October 12, 2012

Portland resident takes charge as top U.S. official in Libya

Laurence Pope, a career diplomat, arrives in Tripoli, where he will serve until a new ambassador to Libya is named.

By Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – Elizabeth Pope was in her Portland home on the morning of Sept. 12 when she heard the report that the ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, had been killed in a brazen attack on a U.S. consulate.

She immediately relayed the news to her husband, Laurence, a former ambassador himself now retired after a 31-year career in the U.S. Foreign Service.

"A little while later, he said, 'You know, I'd go over there if I could help out,'" Elizabeth Pope recalled Friday. "I thought about it and I said, 'You should do that.'"

Laurence Pope did volunteer and Thursday he arrived in the Libyan capital of Tripoli to begin a stint as the top U.S. official in the turbulent North African nation. As the State Department's Charg?'Affairs to Libya, the 67-year-old will fill the role played by Stevens until a new ambassador is nominated and approved by the Senate.

"Mr. Pope's selection as Charg?'Affairs emphasizes the commitment of the United States to the relationship between our two countries and to the people of Libya as they move forward in their transition to a democratic government," Victoria Nuland, spokeswoman for the State Department, said in a statement. "We will continue to assist as Libya builds democratic institutions and broad respect for the rule of law -- the goals that Ambassador Stevens worked hard to achieve."

A graduate of Bowdoin College, Pope worked as a foreign service officer from 1969 to 2000 before retiring and moving to Portland with his wife. His positions included ambassador to Chad, associate director of counter terrorism, director of Northern Gulf affairs and political adviser to the commander in chief of the U.S. Central Command.

He speaks Arabic as well as French and lived or worked in countries throughout the region, even spending time in Libya decades ago, soon after Col. Moammar Gadhafi took power. Now, Pope is stepping into a much-changed Libya still struggling to stabilize after Gadhafi's overthrow.

Stevens, a well-respected diplomat both in the United States and Libya, was killed along with three other Americans on Sept. 11 during the attack on the Benghazi consulate. The incident has become a political issue in Washington and on the campaign trail as members of Congress and the Mitt Romney campaign question why the Benghazi consulate had so little protection.

Maine Sen. Susan Collins and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., announced plans Friday for a bipartisan inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the Benghazi incident. The inquiry will be conducted by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee -- led by Lieberman and Collins -- and will focus on the State Department, the Defense Department, the Justice Department and intelligence agencies.

"We intend to examine the circumstances before, during, and after the attack, including threat awareness, U.S. security needs for diplomatic personnel in Benghazi and Libya, and communications among the intelligence community, the State Department, the Defense Department, and the White House," the senators said in a statement.

"In our capacity as leaders of the Senate's chief oversight committee, we believe it is our responsibility to find out what happened and why, particularly with regard to the performance of the government agencies with relevant responsibility. We intend to examine how well the interagency processes worked, including whether all the relevant agencies had timely access to necessary intelligence information. And we want to fully understand why the administration's initial public assessments of this attack were subsequently proven inaccurate."

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