The same diplomat that told us of Carter’s lovable antics in Japan later spoke on the nature of diplomacy itself, and the critical importance of personal relationships between diplomatic representatives as the foundation upon which effective negotiation can occur, even during periods of tension between their respective governments.

One of the examples he used to illustrate this occurred during his time with the US mission to the United Nations. In 1998, following the bombings of the US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, President Clinton ordered cruise missile strikes on al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and on a factory in Sudan that was suspected of manufacturing precursors for chemical weapons. Authorities in Sudan denied the allegations about the factory and claimed that it was simply a pharmaceutical plant, which immediately became the media narrative. The issue soon came before the Security Council. As a permanent member of the Council, the U.S. could obviously exercise its veto and shut down the debate, but acting in such a unilateral fashion would look bad politically. Thus, the US diplomat approached the representative from Brazil – a personal friend of his – and asked for some back-up.

When the matter came before the Council, the Brazilian gave a short but eloquent speech and asked the Council to defer action until after the US had some time to explain itself; after all, bombing pharmaceutical factories was not something the US did on a regular basis, and Washington deserved the benefit of the doubt. The Council agreed with him. Mission accomplished.

Shortly thereafter, however, the Council was discussing some issue concerning Angola. The same Brazilian who had been so accommodating to the US a few days earlier immediately launched into a vicious condemnation of US policy toward Angola, portraying it as exploitative and incompetent, until the woman representing US policy was practically in tears. Shocked by this outburst, the senior US diplomat approached the Brazilian, who greeted him as affably as ever,  and asked something along the lines of “What the hell was that about? I thought we were friends.” Confused, the Brazilian replied, “What are you talking about? I just did you another favor. Of course I was going to bash you today; had I not done so, I would have looked like your lackey, and that would be bad for both of us.”

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