EMBASSY CLOSURES: WHAT DOES IT TAKE? Curious to see what kind of political upheaval it normally takes to close a U.S. embassy, I googled around and found the following recent examples:

  • In late February 2003, "certain families of American diplomats started to leave" Damascus, Syria, and by March 21, "American and British embassies in Syria...closed their doors until further signals following the beginning of the American and British war against Iraq."
  • Direct protests and threats of violence led the embassy in Indonesia to close in October 2000, according to The New York Times. "The United States Embassy said in a statement today that its consular and visa services, which were hastily closed last week, would not reopen as scheduled on Monday because of a continuing threat of attack, though it declined to give specifics."
  • A "serious terrorist threat" shuttered the embassy in Kenya temporarily in June 2003.
  • In late December 2002, a crisis in Venezuela led to a situation where "violence could erupt at any time, and Americans in the country are now being evacuated urgently...Two-thirds of embassy staff has already left the country, and more will follow in the coming days."
  • The embassy in Guinea-Bissau was closed due to civil conflict in 1998-1999 and never re-opened.
  • The U.S. embassy in Lebanon, meanwhile, has been through much worse than the present conflict:

    Deteriorating security conditions during Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war resulted in a gradual reduction of Embassy functions and the departure of dependents and many staff. Ambassador Meloy was assassinated in 1976. Following an April 1983 suicide bomb attack on the Embassy in Beirut, in which 49 Embassy staff were killed and 34 were injured, the Embassy relocated to Awkar, north of the capital. A second bombing there, in September 1984, killed 11 and injured 58. In September 1989, the Embassy closed and all American staff were evacuated, due to security threats. The Embassy re-opened in November 1990.

    It's hard to discern a clear pattern from this glancing survey, except to say that when America really wants to be some place, it will maintain an embassy there, even in the face of direct bombings; that direct threats can temporarily close an embassy; and that America seems more likely to evacuate embassies and personnel from nations that are either not allies (Syria, Venezuela) or not essential (Guinnea-Bissau). No great surprises there.

    --Garance Franke-Ruta

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