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Michael Korff – Summit in Sleepy Bern


Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci rides in a carriage in the Canton of Bern.

Bern is normally a pretty sleepy post, overshadowed by the more active U.S. Mission to the United Nations in Geneva. But an exception came in March 1988 when Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci held an “unprecedented” three-day summit with Soviet Defense Minister Dmitri Yazov in the Swiss capital, alternating between the American and Soviet embassies. Although the DOD Assistant Secretary of Defense for public affairs, Dan Howard, accompanied Carlucci on the visit, my small staff and I at the embassy had to run the arrangements for the U.S., Soviet, and Swiss press, and I had to corral the press outside both the American and Soviet embassies. I was, of course, more approachable than my Soviet counterpart, and I found myself standing outside the Soviet embassy, presenting the facts-on-the-grounds, instead of my Soviet counterpart, whom I never met.

PAO Michael Korff (middle) confers with SecDef Frank Carlucci (right)

Why was the summit held in Bern and not in Geneva? It turns out that Carlucci’s maternal ancestors came from the Canton of Bern and he wanted to see the birthplace. So, a week or two before Carlucci et al. arrived for the summit, my wife and I scouted out the location for a pre-summit visit by Carlucci to his ancestral home. We checked out the menu at the local restaurant (Rösti [hashed brown potatoes] and Geschnetzeltes [veal in a cream sauce] were the main items on the menu, along with Rivella [a carbonated drink made of whey] as the beverage.) In the end, the cantonal authorities put on an elaborate show to celebrate Carlucci’s homecoming, including a ride in an open horse-drawn carriage. The visit was a great success, as was the subsequent summit.

My path with Carlucci would cross again several years later. In 2001, I became Counselor of Embassy, Interim Deputy Chief of Mission, and Chargé d’Affaires in Tanzania, including Zanzibar. Early in his career as a diplomat, Carlucci had been Consul in Zanzibar, when he was expelled for “engaging in subversive activities.”

Michael Korff was Counselor of Embassy for Public Affairs in Bern 1986-90 and in Dar es Salaam 2001-2004.

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