It was the kind of official Washington dinner the diplomatic corps of 140-plus could savor for days to come. The secretary of state provided the spice, the Soviet ambassador provided the sauce and a couple of the guests unwittingly supplied the roast.
To wit, Secretary of State Edmund S. Muskie, speaking of former secretary of state Henry Kissinger:
"He's written a book about his years as national security adviser. Now I understand he's writing a second volume about being secretary of state. Dean Acheson wrote a book about his years as secretary of state titled 'Present at the Creation.' I understand Henry's will be called 'Waiting for the Resurrection.'"
To wit, Muskie, speaking of national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski's presence last night at the State Department dinner for Washington's diplomatic corps:
"I knew he'd get here eventually."
Replied Brzezinski, after scrambling to his feet and waving his hand expansively: "I'm applying for a job."
To wit, Muskie, speaking of Soviet Ambassador Anatoliy Dobrynin's tenure in Washington under five presidents (Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter) and five secretaries of state (Dean Rusk, William Rogers, Kissinger, Cyrus Vance and Muskie) and while he was at it, setting the record straight on his post-election plans:
"I hope next year to be able to begin my toast with exactly the same statistics."
Replied Dobrynin, responding in his role as dean of the corps:
"Yes, it's true that I spent my years with five presidents -- but with six secretaries of state, not five."
Dobrynin never quite got around identifying the mysterious sixth.
Later, when Brzezinski made his way through the crowd to say hello to Kissinger, he told him he thought it was a "very clever line about the resurrection."
Kissinger smiled thinly. "Did you write it?" he asked Brzezinski.
"Why should I?" Brzezinski shot back.
"Well, at least you've solved the problem of how to get into the newspapers," said Kissinger.
Earlier, Muskie and his wife, Jane, with Dobrynin and his wife, Irina, stood in a receiving line where every guest drew a cordial welcome regardless of political philosophy.
"How are you feeling?" Dobrynin politely inquired of China's Chai Zemin. "Use your persuasive powers," Dobrynin cryptically urged Israel's Ephraim Evron amidst much laughter. Evron later said that "in spite of cool relations between the Soviet Union and Israel, we're still on pleasant speaking terms."
When Kissinger and former secretary of state William Rogers turned up in the line, there was a slight flurry as photographers maneuvered for pictures. Kissinger wanted to know where Muskie had ordered his polka-dot shirt ("That takes real courage to wear," he said) and Muskie wanted to know if everybody had heard Dobrynin's jokes. ("Now that he's dean, he's fancied himself as a Russian Bob Hope.")
Dutifully looking on from the sidelines were three of the wives. The fourth, Jane Muskie, looked on, but not dutifully.
"Did you ever see four male chauvinist pigs standing like that?" she wanted to know.
Despite wars and other global tensions, there were no apparent diplomatic incidents. There were some last-minute seating changes when the head of the Iraqi interest section sent his regrets earlier in the day because he was "too busy," according to a State Department spokesman. Iraq's newly declared enemy, Libya, sent a substitute for itsPeople's Bureau acting secretary, who was out of the country.
Chief of Protocol Abelardo Valdez and his staff began working on the dinner eight weeks ago. After a date had been selected, elaborate attention was given to who sat where and why.
"You wouldn't want to seat two countries next to each other whose government philosophies aren't compatible. So after the seating chart is made, an area expert inspects it," the spokeswoman said.
Last night, almost 300 diplomats and State Department officials sat down at 28 tables in the huge Benjamin Franklin Room ("it's the first time the room has looked human," Muskie told them) to dine upon sole in champagne sauce, lamb en croute, cauliflower au gratin and creme brulee with matching California wines.
Appearing to be comfortable in his role as host and displaying some of his famous wit, charm and savvy, Muskie called it an evening to "emphasize the ties that bind us rather than the issues that divide us."
In his five months on the job, he has learned a thing or two about diplomatic language. "Nothing is direct the way it is in the state of Maine," he said. "A frank exchange of views, for example, really means just short of fisticuffs and a productive meeting can mean anything or nothing at all."
"Diplomacy," said Muskie, with the wisdom of one who has made a quick study of the hazards of global politics, "is war carried on by other means."