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Monkey throws wrench in U.S. Embassy in Sri Lanka


Diplomacy typically isn’t monkey business, but the folks at the U.S. Embassy in Sri Lanka recently had their usual routine disrupted by a wandering primate.

The embassy invasion began on Dec. 20, when an an e-mail went out to employees of the facility in Colombo notifying them that the ground-floor doors were locked because a monkey was trapped in the building and instructing them to use alternate exits. “A little bit different than a Kabul ‘lock down!’ ” observed one worker there whose previous tours of duty were perhaps a bit more dangerous.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

We’re unclear what kind of monkey it was, but speculation is that it was a toque macaque, a medium-sized specimen common in Sri Lanka that is generally harmless to humans, and, with a swirl of hair not dissimilar to Donald Trump’s, pretty adorable.

There was apparently trouble when removing the visitor, because a plea soon went out for anyone with experience with wild animals (who says our diplomatic corps isn’t a talented bunch?) to help out. The day ended with the monkey business still at hand.

Day Two of the siege ended happily, with the little fella (or perhaps it was a lady monkey, we’re not sure) ultimately vaulting the embassy wall, urged on with bananas and encouraging shouts from burly Marines and a group of off-duty drivers on the scene.

We’re told the creature landed in the old British High Commission compound. “Elvis has left the building,” a staffer reported to a friend.

Chris Hensman, acting director of the State Department Press Office, confirmed the diplomatic visit, explaining that the unexpected guest had gotten stuck in the building’s ventilation system. “The visitor eventually departed the building safely and unharmed after a 24-hour ad­ven­ture,” he said. “We thank the Sri Lanka Wildlife Department for their help with humanely resolving this issue.”

Now, the intruder is apparently the Britons’ problem, although perhaps we should name it an ambassador-at-large.

Get it while it’s hot

The inauguration is now open for business.

The official online store of the presidential event opened Thursday, with wares ranging from a five-buck pin depicting the limo in which President Obama will travel to a $7,500 set of silver, bronze and gold medallions bearing the profiles of Obama and Vice President Biden (price includes a lovely decorative display box).

The Web site touts the merch as “the perfect way to remember an historic moment.” But forget dusty collectibles; some of the stuff for sale is downright practical: One can stay toasty while taking in the swearing-in ceremony with a pair of tube socks that read “Obama 44” ($15) or toast the event from home with a set of champagne flutes emblazoned with the inaugural seal ($30) — and there are beer and shot glasses for those who shun the bubbly.

Unsurprisingly, first dog Bo — always a hit — is featured on some of the goods, including pins stamped with either a paw print or an image of the pooch playing in the snow.

And lest anyone raise an eyebrow about outsourcing, most items are listed as “Made in the USA.”

Comings and goings

Daniel Benjamin, counterterrorism coordinator at the State Department since 2009 and former National Security Council staffer and foreign policy speechwriter during the Clinton administration, is moving in this week as the new director of Dartmouth’s Dickey Center for International Understanding.

Meanwhile, we’re hearing that Steven Simon, formerly at the Council on Foreign Relations and the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), and more recently President Obama’s senior director at the National Security Council for the Middle East and North Africa — and a co-author with Benjamin of two highly regarded books on terrorism — is returning to IISS to be executive director of United States and Middle East offices.

One name we’re hearing as a possible replacement for Simon is Jon Alterman, on the State Department’s policy planning staff during the Clinton administration and, since 2002, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, where he directs the Middle East Program.

Another name we’re hearing is Colin Kahl, former Obama deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East and international security affairs and a member of the Obama presidential transition team, and now a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security.

With Emily Heil

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