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Ex-Ambassador Explains What Iraq Posts Entail
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Ex-Ambassador Explains What Iraq Posts Entail

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Ex-Ambassador Explains What Iraq Posts Entail
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ROBERT SEIGEL, host:

Tim Carney has been posted to U.S. Embassies in Cambodia and Vietnam, among other countries. He was ambassador to Haiti and to Sudan. And he returned to the States in June after his second stint in Baghdad.

Ambassador Carney came to our studio to help us understand what life is like for diplomats at that U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. He takes issue with the charge that we heard in Michele Kelemen's report that a posting in Iraq is a possible death sentence.

Mr. TIM CARNEY (Former U.S. Ambassador): The fact is we have a number of embassies around the world that are in danger. Whether we have an embassy resident in any given country is a function of realizing our interests. And our interests in Iraq, at this point, demand that we accept a greater level of risk for the staff that's on the ground there.

SEIGEL: What does it mean to the staff there? Does it mean that they stay in or near the embassy, near the - all the time that they are in Baghdad?

Mr. CARNEY: The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, which is basically divided into a number of buildings, and the one we all think about is that monstrosity called the Republican Palace. The Republican Palace is located in what we called the Green Zone that is formerly the International Zone - that's a pretty big area. Within that zone one can move freely.

SEIGEL: Travel outside the Green Zone is rarity or it's a - for you in the last tour, for example.

Mr. CARNEY: Travel outside the Green Zone is a complicated and difficult thing to do because of the danger of ambushes and improvised explosive devices.

SEIGEL: How would you describe, when you were there earlier this year for four months, how would you describe the morale and the workload of the State Department employees who were there?

Mr. CARNEY: That's a complicated thing to describe. The workload is enormous. When you're trying to do political affairs in Iraq there's no end to how long the day can be. And you could start with a working coffee at the Rashid Hotel, move over to talk to people in the parliament building itself, have lunch with somebody and then go out and have dinner with, say, colleagues from the British Embassy. Trying to put a picture together, you might break off and see a minister or some of his senior staffers to see what kind of lobbying we can do to get our interests realized in a more timely manner.

SEIGEL: But when you compare, say, you're daily routines when you were a diplomat in South Africa, say, with your daily routine in Baghdad, what's the big difference?

Mr. CARNEY: The big difference is that you have, outside of Iraq, much greater access to the whole of the society. Your political officer can go to parliament, but he can't go downtown to the headquarters of one of the political groups in Iraq. Even with an escort, he would choose not to do that because, quite frankly, you don't want to be fingering these political groups as receiving American diplomats.

SEIGEL: Ambassador Carney, just one - well, one last question. Compared to other postings, you've said the big difference is the lack of access to the Iraqis…

Mr. CARNEY: That's right.

SEIGEL: …when you were posted in Baghdad. On the other hand, 2007, as opposed to the 1990s or '80s or before that, is a time of phenomenal communications. Are you more connected to the world through your BlackBerry or your e-mail or your satellite phones than you would have been in the posting 10 years ago at some place?

Mr. CARNEY: Oh, there's no question about that and it is particularly so in Iraq. In 2003, if you were lucky, you had a Thuraya satellite phone but you had to be outside to use it because there weren't enough docking stations to use it inside. So I wound up doing World War II spy activities such as setting up a time when I would be outside and I could be reached by Iraqis who were fortunate enough to have a Thuraya.

Now, my Iraqi contacts from that 2003 period would routinely call me up on a cell phone. Much better communication and Internet access all around. But I'll tell you the truth, after 40 years in foreign affairs, I can assure you, there is nothing better than sitting down face to face and talking, and more importantly, listening.

SIEGEL: And the ability to do that is rare.

Mr. CARNEY: Absolutely.

SIEGEL: Well, Ambassador Tim Carney, thank you very much for talking with us today.

Mr. CARNEY: You're welcome. I'm glad to join you.

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