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Caroline Kennedy nominated as US ambassador to Japan

By Agencies in Washington and Tokyo | China Daily | Updated: 2013-07-26 08:36

US President Barack Obama on Wednesday nominated Caroline Kennedy to become US ambassador to Japan, in the biggest foray into public service for John F. Kennedy's sole surviving child.

If confirmed, the former first daughter, who long resisted running for public office, will enter the limelight in a way she has not done since childhood, becoming the face of the United States for one of its closest allies.

Tokyo on Thursday welcomed the news, with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga saying the nomination reflected the importance the US government attaches to its longtime ally.

"She is known to be very close to President Obama. As US ambassador, one of the most crucial questions is if or how he or she can communicate a variety of issues with the president. For that role, I would give her a big welcome," Suga said.

Obama offered an understated rollout to the long rumored nomination, with the White House issuing a statement calling Kennedy and unrelated nominees "fine public servants".

By tapping the 55-year-old, Obama is returning to a tradition of making Tokyo one of the most high-profile US diplomatic appointments.

Previous US ambassadors have included former vice-president Walter Mondale, former speaker of the House Tom Foley and former Senate majority leader Howard Baker.

Obama's first-term ambassador John Roos - known primarily as a campaign fund raiser - was seen by some Japanese commentators as a sign of a lower US priority on the country.

Roos, however, was later praised for handling the round-the-clock US response to the March 2011 tsunami disaster.

Weston Konishi, director of Asia-Pacific studies at the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, said that Obama likely picked Kennedy because he knew Japan wanted a prominent ambassador.

"Caroline Kennedy certainly fits that bill, coming from a legendary US family. I am sure she will be a very popular figure in Japan," Konishi said.

But despite the official praise for Kennedy, Konishi said that Japanese policymakers may have preferred a figure with prior foreign policy experience, in light of recent tensions between Japan and its neighbors, especially China.


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