• 14 Aug, 2022

President Ali not Summoned to Washington

President Ali not Summoned to Washington

President Ali not Summoned to Washington

I received several phone calls about the trip to Washington by President Ali, the VP, and their entourage. I was asked whether it is true that the President was "summoned to Washington" for a tongue lashing by the representatives of the US government. I am not in the know of policy making of Guyana or US or any other government. The President, VP, and others involved in policymaking don’t share information with me. Friends in high places in several countries usually pass on to me snippets of information about relations or about what is happening in their countries. They do so because of the respect they have for my integrity as a writer and they know that I would never compromise their identity or share information that threatens national security and that I would use the information wisely. For example, in India friends had passed on to me what they thought was the narrowed list of candidates who were being considered for the Presidency and now the Vice Presidency (to be elected next year). I have not shared the information, not even with my spouse. I do consider myself as some kind of specialist on diplomacy and international relations having obtained an accredited doctorate in the field.

The answer to the query about the Washington trip is no. There was no public announcement of a displeasure in relations between Guyana and USA. The President and VP were/are not summoned to Washington. “Being summoned” is a diplomatic term; it is an established practice in diplomacy. Those of us who studied foreign policy, international relations, and political science would understand its usage, meaning, and implications. It is a diplomatic tool a host country uses when it wants to make its anger felt to another country about a policy. It is done through a formal, polite, trite, diplomatic note sent to the relevant country's embassy asking for the Ambassador to come to the Foreign Ministry to meet the Foreign Minister or a designate. It is a formal way for the host State communicate its views on matters of importance in no uncertain terms and for the sending state to address them or face dire consequences. At the meeting, there is usually a dressing down (expression of serious displeasure) by the host country of a sending government about its policy or action or even some innocuous matter to which the sending government may have no control. Serious concerns and political positions and expectations are conveyed by the host country to the sending country’s diplomat. The host country may use strong language like “outrage …” or condemn a certain policy or action or object to or protest or make demands. This is done without using diplomatic pleasantries. The diplomat gets the message depending on the tone and language used.

President-Ali-not-Summoned-to-Washington-Dr-Vishnu-Bisram
Photo : Dr. Vishnu Bisram

 The leader of a government is never summoned to another country. It is usually the Ambassador (or a designate so appointed by the Mission of a government in another country called the sending country) who is summoned to receiving country’s Foreign Ministry or designated place for a lecture on some important matter. It does not have to be a lecture or dress down. The Ambassador could be summoned to be informed of a new policy of the receiving government that would have consequences for the sending government. Professionals from the diplomatic mission know the purpose of the summons and would convey the message to headquarters.

Being summoned is a call to be present for a specified action . It is not an order but a formal diplomatic request that has the effects of an order. There would be consequences if the Ambassador does not accept the request or doesn’t show up. The Ambassador or designate usually show up at an agreed time and place. It is rarely known in diplomacy of a diplomat not attending a summoning. If you don’t respond, you could be sent packing or have aid to your country reduced. The US rarely summon diplomats of non-threatening countries. Only in extreme cases are diplomats summoned. Russian diplomats get summoned all the time. And there was usually tit for tat in Moscow and Washington. Guyana rarely if even summoned any diplomats in Georgetown. The public announcement of the summoning of an Ambassador usually indicates tension and a deterioration of relations; it is not good for the weaker state.  

If the US wishes to express its displeasure to the Guyana government about some matter, it would do so through its Ambassador in Georgetown or the Guyana Ambassador in Washington. Reports about ambassadors being “summoned” often appear in the news and this happens amid rising tensions between nations. If there is a public announcement, then it is serious.  The US or some other government would not send for President Ali; that is not how diplomacy is conducted. Having said so, it does not preclude Secretary Blinken from conveying a message to the visiting Guyana President and VP and delegation on America’s concerns on various issues – China’s growing presence would be top of the agenda. There are others which I would convey to friends.

A summoning is a serious concern. The receiving country means business. One would not want to mess with Washington or Ottawa or London. Those countries saved democracy and facilitated change in government in Guyana in 1953, 1964, 1992, 2015, and 2020. They have the tools to change government that is not of their liking and they should if one were to consider that more Guyanese live in the three than in Guyana.

In brief, the President of a country does not get summoned to the capital of another country but its Ambassador or designate does. Guyana’s Ambassador was summoned during the coalition tenure.  My recollection is it was about the attempted electoral fraud. But Ambassadors could also have gotten summoned to the State department and lectured on corruption, relations with China, and the presence of Islamic radicals who had posed a threat to US.

President Ali was not summoned to Washington. It was a trip long overdue given Guyana’s new geo-political relevance and importance as source of energy. The trip would have been requested by both sides and formalized for this time of the year to discuss areas of concerns for bilateral relations.

Dr Vishnu Bisram

Dr. Vishnu Bisram is Guyanese born who received his primary and secondary education in Guyana and tertiary education in the US and India. He is a holder of multiple degrees in the natural sciences, social sciences, and education. He taught for over forty years in the US. He is a specialist on the Indian diaspora traveling globally to research and write about Indian communities.