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After Haiti, Croatia opens up different vista to new U.S. envoy

Six years after being assigned the lonely, difficult task of representing the United States in Haiti, James B. Foley, a career diplomat and Kenmore native, has taken up a much more outwardly appealing post: ambassador to the Republic of Croatia.

Foley, 52, left Washington this month for Zagreb, capital of a Balkan nation once ravaged by war but now most noted for its relative wealth and stability, as well as its spectacular coastline on the Adriatic Sea.

"It's a completely different country, a completely different set of priorities for the U.S.," said Foley, who served as ambassador to Haiti from 2003 to 2005.

"This is a stable situation, and there is a very positive relationship between Croatia and the U.S.," Foley added.

Croatia emerged from a thousand years of foreign domination and the Balkan wars of the early 1990s to become a popular tourism destination, a member of NATO and a maturing democracy.

"It's the culmination of centuries of aspiration," Foley said.

Now, though, Croatia, like much of the rest of the world, is struggling to cope with the global economic downturn. So one of Foley's main priorities as ambassador will be to help modernize its economy, which is "state-dependent to the point they can't really afford."

But that's nothing compared with the challenges Foley faced in Haiti. Violence during his tenure in that impoverished Caribbean nation reached the point where diplomatic families, including Foley's wife and then-newborn daughter, were evacuated.

"Haiti has a tragic history and has never really enjoyed stable and effective government," Foley said. "I did the best that I could, and I believe we actually helped the country get back on its own feet. I believe Haiti has a chance today."

After Haiti, Foley served for a year as diplomat in residence at Fredonia State College, his alma mater, and then taught at the National War College in Washington, D.C.

Back in 1997, then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had asked him to take on another difficult task: resettling Iraqi refugees in the U.S. He served in that post until President Obama named him ambassador to Croatia in April.

Foley's wife, Kate Suryan, and daughter, Madeleine, accompanied him to Zagreb.

A graduate of St. Joseph's Collegiate Academy, Foley is the son of Helen and James J. Foley, now of Williamsville.

e-mail: jzremski@buffnews.com

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