In 2009, NBC's Richard Engel took viewers on a tour of the U.S. embassy compound in Iraq, the biggest, most expensive U.S. embassy ever built.
The United States will "right-size" its Iraq embassy staff, which has grown to nearly 16,000, but contrary to a media report it will not halve its diplomatic presence there, State Department officials told NBC News on Tuesday.
"There is no consideration being given to slashing our diplomats by half," State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told NBC News in response to a New York Times report.
A review process, being led by Deputy Secretary Thomas R. Nides, is looking at ways the U.S. can "right-size" its $750 million embassy and how it can shift away from contractors to local Iraqi support staff, Nuland said.
"We're trying to do our best to save the American taxpayer money in the way we support our diplomatic personnel," she said.
The majority of the 16,000 people under the American mission in Iraq are contractors; 1,700 are diplomats.
The New York Times story said that life has become hard for embassy personnel since the military left in December and that food formerly escorted by military escort is often delayed at the Kuwait border as Iraqis demand documentation.
It cited a dwindling salad bar and lack of sugar and Splenda at the cafeteria.
Nuland said she had seen the story and that this was "some whining that was inappropriate ... on the part of the embassy employees, with regard to the quality of the salad bar."
The Times also said that U.S. Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey will step down "in the coming weeks." Nuland said Jeffrey is "on a regular diplomatic assignment. It was of a particular duration."
When Jeffrey's tour is completed, President Barack Obama will nominate a new ambassador for Iraq, she said.
"We're not at that stage yet, but this is normal and in keeping with the commitment that he made when he took the job," Nuland said.
The Times said the expansive Baghdad diplomatic buildup was seen as necessary to nurture a post-war Iraq. However, it said, Americans are frustrated by Iraqi obstructionism and are mainly confined to the embassy because of security concerns. The inability to interact with Iraqis makes it tough to justify a $6 billion annual operations cost at the embassy, the Times said.
Michael W. McClellan, the embassy spokesman, said in a statement to the Times, "Over the last year and continuing this year the Department of State and the Embassy in Baghdad have been considering ways to appropriately reduce the size of the U.S. mission in Iraq, primarily by decreasing the number of contractors needed to support the embassy’s operations."
McClellan said the number of diplomats was also "subject to adjustment as appropriate."
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