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Malta ambassador resignation raises question whether abortion views played role in State Dept. criticism

Douglas Kmiec announced Sunday he will resign from his post as the U.S. ambassador to Malta following the release of a State Department report (PDF) criticizing Kmiec for dedicating too much of his working time to writing and speaking about his religious views, according to the Associated Press.

The AP has identified Kmiec’s writings on faith — specifically on abortion — as a potential reason for the State Department’s censure and Kmiec’s subsequent decision to resign. However, Kmiec, a former law professor at Pepperdine University and a lawyer in President Ronald Reagan’s administration, told the AP he was not pressured to tender his resignation, and furthermore, the report does not cite the contents of the ambassador’s writing as a reason for his censure.

The report by the U.S. Department of State and the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ Office of Inspector General details an inspection of the Malta embassy, which partly took place in Washington, D.C., between September and October 2010 and in Valletta, Malta, between October and November 2010. Criticism of Kmiec, who was appointed to the post in 2009, focuses on the time the ambassador took away from his prescribed duties to write for U.S. and Malta publications, though one paragraph in particular has stood out to some reporters suggesting there’s more to the resignation than Washington has let on:

The Ambassador had been at post more than a year at the time of the inspection, and had achieved some policy successes. He is respected by Maltese officials and most mission staff, but his unconventional approach to his role as ambassador has created friction with principal officials in Washington, especially over his reluctance to accept their guidance and instructions. Based on a belief that he was given a special mandate to promote President Obama’s interfaith initiatives, he has devoted considerable time to writing articles for publication in the United States as well as in Malta, and to presenting his views on subjects outside the bilateral portfolio. He has been inconsistent in observance of clearance procedures required for publication. He also looks well beyond the bilateral relationship when considering possible events for the mission to host in Malta. His approach has required Department principals, as well as some embassy staff, to spend an inordinate amount of time reviewing his writings, speeches, and other initiatives. His official schedule has been uncharacteristically light for an ambassador at a post of this size, and on average he spends several hours of each work day in the residence, much of which appears to be devoted to his nonofficial writings.

Prior to Kmiec’s resignation, the Los Angeles Times published an editorial charging: “Elements with the State Department are attempting to silence an American diplomat who believes he was personally charged by the White House with promoting President Obama’s interfaith initiatives.”

Like the AP, the LA Times editorial suggests Kmiec was criticized for his views, which align closer to the Roman Catholic Church than with the president, especially regarding abortion (Malta is an overwhelmingly Catholic country, where abortion and divorce are illegal.)

From the LA Times:

If all this sounds familiar, it’s because all bureaucrats share the spirit, if not the politics, of the commissar.

According to a source familiar with the situation who asked not to be named, Kmiec first found himself at odds with the State Department bureaucracy shortly after taking office, when Mideast peace envoy George Mitchell asked him to fill in at a U.N.-sponsored conference in Malta at which Mediterranean parliamentarians were to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Israeli delegation walked out over the Palestinians’ characterization of the Gaza situation, and officials in Washington urged Kmiec to follow suit, or at least not to deliver a planned address. He reportedly replied that he would require instructions from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to do that, then delivered a forthright speech affirming Obama’s commitment to a two-state solution and Israeli security.

Since then, Kmiec has been harassed by officials at State over his outside writing, even when it involves personal matters of faith. A memorial piece on his father’s death for the Jesuit magazine America, for example, was so severely edited that it misrepresented the dead man’s views. He was prevented from writing about Ronald Reagan for these pages, and he has been forbidden to speak or write the words “faith-based diplomacy.” He also was forced to cancel a prestigious international conference on interfaith cooperation that he had organized.

The State Department recommended that the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs order Kmiec “to refocus attention on mission priorities and eliminate his use of embassy and Department resources on nonofficial writings.” Instead, Kmiec wrote letters to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama over the weekend, announcing his last day, Aug. 15.

In late January another of Obama’s appointed ambassadors, Cynthia Stroum resigned from her post as the ambassador of Luxembourg months after receiving a critical review — for personality conflicts and questionable travel and alcohol purchases — according to the AP, which points to the two incidents as an illustration of “the pitfalls that presidents can face when they appoint noncareer diplomats to ambassadorships, often as a reward for their political support.”

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