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U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Protocol Frequently Asked Questions


Q: How do you address the President of the United States?

A: An envelope is addressed as:

The President
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500

The salutation would be: Dear Mr. President

Q: How do you address the Secretary of State?

A: When addressing an envelope to the Secretary of State, it would be:

The Honorable
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, D.C. 20520

The salutation would be:  Dear Mister Secretary

Q: Does a person retain the honorific title "The Honorable" after leaving the position for which they hold it?

A: Yes, a person who has been in a position that entitled them to "The Honorable" continues to retain that honorific title even after he or she leaves that position.

Q: If both the U.S. national anthem and the national anthem of a foreign country were being played at an event (in the United States), which one would be played first?

A: Traditionally, as a courtesy, the foreign anthem is played first.

Q: What is the order of display for the U.S. flag and a flag of a foreign nation?

A: The two flags should be on separate staffs. Both flags should be the same size and flown at the same height. The U.S. flag is flown in the place of honor, which is to the viewer's left.

Q: How is a meeting between a foreign leader and the President of the United States arranged?

A: The President, working with the White House staff, schedules meetings with foreign chiefs of state and heads of government. The country's Ambassador in Washington, D.C. works with the President's National Security Advisor and his staff to set a date. When the date is set, the Office of the Chief of Protocol coordinates with the foreign Ambassador to the United States and the American Embassy overseas to make all of the arrangements from arrival through departure.

The Office of the Chief of Protocol coordinates approximately 350 visits per year by foreign leaders, foreign ministers and other high-ranking foreign dignitaries to Washington, D.C.

Q: Is the United States the only country with a Chief of Protocol?

A: No. There is a counterpart, usually called the Chief of Protocol, in almost every country.

Diplomatic protocol is a very historic profession dating back to the Babylonians who initiated the first recorded exchange of envoys with other kingdoms. The word "protocol" is the combination of two Greek words: "Proto," meaning first, and "colon," meaning glued. The "glued" portion of the word is derived from the Greek diplomatic tradition, or protocol, requiring that any diplomatic dispatch have a content summary glued to the outside of its case so that it could be read first and quickly

Q: What is the Blair House?

A: The Blair House is the building officially known as The President's Guest House. It is located on Pennsylvania Avenue across the street from the White House and its principal use is as a guest house for foreign chiefs of state and heads of government visiting the President.

It is named the Blair House after the Blair Family who owned the residence and lived there from 1835 until 1943. In 1943 it was purchased from the family by President Franklin Roosevelt for use as a guest house for foreign leaders. The Blairs were the nearest neighbor of every President from Andrew Jackson through Franklin Roosevelt. A great deal of American history occurred in the house when the Blairs lived there. The term "kitchen cabinet" was born in the house when Andrew Jackson's friends and advisors would gather in the Blair's kitchen.

For a wonderful website about the Blair House, including an interactive tour, visit www.blairhouse.org.

Q: When a chief of state, head of government or foreign dignitary from another country is in the United States, does the Secret Service provide all security or is the home country's protection used or a combination of each?

A: When a foreign chief of state or head of government visits the United States, the Secret Service provides security for them from entry in the United States through departure. This includes not only Washington, D.C. but anywhere in the United States they may travel.

A foreign minister is provided security by the State Department's Diplomatic Security (DS) Service. DS may also provide security for foreign dignitaries who are not foreign ministers. For example, Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, were provided security by DS during their visit to the United States.

Q: What is the process for accrediting a new Ambassador to the United States?

A: A government must request agrement and await approval for an individual to be accepted as Ambassador to the United States. Agrement often is requested in the form of a diplomatic note from the Embassy in Washington to the Department of State or from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to an American Embassy abroad. After agrement is approved, the local embassy in Washington should be in touch with the Office of Protocol Diplomatic Affairs Division regarding the arrival of the new Ambassador in Washington.

The Embassy should submit the Form DS-2008 (Notification of Termination of Diplomatic, Consular, or Foreign Government Employment) for the previous Ambassador. After the new Ambassador has arrived in Washington with the necessary documents, the Office of Protocol will arrange for him/her to present copies of credentials to the Secretary of State or her designee. The Embassy should submit the Form DS-2003 (Notification of Appointment of Foreign Diplomatic and Career Consular Officer) for the new Ambassador. The final step is for the new Ambassador to present credentials to the President at a White House Credentialing ceremony.


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