No time for formalities

WHAT started as a comfortable posting after years spent in the world’s hot spots, including Chechnya and Bosnia, quickly changed for US Consul General Oscar De Soto following his arrival in Perth.

Less than two weeks into his new, highly sought after position, Mr De Soto’s normal induction period was forgotten as his homeland came under attack.

A quiet evening with the family watching television turned into an all-night vigil by the phone as concerned Western Australians, US citizens and officials sought him out.

“After September 11, while I wasn’t putting out fires, the work environment changed and the tenure of the job changed,” Mr De Soto said.

“We didn’t only have to worry about physical security to make sure that there were no vulnerabilities here, but we also had to assist the American citizens and the Australian citizens after the events occurred.”

While remaining coy about the specific security arrangement put in place following the attacks, Mr De Soto said he remained in the house with his wife and daughter while WA State security surrounded the home on the Kings Park escarpment.

“The first ones to appear, almost within minutes, were the State security. There was enhanced security almost immediately. It was very fast,” he said.

“It was a spontaneous reaction which occurred around Australia. Other countries in the world provided the same service but I believe none responded as quickly as Australia and it (the security) continues to this day.”

While impressed by the quick response from the State security services, Mr De Soto has been equally taken by the level of support from Western Australians.

Contrary to some media reports showing rising anti-American feeling in the State, Mr De Soto’s own experience has been of strong support for the US-led coalition for the fight against terrorism.

“Clearly the security issue is the biggest issue. That is dominating the landscape now,” he said.

“Right now that is the key one under discussion. What people ask me about more than anything else is the security issue.”

He acknowledges that one of the problems facing the US government was that the memory of the US attacks are beginning to fade while the images of injured civilians in Afghanistan are played out daily on the television.

“Despite tremendous effort, it sometimes happens that people are killed and it’s not so good,” Mr De Soto said.

He said he could never forget the people whose lives had changed in the United States and around the world, particularly those who had lost loved ones.

“ I think about the families that are months away from recovering bodies of their loved ones. That’s a legacy,” Mr De Soto said.

“We have families and children who will never be the same again.

“Think about the three world leaders who are showing solidarity on this issue, you wouldn’t have seen that a month ago.

“We have to be careful about what terrorism is … there is no doubt about that. We are in it for the long haul.

“We have turned another chapter in world history to deal with this and that is sometimes what it takes.

“Sometimes it needs a dramatic event to make people focus on the problem.

“The irony of this is that while the developed countries have been hit hard by all of this, it is the developing countries that have been hit even harder.”

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