by Jonathan B. Rickert
One of the traditional tasks of diplomacy is the negotiation of bilateral and multilateral agreements. Although many diplomats may spend an entire career without ever engaging in such activity, I am pleased that I had the chance to do so.
When my colleague Frank Tumminia and I arrived in Bucharest in the summer of 1971 to staff the embassy’s small consular section, one of our responsibilities was to continue the negotiations begun by our predecessors on a new bilateral consular convention with Romania. The existing agreement had been signed in 1881, the year our two countries opened diplomatic relations, and was sadly out of date. And with the improving state of our bilateral ties, the time seemed propitious for such an enterprise. Our interlocutor at the Romanian Foreign Ministry was Gheorghe Badescu, Director of the Consular Directorate, and our discussions with him took place at the Ministry, in Romanian.
The Romanians already had the U.S. proposal for an agreement, a template that was being used for all such conventions worldwide. Our goal was to get them to accept as much of the U.S. draft as possible – any changes or exceptions had to be approved by Washington. During our first year there, Frank and I met a few times with the oleaginous Mr. Badescu, who combined a slightly smarmy friendliness with a hardline communist position on virtually every issue. Despite our best efforts, we made no real progress in the areas where the U.S. and Romanian positions diverged.
The situation changed dramatically in the spring of 1972, however, when we learned that Secretary of State William Rogers would be coming to Bucharest in early July. Visiting Secretaries of State often like to have “deliverables” to give substance, or at least the appearance of it, to their stay. Somewhere in the bowels of the Washington bureaucracy it was decided that a new bilateral consular convention would be nice to have for the Secretary to sign during his visit.
On June 25, a lawyer from the State Department’s Legal Division, Phil Shamwell, arrived in Bucharest to help us complete our negotiations. Charming and stylish, Phil was a pleasure to work with. His marching orders obviously were simply to make it happen. He quickly conceded all of the points on which Frank and I, on instructions from Washington, had been holding firm. The end result was a consular convention agreed to by both sides, something that Secretary Rogers and Foreign Minister Corneliu Manescu could sign with appropriate fanfare, on July 5.
My main contribution to the process was to do a side-by-side comparison of the English and Romanian texts; to the chagrin of our Romanian colleagues, I found a few (minor) mistakes in their version. That necessitated an ex post facto exchange of diplomatic notes and other bureaucratic rigmarole to make the necessary corrections.
While it was nice to have a new consular convention in place, I can’t say that it materially improved or even changed the situation on the ground from our perspective where consular matters were concerned. Nevertheless, it was gratifying to have played a part in negotiating the agreement that would govern consular relations between our two countries for many years to come.
A small footnote. Sometime after we returned to Romania on assignment in the early 1990s, I happened to run into Mr. Badescu. He proudly, and without any hint of irony or embarrassment, told me that he was heading a human rights NGO. The hardline communist was now a champion of human rights! Though leopards supposedly are unable to change their spots, there were many “leopards” in post-communist Romania, like Mr. Badescu, who seemingly managed to do so.
Retired Senior Foreign Service officer Jonathan B. Rickert spent over 35 years of his career in London, Moscow, Vienna, Port of Spain, Sofia, and Bucharest (twice), as well as in Washington. His last two overseas assignments were as Deputy Chief of Mission in Bulgaria and Romania. Mr. Rickert holds a B.A. degree in history from Princeton University and an M.A. in international relations from the George Washington University.