News / USA

Pomp, Pageantry Reign at Washington Ceremony for Foreign Diplomats

Cape Verde, a small island nation off of the coast of Africa, is hardly a global power.

But last week, its ambassador, José Luis Rocha, found himself in the Oval Office, exchanging views with President Barack Obama on relations between the countries.

What brought Rocha to the White House was a formal routine that is part of the pomp and pageantry of being an accredited diplomat. He came to see Obama to formally present his ambassadorial credentials to the U.S. head of state.

“For sure, Monday the 14th of July was one of the most interesting and important days in my diplomatic life,” Rocha said in an interview.

While the event was closed to the press and the public, Rocha and the State Department, which organizes the credentialing ceremony, offered a glimpse into the process.

Accreditation maze

The tradition of accrediting ambassadors is hardly unique to Washington. It is repeated in many countries around the world when a new ambassador takes office. Diplomats need to be accredited to the host country to fully conduct their affairs as ambassador.

Rocha has seen both sides of the desk as a career diplomat who also has served as Cape Verde’s Secretary of State for External Relations.

“Basically, it’s all the same,” Rocha said, of the steps for accreditation. "What can be different is how the ceremonies are organized.”

Rocha’s presentation was a diplomatic exercise joined by ambassadors from four other countries as the White House likes to bunch a number of ceremonies into one day.

By tradition, the diplomats brought families to the formal occasion. Rocha chatted with a group of representatives from Sri Lanka, Armenia, Guinea and Somalia, as the soon-to-be credentialed ambassadors waited for their own minutes of time and individual pictures with the president.

The diplomats were ranked in the order in which they would be formally received by Obama based on when they arrived in the United States. That ranking is actually mandated by the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which regulates the ambassadorial relations.

A military cordon greeted Rocha and the other ambassadors as each arrived in the White House driveway. Rocha was formally introduced to the president by the Chief of Protocol, Peter Selfridge, Obama’s liaison to Washington’s diplomatic community.

“It was a short moment,” with Obama, Rocha said, noting the other ceremonies scheduled. “We had five, one right after the other.”

Presidential meet-and-greet

The official White House photo of the ceremonial event shows a broadly smiling Obama with his arm on Rocha's back.

Rccha came to the White House clutching the original letter of his appointment from Cape Verde’s president that needed to be delivered to the U.S. leader. Diplomatic niceties require that the letter “must be well presented in a folder, not from inside my pocket,” he said.

"It’s given directly to the president “so he received the letter from my hand as being transmitted from my country,” Rocha said. “It’s a special moment when you are officially accredited."

Yet the most substantial policy part of the event was actually left unsaid. Rocha handed written remarks from his government to Obama, who also handed him back U.S. comments.

“In the letters, you frame historical ties, and the way you want to go to improve these relations,” Rocha said.

Obama accredits 30 to 40 ambassadors a year, according to the State Department.

About an hour and half from the time he left for the White House, Rocha was back in his office. Copies of the credential request, formally known as a “letter of credence,” already had been provided to State Department officials, allowing him to begin working before being formally accredited at the White House.

But he returned from the Oval Office with a new title: “Ambassador Extraordinary Plenipotentiary,” and a designation as the highest ranking official of Cape Verde in the United States.

Building partnerships

After the ceremony, Rocha followed another formality as a new ambassador. The next day, he sent a diplomatic note informing other ambassadors in Washington that he presented his credentials to the president and giving his new colleagues “assurances of my highest consideration.”

The Washington diplomatic corps is an elite group representing their nations.

“Washington tends to be a very coveted posting,” said U.S. Assistant Chief of Protocol for Diplomatic Affairs Gladys Boluda, which brings the “best of the best” as national representatives.

“Many ambassadors are at the height of their careers and may go on to serve as Foreign Ministers, Prime Ministers or Presidents, if they haven’t already served in that capacity,” said Boluda.

Rocha is preparing for the upcoming U.S. -Africa summit, maintaining contact with a vibrant Cape Verdean expatriate community, and promoting business ties.

A 21st century ambassador, even one accredited by a treaty that is more than 50-years-old, leads a different life than the public perception, said Rocha.

“People see the ambassador as being in the salon drinking wine,” he said. “That is the old role view of an ambassador. The role of the ambassador now is to build partnerships.”

 

 


Lee Michael Katz

Lee Michael Katz is an award-winning journalist, analyst and author.

Currently a prominent freelance writer, Katz is the former Senior Diplomatic Correspondent of USA Today and International Editor of UPI News Service.He has reported from more than 60 countries.  Katz’s expertise includes foreign policy and diplomacy, peace talks, national security, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction policy, foundation grants, business and financial topics.

You May Like

Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

While not yet independently confirmed, brutal killing already has gotten attention of Islamic State followers on social media More

After Six Years, Little Change for Niger Delta's Former Militants

Nigerians who laid down arms in exchange for government amnesty subsidies fear program may end with upcoming presidential elections More

Vietnam Pushes for More Educated Drivers to Curb Road Deaths

Transportation officials hope that making a greater effort to get drivers to learn the rules of the road will reduce fatal crashes More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planeti
X
George Putic
March 04, 2015 8:51 PM
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video African Americans Recall 1960's Fight For Voting Rights

U.S. President Barack Obama and thousands of people will gather in the small southern U.S. city of Selma, Alabama, Saturday, March 7th to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic voting rights march that became known as “Bloody Sunday." VOA’s Chris Simkins traveled to Alabama and introduces us to some of the foot soldiers of the voting rights struggles of the 1960’s.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More