Tea with the Ambassador: US

Ambassador Jane Hartley, HSH Prince Albert and Consul General Monique Quesada Photo: Palace Princier
Ambassador Jane Hartley, HSH Prince Albert and Consul General Monique Quesada Photo: Palace Princier

Walking into the Jardin d’Hiver lobby at Hotel Hermitage, I had more than the usual number of suspicious eyes fall on me, or should I say, on my tattered Nice Marathon backpack circa 2013. I’m used to, and welcome, the scrutiny of Monaco’s hotel security, but this lot had a much more intimidating presence. And then in walked Jane D Hartley, the United States Ambassador to France and to Monaco, big smile. And it all made sense.

We moved toward the stairs and the team was two large steps ahead.

“How do you go for a run?” I asked as though the Ambassador’s fitness routine was instrumental in her mission to solidifying relations between France and the US.

“I have to put it in the schedule,” the Ambassador tells me. “I can’t go for a run by myself whenever I want.”

We make our way to the private room with Consul General Monique Quesada from the American Consulate General in Marseille joining us.

Ambassador Hartley, who arrived in the Principality Friday at 1 pm, already had one business meeting before we sit down for a chat, and she will soon leave me for an audience with the Prince (I can forgive her for keeping our interview brief in this case).

She’s in town to celebrate Monaco’s National Day on November 19, which includes an invitation to the Prince’s Ambassador’s Party at the Monaco Yacht Club on the eve of the big day.

She orders a tea.

The subject returns to security. The Ambassador assumed office in Paris on October 31, 2014 (the post had sat unfilled for 18 months). Three months later, on January 7, 2015, Charlie Hebdo happened. Then the Bataclan attacks on November 13, 2015 with the Bastille Day attack in Nice eight months and one day later. Throw in the most polarised American election in recent history, with a President-elect who has not made friends internationally. Not exactly a cushy Ambassadorship of cutting ribbons and attending vernissages at hip Parisian art houses. “It’s been a tough time,” the 66-year-old admits, “but it’s also been positive in that I’ve seen the strengthening of the French-American relationship and in terms of sharing information, how closely our legal and FBI people work together.”

She appreciates the bodyguards.

The Ambassador “lived through the horror” of 9/11 in New York, and observed that there were similarities in how the Big Apple and Paris reacted, in terms of shock and then resilience.

“In both cities the streets were very quiet in the day or two after. I remember in Paris, we were working round the clock, and as I walked from the Embassy to the residence, I was struck by the juxtaposition between the emptiness of the streets and the holiday decorations that lined them. But soon enough, just like in New York, people started going to the outdoor cafés again. I think it was important for me to have experienced 9/11, because I’d heard New Yorkers say, ‘you are not going to take away my way of life’, and then I heard the same thing in Paris.”

Ambassador Hartley has high school French, but says the French have been terrific and the fact she “doesn’t speak French well” hasn’t been a huge problem. “I do regret not having the time to become more proficient in French but this job is 6 days a week, 18 hours a day. I’ve tried to be very public in terms of showing America’s support for France and I think people know my passion for this country and the things we have accomplished.”

The Embassy in Paris includes the state department as well as the justice department, the treasury department, the department of defence and pretty much a representative from each of the cabinet agencies.

To the regret of many Americans on the Riviera and Monaco, the US Consular Agency in Nice closed officially September 1, 2015. Marseille is now the closest location for consular services but operates as a much smaller unit than Paris.

In her own words, Ambassador Hartley describes her position as communicating constantly between the French and US governments and personally feels that it’s important not just to connect to the two governments but also to connect to the French people, in the various communities, whether its young people, or business, or the arts and culture community.

“Just this week, we had something for think tanks as we had the head of the White House Council of Economic Advisors visiting, and then we had an event honouring a group of 15 museums in the US and 15 museums in France, a programme called FRAME – French Regional American Museum Exchange – set up in 1999 by Elizabeth Rohatyn, when her husband Felix was the US Ambassador in France. On Wednesday we did a film industry event with the opening of the new J. K. Rowling’s movie.”

The big announcement though was “a new initiative that has never been done here before”, called Jobs For All, a Public-Private Partnership, initially funded by the State department. “We got 24 of the biggest French and US companies to sign on to the programme to hire apprentices from diverse backgrounds.”

America’s relationship in France, and not just with the government, but with the public, is very strong in other aspects, Ambassador Hartley explains using the example of the three young Americans who on August 25, 2015, intervened on a TGV train to prevent a terrorist attack. “When they came over with their families to be honoured by President Hollande at the Elysée, they stayed with me at the residence. The decision to give them the Légion d’honneur was taken in two days, which has never been done that quickly before, and it was symbolic of the strengthening of the relationship at all levels. A few days after the train attack, someone yelled to me from across the street: ‘America saves us once again’.”

But that was 2015. A lot has happened in terms of politics and America’s reputation. Ambassador Hartley commented post-election to the press that “America has voted for change”.

“One of the things that we miss when we look at this election,” she clarifies, “is that Americans have only once voted for the same party for three terms in a row, since Roosevelt-Truman, and that was the Reagan-Reagan-Bush era. So after eight years, no matter who is in power, Americans seem to want to change.”

Ambassador Hartley talks about conflicting signals. While Obama’s approval rating sits at 56% in the last year of his presidency, highly unusual, the NBC Wall Street Journal poll came out showing 66% of voters wanting change versus 33% voting for experience. “I was surprised. We love Obama. We love his programme. Our country has done quite well economically compared to where it was during the financial crisis when unemployment was at 10%, it’s now down to 4.5%-5%. But we have to remember this is a third term, and the public, for whatever reason, wants a change, even when they love the president.”

Jane Hartley is the first American-born woman to hold this post. Pamela Harriman, appointed by President Bill Clinton, was the first female US Ambassador to France and Monaco, and held the position from 1993-1997, but she was a naturalized American, born in Hampshire, England. (She died, famously, in 1997 the day after suffering a brain hemorrhage while swimming in the Paris Ritz hotel in Paris.)

“I feel proud and honoured to have this role,” the self-described “bit of a perfectionist and something of a workaholic” shares, “particularly because I am working for a president and Secretary of State that I respect so much. And because it’s France. France is a key ally, a key partner. I knew this before coming in and having served, I feel it so much more strongly.”

Secretary of State John Kerry comes up several times during our conversation, especially on the subject of diplomacy. “When you look at the January 21, 2016, Iran deal, Secretary Kerry was instrumental in that dialogue. It was right after he had been seriously hurt in a bicycle accident, and straight out of the hospital he went to work, nonstop, to get this done. That’s what I’ve learnt over my two years. That diplomacy, when it’s done right, you can accomplish so much.”

With her term finishing January 19, 2017, Ambassador Hartley emphasises that there are “still a few things I want to accomplish”, including a major arts project with the Mayor of Paris – “a symbol of America’s friendship with France” – that will be officially announced today, but confirms she will definitely be returning to the States. “I have been involved in public policy, I was at the White House, I’ve been in government, in the private sector, I was the CEO of a couple of different firms, I was involved with the Kennedy School, in philanthropic concerns, but for now, I’m still thinking about what I’ll be doing.”

Surely she’ll take back a list of accomplishments, like the recent hiring programme, with her. “I will but I’ll also take back memories, like my first D-Day. When you go to Normandy and you see all the American and French flags as you are driving up through these little towns, you think of our history, and you realise how important it was not only what we did then, but also what we are doing now, together.”

Another moment she recalls is the Orlando shootings this summer. “I was out giving a speech at Le Bourget when I got a call telling me to cut it short because President Hollande and Prime Minister Valls were on their way to the Embassy to sign the condolence book. This was unprecedented, even during the war. And there was nothing in it for them, no press, it was just to show solidarity.”

The Ambassador goes back to commitment between the two countries and protecting shared values.

Consul General Quesada interjects at this point: “Ambassador Hartley is being modest by the way. She also has a very strong personal relationship with the French government that made them want to come back to the Embassy.” Ms Quesada points out how the Ambassador has shown herself every single time France has had a disaster: she was out marching after Charlie Hebdo, she went down to Nice after the July 14 attack. She has been showing America’s support and they want to reciprocate.”

“Having lived through New York, this is one of the things I have tried to do,” the Ambassador reveals. “I did want to be out there because I wanted the French public to know it wasn’t just the government.”

After two years of living in Europe, I ask the Ambassador what now makes her most proud to be American? “I come from a very patriotic family, so history has always touched me, but when you actually go to the American cemetery in Normandy, and see our veterans still coming back at age 90, and you see the French people’s reaction … you feel the weight of the relationship more when you’ve been here. And it makes me realise how important that relationship is, and everything our country has stood for and has done, and the spirit of America.”

She only finishes half her cup of tea before she gets the “time to leave” nod. She has 25 minutes to get to His Serene Highness.

“The US is certainly grateful to Prince Albert for his initiatives to protect the environment, particularly in the Mediterranean, and for his support in dealing with climate change,” she gets in before her security team whisks her protectively out of the room.

I get the impression Ambassador Hartley leaves a lot of tea unsipped.

Article first published November 21, 2016.

SHARE