updated 11/2/2007 7:40:51 PM ET 2007-11-02T23:40:51

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the U.S. envoy to Baghdad reminded diplomats on Friday of their duty to serve their country amid a revolt among some who are resisting forced assignments to Iraq.

In separate comments, Rice and Ambassador Ryan Crocker said foreign service officers are obligated by their oath of office to work at any diplomatic mission worldwide, regardless of the risks involved or their personal feelings about the policies of any given administration.

“We are one foreign service and people need to serve where they are needed,” Rice told reporters aboard her plane as she flew to Turkey for a weekend conference of top officials from Iraq’s neighbors. Crocker also is attending the conference.

Rice noted that more than 1,500 of roughly 11,500 foreign service officers had already done Iraq duty voluntarily and, while expressing an understanding of the safety and security concerns of those who might be ordered to go, said they must uphold their commitments.

“I would hope others would think about their obligation not just to the country but their obligation to those who have already served,” said Rice, who sent a worldwide diplomatic cable explaining the situation and appealing for volunteers to fill the 48 vacancies the State Department must fill next year in Iraq.

“Our mission in Iraq is the most essential foreign policy and national security priority for our nation,” Rice wrote in the unclassified cable made public by the State Department. “Our success in Iraq and beyond will have lasting consequences for our country and the world.

“Because of your willingness to serve under extraordinarily challenging circumstances, we have until now filled our position in Iraq with volunteers,” she said, adding that her preference was to continue to rely on volunteers. “However, regardless of how the jobs may be filled, they must be filled,” Rice wrote. “I believe strongly that it is our duty to do our part toward succeeding in the vital mission in Iraq given to us by the president.”

Crocker: Wary diplomats in 'wrong' business
On his way to the meeting in Turkey, Crocker offered an even blunter assessment, saying that diplomats have a responsibility to prioritize the nation’s interest over their personal safety and that those who don’t are “in the wrong line of business.”

Joining the foreign service “does not mean you can choose the fight,” he told reporters in Dubai. “It’s not for us to decide if we like the policy or if the policy is rightly implemented. It’s for us to go and serve, not to debate the policy, not to agree with it.”

Crocker, a 36-year veteran diplomat who has worked throughout the Mideast and was personally skeptical of the Iraq war, has been the U.S. ambassador to Iraq since early this year.

Since his arrival, he has repeatedly asked for more and more experienced personnel to work at the Baghdad embassy and in Provincial Reconstruction Teams in outlying areas.

His requests have been given top priority by Rice and State Department management officials who have offered generous incentives, including extra danger pay, leave time and preference on next assignments to attract diplomats to volunteer for Iraq duty.

But facing a shortfall in volunteers, the department announced last week that it would identify 200 to 300 foreign service officers as “prime candidates” for the 48 unclaimed positions in Iraq and that if not enough of them agreed to go, some would be ordered to do so under threat of dismissal.

Posting called 'potential death sentence'
The move is the largest diplomatic call-up to an active war zone since Vietnam, and on Wednesday several hundred diplomats angrily complained about the step in a town hall meeting, with many applauding when a colleague likened it to a “potential death sentence.”

The State Department says three foreign service personnel — two diplomatic security agents and one political officer — have been killed in Iraq since the war began in March 2003.

The union that represents diplomats says the security situation is precarious and the completion of a new, heavily secured embassy compound and living quarters in Baghdad has been beset by logistical and construction problems.

The move to so-called “directed assignments” is rare but not unprecedented.

In 1969, an entire class of entry-level diplomats was sent to Vietnam. On a smaller scale, diplomats were required to work at various embassies in West Africa in the 1970s and 1980s.

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