After five years in Washington, Ambassador Guenther Burghardt, the head of the European Union delegation to the United States, is preparing to return to Brussels, where he previously served the institution for 30 years.
An advocate of a united Europe, he was assigned to Washington in late 1999, toward the end of President Bill Clinton's term in office, at a time when transatlantic relations were thriving. But Burghardt held his ground during what he described as "four highly challenging years" during the administration of President Bush.
Burghardt was honored at a farewell dinner Monday hosted by Canadian Ambassador Michael Kergin. The event included an animated and riveting discussion of U.S. policy and expectations, and how the United States views itself in the world.
The conversation took place over a menu of delicate tuna crab rolls and avocado mousse, rabbit ballotine on cauliflower and white truffle gratin, port wine sorbet and Ontario beef tenderloin.
The sumptuous meal allowed striking differences of opinion to be delivered with tactful elegance and rationality, as the guests discussed the possible outcome of next week's presidential election.
During Burghardt's tenure, the U.S. war on terrorism and the invasion of Iraq tested European unity and relations with the United States.
"One cannot declare a war on terror," Burghardt argued. However, fighting terrorism requires looking into "what creates the terrorist, what kind of problems need to be addressed, in addition to killing the terrorist."
Zbigniew Brzezinski, who served as national security adviser under President Jimmy Carter, agreed that declaration of a war on terror is not specific. Being "compelled to cooperate within this mind-set of this global war on terror, it is very vague and abstract, like declaring war on blitzkrieg," he said.
While the United States was shocked out of its innocence and sense of invincibility on Sept. 11, 2001, Brzezinski said, "this omnipotent power is saying: Where is the enemy? We are kind of searching the phantoms."
The repair of European-U.S. relations, he said, requires that European allies help the United States in Iraq and the Middle East by providing funding and troops, rather than just disagreeing with past policies.
Charles A. Kupchan, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that although he had "few positive things to say about the war in Iraq, one positive thing about it is that it has rekindled debate." He said that "it was almost heretical to raise a question before the war."
Brzezinski agreed in part, saying the outcome of the presidential race was key. "Iraq is like a bucket of cold water, it has had a sobering effect," he said. "But if the president gets reelected, it will reconfirm that he was right."
Craig S. Burkhardt, chief technology counsel at the Commerce Department, said that if Bush is reelected, there will be significant changes to the impression that the United States has isolated itself from the rest of the world.
Burghardt, the E.U. ambassador and a German national, said he did not know whether he would continue working with the European Commission in Brussels or start working with a research group there.
"Every ending is a beginning. We just don't know it at the time," he said, raising his glass in a toast for a "strong Europe and strong transatlantic ties that are both important for global security."
Kergin saluted the departing E.U. envoy, saying they had become friends, and recalled chatting with him while traveling to hear Bush deliver the State of the Union address and during other functions.
"It is better to have known someone and to part company than not to have met at all," Kergin said of Burghardt.
There were 13 guests at the dinner honoring Burghardt, and Kergin placed a 14th chair at the table, draped in the form of a 14th guest, in a designer scarf and a fake string of pearls.
That was necessary to ward off any bad luck from having only 13 people for dinner, the ambassador said.
Posthumous Honor for a Hero
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum yesterday honored Selahattin Ulkumen, who while Turkish consul general on the German-occupied island of Rhodes rescued 50 Jews in 1944 as the Nazis were about to deport them to Auschwitz.
Ulkumen, who died last year, was the first Muslim to be honored at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Israel with the designation of "Righteous Person."
Ulkumen was represented by his son Mehmet Ulkumen, chief of protocol at the United Nations in Geneva. He told about 100 people gathered at the museum yesterday morning that his father felt compelled to save others because "his conscience told him to do it."
Among the guests was Bernard Turiel, a native of Rhodes, whose family was rescued by Ulkumen.