Ambassador Parker T. Hart (1910-1997)

By I, Andrew | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, February 28, 1998 | Go to article overview

Ambassador Parker T. Hart (1910-1997)


I, Andrew, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


Ambassador Parker T. Hart (1910-1997)

Ambassador Parker Thompson Hart, who died Oct. 15 at age 87 at his home in Washington, DC, was one of the most admired and best-liked American professional diplomats of the past several decades. A Middle East expert, he combined an easily approachable personality -- a "people person," some said -- with a solid dedication to scholarship. For these reasons his peers -- Foreign Service Arabists and others with Middle East experience -- regarded him with a mixture of deep affection and great respect.

An unassuming New Englander with what one reporter called a "Boston Brahmin" accent, Ambassador Hart was instinctively courteous and polite. At the same time, the colorful tales that he related to friends, from his unique Foreign Service career had a powerful immediacy.

In Vienna, Austria after the 1938 Anschluss with Germany, young Vice Consul Hart witnessed at first hand the deep fear the incoming Nazi regime inspired among the city's large Jewish population. For the rest of his life he was particularly proud of his personal role in helping some of these gravely imperiled residents escape to the United States and to Palestine.

A PIONEERING ASSIGNMENT

After Vienna, Ambassador Hart, universally known as "Pete" by his legion of friends, served in Brazil. Then, in 1944, he opened the first American consulate in Saudi Arabia at Dhahran, site of the newly discovered oil fields that were to change the history of the Arabian peninsula -- and the world.

In 1952 he became the State Department's Middle East director in Washington, DC where, in 1954, he helped this writer into hard-to-get Arabic language studies.

He moved rapidly up the career ladder to deputy assistant secretary for the Middle East, ambassador to Saudi Arabia and then ambassador to Turkey from 1965 to 1968.

Pete Hart earned a place in world history during his Ankara assignment for preventing war between Turkey and Greece, both of them members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, over sectarian strife in Cyprus.

Next, from 1968 to Feb. 1969, Ambassador Hart served as assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs, the highest position in that geographic bureau. He was the first Arabic-speaking foreign service officer to serve in that position. He was replaced when Richard Nixon became president and Henry Kissinger, as national security adviser, followed Israeli-leaning Middle East policies that, in the opinion of many area specialists, accelerated a downward slide for U.S. national interests in the area from which the nation has never recovered.

Ambassador Hart's final assignment before retiring from the Foreign Service was as director of the Foreign Service Institute, the State Department's "university," for several months in 1969.

For two years thereafter he served as president of the Middle East Institute, a private foundation, in Washington, DC. …

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