x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Farmer's boy in diplomatic field

Stuart Jones became one of the youngest people to be handed the post of US Treasury attache. Based at the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi, It is a long way from where his parents imagined he would be when they were running their farm in Arkansas.

Stuart Jones Jr, the United States Treasury financial attache to the Gulf, outside the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi.
Stuart Jones Jr, the United States Treasury financial attache to the Gulf, outside the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // As an only child, Stuart Jones Jr was always expected to take over the farm and tractor dealerships in Arkansas that had been in the family for generations. But there was always an "adventurous spirit" lurking inside him.

Little did his parents know, he would be gripped by a longing to serve his country and later, at the age of 30, become one of the youngest people to hold the office of US Treasury attache, representing his country in Afghanistan and the Gulf.

Based at the US embassy in Abu Dhabi, he says: "They are entrusting a vitally important role to you. It's not Stuart Jones Jr going out there, it's not even the Treasury - I'm representing the United States of America and that's an awesome responsibility that you don't take lightly."

At university, he was a national public speaking champion, engaging in political debate. He was an intern at international relations firms, giving him early exposure to the workings of government.

In the second year of his studies, he moved from the University of Arkansas to American University in Washington to be closer to his calling.

The turning point, he says, was September 11. After that, he decided it was "time to serve".

"It was a traumatic event. I knew then that somehow I wanted to serve in the counter-terrorism area.

"A lot of people of our generation made that decision, joining the military or NGOs [non-governmental organisations].

"What I saw was the importance of the policy side of defeating terrorist networks, as much if not more than the military side. If I was going to get to the table to contribute, I knew I needed further study."

Mr Jones won a scholarship to study for a master's degree in international security at St Andrew's University in Scotland.

For his dissertation, he wrote about the role of public diplomacy in preventing terrorism. He travelled to Jordan, where, in spite of knowing no Arabic, he spoke to people on the streets, in shisha cafes, in restaurants, on their conceptions of terrorism and the West, and ways to find common ground.

His master's done, he returned to the US to work on the 2004 presidential campaign in Florida before landing a job in the Treasury department.

Six months later, aged just 25, he was sent to represent the Treasury at the National Counter Terrorism Centre. He admits: "I had a lot of proving to do, not only because of my age, but because I had a strong southern accent.

"I had to show that I understood the issues but prove that I could lead and listen, learning from their experience."

The following year, he became a senior adviser to the assistant secretary, and a year later he was posted as deputy Treasury attache in Afghanistan, an opportunity he felt "humbled" by.

"Afghanistan was becoming more of a focus as they moved away from Iraq," he says. Six months later he was named as attache, because, in the words of Neal S Wolin, the deputy Treasury secretary, of "his experience and the trust of the department in his ability to further our partnership with the UAE, which we take seriously".

In this role, he would deal with the Afghan government, the head of the country's central bank, and the UN, briefing senators, congressmen and generals on areas as diverse as corruption, narcotics and macroeconomics.

There are just 12 Treasury attaches around the world, including in Japan and Europe, which Mr Jones sees as reflective of the importance of the US-UAE relationship.

"The UAE is one of the most visited countries in the world by Treasury officials, as is the Gulf. The most important thing is helping to manage and improve what is a deep and meaningful partnership between several Gulf countries and the US on financial and security issues."

mswan@thenational.ae