Mayor Tom Bradley, welcoming foreign delegates to the Sister Cities International conference at a garden party at Getty House, the mayor's residence, grinned and said, "Yes, we have the mayor of Timbuktu . . . until he showed up at the front door I was not convinced."
But Mayor Abbas Fouad Abdal Kader was there, all right, wearing a traditional caftan and proffering a ready smile for other guests, most of whom in this crowd didn't have to be told that Timbuktu is not poetic fancy but a West African city in Mali, on the southern edge of the Sahara. (Accessible by camel, Niger River boat or, now, airplane.)
During the five-day session here last week, 1,200 representatives from such geographically, politically and culturally diverse nations as Australia, China, Mexico and the Soviet Union talked about such things as business development, youth exchanges and technical assistance programs.
They heard lofty words about the importance of being sisterly from Charles Z. Wick, director of the U.S. Information Agency, who in his address spoke of the Sister Cities program as "the kind of people power that keeps the world moving away from confrontation and toward conciliation."
And he reminded delegates, most of whom were Americans, of their opportunity as citizen-volunteers to reverse what he termed America's "serious" public relations problem abroad. "What people think is determined by what they know," he said, "(and) by how they know it." For many in other nations, he suggested, the "how" is television and the "what" is "Dynasty," "Dallas," "Magnum, P.I." and "The A-Team."
Sister Cities International is a nonprofit Washington-based organization that emerged from President Dwight Eisenhower's People-to-People program, established in 1956, to become a good-will network reaching into all 50 states and 86 foreign countries, with 750 U.S. communities claiming at least one sister city in another country. (Los Angeles, with 14, leads the way, with sisterly ties to Athens; Auckland, New Zealand; Bombay, India; Bordeaux, France; Eilat, Israel; Guangzhou, China; Lusaka, Zambia; Mexico City; Nagoya, Japan; Pusan, Korea; Salvador, Brazil; Taipei, Taiwan; Tehran and West Berlin).
Emphasis on Peace
There was a wholesale swapping of keys to cities worldwide. And, predictably, hundreds of words were spoken about peace and understanding.
And, if the reality is not universal brotherhood--L.A.'s affiliation with sister city Tehran is currently suspended, for example, and there were no representatives at this meeting from South Africa, El Salvador, Haiti or Nicaragua, among others--the good feelings seemed real enough.
Ethelda Singer, the conference chairwoman who has served a decade as a national vice president of Sister Cities International, put it this way: "We've had people shaking hands when their governments don't even speak to each other."
A round table of delegates had agreed to sit down between sessions and talk informally: The Soviets had harsh words for the reaction of the Western press to the Chernobyl nuclear plant accident in April. An Australian had challenging words for yachtsmen gearing up for the 1987 America's Cup race, saying the Aussies are a cinch to win.
The trio of Soviets, who spoke through a woman interpreter, were Sergey Paramonov, vice president of the Assn. for Relations Between Soviet and Foreign Cities, Moscow; Ivan Cherepanov, also of the association, and Shukurallo Mirsaidov, mayor of Tashkent, a city of more than 1 million close to the Afghanistan border in the southwestern part of the U.S.S.R.
Cherepanov spoke of the importance of programs such as Sister Cities in "helping strengthen peace," of six Soviet cities that have connections to U.S. cities and of "10 (others) that are making contacts now."
One of the links is between Tashkent and Seattle; Virginia Westberg of Seattle and Rosanne Royer, wife of Seattle's mayor, spoke enthusiastically about plans for a pen pal program and student exchanges at both high school and university levels.
Said Mirsaidov: "We hope that through personal contact (other nations) will become convinced of our equal drive toward peace. . . . Unfortunately, the press of other countries doesn't completely enlighten the people" about the Soviet Union.
He added, "Americans think, from poor information received, that some sort of threat exists. That's a very deep misunderstanding . . . we've never threatened anyone nor have we intended to threaten anyone but we've never allowed ourselves to be put in a position of being hurt, either."
And he mentioned what he termed a misconception among Americans "that the Soviet people are more backwards." Americans, he said, have a "foggy view" of Soviet technology and educational levels.
"Not in Seattle," volunteered Westberg, mentioning specifically an exchange in which Soviet children's art was exhibited at the Children's Museum in Seattle.