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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Russians Have Got to Learn to Party

A report came in from a Middle Eastern bureau of the Central Intelligence Agency last week suggesting that the legendary Prince Bandar had "lost influence" within the Saudi monarchy, who no longer thought him well enough connected with the Clinton administration.


This interesting piece of intelligence gossip was all the more spicy, because I was at Prince Bandar's house when I heard it, enjoying one of his celebrated parties.


There had been drinks on the balcony overlooking his Versailles-style gardens, and his new Romanesque paths. About 40 of us went in to a dinner of smoked salmon and caviar and Boeuf Wellington, and then we all went to the library for a private concert by the glorious Roberta Flack.


Defense Secretary William Perry was transfixed, his head resting on his crossed arms, and his black tie slightly askew as he mouthed the words "singing my life with his song."


Secretary of State Warren Christopher did not sing along and his foot did not tap, but it most certainly twitched in time to the music and a half-smile sometimes threatened to play over his lugubrious features, which means that this extraordinarily self-controlled lawyer was having the time of his life.


Tony Lake, the national security adviser, and his deputy, Sandy Berger, had their eyes closed and their heads swaying as Flack crooned into "Jesse." Brooke Shearer, wife of Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott (himself in Argentina on business), led the call for an encore of "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face."


The first obvious conclusion was that the CIA report on Prince Bandar's waning influence seemed distinctly ill-informed. Indeed, the only reason I heard about it was that one of the high-powered Clinton administration chieftains on whose desk it had landed was joking about how wrong it was. The turnout for the party said more about Prince Bandar's Washington access than any number of CIA analyses.


The second interesting observation was that there were no Russians at the party. The British ambassador was there and the Syrian, but not a single Russian, which is increasingly the case at the Washington parties which matter.


Casting my mind back over the party season, the only event attended by top Russian diplomats was a V-E Day reception in May which the Russians hosted.


The party at the French Embassy for the arrival of the new President Jacques Chirac -- no Russians. The Swedish ambassador's parties for Carl Bildt, just appointed the Europeans' peace mediator for the Balkans, and for the visiting Swedish foreign minister -- no Russians. The farewell banquet at the State Department for Ivan Selin, outgoing head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (and a fluent Russian-speaker) was graced by the Chinese, the Japanese and the French Ambassadors -- but no Russians.


The Russians have become the invisible men of Washington diplomacy. One sees them only at the obvious places, coming out of the office of Sandy Vershbow, who runs European affairs at the national security council, or at the State Department. Perhaps Russia's diplomats work so hard in the day that they are too exhausted to make the social rounds, where the gossip is exchanged and the diplomacy really gets done. Or maybe they just don't get invited.