Tom Pickering is a living legend of American diplomacy. He served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations during the Persian Gulf War. He has also served as U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Israel, India, Jordan, Nigeria and El Salvador. Pickering’s last State Department post was as Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs during President Clinton’s second term.
Now 82-years-old and active as ever in U.S. foreign policy discourse, Pickering brings to bear his decades of experience to answer some questions about the seemingly endless array of Mideast policy challenges facing the United States, including the effort to secure a peaceful resolution to the Iranian nuclear standoff.
Ambassador Pickering, thank you for granting this interview.
Before getting to the specific questions about some of the major challenges facing the United States, I found something very intriguing in your bio that I’d like to ask you about. Your bio states that when you first started out in college at Bowdoin, you wanted to pursue a career in ministry.
Can you share with Tikkun Daily readers a bit more about your early interest in ministry? What did you have in mind back then as a young man? Relatedly, would you characterize your ultimate decision to pursue a career in American diplomacy as a kind of alternate manifestation of your interest in ministry, perhaps by endeavoring to make the world a safer place for all God’s children?
My interests then did not seem to be a real “calling” and so I shifted my goals and aspirations. It is certainly true that neither profession makes much money and I was not interested in that kind of return.
Perhaps my early interest in church things somehow conditioned me to think in terms of rewards through public service. I believe that public service can be very rewarding in the cause of improved safety and security for the public and in the search for peaceful solutions.
According to your bio, you turned 82-years-old last week. Are you more or less worried about the outbreak of a nuclear war somewhere in the world today than you were when you began your career in the diplomatic corps back in the 1960s?