Pakistani Ambassador Riaz Khokhar and his wife, Shahnaz, kicked off the diplomatic season with a sparkling farewell for friends and colleagues Wednesday as the couple geared up to move to Beijing, their next posting. So how will Khokhar's successor perform in the midst of a brewing crisis with India and tremendous pressure from the United States not to let things skid into a nuclear war?
Khokhar has served here for an intense 2 1/2 years, riding the crest of the many recent shock waves in his country's relationship with the United States with professionalism and good humor. He's one of several diplomatic heavyweights who will leave Washington this season. Japanese Ambassador Kunihiko Saito and Egyptian Ambassador Ahmed Maher Sayed, who came to see the Khokhars off, are leaving Washington to retire at the end of September.
There were many sun-tanned but sad faces at the bittersweet gathering for those who have a habit of making friends before wandering off to different corners of the world. The saddest among the guests was Turkish Ambassador Baki Ilkin, who has just returned from surveying the earthquake damage around Istanbul.
Tragedy Unfolds in Turkey
Ilkin, who was on his way back from vacation at the Mediterranean coastal resort town of Bodrum, spent Monday night in Istanbul and was awakened at 3 in the morning Tuesday by a roaring, rumbling sound. Everything was shaking and trembling around him. "I felt the need to leave the premises immediately. It was dark, but the lights were on and everyone was out on the street," Ilkin said yesterday. "We spent the rest of the night outside, not daring to reenter the buildings. . . . I knew it was a major tremor, but I did not realize the magnitude and scope of it until I got to New York."
As rescue teams claw and pick through the carcasses of buildings for survivors of the massive earthquake, Ilkin said rescuers and government officials are most concerned with three priorities: getting people out from under the rubble, putting out a fire at Turkey's largest oil refinery in Izmit, and feeding and finding shelter for victims who lost their homes. In the longer term, Turkey will need help in its reconstruction effort.
Peace and Friendship?
Meanwhile, Ethiopia and Eritrea seem close to ending their Horn of Africa war that has raged on and off for 15 months, with casualties estimated in the tens of thousands. Both sides have embraced a plan by the Organization of African Unity for disengaging and solving their border disputes, but Ethiopia is still awaiting clarification of some points.
It is not clear whether an end to the conflict will restore amity between Eritrea and Ethiopia. "France and Germany were enemies during the Second World War, and now they live together," said Eritrean President Issaias Afwerki during a lunch Monday with Washington Post editors and reporters. But, he added, "one has to take account of the bitter things that have happened."
A Model Citizen
Last week District Mayor Anthony A. Williams bestowed honorary citizenship upon Thomas Matussek, the departing deputy chief of mission at the German Embassy--the first such act of Williams's tenure. Williams said the honor is in appreciation of Matussek's "significant diplomatic contributions and public-spirited activities in Washington, D.C." The mayor cited Matussek's "exceptional support and personal interest" in various community organizations; his sponsorship and support of numerous cultural events; his involvement with the D.C. Public Library; and his work with local German-American organizations and the D.C. public schools, sponsoring annual scholarships for inner-city youths to study German.