The Nov. 30 Diplomatic Dispatches column, about a land swap between the United States and China to build embassies in each other's capitals, incorrectly identified the firm designing China's facility. The facility is being designed by Pei Partnership Architects. (Published 12/2/2005)

In a stroke of architectural diplomacy, China and the United States have agreed to essentially exchange plots of land to build embassies in each other's capitals.

The agreement, which has taken more than 12 years to negotiate, will provide the U.S. government with land to build a large embassy in Beijing, one of its biggest overseas. In return, China will build a new chancery in the International Center on Van Ness Street NW. That plot has been leased free to the Chinese government for 90 years, with an option to extend for 90 more.

This is the same arrangement the State Department has with all embassies located on that site, according to the Office of Foreign Missions. But the reciprocal agreement with China is special, given the security concerns of both countries and the importance of their respective diplomatic missions.

The Chinese facility here is being designed by the firm of I.M. Pei, Pei Cobb Freed and Partners, and hundreds of workers will be brought from China to build it, though the initial excavation work has been done by a U.S. firm, Cherry Hill Construction Inc. Temporary prefab structures have gone up on a nearby site to house offices, construction equipment and storage for materials that are also being brought in from China.

The chancery will be built by the American subsidiary of the China Construction Co. Once the workers arrive from China, the embassy will rent an entire motel and bus them to the International Center every morning. Rent for the temporary site, which is owned by the University of the District of Colombia, will be paid in part by the State Department and in part by the Chinese government during construction.

Tension in Berlin?

The German Embassy has declined to comment on reports of tension in Berlin among the new coalition of conservative Christian Democrats and Social Democrats over who will represent Germany in Washington if Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger leaves the post.

In one column, the magazine Der Spiegel reported that the Christian Democratic Union had blocked the nomination of Klaus Scharioth, who was originally suggested as Ischinger's successor by the outgoing government of Gerhard Schroeder. According to the publication, the conservative Christian Democrats viewed Scharioth as too critical of the United States and too close to the Social Democrats.

Sources said that Angela Merkel, who became Germany's new chancellor last week, might offer Ischinger the embassy in London or might ask him to stay in his current post, now that CDU insiders have leaked her discomfort with Scharioth. In another slightly contradictory disclosure today, Der Spiegel reported that Scharioth had actually resisted Schroeder's anti-U.S. stance on Iraq and might be offered another ambassadorship.

Sources close to Ischinger said he could not comment either way on these reports but would be happy either to stay in Washington or to go to London. Washington is expecting Germany to come forward with more help in Iraq in addition to the training of Iraqi police units outside Iraq.

The publication indicated that Merkel does not see eye to eye with Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, though they have sought to maintain a united public front. Steinmeier, a Social Democrat, is under pressure from his own party to preserve Schroeder's legacy and from German legislators who are demanding an explanation for the use of European countries by the CIA as transit points for terrorism suspects to secret locations where torture is not prohibited.

Steinmeier arrived Monday on his first trip to Washington in preparation for a visit by Merkel in January.

A New Palestinian Representative

The Palestinian mission in Washington has a new diplomatic representative, Ambassador Afif Safieh, who took up the post Nov. 1 after serving as the Palestinian general delegate to the United Kingdom.

Before his London assignment, Safieh was deputy head of mission at the Palestinian Delegation to the United Nations in Geneva, the Netherlands and the Vatican. Born in Jerusalem in 1950, Safieh is a graduate of the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium, and the Institute of Political Sciences in Paris. He replaces Hasan Abdul Rahman, who has been named ambassador to Morocco.

Christmas Dazzle

If you are impatient to get into the Christmas spirit, let yourself be dazzled by 8,000 lights twinkling from a majestic 30-foot tree, a gift of Norway, in Union Station's Main Hall. Grete Waitz, a six-time world champion distance runner and nine-time New York Marathon winner, flipped the lights on last night at the annual Union Station launch of the holiday season. Background music by jazz guitarist Lage Lund was followed by Norwegian and American Christmas carols and music, performed by the Washington National Cathedral Choral Society.