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

Changing Under Pressure, IS ‘Potent’ as Ever

US intel officials describe Ramadi's fall as concerning, but say it isn't emblematic of larger effort to degrade IS capabilities More

Nigeria Fuel Shortage Shows Fragility of Africa’s Oil Giant

Although it is the largest oil producer in Africa, country has nearly ran out of fuel it needs to power its generators, cars and airplanes over the past week More

Arrested Football Officials Come Mainly From the Americas

US Justice Department alleges defendants participated in 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through corruption of international soccer 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.
3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Cari
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
May 27, 2015 9:31 PM
Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.

VOA Blogs