The State Department, in an unprecedented move highlighting its desperate need for Arabic speakers, is allowing U.S. diplomats to curtail their current assignments anywhere in the world and begin Arabic language training in September.

Foreign Service officers who are interested in learning Arabic or improving existing skills have until the end of July to apply for more than 100 positions in Arabic-speaking countries that will open in the next two years.

Asked why the program has been initiated only now — nearly six years after the September 11, 2001, attacks and more than four years into the Iraq war — department officials cited a lack of resources.

In a cable to all State Department employees worldwide on Wednesday, George M. Staples, director-general of the Foreign Service, urged them to seriously consider learning “one of the more difficult foreign languages for English speakers to master.”

“We recognize that we must improve our ability to understand and influence an area of continuing importance to our nation’s well-being,” Mr. Staples wrote in the cable, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times.

The department “will consider breaking any tenured employee out of his/her current assignment for a September 2007 language start: for either the two-year program or one-year to improve or take existing Arabic language skills beyond your current level,” he wrote.


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