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The State Department Wants To Talk to Willie Star

June 27, 1989

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Willie Star, the State Department wants to talk to you.

T.W. ″Willie″ Star is listed as the ambassador to the United States from Nauru, a tiny dot in the western Pacific, and is next in line to become dean of the diplomatic corps in Washington. That is, if he’s still the ambassador and if he returns to the United States.

Star presented his credentials to President Carter on June 6, 1980, and then vanished. For a long time, he doubled as Nauru’s ambassador to Australia and was living in Melbourne.

But while the State Department couldn’t find Star, he was quietly going about his business as the consul-general in Guam, about 1,000 miles northwest of Nauru.

Star, reached by telephone from Hawaii, said he has been Nauru’s consul- general there for about a year and seemed puzzled that the State Department was looking for him.

″I have to talk to my government,″ he said today, in response to questions.

But Star wasn’t sure about his diplomatic status in the United States. Asked if he is still Nauru’s ambassador to the United States, he answered, ″I don’t think so. I don’t know. I’ll have to talk to my government,″ and refused elaboration.

Star’s presence on Guam, half a world away from Washington, explains why he’s little known in the capital city.

″I’ve never met him, but I understand he’s in his 40s and that he’s been an ambassador for some time,″ said Fred Radewagen, a part-time consultant for the government of Nauru. ″I’m told that he’s articulate, gregarious and quite intelligent.″

The State Department’s manhunt began shortly after the retirement last month of Swedish Ambassador Wilhelm Wachtmeister, who was dean of the diplomatic corps for three years.

Under the rules of protocol, the largely ceremonial post goes to the foreign ambassador with the most seniority, based on the date when the envoy’s credentials were presented to the U.S. president. To be eligible, an ambassador must maintain an official residence here.

That ruled out the diplomatic representative from Western Samoa, who was next in line but doesn’t live in Washington. Next was the southwestern Pacific nation of Tuvalu, but its ambassador had already been transferred elsewhere.

Then came Cypriot Ambassador Andrew Jacovides, who had barely succeeded to the deanship when he was summoned home for a job in the foreign ministry. Next on the list was Turkey’s Sukru Elekdag, but he’s retiring.

So up popped the mystery name of T.W. Star, who was listed as the only ambassador of the steaming hot island of Nauru, the third smallest country in the world after Vatican City and Monaco and surely on nobody’s list as a vacation paradise.

The fewer than 9,000 people who inhabit Nauru’s eight square miles of coral just south of the Equator must endure an average 82 inches of rainfall annually. They are consoled, however, by the wealth of their phosphate mines, which produce $100 million a year in fertilizer exports.

Although Nauru does have swaying palm trees, Radewagen said, ″they’ve been digging a large part of the island and carting it away for years, and now it’s so pockmarked and barren that it looks like the Badlands of South Dakota.″

The State Department sent a letter to Star via the U.S. ambassador in Australia earlier this month informing him of his opportunity to become dean of the diplomatic corps, provided he moves his residence to Washington. So far, Star has not replied.

Meanwhile, several cables have been dispatched to U.S. Embassy officials in Canberra about the matter ″but they haven’t said much of anything,″ reported one insider.

If Star doesn’t respond by the time Jacovides leaves Washington for Cyprus in early July, they said, the job probably will be offered to the next in line, Ambassador Jose Luis Fernandes Lopes of Cape Verde.

One State Department official, who spoke only on condition that he not be identified, said he has a hunch Star completed his Washington assignment some time ago and the Nauru government never bothered to name a successor.

″He is still on the books as ambassador, but I’m not sure he really is,″ the official said.