| Robert Blackwill
Washington, Nov. 12: The abrupt resignation of Robert Blackwill, the former US ambassador to India, from the White House came after National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice pulled him up for verbally and physically assaulting a woman officer at the American embassy in Kuwait, The Washington Post reported today.
The newspaper talked to six American officials for its report and said a furious Blackwill grabbed the woman's arm while verbally abusing her after he discovered at the Air France counter at Kuwait International Airport that he was not booked on the flight he was supposed to board for home after a trip to Iraq.
Blackwill insisted on boarding the flight because he was to join President George W. Bush on his campaign for re-election and his victim had accompanied him to the airport to see him off.
Although the woman, whose husband is also at the US embassy in Kuwait as a diplomat, did not file any formal complaint, secretary of state Colin Powell heard about the incident and took the matter to the White House.
There is no love lost between Blackwill and Powell on the one hand and between the ex-ambassador and officials of the state department, who always accused the one-time Harvard professor of being rude and overbearing.
The Post said Powell ordered an inquiry into the incident, which occurred in public and even had the woman's arm photographed, which was sent to Rice for action.
Rice then conducted her own investigations, personally interviewing members of the National Security Council who had travelled with Blackwill on the occasion.
She 'took action to ensure that Blackwill dealt with his colleagues and subordinates appropriately', although it was not explained what those actions were.
Meanwhile, Powell got the number two man in the state department, Richard Armitage, to telephone Blacwill's victim and express regret for the incident.
There were jokes in the state department today that Armitage had become the US diplomat in charge of apologies, a reference to his public apology to former defence minister George Fernandes for his treatment at the hands of American airport security.
Armitage later visited her and her husband in Kuwait to assure the couple that action would be taken on the matter.
Before the incident became public, Blackwill was tipped to succeed Rice as National Security Adviser in the second Bush team. But he abruptly announced his resignation last Friday and yesterday Barbour Griffith & Rogers LLC, a leading Republican lobbying firm, announced that Blackwill was joining the firm in a newly created job as President of its global affairs division.
In all likelihood, Blackwill will now pressure his friends in New Delhi to shift the Indian government's lobbying account to his company, cashing in on the considerable IOUs he accumulated at the US embassy there as a friend of India.
The Bush administration is trying to put the incident behind it at a time when it is anxious to go ahead with elections in Iraq, which was part of Blackwill's responsibilities at the White House.
A spokesman of the National Security Council was quoted as saying 'the President and Dr. Rice hold ambassador Blackwill in the highest regard, and the decision to leave was ambassador Blackwill's own'.
The Post spoke to one official familiar with Blackwill's version of the incident, which is that the woman's account of events is not accurate.
Whatever may be the case, it must have been extremely embarrassing for Rice to pull up Blackwill because he served the first President Bush as his special assistant for Soviet and East European affairs. Rice was his junior at that time, but he mentored her to the point where she became America's first black National Security Adviser.