Diplomacy Changes Dramatically as Ambassadors Become Lobbyists

Article excerpt

Reminiscing about highlights of his time in Washington, former Austrian ambassador Helmut Tuerk giggles with delight as he tells how he caught "the big one." The big one in this case wasn't a treaty or diplomatic coup. The genial diplomat, a lawyer by training, had landed a blue marlin off the coast of Guam. "Some people have lived in Guam for 10 years and never caught one,"

Tuerk says, pointing with pride to a photograph of the scene on the wall in his office in the nation's capital. Tuerk, like many of the 165 resident ambassadors in the United States, travels a lot. He has visited all 50 states, making friends for Austria and promoting homeland products and tourism. His style is not unusual among today's foreign envoys in Washington because the business of diplomacy is increasingly, well, business.

Many ambassadors are cultural and commercial emissaries as well as the chief political representatives of their countries. As Tuerk's travels show, the ambassadors often perform the functions of public-relations officials and one-person chambers of commerce.

In his travels, Tuerk has courted government officials and corporate heads. As a result, Ohio, Idaho and Virginia sent trade delegations to Austria. And a group of Austrian tourists will fly to U.S. territories in the South Pacific to celebrate the new year at the international date line.

"We place very strong emphasis on the commercial area because, more and more, traditional diplomacy is changing to economics-oriented diplomacy," says Tuerk, who recently left the United States to serve as chief of staff for the Austrian federal president. But before he left, he lured 30,000 visitors to Austria's imposing chancery for cultural events since 1991. Two years ago, Tuerk and his wife, Monika, brought the Viennese Opera Ball to Washington -- preceded by several weeks of waltz lessons in the chancery. In addition, the couple have sponsored black-tie musicales that are reminiscent of the old days when embassy salons were the center of Washington social life.

"It's a whole new ballgame," says longtime lobbyist Edward J. …