Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

In Memoriam: Alfred Leroy (Roy) Atherton, Jr. (1921-2002)

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

In Memoriam: Alfred Leroy (Roy) Atherton, Jr. (1921-2002)

Article excerpt

Hermann Fr. Eilts is former U.S. ambassador to Egypt.

The passing of Roy Atherton on Oct. 30, 2002 deeply saddened all who were privileged to know him and to work with him. We have lost a warm friend and a stalwart colleague. The nation, too, has lost one of the unsung heroes of the long, frustrating and still elusive Arab-Israeli peace process. Roy's innumerable contributions to that process were seminal. For three decades, he was one of the primary architects of American policy in the Middle East. As widely diverse a cast of characters as Archbishop Makarios, Shah Ali Reza, Menachem Begin, Anwar Sadat, King Faisal and many others kept Roy busy, so to speak. He exemplified the very best in American professional diplomacy.

Born in Pittsburgh in November 1921, Roy received his B.A. from Harvard University in 1944. With World War II still underway, he joined the United States Army and served for two years as a first lieutenant in the field artillery in the European theater of operations. He was awarded the Silver Star for valor in combat. Following his military service, he returned to Harvard, where he received his M.A. in 1947. That same year, Roy joined the Foreign Service, commencing a 38-year career in American foreign relations and rising through sheer merit to the highest ranks of public service.

After serving almost five years in Germany, Roy became associated with U.S. policy in the Middle East, an area in which he would achieve enduring fame. From 1953 to 1956, he served as diplomatic secretary in the U.S. Embassy in Damascus, followed by a two-year stint as consul in Aleppo. Next came an assignment as international relations officer in the State Department's Near East and Africa Bureau (NEA), and three years as consul in Calcutta.

Returning to Washington, Roy served for the next 13 years in various NEA functions: first as deputy director of its Near East Office (1965-1966), then as country director for Israel and Arab-Israeli Affairs (1967-1969), deputy assistant secretary for NEA (1970-1974), and finally as assistant Secretary for NEA (1974-1979). During those years, he was instrumental in guiding successive presidents and secretaries of state through the pitfalls of the turbulent Middle East political scene. On a separate and parallel front, his leadership of NEA ensured that clear and precise instructions were sent to our diplomatic posts abroad. In the field, one could always tell when Roy's superb drafting skills had been involved.

Roy was one of a small group of senior advisers who gave structure to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's conceptual ideas on the Middle East after the October 1973 Arab-Israeli war. This eventually led to the Kissinger-brokered Sinai 1 and Sinai 2 and the Golan 1 disengagement agreements between Egypt and Israel and Syria and Israel.

From 1978 to 1979, Roy was ambassador-at-large for President Jimmy Carter and Secretary of State Cyrus Vance. In that capacity, he logged many tedious hours shuttling between Egypt and Israel in an effort to nudge the leaders of those countries to pursue the peace process begun by President Anwar Sadat with his dramatic 1977 trip to Jerusalem. I recall vividly a particularly difficult session with Sadat in 1978 when Roy, with his customary tact and patience, pressed a by-then-frustrated Egyptian president to stay the course, despite the obstacles that had arisen. Roy's persuasiveness and patent integrity and sincerity were significant factors in Sadat's decision to continue.

Camp David I

That meeting and similar ones with Israeli Prime Minister Begin were critical factors in enabling President Carter to convene the Camp David summit in 1978, which resulted in two Egyptian-Israeli agreements--one on a future peace between the two countries and the other on Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza. …

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