The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training
Foreign Affairs Oral History Project
AMBASSADOR FRANK E. MAESTRONE
Interviewed by: Hank Zivetz
Initial interview date: June 6, 1989
Copyright 1998 ADST
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Entry into Foreign Service 1948
Life in divided Austria
Visa and political officer
Khorramshahr, Iran 1960-1962
Shatt – al – Arab Problems
View of Shah
Arms to Iran
Reaction to 1069 invasion of Czechoslovakia
Kissinger shuttle diplomacy
Acting as Charge
Ambassador to Kuwait 1976-1979
Kuwait and Arab world
Director Sinai Support Mission 1980-1982
Problems of on-site Egyptian deployment
Importance of embassy
Kuwait’s military purchases and ambassador
[Note: This interview was not edited by Ambassador Maestrone.]
Q: Mr. Ambassador, just to begin, how and why did you become involved with the
Foreign Service? How did you get into the diplomatic career?
MAESTRONE: Well, that’s a rather interesting and somewhat amusing story, in that I
was a military government officer in Würzburg, Germany right at the end of the war, and
I stayed on for another year. This occurred just after the end of the war. There was an
announcement that Foreign Service exams would be given again. They had been
suspended during the war, and they would be given throughout the world in various
places where the military people could take them. One of the testing spots was going to
be Oberammergau, Germany. I had been trying to get some leave from my commanding
officer, and he said, “No, we have too much to do.” Along came the circular saying you
will get five days’ temporary duty in Oberammergau if you want to take the Foreign
So I said, “This is a splendid idea. I’ll get five days temporary duty in Oberammergau and
I’ll take whatever this Foreign Service exam is.” So I proceeded ahead in driving down in
my Adler convertible with my chauffeur to stay in the post hotel in Garmisch-
Partenkirchen, which is nearby Oberammergau and took the Foreign Service exam and I
Q: Then how long after that did you enter the Service?
MAESTRONE: It was sometime after that. I came in ’48, actually. In fact, I think my
appointment was dated February 12, Lincoln’s birthday, 1948.
Q: Well, you’ve had a long and very varied career, and we can’t cover all of your
experiences. But insight into some might be of great value to future researchers. For
example, in your first posting in Vienna in 1948-49, you were present when the
occupation ended and the Austrian peace treaty was concluded. Could you reminisce a
bit about U.S.-Soviet relations in Vienna and the general political atmosphere from an
American Embassy perspective?
MAESTRONE: The relations between the United States and the Soviet Union in Vienna
were cool but correct, in that we were already entering, more or less, the period of the
Cold War, although people, perhaps, didn’t really appreciate that this was occurring. We
were, for example, at the legation. This was an American legation at the time. We had not
exchanged ambassadors with Austria, because Austria had been a small country. It’s only
after the war that every small country had to have its relations elevated to the level of
We were, for example, not permitted to travel freely through the Soviet occupied zone of
Austria. We had to obtain a gray card from the Soviet authorities, which had to be applied
for and generally, at least a week ahead of time, if you wanted, say, to drive down to the
American zone in Salzburg, for example. Sometimes it was given to you fairly readily,
and other times, it was a delay that might cause you to cancel your plans. The members of
the legation were recommended not to venture into the Soviet zone unless they were
doing this, of course, on official business.
So relations were rather tense, but not overly so, at the time. One was suspicious of the
Soviet intentions even at that time, in that particular area.
Q: It has been said that first the American occupation government, then later the
American diplomats, dealt with former Nazis, Austrian Nazis, because they seemed to be
able to pull the reins of government together a little easier than those who didn’t have
experiences. What was your view, at that point, in terms of the Austrians with whom you
had to work?
MAESTRONE: Well, in the first place Austria was not an occupied country in the same
sense as Germany. It was considered a liberated country, at least by the Western Allies. I
assume the Soviets subscribed to that as well, although they carried out their occupation
as they felt that they needed to, in the same way that they did in Germany.
The political situation there was pretty much dominated by socialists, so that there was
very little role for any former Austrian Nazis. I don’t recall that being a problem in
Austria. Of course, we did not have the kind of control that we had in Germany and
where we, for example, could legislate law number eight, which set standards for the
employment of German Nazis, particularly in government positions, etc. You have to
remember that under the circumstances in Austria, there was an Austrian government
actually functioning. Germany was quite different. It was divided into separate zones.
There was no central authority.
Q: Now, also in Hamburg you experienced the end of military government and the
establishment of the high commission in Germany. How would you gauge American
attitudes at the time toward a future for Germany, and also for relations with the Soviet
MAESTRONE: Before I answer that, I would like to make just one comment about one
of the previous questions that you asked. Namely, I was not in Vienna when the State
Treaty was signed and the so-called occupation of the Allied powers, including the Soviet
Union, ended. I was in Salzburg on a later assignment as consul there.
Now to get to your question about Germany, the attitude of the Americans, on the whole,
was one of a certain skepticism as to Soviet policies as they seemed to be developing. Our
interest seemed, mainly, to put Germany back on its feet, not necessarily as a major
industrial, and certainly not military, power, but to enable the Germans to rebuild their
economy sufficiently to take care of themselves. We were pouring a good deal of money
and supplies in there to help maintain the German economy and, particularly, to feed the
Germans in the initial stages. So we wanted them to take over the responsibility of taking
care of themselves.
Q: Was that the essence of the work being done at the consulate in Hamburg? With whom
were you dealing on the German side out of the consulate and on what issues?
MAESTRONE: I had several assignments during my four and a half years in Hamburg.
Initially, I was a visa officer under the displaced persons program. I actually helped set up
a visa office in a refugee camp, former German barracks, outside of Hamburg.
Subsequently, I became chief of the visa section in Hamburg in the office in town.
Following that I was in the economic section, where I wrote some of the first reports after
the war about beet sugar production in Germany, about the fishing industry in Germany.
Then, my last two years, I was a political officer and occupied the position of deputy land
observer for Hamburg. That system that had been set up under military government was
that there would be land commissioners in the various provinces in Germany. Obviously,
American commissioners were in the American zone, British commissioners were in the
British zone. Hamburg happened to be in the British zone, so that they had a British land
commissioner. But the role for the other Allies, the United States and France, not the
Soviet Union, was to have land observers. In other words, we were there to observe how
the–one, the land commissioner carried out his occupation functions, and two, to keep an
eye on what the Germans were doing.
Q: In Hamburg did you have any contacts with the Soviet Union?
MAESTRONE: None whatever.
Q: None whatever. Moving along, as a sidebar to the recent Iran-Iraq war, I know that
you were consul and principal officer in Khorramshahr in 1960-62, when the oil terminal
was constructed on Kharg Island. Was there any indication at that time that this remote
area would become the focus of a bloody war?
MAESTRONE: Well, when I was in Khorramshahr, we had two crises that occurred
between Iran and Iraq. Both of them were over the question of how the boundary line that
was set along the Shatt-al-Arab River. The Shatt-al-Arab is formed, as you know, by the
confluence of the Tigris and the Euphrates and then flows past Basra in Iraq, and past
Khorramshahr and Abadan in Iran into the Persian Gulf. These crises concerned the
question of the boundary line as I have mentioned–namely, that in 1913 a boundary
commission accepted the boundary between Iran and Iraq at that point at the low water
mark of the Shatt-al-Arab on the Iranian side.
Q: Boundary commission made up of whom?
MAESTRONE: The boundary commission was made up of the Ottoman Turks, who
were then in control of the other side of the Shatt-al-Arab, what is now Iraq. The Russians
and the British, and I think the Iranian government was also represented there, but in
those days the Russians and the British pretty much ran Iraq.
Q: Iran, you mean.
MAESTRONE: I’m sorry, Iran, and the British were particularly influential in southern
Q: Did this dispute result in violence?
MAESTRONE: What actually happened was the Iranians were shipping so much oil from
Abadan and also from other ports to the major international oil companies. I think the
seven sisters, so called, were almost all involved in the Iranian consortium. It was
operating the Iranian oil production at that time. The Iranians felt that this would be a
good time to establish their claim that the dividing line between Iran and Iraq should run
along the median line or the middle of the Shatt-al-Arab River, which is the normal way
boundary lines are set when bodies of water, or particularly rivers, divide two countries or
Therefore, the particular thing that bothered them was that every ship coming up into
Abadan and Khorramshahr had to have an Iraqi pilot, since the waters were Iraqi territory.
They felt that this was very demeaning for ships to come up to the great country of Iran
with an Iraqi pilot leading them into Abadan and Khorramshahr, which were their major
ports in those days. Therefore, they decided that they would no longer accept any ship
which had an Iraqi pilot aboard. They thought that the Western countries would want
their oil so badly that they would send their ships up anyway and the Iraqis wouldn’t dare
challenge the Western powers. Well, in fact, the Iraqis moved artillery down along the
banks of the Shatt-al-Arab and said that any ship coming up without an Iraqi pilot would
be shelled. So captains of oil tankers were not about to run their ships up the Shatt-al-
Arab under that sort of a threat. So nobody came up the river.
The Iranians expected the Western powers to exert pressure on Iraq to force them to make
this change. The Western powers had no intention of doing that, and eventually, after
about a month, when all their tanks became filled, and they were starting to cut back on
the refining of oil in Abadan because they had no place to put it, the Iranians finally
desisted and gave up their…
Q: Who was the ruler of Iran at this time?
MAESTRONE: The Shah.
Q: The Shah, the Pahlavi, not the father.
Q: What was the American official government attitude in this controversy between Iraq
and Iran at that time?
MAESTRONE: Well, our attitude was one of being completely neutral in this. This was a
local affair in which we were not interfering.
Q: Did the British exert any influence?
MAESTRONE: No, they took the very same position. All of them took the same position.
As far as I was concerned, I talked to the people who were responsible for this down in
Abadan and pointed out to them that their case was hopeless if they expected the Western
powers to come to their assistance. But they refused to accept my advice, and finally, had
to give in. This not only happened once, but it happened twice. The next year, at the
urging of the new Abadan port director, who was, incidentally, a very cultured, well-
educated man. He had been educated in Switzerland and Belgium, spoke fluent French,
excellent English. At his urging, the Shah, I guess, authorized their undertaking the same
effort again, which resulted in the same failure, and my good friend, the port director,
ended up in jail in Tehran.
Q: Was this before the United States began to arm and support Iran as one of our
bulwarks in that part of the world?
MAESTRONE: Yes, this was, in one sense, this was before we began making major arms
shipments to Iran. Although we were supplying them with military equipment and we did
maintain military advisory groups, MAG groups, there. We had a small one in
Khorramshahr, at the Navy base there. A couple of naval officers were there helping with
training and handling some of the technical aspects of the equipment, the way they were
being supplied. We had a MAG group up in Ahvaz, which was the capital of Khuzestan,
the major province of my consular district, from which most of the oil came. They were
helping train the Iranian Army. But the training was more basic at that point.
Later on, as the Iranian Army improved its general capabilities, the decision was made in
the time of President Nixon and Henry Kissinger that the Shah would become our
bulwark in the Middle East. They supplied him with all sorts of very sophisticated arms,
and it was a different situation to that extent.
Q: One more observation on Iran before we move to another part of the world. Could you
at that time assess the attitude of the Iranian people toward the Shah, and perhaps, to
project what ultimately happened in Iran?
MAESTRONE: I was, perhaps, not in as good a position as others in Iran, those in Tehran
and other consulates, because my consular district had a population which was about 75%
Arab. The Iranians who were there were pretty much the managers, supervisors, etc., of
the operations, particularly the oil operations that took place there, or business people, all
of whom were very supportive of the Shah. But even the Arab population, the Arab-
Iranians, if you can call them that, were all very loyal to the Shah. There were some who
were unhappy when he dropped Soroya and got his new queen, Farah Diba. For quite
some time there were stories of some of the bazaaris having pictures of the Shah and
Soroya still hanging in the backs of their shops, whereas, they should have been hanging
up a picture of Farah Diba, which was passed around, of course. But many of those
shopkeepers tended to be Iranians and particularly Bakhtiaris, from which tribe Soroya
Q: Okay, let’s move ahead a little bit to NATO. In 1968 you were deputy assistant
secretary general in NATO and chairman of the NATO political committee. It was in this
period in the summer of 1968 when the Soviets and some of the Warsaw Pact Allies
invaded Czechoslovakia. Can you tell us, as an insider, some of the reactions of NATO?
MAESTRONE: Yes, they were rather interesting. The initial reaction within NATO came
from the Supreme Allied Commander General Lemnitzer, who from his headquarters in
Kasto, asked the Secretary General to give him an assessment of what all this various
movement meant in Eastern Europe. This was going on before the Warsaw Pact invasion
of Czechoslovakia. The NATO countries in our discussions in the political committee,
which I was chairing at that time, and where I had the responsibility to prepare an
assessment, which was then sent by the Secretary General to General Lemnitzer. The
attitude of the members of NATO was very cooperative. Everybody provided all the
intelligence, all the material that they had, all of their best analyses, etc., and put them
into the hopper, so to speak, at the political committee.
In discussions at the level in the council about the various steps that we might take,
particularly moving into various stages of alert for the NATO powers, there was not that
much unanimity. Some countries were particularly very cautious, and very doubtful about
taking any steps that might possibly give the wrong sign to the Soviets. The Canadians
were especially notable for their very cautious approach to this. The Danes, too, were
pretty much like that. There was a good deal of caution displayed, generally, in the
council, but, on the whole, the major powers, Britain, France, and the United States, did,
and also with support from Italy and some of the other Mediterranean countries. The
General, the Supreme Allied Commander, was given authority to take the steps he
thought were necessary in terms of raising the level of alert. Otherwise, no real military
action, particularly movement of troops, etc., took place, or was authorized, shall I say.
I’m not sure whether they took place or not, but they certainly weren’t authorized by the
Q: You suggest, then, that even before the Soviets moved on Czechoslovakia, there was
intelligence at NATO that there was that possibility?
MAESTRONE: Oh, yes, in my final assessment, we did not rule out the–matter of fact,
we specifically said we did not rule out the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviets.
Q: Now, once the invasion took place, was there an escalation of the readiness position
of NATO? Was there a change in the posture of NATO?
MAESTRONE: Well, by that time, we had come to the conclusion, and we could tell
from the actions that were taken by the Warsaw Pact, that this did not represent a threat to
NATO as such. Our concern had been that there might be a spillover, and this was the
spillover which would have involved some of the NATO countries bordering
Czechoslovakia, particularly Germany. Therefore, there would have possibly been some
incident that could have exaggerated the situation. In fact, there wasn’t–we could tell
from the way the Warsaw Pact troops were being moved, and the actions that were being
taken, that this did not represent a threat to NATO, as such. Therefore, there was really no
call for any further military action, other than the stage of alert that we had gone to. The
NATO powers all began protesting the Warsaw Pact action and making statements
condemning it. That was about the extent of it at that point.
Subsequently, when the NATO council met in November, a couple of months later, the
Council of Foreign Ministries had a very interesting and detailed discussion of this
situation. It came up with a communiqué, which was very strong in its opposition to this
so-called Brezhnev Doctrine. Particularly, it made the point in a very clear matter,
without actually using the name of Yugoslavia, that any action that might be taken against
Yugoslavia, which you remember had veered away from the Soviet bloc, would have very
severe consequences, or grave consequences, as it was put. This was a very clear signal
that the Soviets–the NATO powers would not condone that kind of an action.
Q: Yet, in your tenure in Brussels, there was an obvious shift in attitude toward the Soviet
Union, in preparation for the Helsinki meeting, and I understand that you were involved
in the political advisor study that led to the Helsinki Declaration. What was NATO’s
input to Helsinki, and what were the attitudes of the NATO Americans, those Americans
in NATO and others, about an accommodation with the Soviets?
MAESTRONE: The NATO input into what came out of the Helsinki conference, namely
the Helsinki Declaration, was a major contribution. To answer your question, the input
from NATO which resulted in the Helsinki Declaration was a major one. In fact, at a
certain point, there were indications from a number of NATO countries, particularly the
smaller countries, Denmark, Belgium, Canada, and others, that NATO should be more
responsive to these calls which the Soviet Union was making for a European security
conference. These calls had been going on for quite a number of years back into the ’50s,
but they seemed to elicit, at least, a greater interest among certain NATO members, who
wanted to have NATO consider going to a European security conference.
I was particularly concerned by this development and spoke to the Secretary General
Manlio Brosio and suggested that this might be a good time to conduct a study which
would look at the advantages and disadvantages to NATO of participating in a European
security conference. He agreed, and he put this proposition to the council, and it was
approved by the NATO council. The political committee then undertook an extensive
study, which lasted for a couple of years, at least, in which–I should say lasted longer
than a couple of years–but in which I participated for a couple of years before I was
transferred. So that a lot of the basic work for the Helsinki conference was done in the
NATO political committee.
Q: Now this study–that’s very interesting–this study involved itself in issues in areas
beyond the military context. Did it go into human rights and other things that came out of
MAESTRONE: Yes, it initially started with a discussion of confidence-building
measures, which is a subject of a continuing conference that came up with the Stockholm
Declaration, or–I forget what it was called–a few years back which is continuing now in
Vienna, and also discussed the various political impacts that this kind of a conference
could result in. As I recall, it was the Italians who brought into the discussion the question
of human rights and the freedom of information, etc., and that was added to our
So the three baskets which came out of the Geneva preparatory meetings for the Helsinki
Conference originated in the NATO discussions and were included in the political
Q: Was the American position at that time favorable to proceeding with this conference?
MAESTRONE: Interesting enough, in the initial discussions, the United States, Britain,
West Germany were all opposed to going to any European Security Conference, and took
a fairly hard line in this connection. Although they participated very actively in the
studies and made–particularly the United States and Britain made excellent contributions
to the study.
An interesting development that took place, subsequently, was that, in the days of
President Nixon and Henry Kissinger, the Secretary of State, there came the desire to
make some foreign policy progress in our relationships with the Soviet Union,
particularly, I think, in connection with the reelection of President Nixon for domestic
political purposes. In any event, this was one of the driving forces and, suddenly, the U.S.
position changed from being opposed to attending the European Security Conference to
being very much in favor of it and pushing for the conclusion of the study and for a
movement toward a kind of understanding or rapprochement with the Soviet Union which
resulted in the Helsinki Declaration.
Q: The irony is that Nixon wasn’t around to take the bows or the brickbats. Because if I
remember correctly, the reaction in the United States for its participation or acceptance
of this was not all positive.
MAESTRONE: I gather it wasn’t. By that time, I was in Manila, in the Philippines, and
did not receive as much information about the reactions in the United States and in the
other countries about this declaration.
Q: Okay, now maybe we can move closer to your tour as ambassador to Kuwait, but,
first, a word about Henry Kissinger and his peace shuttle, and the negotiations for the
second Sinai disengagement during your tour as DCM in Cairo. How might you
characterize the sentiments of your embassy colleagues toward the events of the war and
the efforts to work out an accommodation?
MAESTRONE: I arrived in Cairo a number of months after the war. It was just about a
year after the October ’73 War I was there, late September 1974. The embassy was then a
very small embassy. It was very active in resuming relationships with the Egyptian
government, which had been suspended since 1967, and only resumed early–I think, it
was in February or March of 1974 that the embassy was reestablished in Cairo. We had
had an interests section operating there before. The members of the embassy were all very
interested in this new political development.
Q: Could you tell us a little bit about your involvement with the Kissinger mission?
MAESTRONE: Well, we had at least ten visits by Henry Kissinger while I was there in
Cairo because of the shuttle activities. These came fairly frequently and completely
occupied the attention of the embassy, I mean, for all practical purposes–yes, it was still a
small embassy in those days, not the great monster that it is today. We had to devote all
our attention to supporting the Kissinger circus that came in. As with all visits by
Secretaries of State–and I have participated in these in my earlier days when I was in the
executive secretariat under John Foster Dulles. All of the secretaries of states’ visits are
circuses. I mean, they come in and there’s a great upset of everything the embassy is doing
and all attention is focused on them. But they were all aimed at achieving a peaceful
development of the relationships between Egypt and Israel, and they were well worth the
effort that’s put into them.
Q: You know, it’s been said, because of modern communications and transportation, that
many major issues are taken out of the hands of the people at an embassy, and the ball is
run by someone, like a Kissinger, out of Washington. Was there much input from you and
your colleagues in Cairo during these initiatives?
MAESTRONE: There was considerable input, particularly from our ambassador,
Hermann Eilts, who was very closely consulted by Henry Kissinger on many of the steps
he took with respect to Egypt. In fact, Ambassador Eilts was called away on consultation
by Henry Kissinger, not only to Washington, but often to other places where Kissinger
happened to be, particularly if it was not too far from the area. I think once he went to
Pakistan or something like that to consult on these matters, so that there was very close
consultation between the head of the embassy and the Secretary of State on these issues.
As a result of Hermann Eilts being absent a good deal of the time, I was chargé d’affaires
during some interesting developments there as well.
Q: Could you elaborate on some of these?
MAESTRONE: None of them were what you would call major developments. I
remember there was one issue in which the Egyptians were going to bring up a matter in
the United Nations about this whole relationship between Egypt and Israel, which would
have upset the Israelis and disturbed the course of these negotiations. I remember this
occurred in the summertime. Hermann Eilts was away on consultation. The Foreign
Minister Fahmy was up on the beach in Alexandria. He had a little beach kind of hut or
cottage there, to which he used to repair during the summer. I remember I had to drive up
there and negotiate with him while he was sitting in his bathing trunks on the beach there
to convince him to drop this U.N. effort that they were planning to undertake.
Q: Successfully, I assume?
Q: How was the swimming?
MAESTRONE: He did the swimming. I never h