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MARCH 2016



Searching for Gold in Them

Consular Hills


tatutory consular work is substantive in

nature. It requires an extraordinarily high

degree of intelligence, resourcefulness, persis-

tence, imagination, compassion and sheer hard

work. This is a specialty requiring every bit as

much general ability and technical competence

as political or economic reporting. … But few,

very, very few officers join the Foreign Service

with the goal of doing visa, citizenship or protection work.

The overwhelming majority of newly appointed FSOs

have for years come in with the clear expectation of forg-

ing a career in political work, interrupted only by occa-

sional broadening in an economic section. Thus, assign-

ment to a consular section carries with it from the very

beginning an aura of exile.

The new FSO, by and large, accepts the consular

assignment as a necessary evil and, for a while at least,

is willing to believe that “there is gold to be mined in the

consular hills.” Some few find the discretionary powers

of a consular officer much to their liking and encounter

true and lasting satisfaction with reasonableness and

prudence. Most, however, looking toward their ultimate

goal, find that the point of diminishing returns

is reached after four to six months.

Pressure to turn out more and more

“cases” in less and less time virtually

eliminates any meaningful person-to-person

contact between the consular officer and his

clients. The standardized interviews neces-

sary for efficient operation limit one’s use of

the local language to a few key sentences,

endlessly repeated. Despite these pres-

sures, most officers at the working level would willingly

sacrifice production figures to obtain political or eco-

nomic intelligence. …

Most officers in the senior and upper-middle grades,

when asked to expound on the value of consular experi-

ence to a political (or economic) career, respond firmly,

affirmatively and automatically, rather as if they were

reciting the creed at High Mass. But ask any established

political officer how many consular assignments he wants

in the coming years. Without exception they feel they

have “served their time,” gained their experience and have

nothing more to learn in a consular job.

—John J. St. John, from his article, “The Consular

Assignment: A Minority View,” in the March 1966



50 Years Ago

and family break-ups.

In the mid-1980s, each hostage

received $22,000 from the U.S. govern-

ment, or roughly $50 per day of captivity,

per contemporary Civil Service regula-

tions. These figures were not consistent

with what journalists and other non-fed-

eral American employees who had been

taken hostage by foreign powers received

for their ordeals.

The Algiers Accords, negotiated in 1981

to free the hostages, proved to be one of

the main barriers to winning compen-

sation directly from the government of

Iran because it expressly forbade law-

suits against Iran as a condition for their


When civil litigation failed, the hos-

tages appealed to Congress. Both the

107th and 111th Congresses attempted

unsuccessfully to enact legislation that

would repeal the Algiers Accords.

The new legislation will award up to

$4.4 million, or about $10,000 per day of

captivity (an amount in line with what

other hostages and victims of state-

sponsored terrorism have received from

the U.S. government). Funding will come

mainly from financial penalties paid to

settle violations of international sanctions.

Only 38 of the 53 original hostages are still


The new law will also compensate

other victims of terrorist attacks, including

family members of Americans killed in the

August 1998 embassy bombings in Nairobi

and Dar es Salaam.

Reflecting on the new law, Iran expert

Ambassador John Limbert—a former

Iran hostage himself and current AFSA

Governing Board member—offers the fol-

lowing comment:

“The appalling episode of 1979-1981

remains one of the ‘ghosts of history’ that

haunt U.S.-Iranian relations. As an unre-

solved grievance, it still casts its shadow

over efforts to change 35 years of Iranian-

American futility into something more

productive for both sides.

“Anyone who doubted the power of

this particular ghost had only to listen to