CBS News Reporter Charles Wolfson is a former Tel Aviv bureau chief for CBS News, who now covers the State Department.
The ceremonies are solemn, the mood somber, befitting the occasion. Behind the scenes, however, there has been a lot of planning and last-minute maneuvering. Most of the arrangements for President Ronald Reagan's state funeral are handled by the Military District of Washington, which is working with the family. But the State Department's Office of Chief of the Protocol has a special role to play.
State Department officials say two formal diplomatic notes went out to approximately 170 foreign embassies and international organizations in Washington. The first, sent Monday, was an invitation to send a representative to the service in the Rotunda of the Capitol. — On Tuesday, a second invitation went out for the funeral service Friday at the National Cathedral. — Because plans had to be made quickly, the diplomats in the protocol office also took advantage of modern technology, sending a copy of the invitation by fax.
Who was coming to represent your government? Did special arrangements have to be made to meet a head of state or a head of government? Were there special security needs which had to be addressed by the secret service or the diplomatic security bureau of the State Department? — Did a special plane have to be met? — Were there any last minute problems with visas, passports or other problems sometimes encountered by foreigners when entering the United States since Sept. 11? — Each country's embassy worries about their own officials, but when they have questions they call the State Department for answers.
Certain foreign dignitaries were invited as special guests of the Reagan family. Among them were former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Mikhail Gorbachev, the Russian leader who met Mr. Reagan at five summits.
The basics were taken care of. Condolence books were placed in the lobby of the State Department so foreign diplomats could formally express their feelings. By Thursday morning, diplomats representing more than 145 governments had written personal notes expressing their government's views.
Condolence books were also placed at all American embassies around the world. Ambassador Richard Boucher, the State Department spokesman said many foreigners are leaving letters at U.S. embassies and some of those have been forwarded to the Reagan family.
Back at the State Department, the protocol office's diplomats and staff were working overtime staying in contact with foreign embassies and organizations such as the United Nations and the Organization of American States.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, who served President Reagan as National Security Advisor, took time to do several interviews recalling his memories of the nation's 40th president.
Because President Bush has been hosting a G-8 summit meeting at Sea Island, Ga., the number of foreign leaders planning to come to Washington increased substantially. Among those who changed their travel plans to be in Washington for Friday's service are Britain's Tony Blair, Italy's Silvio Berlusconi, and Germany's Gerhard Schroeder. Secretary General Kofi Annan will represent the United Nations.
Other leaders who have signaled their attendance are the presidents of Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa, who were also at the G-8 summit. The newly appointed president of Iraq, Sheikh Ghazi al-Yawar, was at the summit and he too will be among those paying a final tribute to Mr. Reagan.
In addition, France's former President, Valery Giscard d'Estaing and its current foreign minister, Michel Barnier, will be at Friday's service, as will India's foreign minister, Natwar Singh. Britain's Prince Charles will attend.
There will be many, many more distinguished visitors but invitations were not sent to governments with whom the United States does not have full diplomatic relations. That means the busy folks in the protocol office won't have to trouble themselves with diplomats or senior officials from Cuba, North Korea or Iran.