Peace Corps News: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Sends RPCV John Christopher Stevens as Special Envoy to Libya


While U.S. officials are in frequent contact with the Libyan opposition and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has met twice with its special envoy, Mahmoud Jebril, there still is much to learn about them. That is why Clinton is sending Morocco RPCV John Christopher Stevens, a 20-year Arabic-speaking veteran of the State Department who has been a senior diplomat in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, and had postings in Damascus, Cairo and other Middle Eastern locales, as her special envoy to Libyan opposition leaders.

“This is going to be a very challenging assignment,” said Robert Pelletreau, former ambassador to Egypt, Bahrain and Tunisia. “You needed somebody with Chris’s experience and maturity on the one hand, and his broad knowledge of the Arab world.”

As charge d’affaires at the now-vacated U.S. embassy in Tripoli, Stevens described Qaddafi as a “notoriously mercurial” figure who avoids eye contact. “Alternatively, he can be an engaging and charming interlocutor,” Stevens wrote, in a cable prepared for the visit of then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2008.

Stevens also researched eastern Libya’s “historical role as a locus of opposition,” detailing the unemployment and government mistreatment of the region that were driving young men to radicalism, including some who went to Iraq to fight U.S. forces.

Stevens is already familiar with some opposition members from his posting in Tripoli, said Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington policy group.

“He’s not the kind of person who goes out in the field and puts something together on the fly and sells it to the bosses back home,” Alterman said in a phone interview. “When you’re dealing with an uncertain opposition, you want someone who’s not going to send misleading signals, who’s going to be warm, but not sloppy. And given that he has experience in Libya, he seems to me to be a very good choice.”

The State Department has sought to keep Stevens’ role low profile, refusing to release his official biography. Clinton, appearing on Sunday morning talk shows this week, mentioned him in passing only as an unnamed “young diplomat.”

[Note: Stevens is so low profile that we were unable to find a photo of him anywhere on the web to go with this story. - HP]

Stevens, who hails from the San Francisco Bay area, served in the Peace Corps in Morocco. He studied at the University of California, Berkeley, from 1978 to 1982, according to a brief resume he posted on the Linked-In social-networking site. He studied law at the University of California’s Hastings College. In 2010, he received a master’s degree in national security studies from the National Defense University, based in Washington, D.C.

Joan Mower, the director of development and international media training at Voice of America, the government owned radio network, was in Stevens’s 1992 foreign-service class. Stevens “has an unflappable, but not nerdy personality” she said. “He listens to people. He’s the quintessential diplomat.”


Business Week “Clinton Sends Envoy Stevens to Size Up Libyan Opposition” March 30, 2010