Senior College students talk to White House adviser

Nov 06, 2012

Senior College at Belfast students taking a fall course on "American Misperceptions of the Middle East" went straight to the top to get some answers about Iran's evolving nuclear capability -- the White House.

Using technology available at the University of Maine Hutchinson Center, the class connected with Gary Samore, White House coordinator for weapons of mass destruction, counterterrorism and non-proliferation, for a half-hour teleconference. The direct line to the White House -- live, unrehearsed and in real time -- encountered a couple of technical glitches at first, but then proceeded smoothly for a background briefing and question-and-answer period.

Students peppered Samore with unscreened questions about U.S. policy considerations int he Middle East. Samore, whose focus on nuclear proliferation dates back to 1984, responded with candid "off the record" answers. For those participating in the class, this was an unprecedented opportunity to hear directly from a presidential adviser who focuses full-time on a critical international issue.

The course was led by Robert Rackmales, a retired Foreign Service officer who has taught many classes on foreign policy for Senior College, with co-instructors George and Karin Look. The Looks are living in rural Waldo County after long careers in the area of arms control and nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Karin Look was principal deputy assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification and compliance before her recent retirement. Starting back in 2004, she led the U.s. team working with Libyan officials to ensure that Libya implemented its commitment to end its WMD programs.

George Look was held many senior positions relating to arms control and WMD, and most recently was senior director for arms control and nonproliferation on the National Security Council at the White House. He arranged the briefing by Samore, his former boss.

Rackmales presented his extremely topical class as a lead-in to the Camden Conference, Feb. 22-24, 2013, on "The Middle East: What Next?" The conference will be based at the Camden opera House, and will be streamed live to ticket-holders at the Hutchinson Center and the Strand Theatre in Rockland. Information is available online at

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