UK’s Tandem Ambassadors Assignment to ‘Love Embassy’ Roils Yerevan

The Daily Mail recently reported that the UK’s Foreign Office has been accused of making Britain a laughing stock by appointing a married couple to share a senior diplomatic appointment.

The married couple is Jonathan Aves and his wife Katherine Leach who will take turns to be the ambassador to Armenia, each doing the job for four months while the other spends that time looking after their children.

Critics in the former Soviet republic say the unusual arrangement means Britain is displaying a ‘lack of seriousness’ towards the country.

The controversy comes after it was revealed that the current ambassador recently married an Armenian woman working at the British Embassy.

The two developments have led to local politicians nicknaming the British mission the ‘love embassy’.

Mr Aves, 51, and his 41-year-old wife will both have the title of ambassador when they move to the Armenian ¬capital, Yerevan, next January with their children Maddie, seven, Mimi, four, and Joe, two.

The report quotes Arman Navasardyan, the country’s former deputy foreign minister:

‘The British do not take us Armenians seriously. I doubt whether they would send a couple to the United States or many other countries.’
‘Ambassadors normally spend their first two years getting to know the country and only the third year brings real returns. Yet here we have a wife as ambassador for a few months, then her husband. Then what? Madam again?

‘The attitude here is predictable – raised eyebrows and laughter. We don’t understand why Armenia should be treated in this manner.

The report also notes that the couple recently completed a joint posting at the British Embassy in Tokyo but the move to Yerevan will be their first ambassadorial role.  The FCO gave two reasons for the tandem posting:

A Foreign Office spokesman said: ‘Joint postings are a modern way of working which help deliver the best possible diplomatic service in the host country.
‘They also provide better value for the UK taxpayer as they keep families together and reduce travel and shipping costs.’

That is so understandable.  Read in full here.

Below is an excerpt from the official FCO statement:

Mr Jonathan James Aves and Ms Katherine Jane Leach, a husband and wife team, have been appointed Her Majesty’s Joint Ambassadors to the Republic of Armenia in succession to Mr Charles John Lonsdale, who will be transferring to another Diplomatic Service appointment. Mr Aves and Ms Leach will take up their appointment during January 2012. Both Mr Aves and Ms Leach will be permanently resident in Yerevan and alternate in exercising the functions of Ambassador on a four-monthly rotation.

Mr Aves and Ms Leach joined the FCO in 1996 and 2000 respectively, following careers in academia and public opinion research. Together they have many years’ experience and knowledge of the history, languages and culture of the South Caucasus and the wider region. Their FCO careers have covered a range of policy areas including security policy, EU trade and development, energy security and human rights. Most recently they had a joint posting to Tokyo where Mr Aves coordinated the UK’s political input into Japan’s 2008 G8 Chairmanship and Ms Leach coordinated UK and Japanese positions in advance of the UN climate change summit in Cancun and worked with UK and Japanese business to promote low carbon prosperity. In 2011, Mr Aves worked on the UK’s input into the UN Human Rights Council on issues such as Libya, Syria and Iran.

The Daily Mail calls it a bizarre job share but I think their joint ambassadorial posting is just swell. They are both career diplomats; can’t expect Ms. Leach to just stay home and be homemaker while Mr. Aves run the British mission!  C’mon folks, it’s the 21st century!

The State Department has a few tandem couples who are ambassadors (two comes to mind, Mary Warlick in Serbia; James Warlick in Bulgaria; Kristine Kenney in Thailand and William Brownfield, formerly Ambassador to Colombia and now with INL) but I cannot recall a joint ambassadorship ever.

On second thought, because we do have political ambassadorships, I’m not sure a joint ambassadorship would be a good precedent for the U.S. diplomatic service.

Although if it happens, I’m sure it would be a hit for political contributors and über bundlers  in search of plum assignments as Mr. Ambassador and Mrs. Ambassador!