Players: Richard Jones
New Envoy to Israel Is Used to Duty in Hot Spots
Thursday, August 18, 2005
Richard H. Jones has been tasked with some of the trickiest jobs in U.S. diplomacy.
First posted in Paris, he had to sell Reaganomics to skeptical Europeans.
After the Soviet Union collapsed, he oversaw final destruction of the Soviet nuclear and biological weapons programs in Kazakhstan. One program employed scientists to destroy the biological plant where they had earlier produced anthrax bacteria.
In Saudi Arabia, he started a program that rescued -- and eventually resettled abroad -- thousands of Iraqi refugees after Operation Desert Storm liberated Kuwait in 1991.
As the U.S. ambassador in Beirut, he helped broker a cease-fire between Israel and Lebanon, while living under threat from the terrorist group Hezbollah. "One of my favorite headlines when I was in Lebanon was, 'Tensions Mount as Calls For Jones' Head Multiply,' " he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month.
Jones was also top U.S. envoy in Kuwait when it was the staging post for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, then he was sent to Baghdad as number two to U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer during the initial occupation.
"They always seem to send me to hot spots," Jones said in a recent interview.
Now, to cap his career, Jones has left his post as the State Department's chief coordinator for Iraq policy to become U.S. ambassador to Israel, arguably the most sensitive U.S. diplomatic posting in the Middle East over the past half-century.
"This is a man who was shaped and molded on the prairie and has distinguished himself . . . in some of the most difficult jobs that we've had in our government," said Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel at the July 27 confirmation hearings, noting Jones's roots in his own state of Nebraska.
Jones is an unusual choice for Israel. An Arabist by training, he knows none of the major politicians on either side of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and has never been assigned to the issue, even in Washington.
His roots in the Arab world are so deep that his beloved greyhound is named Kisa -- for Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the country of his first posting in the Arab world.
"Maybe they wanted someone who would take a fresh look. I come to the job without preconceptions," Jones reflected. "Maybe they wanted someone who could provide the Arab perspective, too. The stakes are not just the Israeli handover and disengagement from Gaza. The aftermath will take months, if not years, to play out."