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Profile: Ambassador Chris Stevens regarded as rising foreign policy star

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Obama and Clinton gathered with officials in a courtyard of the State Department, expressing their condolences and comforting those who worked closely with Stevens.

The president could be seen telling several people he was sorry for their loss. Stevens is the sixth U.S. ambassador to be killed on duty. The last was Adolph Dubs, in Afghanistan in 1979.

While Stevens may have represented the next generation of so-called Arabists - diplomats steeped in the culture and traditions of the Muslim world - he was no pinstripe-suited bureaucrat cut of the Foggy Bottom stereotype.

He cherished field work, and disarmed colleagues with his adventurousness and humility even as his reputation rose. Stevens came from a family of doctors and lawyers, but showed an early interest in foreign policy.

At Piedmont High School near Oakland, Calif., he served as editor of the school newspaper and was active in the Model U.N. club.

"What a bore it is, waking up in the morning always the same person," said his quote in the 1978 high school yearbook. "I wish I were unflinching and emphatic and had big eyebrows and a Message for the Age."

Following his father, Jan Stevens, he graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1982. He then volunteered for the Peace Corps as an English teacher for two years in a remote village in Morocco's High Atlas Mountains - "and quickly fell in love with this part of the world."

Still, his next step was a law degree from the University of California's Hastings College of Law in 1989 and employment as a trade attorney in Washington.

One day, said a former colleague recounting Stevens' retelling of the story, the young lawyer put his head down at his desk and said to himself, "I can't do this anymore."

He decided then to apply for the Foreign Service, joining in 1991. Stevens, who by now spoke French and some Arabic, had early postings in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Israel and Egypt - where he often camped in the Sinai Peninsula and regularly beat his superiors in tennis matches.

He worked for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff of Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., from 2006 to 2007, where he presented himself as a political centrist in an office with several partisan conservatives. He also was remembered as a self-effacing bachelor with a wry sense of humor who drank beer, dated women and liked outdoor sports.

"He was a normal guy, not like some of the nerds from the State Department who can't relate with people," said Thomas Moore, a fellow Lugar staffer, who recalled Stevens buying a Toyota Land Cruiser just before heading to Libya for his first stint, as deputy chief of mission in 2007.

At the State Department, he had a similar reputation for being non-ideological. UC law professor David Levine, who stayed in touch with Stevens after teaching him basic litigation in his first year at Hastings, recalled Stevens' admiration of Thomas Pickering, President George H.W. Bush's ambassador to the United Nations, whom he worked under as a Middle East staffer.

"The people who he worked with were on the 'Let's engage the world,' rather than 'Let's bully the world' side of things," Levine said.

But Stevens didn't pull his punches with Gadhafi. As the embassy No. 2, he built an extensive network of contacts with Libya's eastern tribes that would serve him well later.

At the same time, he wrote several confidential cables back to Washington describing the Libyan leader's bizarre behavior.

In a 2009 cable, he concludes that U.S. engagement efforts remained at the mercy of Gadhafi's "mercurial inner circle"; in others, he predicts "tumult" as Gadhafi's children maneuver to succeed him.

Condoleezza Rice, who was secretary of state for part of that time, called Stevens a "wonderful officer and a terrific diplomat who was dedicated to the cause of freedom."

"His service in the Middle East throughout his career was legendary," she said.

In a YouTube video just before leaving for Libya to take up his latest post of ambassador, Stevens said he was "thrilled to watch the Libyan people stand up and demand their rights" during the revolution.

"I'm excited to return to Libya to continue the great work we've started, building a solid partnership between the United States and Libya to help you, the Libyan people, achieve your goals."

Obama stressed that Stevens' death wouldn't end that effort. "This attack will not break the bonds between the United States and Libya," the president vowed.

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