Hume Alexander Horan, 69, an American ambassador to five countries who was recalled from Saudi Arabia in 1988 because of King Fahd's wrath, died of prostate cancer July 22 at Inova Fairfax Hospital. He was an Annandale resident.
Mr. Horan, widely described as a quiet and conscientious man who spoke excellent Arabic, spent six months in 2003 as a senior counselor with the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, dealing with religious and tribal affairs.
Fifteen years earlier, he was recalled from his ambassadorial post in Riyadh, nine months after his arrival. In the spring of 1988, the United States discovered that Saudi Arabia had bought and accepted delivery of medium-range ballistic missiles from China. Mr. Horan was instructed to make a strong demarche to King Fahd about the unacceptability of the missiles.
Mr. Horan served as the second-ranking officer in the embassy from 1972 to 1977 and had wide-ranging contacts in Saudi society, which annoyed the ruling family. So he called Washington to be sure officials understood how offended the king would be by the verbal rebuke. He was ordered to deliver the message. When he returned from carrying out his task, he received a new telegram from Washington saying "a message different in tone and substance" had also been communicated to the Saudi Embassy in Washington. "My goose was cooked," he told The Washington Post in 2002.
In an unusual move, Philip Habib, a retired undersecretary of state, tried to mend fences with the king. But Fahd asked Habib, in the presence of Mr. Horan, to have him replaced. The State Department then asked Mr. Horan to seek Saudi approval for the next ambassador, a request that humiliated the career diplomat.
"They made us kowtow," he said. "The American ambassador's influence ended in Riyadh" and from then on, the Saudi ambassador in Washington dominated the U.S.-Saudi relationship.
Mr. Horan's parentage didn't help the situation. He was a native Washingtonian whose mother, Margaret Robinson Hume, was from a prominent family and whose father was Abdollah Entezam, an Iranian diplomat who served as foreign minister long before the 1979 downfall of the shah. They divorced when Mr. Horan was 3, and his mother remarried Harold Horan, a newspaperman. But the Saudis disliked the Iranians, and by extension, Mr. Horan.
Mr. Horan served in the Army from 1954 to 1956, graduated from Harvard College in 1960 and joined the Foreign Service. He received a master's degree from Harvard's Center for Middle Eastern Studies in 1963.
Mr. Horan requested a first assignment in Baghdad, a choice unusual enough that the undersecretary for management remarked, "I don't get many volunteers for Baghdad." Mr. Horan studied Arabic in Beirut and later in Libya. From 1966 to 1970, he served as Libyan desk officer in Washington during Moammar Gaddafi's coup and congressional fellow to Rep. Brad Morse (R-Mass.) and Sen. Edmund S. Muskie (D-Maine).
In 1970, Mr. Horan was assigned to be a political officer in Amman, Jordan, and from 1972 to 1977, he was deputy chief of mission in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. After a stint in Washington, culminating in an assignment as principal deputy assistant secretary of state for consular affairs, Mr. Horan was named ambassador to the Republic of Cameroon in 1980 and non-resident ambassador to Equatorial Guinea.
He became ambassador to Sudan in 1983, a time that included the rescue of Ethiopian Jews and their transport to Israel, terror attacks against the embassy and the overthrow of President Nimeiri.
He spent 1987 as a diplomat-in-residence at Georgetown University and then was assigned to Saudi Arabia. After the incident in Riyadh, he was recalled to Washington.
In 1992, Mr. Horan was named ambassador to Ivory Coast, which he described as "a pleasant and stable country, at least until the death of the country's founder." Upon returning to the United States, Mr. Horan spent a year at Howard University as diplomat-in-residence, directed the African training program at the Foreign Service Institute and retired in 1998.
Mr. Horan retained an optimism and idealism about the diplomatic corps. In a 1992 article for The Washington Post's education issue of Book World, he wrote that Foreign Service officers "are the infantry of American diplomacy. We'll never be able to dispense with them. Consistently to work at our national purposes, someone has to be on the scene, speak the language, meet with the leaders, make the argument and report back -- saying what he or she thinks we should do."
For his work with the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad in 2003, he received the Department of Defense's Distinguished Public Service Award, the Pentagon's highest honorary award for private citizens.
Mr. Horan was an enthusiastic cyclist, having toured in France, New Zealand and many parts of the United States. His other interests included French, German, Spanish and Arabic literature -- he translated a novel and several short stories from Arabic into English. He was the author of a novel about the Foreign Service, "To the Happy Few."
He was a longtime member of Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church and was deacon and elder more recently at Georgetown Presbyterian Church.
His marriage to Nancy Reinert Horan ended in divorce.
Survivors include his wife, Lori Shoemaker of Annandale; two children from his second marriage, Michael Harry Horan and Elizabeth Hume Horan, both of Annandale; three adult children from his first marriage, Alexander Hume Horan of San Diego, Margaret Bond Horan of Annandale and Jonathan Theodore Horan of Boston; a sister; and four grandchildren.