The U.S. ambassador to Chile, on campus for a meeting about Yale’s international initiatives, stopped by Jonathan Edwards College on Monday afternoon for an intimate discussion about the foreign service.
Ambassador Paul Simons ’77 discussed diplomacy, liberal arts education and the future of American policy in Chile before a handful of students in Jonathan Edwards College on Monday afternoon. Simons covered a broad scope of topics, touching on his own background and travels and offering advice for students aiming for the foreign service.
Monday’s conversation was a return of sorts for Simons, who recently joined the President’s Council on International Activities. He graduated from Yale — and from Jonathan Edwards — with a degree in philosophy before going to work for a bank in New York City. A few years later, Simons quit the private sector to join the foreign service. He started out conducting visa interviews, doing entry-level work, at the U.S. Embassy in Colombia. Then it was on to Malawi, Egypt and Israel — with a stint in between as a speechwriter for Secretary of State James Baker.
Former President George W. Bush ’68 tapped Simons for the top diplomatic post in Chile in 2007, and Simons started work there in early 2008. Simons is 18 months into his three-year appointment. His work there consists largely of “institution building,” Simons said — fostering relationships with American officials in defense, education and science. The past six years have been busy: The United States and Chile forged agreements to support free trade and renewable energy.
“We get along with Chileans on most things,” Simons said.
Still, Simons said negotiations can be delicate — and wording matters.
“It’s really important to listen, to listen carefully,” he said, to understand what negotiation parties are willing and unwilling to do.
At the end of the day, Simons said the United States is expected to be the one to put “the piece of paper down on the table.” Simons likes to speak last, he said, and see others react to the American position. And he senses a “hunger for U.S. diplomatic leadership,” he said.
On climate change, Simons said President Barack Obama has raised expectations abroad — a move that could backfire if Congress blocks pending legislation on the issue, Simons said.
Simons said he has maneuvered through multiple administrations with different policy priorities, but added that the values underpinning U.S. policy stay constant and that he has “always been proud to defend them.”
A self-professed “career diplomat,” Simons spent more than half his time in the foreign service in Washington, often perceived as a less popular post for foreign service members.
“I enjoyed the Washington mix,” Simons said. “I found it interesting.”
Simons advised three of the students who attended the conversation, who said they hope to work in the foreign service, to gain experience in the private sector before joining the service. Another degree can help, too, Simons said.
Linda Wang ’13 said she found “something earnest in what he said, that is, believing in what he was doing.”
And Andrew Goldstein ’13 said he enjoyed the intimate nature of the conversation.
“I think it gives more of a human face to something that is very foreign,” he said. “Literally.”