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Richard B. Parker, ambassador and Middle East expert, dies at 87

Richard B. Parker served in the 1970s as U.S. ambassador to Algeria, Lebanon and Morocco. His deep expertise in Arab culture led him to write academic papers on a variety of topics, including Lebanese proverbs and Arabic graffiti in Middle Eastern men's restrooms.
Richard B. Parker served in the 1970s as U.S. ambassador to Algeria, Lebanon and Morocco. His deep expertise in Arab culture led him to write academic papers on a variety of topics, including Lebanese proverbs and Arabic graffiti in Middle Eastern men's restrooms. (Family Photo)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 4, 2011; 10:08 PM

Richard B. Parker, 87, a career Foreign Service officer and Middle East expert who served in the 1970s as the U.S. ambassador to Algeria, Lebanon and Morocco, died Jan. 7 at the Grand Oaks retirement facility in Washington. He had vascular disease.

Mr. Parker retired from the State Department in 1980 after more than 30 years of service. He also held diplomatic posts in Australia, Israel, Jordan and Egypt.

In retirement, he was a diplomat-in-residence at the University of Virginia, where he taught classes on foreign policy in the Arab world and served as an editor of the Middle East Journal.

The depth of his expertise in Arab culture led him to write scores of academic papers on a variety of topics, including Lebanese proverbs and Arabic graffiti in Middle Eastern men's restrooms.

Mr. Parker's interest in the Middle East began soon after his release from a prisoner-of-war camp during World War II.

An Army antitank platoon officer, Mr. Parker was captured by German soldiers after his unit was overwhelmed during the Battle of the Bulge.

He was sent to a prison camp in occupied Poland and spent 34 days in captivity before the camp was liberated by Russian soldiers.

During his repatriation, Mr. Parker traveled through the present-day Ukrainian city of Odessa, the Turkish Straits and Port Said in Egypt. He became fascinated with the majesty of Istanbul's architecture and the intricacies of Arab culture.

He joined the Foreign Service in 1949 and specialized as an Arabist. He spoke Arabic with native fluency and became a respected adviser on Middle Eastern politics to Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. In his diplomatic assessments, Mr. Parker was known to write with an acerbic wit and offer his opinions with blunt honesty.

In 1974, he became the first ambassador to Algeria since the United States severed formal diplomatic relations with that country seven years earlier. Mr. Parker was selected to become the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon in 1977 after the assassination of his predecessor, Francis E. Meloy Jr. His last diplomatic position came in 1978 as ambassador to Morocco.

In a 2004 interview with Foreign Service Journal, Mr. Parker said his time in Morocco was cut short by the country's monarch, who had survived two coup attempts during the ambassador's tenure.

"The king was never fully persuaded that we weren't involved somehow," Mr. Parker said, noting that King Hassan II had told him "relations would not improve so long as I was there."


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