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VATICAN LETTER Sep-2-2005 (970 words) Backgrounder. xxxi

Help wanted: Britain's search for Vatican envoy causes minor ruckus

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The British government caused a stir this summer when it put out a "want ad" in some major newspapers looking for "a high caliber individual" to fill a vacancy at its Embassy to the Vatican.

But the job on offer wasn't for receptionist, cook or gardener; it was the ambassadorial position itself, marking the first time Great Britain cast its net for an ambassador out into the sea of the general public rather than spear someone from its smaller pond of diplomatic heavies.

The Vatican did not formally send out a reaction to Britain's new hiring method because "it's their choice and we wouldn't protest about their own procedures," one informed Vatican official told Catholic News Service.

But further roiling the diplomatic waters was news that the embassy itself and the ambassador's residence were going to relocate into the same compound as the British Embassy to Italy.

Three former ambassadors to the Vatican called the cost-cutting move "cheese-paring in the extreme" -- a culinary way of saying "really stingy."

But here, too, the Vatican did not protest. It is not the first time a country has consolidated its embassies to the Vatican and to Italy in the same compound; Israel, for example, has such an arrangement.

As long as the two embassies are treated separately, with two different ambassadors, separate staff, separate entrances, separate buildings, it's kosher. And the Vatican confirmed that Great Britain had met these conditions.

Reasons for the move weren't just to pinch pennies.

"We do live in a world where security is paramount" and placing the two embassies in one compound "would be more secure," a British Foreign Office spokesperson told CNS.

Also, governments often re-prioritize, shuffling their limited diplomatic resources to areas that are more pressing on the geopolitical stage.

Great Britain, for example, plans to shut its posts on the tiny South Pacific island chains of Vanuatu and Tonga while it invests in its new missions in Iraq and North Korea.

"Our priorities now are counterterrorism, climate change and the fight against poverty so we are putting more resources into those," the Foreign Office spokesperson said.

"We're closing three posts in Africa, but we are enlarging our Nigeria post, as an example, to fight poverty and tackle HIV/AIDS," he said.

No diplomat likes to see a former or present post shut down or experience cutbacks, especially if one had invested many years there fostering contacts and establishing joint projects.

In their July letter to The Times of London, the former British ambassadors to the Vatican -- Mark Pellew, Andrew Palmer and John Broadley -- appealed to the British government "at least to continue to staff (the Embassy to the Vatican) with a properly supported professional diplomat of sufficient standing to make his or her voice heard."

The Foreign Office insists moving the embassy and putting a "want ad" out for its new ambassador did not reflect "a downgrading or a lessening of our view" of its role with the Vatican.

The British spokesperson said the job of ambassador to the Vatican was "a unique post" that required "some other skills" in addition to those typically needed by ambassadors to other countries.

"Here you're dealing with a church as opposed to a government," making it "a post that warrants that change," he said.

By dipping outside the traditional stream of diplomatic servants, "we're becoming more open and diverse, helping us get the right person with the right skills for the job," the British spokesperson said.

International law grants all receiving countries the right to reject an appointed ambassador, so the Vatican "could refuse anybody the government proposed if there were reasons serious enough to reject a candidate," said the Vatican official.

But he said he felt confident Great Britain would "come up with somebody who would be acceptable to the Holy See" because "they wouldn't force us to reject someone."

The Vatican source said there were no written rules about what qualities the Vatican liked to see in a prospective ambassador.

"In general, they should be interested in the issues that are important to the Holy See; that's a plus," he said. And they should be keen on meeting and talking with Vatican officials, he added.

Diplomats to the Vatican boast enormously diverse backgrounds -- no "cookie-cutter" attaches here.

Just this year, Pope Benedict XVI welcomed several new ambassadors who are cut from wildly different cloths.

The ambassador of the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, Bartolomej Kajtazi, is 39 years old, has a degree in electronic engineering and, until moving to Rome, was the head of some top national and international communications firms.

Azerbaijan's new ambassador, Elchin Oktyabr Oglu Amirbayov, is just 33 years old but has already racked up 14 years of diplomatic experience with the NATO Defense College and the United Nations.

The 68-year-old new ambassador from Malta, Antonio Ganado, used his high school degree to become head of a major Maltese business conglomerate.

Meanwhile, Venezuela's 75-year-old representative, Ivan Guillermo Rincon Urdaneta, is a renowned former magistrate, and Rwanda's diplomat, Joseph Bonesha, has a library science degree and has been ambassador to China.

The Vatican official told CNS that some countries appoint "senior government officials, big political figures or cultural personalities that are close to the president's ear."

Even if that kind of ambassador has little or modest diplomatic experience, "he has access and can push the right buttons in the most important government offices" back in his home country, he said.

"Then there are other countries that send ambassadors with lots of diplomatic experience, but maybe don't have the same access" to their country's leaders, he said.

"There are always pros and cons ... there is no perfect system. It all depends on the intention of the government," said the official.


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