Yo Vlad wassup it's Barry. Hit me on the hip.
October 1, 2013 1:13 PM   Subscribe

How do presidents call other presidents? With last week's phone call between President Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, it got me wondering how do heads of state call other heads of state? I imagine that one executive suite's switchboard calls the other's, but what's the diplomatic protocol for who picks up the phone first? Do they have super-secret phone numbers, or even phone numbers in the way we think of them? Are the calls private, or are is there an entire entourage listening in? Do they just hang up when they're finished, or is their an entire protocol for ending the conversation? What are some of the other "hidden" aspects of executive diplomatic communication and behind-the-scenes goings-on are there that the rest of us commoners never see?
posted by slogger to Law & Government (5 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
The phone calls which the American and Russian presidents make nowadays, are through the Direct Voice Link (DVL). That's a dedicated phone line between the White House and the office of the Russian president which uses the same satellite link as the Hotline. This phone line seems to be established by an agreement between the US and the Soviet Union in 1990, which was renewed for the Russian Federation in 1999.

The Direct Voice Link is meant for routine matters and the calls are usually scheduled in advance, so interpreters can be present.* This voice link is not part of the Washington-Moscow Hotline. By agreement only the latter is designated for top level crisis communications.


souce: http://electrospaces.blogspot.nl/2012/10/the-washington-moscow-hot-line.html#usage

There are some neat links at the bottom of that article, including to an interview with an Army major who worked translating the messages. I doubt very seriously that there is any privacy on the calls - both sides will have, at a minimum, a translator. Probably advisors listening as well.
posted by jquinby at 1:36 PM on October 1, 2013


Diplomatic calls are usually set up ahead of time by the NSC staff, and handled by the White House Communications Agency, which manages the Situation Room.

For a great read, I recommend Nerve Center: Inside the White House Situation Room, which outlines the process going something like this:

1. NSC tells the sit room that there will be a call between the President at time XYZ
2. The sit room arranges the call with a diplomatic counterpart on the other side, exchanges agendas, and arranges for an interpreter from State to be present if needed
3. The sit room places the call. Once the other party comes on the line, they announce the President.
4. They, along with the translator, take notes of the call for the formal record.

With a few exceptions (Russia) it seems to take place mostly over open phone lines.
posted by scolbath at 1:41 PM on October 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


You may be interested to know that:
The "hotline", as it would come to be known, was established following an agreement on June 20, 1963, by the signing of the "Memorandum of Understanding Regarding the Establishment of a Direct Communications Line" in Geneva, Switzerland, by representatives of the Soviet Union and the United States at the Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Committee, after the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis made it clear that reliable, direct communications between the two nuclear powers were a necessity.

During the crisis, it took the United States nearly twelve hours to receive and decode Nikita Khrushchev's 3,000-word initial settlement message - a dangerously long time in the chronology of nuclear brinkmanship. By the time the U.S. had drafted a reply, a tougher message from Moscow had been received demanding that U.S. missiles be removed from Turkey. White House advisors at the time thought that the crisis could have been more quickly resolved and easily averted if communication had been faster.
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 2:24 PM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


LBJ's phone calls can be heard online
posted by Ideefixe at 6:11 PM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


1. NSC tells the sit room that there will be a call between the President at time XYZ
2. The sit room arranges the call with a diplomatic counterpart on the other side, exchanges agendas, and arranges for an interpreter from State to be present if needed
3. The sit room places the call. Once the other party comes on the line, they announce the President.
4. They, along with the translator, take notes of the call for the formal record.


So I suppose it's more correct to think of a phone call between heads of state to be more like a conference call, and less like a chat on a cell phone where Obama has "Steve H." in as one of his contacts.
posted by Sara C. at 6:52 PM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


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