The United States ambassador's residence is the villa Montfeld, a 150-year old Moorish estate surrounded by towering palms and luxurious vegetation overlooking the terraced rooftops of "Algiers, the White," as the Algerians call the city. It is here that the top-secret negotiations over the hostage release took place.
The ambassador is the far-from-stuffy Ulric Haynes, a tall, handsome man who brings wit and candor as well as diplomacy to the post. He is one of 14 blacs appointed by the Carter Administration. His wife is the Haitian-born Yolande Toussaint Haynes. As fluent French-speakers who had spent two years in Iran, Ambassador and Mrs. Haynes were also able to act as interpreters during the negotiations.
Nor were talks in Arabic, French, and English the only sounds to be heard in the embassy. In fact, most conversations -- and interviews -- here are carried on against a background of sounds from the embassy's miniature farm, where the Hayneses raise vegetables, sheep, rabbits, fowl, and even a little desert fox from the Sahara called a fennec. The farm is half hobby, half necessity, since even an ambassador finds it hard to obtain the quantities of food needed for formal entertaining.
Ulric St. Clair Haynes speaks five languages, has lectured at the Harvard Business school, and been an international civil servant with the United Nations. During his time as a businessman in Iran, he sensed that the country was on the brink of turmoil, and advised his company to leave the country. He warned the US government, but at that time Washington was committed to supporting the Shah regardless of his internal policies.
And now he is US ambassador to Algeria.
What exactly does an ambassador do?
Well, whatever the public may think, it isn't the entertaining that makes the job important. "Frankly," he explains, "nothing is duller to me, in the work that I do, than the obligatory cocktail parties, receptions, ceremonial functions. . .. In fact, if I happen to be working on something that I do consider to be important, I t end to feel that the ceremonial aspect of the job is an intrusion on what I'm really here for.
"What am I basically here for? I think, first of all, to explain my country's position in bilateral and multilateral foreign affairs; to help the host government to understand those positions, even if they don't agree. In many situations we do not agree, we and the Algerians. It is a real challenge to any ambassador to represent his country in a situation where the country's foreign policy and his own foreign policy are not in harmony.
"To me, one of the delightful achievements of the ambasssadors who have served at this post since Algerian independence is that certainly, in the past decade, we have all worked very hard, and I think successfully, to minimize our differences, to make sure that those differences don't get in the way of basically good relations between our two countries.
"Certainly one of the important elements of my job, and an element which I think most people are not aware of, is the commercial and economic relations. AT least 40 to 50 percent of my time is spent on matters that relate to American economic and commercial interest in Algeria."
The ambassador considers it important to make himself accessible to "a steady stream of businessmen, consultants, bankers, suppliers, suppliers of technology, construction company executives, and, of course, representatives of companies in the hydrocarbon industry . . .. I feel that the economic and commercial relations that we have with Algeria particularly are the solid foundation on which our improving political relations rest.
"Then, of course, I cannot deny that there are important political matters that require a great deal of my attention, like the war in the Western Sahara, the Middle East crisis, the hostage situation in Iran.
"Also, I must be concerned with the welfare of the 4,000 or so American citizens who are resident in this country, most of whom are working in the hydrocarbon industry."
Asked about reports in some Western newspapers that Algeria would be demanding a retroactive increase in the price of liquefied natural gas (LNG), the ambassador would comment only in a general way. Algeria had temporarily halted delivery of LNG to the US, pending payment for its retroactive price increase, which is reportedly viewed as much too high by its US customers.
Articles in El Moudjahid, the Freedom Fighter, Algeria's national daily newspaper, sometimes read like pages from an anti-imperialist revolutionary tract, with the US often as leading target. For the many Americans here who enjoy friendly relations with individual Algerians this is very puzzling.
Does El Moudjahid, which reflects the viewpoint of the only political party, the Front de Liberation Nationale, represent the official government position?
"If El Moudjahid [did], I would be one of the most unhappy ambassadors around. El Moudjahid tends to express a very leftist, extreme leftist position, which, when I test it against what I am being told by officials of the Algerian government, I find the officials position often quite different."
He added: "Americans, individually and collectively, are very popular in this country. You see an awful lot of Americal life represented on Algerian television. . . . And of course, American music is extremely popular here."
His roughest job, the ambassador explained, is "reconciling the idealistic statement of US foreing policy with a practical implementation. . .." For example, the official US stance on war in the former Spanish Sahara is the desirability of a negotiated settlement between the Polisario and Morocco, who are fighting over the disputed territory. But at the same time, the US has agreed to sell arms to Morocco, a traditional ally.
What has been the Algerian reaction to this seeming inconsistency?
"Utter disbelief in our idealistic foreign policy."
Asked about the Algerian position on the Israeli question, the ambassador explained that the Algerians would like negotiations to include what they consider the recognized representatives of the Palestinians. They object to the present Egypt-Israeli negotiations, feeling that neither nation has the right to speak for the Palestinian people.
Here the ambassador broke off. His children -- Alexandra, 10, and Gregory, 6 -- had strolled across the lawn to join us, and he wanted to tell them how proud he was of their report cards.
Both children have spent much of their lives overseas. How does this affect them?
"I am worried about many things with respect to my children, and the impact of living abroad as the children of an ambassador," he said candidly. "Take my son, for example; he has spent most of his life out of his country and out of his own culture. The culture that we have in the embassy residence is predominantly an American culture. But I realize it when I take him on home leave or take him back on a vacation as I recently did, and everything that he sees is exotic.
"Now my daughter, who has spent three quarters of her life abroad, does remember quite a bit about the US. Her reaction is a little bit different. When she goes home -- as you know, she's bilingual, completely bilingual in English and French -- there is such a great desire on her part and so much pressure on the part of her peers to belong again that, although we may continue to speak to her in French, she will answer us in English. . ..
"They [the children] have a veneer of American culture without really having it in depth. On the one hand this is very exotic and very attractive, but on the other hand, in terms of education, it can pose problems.
"One of the reasons I would not like to make a career of diplomacy is that while I realize the benefits of living abroad, I would not like to impose upon my children an unlimited stint of living outside of their country.
"You say our children are unaffected by all the excitement that goes on around here. If our children appear to be unaffected, it has more to do with the attitude of their parents toward what goes on around them. Without wanting to give you the impression that we are blase, my wife and I know that this is passing phase in our lives, the we were not born to live in a Morrish palace and that we're just not going to let it go to our heads."
as we talked we were walking through a tiled courtyard with a low, central fountain surrounded on each side by white columns rising in pointed arches, a hallmark of Islamic architecture. From a room off to the left, a voice could be heard:
"Two cheeseburgers, one gree salad, three crepes, two couscous, one creme caramel, two Cokes, two Saida. C'est tout?m Eighty dinars, please."
If this is not the only gourmet cafeteria operating inside a US embassy, if it surely the only one that has ambassa- dor's wife in charge.
Yolande Haynes shouts the order in French to Akli at the grill, who is dishing out chorba, an Algerian vegetables soup. She looks as if she should be on the cover of Vogue, instead of behind a lunch counter, and indeed, one learns , she was once a model for the Italian designer Emilio Pucci. That was in the days before she became a political figure, although she is no stranger to diplomacy: Her great-grandfather was the Haitian ambassador to France, the Vatican, and the Austro- Hungarian Empire.
How did she get involved in managing a snack bar, then?
She is not the kind of person to sit around playing bridge, and there was an obvious need for a snack bar. Embassy staff, particularly some of the Algerian employees, lived too far away to go home for lunch. And Islamic tradition makes it difficult for women to find places where they can eat in public.
The snack bar quickly became more successful than expected, serving other diplomats, US businessmen, and even some Algerian officials, as well as the US Embassy staff. It serves not only a meeting place but also as a diplomatic grapevine.
Asked how she has time to manage a restaurant, preside over several diplomatic function a week, and raise two children, she shook her had, smiled, and said, "I don't."
But somehow she does find time to do it all, and when she isn't working, the whole system starts shaking.
Alexandra slid onto a bench next to the cash register and stood guard while her mother went into the kitchen. At 10, she sports a head full of braids, a la Bo Dereck, and is every bit as beautiful. But what her father points out is her moxie, which he thinks she inherited from her paternal grandmother. He recalls a story from the time when, shortly after getting out of college, his Ghanaian roommate invited him and his family to a reception at the UN to celebrate the anniversary of the independence of Ghana:
"It was held in the delegates' lounge and I was there, standing with my parents and some friends, when this short, balding, rather unimpressive gentleman came toward us.And as he came towards us, I recognized that he was Ali Khan, you know, the great lover, and at the time he was the head of the Pakistan delegation to the UN.
"Ali Kahn came up to my mother, who was the only lady in the group, and said, 'How do you do? My name is Ali Khan.'
"Well, my mother took one look at him, from top to bottom, smiled sweetly and said, 'Oh, yes, and I'm the Queen of England.' Well, I was so embarrassed I didn't know what to do."
The ambassador didn't have to mention that Alexandra's grandmother instilled her son with some of her style and grace. How many ambassador can sit in their living rooms and tell you about the bit parts he and his wife have played in science fiction movies?Or, for that matter, talk about his wife's film debut in Sidney Poitier's "For Love of Ivy"? (Unfortunately, said the ambassador, there are not many parts for "beautiful women with beautiful French accents.")
And with the same alacrity, the ambassador will talk about his role as a black man.
Does it gives him any special insights regarding Africa or third-world countries?
"Look, when it comes to any job, we all come to the job with the sum total of our backbgrounds. One element of my background is the fact that I am black, that I am a first- generation American -- my parents are immigrants, came from a third world country, Barbados, in the West Indies.
"All of these things are at least as important in my getting the job done and being able to communicate with leaders of the third world as my blackness. That doesn't mean that I am one-up on an intelligent and perceptive white diplomat. A lot depends on your personality, a lot depends on the way you apply our background, a lot depends on, indeed, the professional qualification which your host country's leaders perceive that you have.
"I think that the day of the unqualified political appointee as ambassador is over. The third world is as sensitive as is the developed world to the qualifications of the men that a country sends to to repesent it."
Ambassador Haynes feels, however, that the US should have been able to produce more than seven black career ambassadors. He sees that in the past three to five years concern for equal employment opportunity has diminished; a great deal more could be done in government and in the private sector to provide opportunities for blacks and other minorities.
When a new president takes over the White House all American ambassadors submit their resignations, which the President can accept or ignore. When Ulric Haynes Jr. submitted his, he meant it. He will be going back to international business.