Who said diplomatic life is just a tuxedoed cakewalk down a garden path strewn with roses and sprinkled with champagne? In the real world, an ambassador's assignment can get terminated before he even gets the chance to present his credentials at the White House.

When Ambassador Tariq Fatimi arrived here last month from Pakistan, he was seen as former prime minister Nawaz Sharif's confidant and key Washington connection. But within a couple of days after the coup d'etat that ousted Sharif and put Pakistan's army chief, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, firmly in power, Fatimi was asked by authorities in Islamabad to "go on leave." He is still in Washington, living at the ambassador's residence, refusing calls and visitors and taking long walks, according to members of his household.

"Washington being what it is . . . whichever government comes in tends to change the ambassador here [and] sometimes things happen very quickly," commented one Pakistani diplomat. Pakistani officials said Fatimi is "on leave and awaiting instructions for his next assignment."

During his brief tenure here, Fatimi, who had presented a copy of his credentials to Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, received Shabbaz Sharif, brother of the deposed prime minister, and former intelligence chief Lt. Gen. Khwaja Ziauddin for cloaked visits to Washington in the weeks leading up to the Oct. 12 coup. Even if Fatimi is not accused of complicity in the final hours before the coup, during which Musharraf's plane was ordered not to land in Karachi and to fly to India or Dubai when it only had seven minutes' worth of fuel left, Fatimi's links to Sharif are probably too close for comfort to keep him on such a key ambassadorial perch.

Fatimi, however, is not one of 18 political appointees who will have to submit their resignation to the new authorities. A career diplomat for more than 30 years, which include an ambassadorship in Zimbabwe and a posting as deputy chief of mission at the embassy here, Fatimi also served in Sharif's office as foreign policy adviser for the last couple of years. Pakistan specialists note that, although Fatimi belonged to what became known as Sharif's imperial court and is "in a shadow right now," he is not in trouble or fearful of returning home.

Prominent Pakistani-Americans in touch with Musharraf over the weekend have pressed him to appoint a new ambassador as soon as possible. There are strong but still unconfirmed rumors that Maleeha Lodhi, who served here before former ambassador Riaz Khokhar, may return. Deputy Chief of Mission Shahid Ahmad Kamal, another career diplomat, has been entrusted with the delicate and unenviable task of keeping the embassy running smoothly through the shock waves and the changeover to a new team of rulers in Islamabad.

Mauritania, Israel Establish Ties

For the impoverished, sandswept and predominately desert country of Mauritania--composed of Moors, the descendants of northern Arabs and Berbers, and Haratines, the mixed-race descendants of black slaves--the time came for a diplomatic moment in Washington.

A member of the Arab League, Mauritania yesterday became the third Arab country--after Egypt and Jordan--to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel. Israel and Mauritania chose Washington to sign the agreement in recognition of the U.S. role in bringing them together, a State Department official said.

Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy and his Mauritanian counterpart, Ahmed Ould Sid Ahmed, met in New York during the United Nations General Assembly "Partners for Peace" gathering arranged by the State Department last month to demonstrate support for the Arab-Israeli peace process. The foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan, Israel and Mauritania attended the gathering, and contacts took off from there.

"We provided the opportunity and the parties pursued it," a State Department official said in describing another feat of what Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright likes to describe as Washington's midwifing role, helping give birth to something new. Oman, Qatar, Tunisia and Morocco have non-formal and low-level diplomatic links with Israel. Freddy Eytan, head of the Israeli interest section attached to the embassy of Spain in Nouakchott, will become Israel's ambassador to Mauritania.

What's in it for Mauritania? Why now? Any incentives offered by the United States, such as lifting restrictions on bilateral aid? Time will tell.

Albright said Middle Eastern leaders know "we would be very appreciative of the countries that come forward; the incentive I think is in the act itself." This is an example of a country that believes that broadening the circle of peace is in its interest, explained another State Department official.