk.

"If Germany is not a racist society, why is its nationality law, which was written in 1913, predicated upon race?" Mr. Jones asked rhetorically.

Nor did Mr. Jones flinch from criticizing the German government. He said Chancellor Helmut Kohl unintentionally gave comfort to skinheads and neo-Nazis by saying, "Germany is not a country of immigration."

"If I were a skinhead . . . [that] would signal to me that the nearly 7 million foreigners who live here legally do not belong here, and that I am justified in wanting them out," Mr. Jones said.

Understand, this was not just a man railing indiscriminately against the Germans. Mr. Jones, the principal officer of the U.S. Embassy's Berlin office, also said much that was complimentary, and his criticism came across as the blunt advice of a concerned friend. He also stressed that he was speaking only for himself.

But he was tough. Too tough, as it turned out. Within 48 hours of his speech Thursday, Mr. Jones' bosses in Bonn and Washington were scurrying to disavow his remarks as the inappropriate views of a man with one foot in his mouth and the other out the door.

A statement from the embassy announced that his views "do not represent the views of the embassy, the ambassador or the United States government. They were not cleared with the embassy in advance. Even though Mr. Jones noted at the outset of his speech that he was expressing his own views it was inappropriate for him to make remarks so at variance with U.S. policy while working as a U.S. official. Mr. Jones had previously informed the State Department he will be retiring from the Foreign Service in 1994."

It wasn't made clear where in his speech Mr. Jones parted from U.S. policy.

Perhaps it was when he said, "A democratic social system ought to be flexible enough to accommodate difference and diversity -- and to benefit from them."

Or perhaps it was where he admonished Germans for self-pity and a tendency toward almost constant self-analysis.

"I have some news for you," he said. "This is one of the luckiest countries on the face of the earth. It is a country to take pride in. It is prosperous, beautiful, at peace with its neighbors, generous in meeting its commitments, a creative force in achieving European integration and the aims and ideals of the United Nations."

More likely Mr. Jones strayed by addressing the issue of foreigners at all during a German election season. Mr. Kohl, who has hit it off well with President Clinton, is running behind in the polls to challenger Rudolf Scharping, and one of the chancellor's few remaining advantages is the perception that he would get along better with the United States. In short, it's not a good time for a U.S. official to be criticizing Mr. Kohl's government.

Candid talk by diplomats has become hazardous in Germany lately. The French ambassador recently was called before German officials for a chat after he told reporters that Germany had been throwing its weight around a bit much lately and still couldn't be trusted. His excuse was that his remarks were supposed to have been off the record.

The Americans tried a similar strategy at first, saying initially that Mr. Jones had assumed that no reporters were present for his speech, delivered at a meeting in Oranienburg, just north of Berlin. But the embassy's Berlin office earlier in the day faxed out advance copies of his speech to journalists all over town.

Judging from the content and the length -- 15 pages, single-spaced -- Mr. Jones clearly took the speech seriously and gave it a lot of thought.

As a result, his remarks rang true, as when he said, "I do not know of a single foreigner, including myself, who has not had on at least one occasion the impression, through an incident or a comment from a German, that he is unwelcome, that he does not belong here, or that his 'differentness' did not attract unpleasant attention."

Only now, Mr. Jones can feel unwelcome in his own embassy as well.

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