When the U.S. Embassy awarded a grant to the Catholic Relief Services earlier this week, the agreement was concluded in a meeting around the table in Robert Pugh's dining room, which has served as a sort of board room since the April 18 bomb explosion that destroyed the embassy building.
A few doors down from the ruins of the embassy, the stately seafront apartment building that is home to Pugh, deputy chief of mission for the embassy, has been the makeshift temporary quarters for most of the U.S. diplomatic mission here. Three other embassy staffers living in the building also have turned their apartments into offices.
Ambassador Robert Dillon and some aides began moving into a wing of the British Embassy this week, but this morning it was Pugh's sunny, spacious apartment that still served as the nerve center for normal embassy operations.
The special communications links with the United States and elsewhere were set up on Pugh's sunporch and in the television room.
One of the bathrooms had been converted to use as a doctor's office for the physician who comes to dress wounds. All but the master bedroom had been diverted to some other use, and the kitchen had been turned over to an embassy cook, who makes big pots of soup and heaps of sandwiches for the throngs of embassy staff and the communications technicians. Personnel officers and others flown in from Washington, Athens, Karachi, Cairo and Bonn traipse in and out, tracking dirt over Bonnie Pugh's new beige carpets.
Behind the apartment building, U.S. marines in the 60-man detachment that has turned a long stretch of the seafront highway into a fortress, were having breakfast, lining up in front of a newly constructed shelter where they were served pancakes and creamed chip beef from the kitchens on ships at sea. A grill was set up to serve fried eggs to order.
In enclosed parking bays in the basement garage of the apartment building, marines have improvised barracks where a few, having finished a stint of guard duty were resting this morning.
Pugh is proud of the fact that basic embassy operations have continued. Communications gear was hauled out of the old embassy to his apartment, he said, minutes after the explosion and even as smoke enveloped large portions of the still burning building.
Embassy security officer Richard Gannon and a naval officer went through the building locking safes and gathering classified documents on desks. But, Pugh said there still has not been an inventory to determine all that was recovered then and in the following days as construction equipment brought down sections of the building and marines sifted through the tons of rubble for bodies and documents.
The consular section has been closed to the public since the explosion but embassy officials said they hoped to resume operations by May 11.
A trade mission of U.S. businessmen was canceled, but Pugh said that was mostly because of concern for their safety.
Except for some Lebanese security personnel still working at the embassy, interim operations largely have been handled by the American staff since the explosion.
Embassy operations for Secretary of State George P. Shultz's shuttle diplomacy are being handled out of the ambassador's residence in a suburb of Beirut where there is a parallel communications system. The residence has always been the headquarters for special U.S. Middle East envoy Philip C. Habib's efforts.
Dillon and other aides began moving Monday into space provided by the British Embassy. But phone lines have not yet been installed, and they found they had to rebuild from the ground up, ordering such basic but essential items as pencils, paper and in and out boxes.
There has been a pause in the grim search for bodies at the old embassy site as contractors shore up the crumbling building. The death toll stands at 17 Americans and 46 Lebanese confirmed dead. The embassy has expressed confidence that the bodies of all Americans killed have been recovered, but they still cannot account for eight Lebanese employes, most of them workers in the embassy cafeteria, another one of the devastated areas.
Traffic has been diverted off a long portion of the seafront highway running in front of the old embassy, Pugh's apartment building and the British Embassy below it. Lebanese Army soldiers guard the outer perimeters. Marines have laid strands of barbed wire across the road and erected tall metal gates. A visitor to the temporary embassy quarters must pass through at least three checkpoints and show identification.
Shortly after 11 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday there were jarring explosions on Hamra, the main shopping street in downtown Beirut, apparently caused by persons hurling explosives at closed shops. As is often the case, there has been no public indication of who or why, although there is the strong feeling that there are forces loose in the troubled capital still tearing at fragile hopes for restoring public order and security.
Pugh said the embassy hopes to end the makeshift arrangements at his apartment building and in the British Embassy as soon as possible. There is no intention of returning to the old structure that had been leased for private owners. The U.S. mission is looking for other property to lease for about two years while a permanent structure is built.
Consideration is now being given to completing work on a building started nearly a decade ago. It is also on the seafront, about three miles south of the bombed-out embassy. Three of the five stories planned for the building begun in 1974 have been constructed, and Pugh said the structure is still sound, although electrical connections and conductors have been corroded by the sea breeze. Work stopped on the planned new embassy during the civil war in 1976.