Foreign Affairs Officer
Ms. Meggen Watt is a Foreign Affairs Officer at the United States Department of State, where she serves in the Nonproliferation Bureau. She is currently part of the U.S. negotiating team for the U.S.-Russian "plutonium disposition" initiative.
Creating and maintaining solid relationships is absolutely critical to the success of the negotiating team and this initiative. During our interview, Ms. Watt explained how she relies on the Bible daily for inspiration, practical guidance, and healing messages to help direct and strengthen all relationships in her career.
Ms. Watt, could you describe your job as a Foreign Affairs Officer?
I take care of the logistics for the negotiating team led by an Ambassador (my boss), lawyers, advisors, and representatives from U.S. agencies. I work internationally with counterparts from a number of countries-primarily countries in the Group of Eight (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States). Currently, we're working with Russia on plutonium disposition. [See her bio for more details.] My days include a lot of writing, meetings, and talking with people all over the world.
What are your main responsibilities?
I'm the point of contact for our international counterparts. I'm one of the people--an executive officer--who helps to make sure the records are straight, and who provides coordination of people, documents, timing, this sort of thing. During meetings, I listen carefully (we all do!).
How has using the Bible helped you in your career?
The entire Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) is great, but the Lord's Prayer in particular has been helpful for me, especially in negotiations. We are told to enter into the closet and shut the door:
But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. (Matt 6:6)
If you take what Christ Jesus says, and affirm, "I'm not going to react" to whatever has just happened or has just been said, that is an immediate and calming help. You may be in the middle of a crowd, but you can choose to turn prayerfully to God and shut out, rather than get caught up in what is going on around you. I think of prayer as a form of listening to God.
How do you shut out what is going on around you when you need to stay focused on what is being said?
Of course you don't ignore what is going on around you, especially when you are interacting with people. But you can always quietly pray. To me, it really means getting myself out the way so I can listen to God. Here, let's go through the prayer. Each line is a prayer unto itself.
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. (Matt. 6:9-13)
It starts with "Our." That gets rid of the "we-they" problem. "Our Father" is a humbling thought. That's where self gets out of the way. "Our Father" is really important to me at the negotiating table because it reminds me that God sees all of us as His children, and that it is possible to make progress on whatever issue we are discussing.
I've had many moments where I've prayed. One happened when I was in a meeting, and one of our Russian counterparts stood up to present 3 or 4 overhead charts that had not been translated into English. I could get the meaning of the words from our interpreters, but when I looked at the numbers, it occurred to me that numbers didn't need translation. With a grin, I thought, at least we're operating in base 10! I was looking for an element of universality. It struck my funny bone that that's where I landed, on the numbers, because I could understand them. I consider that thought an inspiration. Sometimes you have to step back to see what is common and then step forward to make specific progress, which we did achieve at that meeting.
The next part is "which art in heaven." There are a lot of qualities I associate with heaven. Harmony is one of them. A solution to a problem, or this "harmony," can't be a harmony according to me personally. Rather, harmony is revealed when we start to pray. For example, let's go back to the negotiating table. Everyone comes with his or her own instructions, but you can't say to someone, "I'm right and you're wrong." You have to have a dialogue; you have to have a give-and-take. You may have to wait and be patient. The answer might not come right away, but you can expect it.
Continuing with the Lord's prayer: "Hallowed by Thy name" reminds me that God's name and very nature is holy. When we pray, we acknowledge that fact. Shouldn't we give the same respect to each other? When we interact with people, whoever they may be, it is helpful to recognize and honor who they are.
"Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven." To me, this has to do with motives and recognizing God as organizing and running — governing — me, those around me, and everyone. This takes humility and patience.
The idea of being patient is also in, "Give us this day our daily bread." It's so important to be patient. Ideas come when you need them, day by day or moment by moment, when you recognize that God is doing the "giving" of ideas. He is the supply. I think that's so comforting, especially when the idea I'm looking for isn't immediately obvious.
"And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." Working in the field, I see that people tend not to forget what is said. But to forgive allows people and/or circumstances to change, to heal. You cannot harbor what people say. That's where the forgiveness takes place.
How does that relate to power and glory?
Well, when you're working on a team, there's no one person who can take all the glory. And when you're listening, when you're humble, and when you're praying, it's easier to say, "Thank you God," when things get resolved and progress is made.
And obviously God's word is powerful.
Can you relate any instances when you turned to the Bible, the Lord's Prayer even, for immediate help and found it.
Oh yes. I relied upon the Lord's prayer for my safety when I was studying Spanish in Guatemala in 1989. I went to a church service in Guatemala City on Sunday morning. Just as the service finished, a guy came in and started to threaten us. It turns out he was a guerrilla. He ordered us all into one of the church rooms and made us lock the door. He ordered us not to call for help. If we called the police, he said he would use the submachine gun that he was brandishing. He said he had a grenade in his backpack, too. Needless to say, it was quite upsetting. We were all startled by this turn of events. As we all gathered in one room, I looked at his eyes. I could see a lot of hatred. I had never seen hatred like that in anybody's eyes.
It was obviously important to pray right then! One woman led the conversation with this man. We all sat in that room in the church and prayed the Lord's Prayer together, out loud, in Spanish. As we went through the prayer, and we were praying in earnest, we could see his demeanor begin to change, to become less menacing. I don't remember all the details of the conversation that followed, but our prayer was vigorous. The look in his eyes had changed; it was softer. He eventually agreed to let us go. And I give credit to that prayer for having turned the situation around and saved our lives. We all left the church unharmed, untouched in anyway. We had seen a safe, positive result by praying.
Was that your first negotiation experience?
If you want to call it that! I was grateful to be in a group of people who turned to prayer, to God, first. This was a case of thinking before you speak. The wrong word could have produced a negative reaction. You wanted — we needed — to think clearly and quickly. It's in extreme moments when it's good to be familiar with a prayer like the Lord's Prayer, because it will come to you when you need it.
How else is prayer important?
Everyone has access to so much information today, and you don't always know if the information is accurate, or copied, especially if it's from the internet. It makes prayer that much more significant — when you need to discern which is the most important information to deal with. Prayer helps you filter through all the information and listen with the heart.
Thank you, Ms. Watt, for taking the time to talk about the importance of the Bible.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity. It's been an honor and a privilege.
Ms. Watt's comment that prayer helps us "listen with the heart" is central to improving and maintaining lasting and healthy relationships. Let's work together this month on listening to others with our hearts.
The views expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee and not necessarily those of the Department of State or the United States government.
About Meggen Watt
Ms. Meggen Watt is a Foreign Affairs Officer at the United States Department of State, where she serves in the Nonproliferation Bureau. She is currently part of the U.S. negotiating team for the U.S.-Russian "plutonium disposition" initiative. This is the initiative in which the U.S. and Russia are to dispose of 34 tons of weapon-grade plutonium each, by fabricating this plutonium into reactor fuel and then burning it in nuclear reactors to create energy, while turning it into a form unusable for weapons. As such, this initiative is a classic example of a "swords-into-plowshares" program. The program was singled out at the Group of Eight (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) Summit in Kananaskis, Canada (June 2002) as an important nonproliferation effort. This effort led to signature by the U.S. and Russia of the bilateral Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement in 2000. Next steps include implementing and financing the program. The negotiating team is working with representatives from the G-8 to support this effort in Russia.
Ms. Watt is an international relations specialist. She has experience in negotiations, nuclear nonproliferation and export control policy implementation, and Latin American regional policy analysis. Prior to joining the State Department, she worked for the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory on-site at the Department of Energy headquarters in Washington, DC, for several years in the Nuclear Export Control Office. There, she focused on policy regarding transfer of nuclear technologies and coordinated a nuclear nonproliferation seminar series for government officials. Ms. Watt has participated on U.S. delegations to the Nuclear Suppliers Group and to the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Exporters Committee (often called the Zangger Committee). She worked in the External Relations office at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna in 1994 and served on the IAEA delegation at the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference in New York. She moved to Washington, DC in 1995 to take a Presidential Management Internship at the U.S. Information Agency in the Latin America Branch of the Office of Research. Ms. Watt received a Bachelor's Degree in Spanish from Washington University in St. Louis in 1991 and a Master's Degree in International Policy Studies from the Monterey Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California in 1994.
Ms. Watt enjoys talking with high school and college students about international relations, and specifically about nuclear nonproliferation. In her spare time, she can be found sailing, or running in preparation for her next marathon.