Obama Administration's Diplomacy Off to a Quiet Start

By Al Kamen
Thursday, December 18, 2008

Conversations this week with a senior diplomat from a major European country, a Middle Eastern ambassador and an Asian ambassador revealed a common angst: Barack Obama's folks aren't talking.

All three diplomats are getting constant messages from their home offices wondering what's going on, and all three said they feel worthless having to respond that they still can't get a meeting.

And we are not talking minor players here. These are all major, big-league countries, our colleague Glenn Kessler reports.

One diplomat said that his country even sent envoys to Washington to meet with Obamaland, but they couldn't get a meeting. Instead, the transition team sent "ears" -- youngish folks who are kind of connected to Obama.

The "ears" didn't say anything, but they took very careful notes of what the foreign officials wanted to say and then promised to report to the transition team.

Another ambassador noted that there was no point in meeting with the Bush people anymore, so he suddenly finds he has too much time on his hands.

It's not as if the Obama team is completely dissing these folks. One transition team member was spotted at an embassy cocktail reception, but it was widely accepted that he wouldn't say anything of substance.

All along Embassy Row, people think that Jan. 20 can't come soon enough. Only then, they think, will they begin to figure out Obama's foreign policy direction.

They may be in for a big surprise.

Obama Plays Santa

Obama's selection of outgoing Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) to be transportation secretary was a spectacular early Christmas present to hundreds of GOP lobbyists in Washington -- a group much depressed since Nov. 4. The GOP-dominated Air Transport Association of America, the lobby for U.S. airlines, avidly followed each blog yesterday as it reported the news and then sent links to its members all afternoon.

Given that the huge Obama stimulus package looks to focus heavily on transportation infrastructure projects, Republicans lobbying for highway, rail and water transport also were surely popping corks in celebration.

A GOP lobbyist, however, noted that President Bush had a Democrat, Norman Y. Mineta, as transportation secretary for much of his administration -- the longest-serving ever.

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