Detective Team

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Seelye talks easily about the time in October of 1973 when, as ambassador to Tunisia, he sent Secretary of State Henry Kissinger a cable advising him not to send arms for Israel’s defense after the surprise attack by Egypt and Syria. He was, of course, ignored. Yet Kissinger was well enough aware of Seelye’s skill as a hands-on Arabist to trust him to go to Lebanon as a special emissary in 1976, after the assassination of U.S. Ambassador Francis Meloy Jr. Though Seelye was criticized for utilizing PLO security men, he did manage to effect a low-key evacuation of U.S. Diplomats and their families from war-torn Beirut. “I used the PLO simply because they controlled the area we had to pass through,” he explains.

Later, when he was ambassador to Syria, Seelye’s cables to the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff–so seemingly understanding of Syria’s actions–would cause Francis Fukuyama to scrawl in the margins, “Talcott Seelye is the Syrian Ambassador to Washington, not the American Ambassador to Syria.” In 1981, upon his retirement from the Foreign Service, Seelye called reporters into his office in Damascus to disparage the Camp David accords and to call on the United States immediately to open a dialogue with the Palestine Liberation Organization.