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By Mike Hudson

Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster has made much of his tenure at the U.S. State Department and experience as a Cold War arms negotiator during the 1980s. In fact, this experience, more than any other, was used during his 2007 mayoral campaign as a key reason why people should vote for him.

"I've worked on strategic arms control, and this may be more difficult than that," Dyster told Buffalo News reporter Mark Sommer during the runup to the election.

If he could negotiate with the Soviet Union, his campaign literature argued, certainly he could negotiate with the City Council, Niagara Falls Redevelopment and other stakeholders in the future of the city.

At the time, Dyster was 53 years old. His stint at the State Department, which had ended 18 years earlier, lasted barely one year. In fact, looking at Dyster's resume and comparing it against the historical record of the U.S.-Soviet arms talks during 1988 -- the year he worked there -- the most striking thing about his State Department employment is its brevity.

Records obtained by the Niagara Falls Reporter show that he started there in January 1988 and left in January 1989, serving as a "principal bureau officer."

While we could find no job description matching that in the current State Department "Foreign Affairs Manual," we did manage to find one for "principal officer."

And the job description was astounding.

"Commissaries, food services, and recreation facilities" are the bailiwick of the principal officer, along with seeing to the needs of the "employee association" at any given State Department posting, the five-page document states. So those who have joked for years that Dyster actually got coffee for the men and women were closer to the truth than they probably imagined.

The delegation in Geneva that year numbered around 50 people, and included many top State Department veterans, former ambassadors, Army and Air Force generals and an ex-director of the CIA. They were there to conduct strategic arms limitation talks that would eventually lead to the signing of the START Treaty in 1991.

By the time Dyster arrived on the scene, the talks already had already dragged on for more than six years. After the normal, three-month State Department orientation, Dyster arrived in Geneva in March 1988.

His involvement with the American delegation lasted all of eight months, ending that November. How much negotiating he did during this time will have to wait until numerous Freedom of Information Act requests submitted to the State Department by the Niagara Falls Reporter are turned around, but the department's own "Foreign Affairs Manual" would seem to indicate the negotiations might have had more to do with the price of hamburger and coffee than with limiting the number of nuclear warheads deployed by the Americans and Soviets.

A separate entry in Dyster's resume lists his inclusion in the U.S. delegation to the 1988 Arms Control Experts Meeting in Brussels, Belgium. How the State Department's SALT negotiators in Geneva were able to spare him for the trip remains a mystery, but the Reporter was able to determine that the meeting was convened on March 3, 1988, and delegates returned home the next day.

Most people might not include a one-day job assignment as a separate listing on their resumes, but most people don't provide "expert guidance on arms control issues in multilateral consultations with allied governments."

It must have been the toughest eight-hour assignment he'd ever had.

Dyster will likely continue to inflate his experiences as a high-level arms negotiator in the future. His yarn-spinning prompted respected author Andrew Rice to remark in December, "Here you've got this guy who faced down the Soviets but still can't quite manage to face down City Council. I thought it was telling."

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com March 22, 2011