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One of my goals has been to increase the flow of official visitors in order to reinvigorate and expand working relationships. The surge has included an unusually large number of Cabinet visits:  then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (twice), Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, and Attorney General Eric Holder. There has also been increased traffic in the other direction, including a successful trip to Washington by Prime Minister Key in July 2011. All of those were important milestones. In terms of blogging the visits, my favorite is Secretary Clinton’s stop in Rarotonga for the Pacific Islands Forum because of the explosion of color and affection it conveys and the peek into her substantive discussions and whole-of-society engagement.

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September 4, 2012

As you know from my tweets and instagrams, I had the great pleasure of spending last week on Rarotonga in the Cook Islands for the annual Pacific Islands Forum (PIF). For me, the highlight of the trip came Thursday evening when Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna, his Cabinet, dozens of performers, Dr. McWaine, and I greeted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the airport. It is always an honor for an Embassy to welcome a Secretary of State, but we were particularly delighted to receive a second visit in less than two years.

Secretary Clinton receives a traditional warm welcome on arrival in Rarotonga in the Cook Islands.

An enthusiastic welcome for Secretary Clinton on the tarmac in the Cooks.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is welcomed to Rarotonga, the Cook Islands, August 30, 2012. [State Department photo by Ola Thorsen/ Public Domain],

Being greeted with singing, dancing, vibrant colors, and great enthusiasm.

The Secretary and I weren’t the only Americans in town for the Forum. I welcomed the largest and highest-level U.S. delegation ever to attend the gathering in its 41-year history. I made the same statement at last year’s PIF in Auckland, but this year our presence was even more extensive. With the Secretary and me were the U.S. Ambassador to Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga, Tuvalu, and the Pacific Islands Forum (Frankie Reed); U.S. Ambassador to Australia (Jeff Bleich); U.S. Ambassador to Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu (Teddy Taylor) …

… Governor of American Samoa Togiola Tulafono; Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations Dr. Esther Brimmer; Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Insular Affairs Tony Babauta; U.S. Pacific Commander Admiral Samuel Locklear; Coast Guard Commander Rear Admiral Charles Ray; and other officials from the White House, USAID, Peace Corps, Department of State, Department of the Interior, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and several other agencies.

Rarotonga, the main island in the Cook Islands group.

Rarotonga, the main island in the Cook Islands.

Established in 1971, the Pacific Islands Forum is an annual regional event which brings together the leaders of 16 independent and self-governing states in the Pacific — Australia, The Cook Islands, The Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji (currently suspended), Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu. With a permanent Secretariat in Suva, Fiji, the PIF is intended to stimulate regional economic growth and cooperation, and to improve security and governance across the region.

Each year after several days of meetings among the leaders of the PIF member nations, delegations from certain other nations join the leaders in a day of discussion known as the Post-Forum Dialogue. The Dialogue partners are development aid donor nations from within the Pacific region (such as the United States and Japan) and elsewhere (such as several European countries). Multilateral institutions (such as the World Bank) and NGOs (such as the East-West Center) also participate in the Dialogue.

Pacific Islands Forum.

PIF leaders meet during a session of the Forum.

The Secretary and indeed the entire American delegation came to work. As we did last year, my team and I scheduled our various principals for more than 120 separate meetings and public appearances with officials from other nations, NGOs, multilateral institutions, and businesses present. It was a punishing but highly productive schedule for the 48 hours or so that most of our visitors were in town.

Because of the late hour of her arrival, the Secretary went straight to her lodging after the tumultuous welcome at the airport. She started early the next day with a private breakfast meeting with the leaders of the Forum nations at one of my favorite island haunts, Trader Jacks on the wharf. The free-wheeling discussion was warm, candid, and substantive, touching on a wide range of issues and common objectives including ongoing negotiations to renew the Pacific tuna treaty.

The Secretary greets some locally-based American nuns during a visit to Rarotonga (Photo: - click through for image source)

On her way into Trader Jacks, the Secretary stops to greet several American nuns based on Rarotonga.

After more than an hour of discussion, the Secretary and island leaders drove to the National Auditorium for the formal start of the Post-Forum Dialogue. Each Dialogue partner made an official statement to the assemblage, and then Prime Minister Puna opened the floor for general discussion. In her remarks, the Secretary talked about America’s long history as a Pacific nation, noting that 70 years ago the U.S. had “made extraordinary sacrifices on many of the islands represented” and had since then “underwritten the security that has made it possible for the people of this region to trade and travel freely.”

During the morning recess, the Secretary greeted members of the public and viewed various exhibits of island products and projects displayed in the Auditorium courtyard. She and Prime Minister Peter O’Neill of Papua New Guinea then held a lengthy bilateral meeting that covered a variety of issues of importance to the two nations. Our Ambassador to PNG Teddy Taylor participated with the Secretary in the bilat while I met with several Cook Islands entrepreneurs about business and environmental projects being launched.

Secretary Clinton and Delegates to the Pacific Islands Forum pose for a family photo at the Cook Islands National Auditorium, August 31, 2012. [State Department photo by Ola Thorsen/ Public Domain]

Secretary Clinton poses for a family photo with Forum leaders and Post-Forum Dialogue heads of delegation. She is flanked by Prime Ministers Key (left) and Puna (right) of New Zealand and the Cook Islands, respectively.

When the bilat with Prime Minister O’Neill concluded, the Secretary and other members of our delegation drove the short distance up the hill to the residence of New Zealand’s High Commissioner to the Cook Islands, John Carter. There we had lunch with Prime Minister Key, Foreign Minister Murray McCully, and other Kiwi officials. The discussion was wide ranging and cordial, as one would expect among good friends with aligned values.

After lunch the Secretary and Prime Minister walked across the front lawn to meet the assembled American and Kiwi press. They made short statements and then entertained questions. In her statement the Secretary noted the close working relationship between the two countries. She also referenced new programs that the U.S. was launching at the Forum to support our Pacific island friends in several key areas including promoting sustainable economic development, protecting biodiversity, advancing regional security, and supporting the advancement of women in the Pacific.

Secretary Clinton and Prime Minister John Key of New Zealand participate in a joint press availability at the Pacific Islands Forum in Rarotonga, Cook Islands, August 31, 2012.

Prime Minister Key and Secretary Clinton meet the press after lunch.

The next engagement on the agenda was a strategic trilateral discussion among the United States, Australia, and New Zealand led by the Secretary, Australian Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs Richard Marles, and Kiwi Foreign Minister Murray McCully. The discussion focused on promoting development and security cooperation in the Pacific, including with respect to issues of sustainability, good governance, and support for civil society and democratic institutions.

The American delegation then drove from the High Commissioner’s residence to Tamarind House to host an event commemorating America’s historic and ongoing peace and security partnerships in the Pacific, an issue of particular importance to the Obama Administration. The Secretary was joined on the beachfront dais by Admiral Samuel Locklear, Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command (a.k.a. Pacom) and Rear Admiral Charles Ray, District Commander of the 14th Coast Guard District based in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Secretary Clinton walks with Rear Admiral Charles W. Ray, U.S. Coast Guard, and Admiral Samuel J. “Sam” Locklear III, Commander U.S. Pacific Command, at an event commemorating U.S. peace and security partnerships in the Pacific at Tamarind House. [State Department photo by Ola Thorsen/ Public Domain]

Sec. Clinton arrives at Tamarind House with Admirals Locklear (right) and Ray (left).

The three principals took turns discussing America’s century-long engagement in the Pacific, particularly the vast contributions made by the United States to the regional peace and security that have allowed other nations to develop, grow, and prosper.

That’s a point too often overlooked. In an era of short attention spans, short memories, and binary thinking, it’s important to remind ourselves of the laws of cause and effect as well as of the broader, more complex context in which current events manifest.

The Secretary began her remarks by framing America’s engagement in the Pacific region as “a model of partnerships that reflect our shared values, delivers practical benefits, and helps create stronger economies and societies. Our goal is to help the island nations of the Pacific realize their own aspirations, reach your own goals.”

She noted that “[w]e already work closely with our partners on a range of transnational and maritime security issues, including crime, trafficking in persons, nuclear nonproliferation, disaster response and preparedness,” and she announced that the U.S. is “doubling down” in two particular security areas — maritime awareness and unexploded World War II ordnance.

Maritime awareness is essential to protecting fisheries and other ocean resources. Under our Shiprider programs, U.S. Coast Guard ships and aircraft host Pacific island law enforcement officers, enabling them to patrol from our ships. As an example of what such partnerships can produce, just since 2009 we have facilitated the collection by Kiribati of more than US$ 4 million in fines for illegal fishing in its waters. The Secretary announced significant expansion of our Shiprider partnerships including utilizing U.S. Navy ships along with our Coast Guard.

The Secretary then discussed the human and environmental dangers posed by unexploded bombs and shells from World War II. She acknowledged that no one really knows the full extent of the problem, but that it had to be addressed aggressively. She announced that the U.S. Government would add an additional US$ 3.5 million to the millions already committed in recent years to help identify, remove, and destroy unexploded ordnance in the islands.

Frankie Reed, U.S. Ambassador to Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga, Tuvalu, and the Pacific Islands Forum, welcomes Secretary Clinton Rarotonga Dialogue on Gender Equality. [State Department photo by Ola Thorsen/ Public Domain]

Amb. Frankie Reed introduces the Secretary at our Dialogue on Gender Equality.

We also convened at Tamarind House a group of women leaders from the member nations of the PIF including my good friend Adi Fafuna’i, about whom I wrote just a few weeks ago. Dubbed the Rarotonga Dialogue on Gender Equality and led by another good friend of mine, Ambassador Frankie Reed, the gathering discussed at length the status of women in island societies as well as ways to empower women and girls socially, politically, and economically.

The Secretary joined the discussion after the peace and security event concluded. She noted the challenges faced by women in the Pacific — for example, four of only seven all-male legislatures left on Earth are in the region — and then reviewed the work of the Pacific Women’s Empowerment Initiative which she launched in 2010 in collaboration with Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and the World Bank.

Building on the Empowerment Initiative, the Secretary announced the formation of a partnership of governments and organizations to support leadership training for women – especially those in Pacific university institutions and organizations - to be called the Rarotonga Partnership for the Advancement of Pacific Island Women. The East-West Center in Hawaii will coordinate regional education institutions and private partners to greatly expand leadership training, academic scholarships, and other educational opportunities for women in the network, thus creating new opportunities for Pacific women to assume prominent roles in public service and private enterprise.

The Secretary poses with attendees at the Rarotonga Dialogue on Gender Equality.

Posing with delegates who participated in our Dialogue on Gender Equality.

No matter how busy the schedule when she travels, Secretary Clinton always insists on meeting with the State Department personnel involved in the event or trip to thank them for their service. Thus, I assembled the officers and staff in country from Embassy Wellington, Consulate General Auckland, Embassy Apia, and several other American Missions as well. The Secretary spoke about the importance of the work of the Department, posed for photos, and then walked across the beach to our next event.

Hosted by Cook Islands Prime Minister Puna, the final official engagement of the day focused on sustainable development and ocean conservation. The Prime Minister discussed the Cooks’ thriving black pearl industry and laid out his vision for a Pacific Oceanscape of marine reserves, responsible stewardship of marine resources, and economic development compatible with environmental protection.

Secretary Clinton speaks at the Sustainable Development and Conservation Event. [State Department photo by Ola Thorsen/ Public Domain]

Secretary Clinton speaks at the Sustainable Development and Conservation Event.

In her responsive remarks, the Secretary thanked the Prime Minister for his warm hospitality, commended him on his excellent leadership of the Forum, and acknowledged his inspirational commitment to conservation.

She announced two new programs through USAID — one to work with coastal communities to increase their indigenous capacity to adapt to climate change, and the other to help develop the region’s renewable energy resources by providing training and education for technicians and engineers to install, maintain, and repair solar energy equipment.

With respect to other conservation issues, the Secretary talked about American efforts to persuade the international community to declare Antarctica’s Ross Sea, one of the last great marine wildernesses left on Earth, as a marine protected area. It’s a difficult struggle, but the right thing to do.

She also talked about new cooperative programs with Kiribati to protect marine ecosystems, and explained how the State Department’s Pacific islands diaspora project was working to offer entrepreneurs access to capital and technical assistance to advance sustainable, environmentally sensitive economic development in their countries of origin or heritage in the region.

After the formal remarks concluded, the Prime Minister and Secretary mingled with the hundred or so Cook Island business and civic leaders present, and continued their discussion of the Cooks’ pearl and tourism industries. It was a glorious beach setting under clear blue skies, and no one seemed anxious to leave despite the setting of the sun.

In all, over the course of the day Secretary Clinton launched a large number of new initiatives of mutual benefit to the island nations and the United States on issues of regional security, sustainable development, marine protection, climate change, gender equality, education, and economic partnership. Oriented toward capacity building, people-to-people engagement, and entrepreneurial self-reliance, the initiatives provide a recipe for empowerment, not dependency.

The Secretary visits Avarua’s Saturday morning market during her free time in Rarotonga - Click through for image source - Hindustan Times

The Secretary takes a stroll in town after PIF meetings ended.

In addition to the specific projects discussed above, I thought I’d share a small sample of the other U.S. initiatives and commitments discussed during the PIF. They aren’t things that you’d notice while walking down the street, and they certainly aren’t sexy or salacious enought to be reported in the papers, but they are transformative in their cumulative impact in the region. And they represent just part of the direct American commitment to the islands which totals approximately US$ 350 million per year. Again, just a quick sampling from meetings in which I participated:

Environmental Stewardship: The United States is committed to working with the Pacific islands to protect the unique marine resources of the Pacific and will explore with Kiribati areas of cooperation on the protection, preservation, and conservation management of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area and the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (which together account for 244,514 square miles of protected marine areas).

Climate Change: Recognizing that climate change is one of the most pressing concerns for the peoples of the Pacific, the United States is working to build capacity in the region to help communities adapt to the effects of climate change. In addition to the US$ 25 million Coastal Community Adaption Program already described, the United States is also establishing Vocational Training and Education for Clean Energy (VOCTEC), a US$ 1 million program aimed at generating and sustaining renewable energy investments.

Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations, Esther Brimmer, at the Post Forum Dialogue.

Assistant Secretary of State for Int’l Organizations, Esther Brimmer, at the Post-Forum Dialogue.

Pacific Partnership: Next year, the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Partnership exercise will return to the Pacific, including Samoa. Pacific Partnership deployments collectively have provided medical, dental, and educational services to 250,000 people and completed more than 150 engineering projects in 15 countries.

Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice to Combat Environmental Crimes: The State Department will continue to help link the countries in the region to increase capacity building for anti-corruption, law enforcement, and rule of law communities. The State Department and the Department of Justice are supporting a new prosecutor-led Natural Resource Crimes Task Force in Indonesia that could serve as a model for Pacific nations on improving prosecution of natural resource crimes.

Developing Economic Linkages: In recognition of the cultural and economic ties between the United States and Pacific islands, the Department of State is partnering with the PIF Secretariat’s Pacific Islands Trade & Invest to launch the Pacific Islands IdEA Marketplace (PIIM).

PIIM is being implemented within the context of the International diaspora Engagement Alliance (IdEA), an innovative program that has successfully linked diasporas to local populations in Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America. PIIM collaborators will develop a competition that seeks out innovative ideas to promote economic development and reduce the vulnerability of populations to natural disaster. Winners will be provided with technical assistance for developing their business plans and access to project financing and entrepreneurial networks.

Economic Growth and Prosperity: Ex-Im Bank is active in the region and seeks to provide financing for the procurement of U.S. equipment and services in most PIF countries. Over the past three years Ex-Im has supported financing in the amount of approximately US$ 7 billion dollars for projects in the Pacific including new liquid natural gas project developments in Australia and Papua New Guinea.

More Economic Growth and Prosperity: Since 1980, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) has invested more than US$ 341 million dollars in the Pacific region, supporting investment and development in Papua New Guinea, Fiji, and Micronesia. OPIC currently has more than US$ 45 million in investments and insurance in the Pacific Islands region, and is actively looking to support viable projects in the region.

The Cook Islands offers up beautiful beaches and a rich marine environment. [State Department photo - Public Domain]

The Cook Islands offers beautiful beaches and a rich marine environment.

USAID: The recently opened USAID office in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea is already managing a diverse portfolio of development projects in the South Pacific region.

Constitutional Development and Democracy: For example, this year USAID has provided nearly US$ 2 million to support democratic institutions in Fiji as well as free and fair elections in Papua New Guinea.

Regional Project Support: The Regional Environmental Office of U.S. Embassy Suva provides between US$ 75,000 and US$ 125,000 per year in numerous small grants for local projects throughout the region tackling both environmental and health issues.

PIF Youth Conference: This will be a conference sponsored by Embassy Wellington for youth leaders from each of the 16 member countries of the PIF to discuss key political, economic, environmental, and social issues in the region and to create a Pacific youth leaders network that will continue to communicate following the conference.

Interior of the Cook Islands from the Cross Island Track.

Near the center of Rarotonga island, on the Cross Island Track.

American Youth Leadership Program with Samoa: 20 American participants will travel to Samoa for a four-week exchange in December 2013 to study food security and nutrition alongside twenty Samoan teens.

Adopt the Airport Project: This project plans to transform unused land beside the Majuro Airport in the Marshall Islands into the atoll’s largest eco-friendly outdoor exercise facility.

Pacific Islands Sports Visitor Program: Focused on hearing-impaired track and field athletes, this program planned for early 2013 will reinforce awareness, locally and regionally, about disability inclusion especially for youth.

American Samoa: Governor Togiola Tulafono of American Samoa also had a busy week of meetings, including finalizing and signing an MoU with the Cook Islands to work cooperatively on a South Pacific Albacore management regime, the monitoring of Cook Island flagged vessels using the port of Pago Pago, the exchange of fisheries related information and research, and personnel exchange visits.

Governor of American Samoa, Togiola Tulafono, signing an MoU with the Cook Islands’ Minister of Marine Resources, Teina Bishop at the National Auditorium.

Governor Togiola Tulafono (seated, right) signs an MoU with Cook Islands Minister of Marine Resources Bishop.

Strengthening Democracy to Mitigate the Effects of Climate Change on Public Health: This project aims to expand on a newly published book, Public Health Impacts of Climate Change in Palau, by Southern Illinois University and funded by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) through a television and print campaign to raise awareness and foster discussion about the impacts of climate change on public health.

Economic Innovation Fund / Transition from Substance Living to Market Economy: This program will work in conjunction with the Federated States of Micronesia’s current program designed to improve income for rural communities and increase household nutrition standards.

Leadership Development: The East-West Center will partner with other regional donors on a US$ 3 million program to provide leadership development and skills training for 125 young Pacific islanders.

The Secretary greets people during a visit to the Avarua markets in Rarotonga (Photo: AFP - click through for image source.)

The Secretary greets people at the market in Avarua.

Yes, that’s a blizzard of work and a lot of official meetings. But there was also time for direct engagement with the people of the Cook Islands. Secretary Clinton enjoyed a couple hours talking with shoppers in local markets, walking along the beach, and dining in local eateries. “Auntie Hillary” was the talk of the town, and signs welcoming her or offering special deals (e.g., “Free Ice Cream for Anyone Named Hillary Clinton”) were evident across the island.

Unfortunately, the Secretary’s visit was brief and soon over. The PIF was just the first stop on a long trip that would take her onward to Australia, Indonesia, Brunei, Timor Leste, China, Russia, and other locations on a tight schedule. So, shortly after being welcomed, she was back at the airport being farewelled by Prime Minister Puna, other Cook Island officials, Dr. McWaine, and me.

L to R: Cook Islands PM Henry Puna, Amb Huebner, Secretary Clinton, Mrs Akaiti Puna.

Bidding the Secretary farewell with Prime Minister Puna and Mrs. Akaiti Puna.

I’ll leave you with the closing words from one of the Secretary’s public statements in the Cooks which nicely summarize the tone and orientation of American engagement in the Pacific:

“The United States is proud to support our many partnerships and our longstanding friendships in the region. Seventy years ago our countries stood together to fight for security and peace in the Pacific. At the end of that terrible world war, who could have predicted where we would be in 70 years?

“The United States did not leave the Pacific after that, instead we focused on making sure that the region continued to be safe and secure so that you could develop, you could pursue commerce, you could raise your children in peace, you could become more prosperous. We’re going to work together to ensure that all the people of the Pacific islands, in the 21st Century, have the chance to fulfill their own God-given potential. That is the hope that the United States brings to our partnerships and our friendships.

“We have put very real initiatives behind these hopes and these commitments, and we will be with you over the years and decades, and I would predict over centuries to come, as we see these islands continue to prosper, to go from strength to strength.”

2012 TOP TEN

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It’s hard to believe, but yet another year is drawing rapidly to a close. As we look ahead to the New Year, it makes sense to reflect on the twelve months gone by, so I thought I’d assemble a list of the efforts in which the American Mission played a meaningful role that most significantly contributed to positive momentum in U.S. relations with New Zealand and Samoa in 2012. Given the exponential acceleration of our activity, it was not an easy job to create a short list of highlights. After a good bit of thought and revision, here’s my Top Ten countdown:

10. Gold Standard Award for Social Media Communications

Our year started with some unexpected but greatly appreciated positive reinforcement when Public Affairs Asia, the leading regional professional association for corporate communicators, honored us with the Gold Standard Award for Social Media Communications at its annual awards event in Singapore in January. Although the trophy says “2011,” the award is emblematic of a large volume of impactful, innovative, high-quality work performed at the Mission in 2012.

Gold Standard Award.Each year the Gold Standard Awards recognize achievement in the Pacific and Asia regions across a wide range of public affairs and communications activity, including social media.

A panel of leading industry judges narrowed the many nominees in the social media category this year to a short list composed of Research in Motion (RIM), Kraft Foods Australia, Johnnie Walker Black Label, and the American Mission New Zealand (a.k.a. the Embassy).

We were selected as the ultimate winners based on an in-depth, comprehensive review of all four nominees’ social media activities and outcomes.

The award hits my Top Ten list as a proxy for the substantial commitment made by the Embassy to engaging new audiences via the internet and to positioning ourselves as a bit of an idealab for 21st Century diplomatic tools and approaches. In the year gone by, we significantly increased our reach across all of our existing platforms and experimented with new platforms such as Pinterest and Instagram. We also deepened the integration of our “live” and “virtual” activities, moving ourselves closer to the point at which social media will be an organic part of everyone’s work.

Perhaps most exciting, this year we broke ground on our new Digital Engagement Center in the Embassy. A combination of video studio and computer lab, the facility will allow us to create more professional, interactive content for our social media platforms, as well as to link more effectively to web-based collaborations elsewhere. The Center should be fully outfitted and operational by February 1st, so stay tuned for updates.

9. American Ambassador Outstanding Award

Throughout 2012 we continued to expand our already extensive engagement with youth and future leaders at the high school, university, post-grad, and early career stages. Among the many new efforts we launched was establishing the American Ambassador Outstanding Award as part of the Royal Society of New Zealand’s annual Realise the Dream Awards, a nation-wide secondary school science competition.

Me and Sohail after the award ceremony. Photo credit US Embassy, Wellington.

With Sohail Abdulla, the first recipient of the Ambassador’s Award.

The new award will enable an aspiring Kiwi scientist or engineer to attend each year the annual Intel International Science & Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF), the largest pre-university science competition in the world, with more than 1,500 high school students from 80 countries and territories. Intel ISEF provides an extraordinary opportunity for science-oriented students to broaden their horizons, network with their peers, and revel in shared enthusiasm for research and invention.

It was certainly a personal highlight of my year to present the inaugural American Ambassador Outstanding Award to Sohail Abdulla of Mount Roskill Grammar School in Auckland for his work designing and building a glass-cleaning robot that climbs up windows. Sohail will be taking his impressive robot to the next ISEF, scheduled for May 2013 in Phoenix, Arizona. We very much look forward to presenting our award to a similarly promising young Kiwi each year, and to continuing to expand the Embassy’s youth and exchange programs.

8. Connecting Young Leaders Conference

Another Top Ten  highlight drawn from our youth outreach this year was our 2nd biennial Connecting Young Leaders Conference, which brought together my student advisers from around the country for two days of policy discussions, leadership and career skills-building, and networking with special guests from government, business, academic, media, elite sports, and not-for-profit circles.

Jacinda Ardern and Julie Anne Genter attempting to keep up with the questions from students. An entire day devoted to this panel wouldn’t have been enough.

Members of Parliament Jacinda Ardern and Julie Anne Genter take questions from the students.

In my travels I meet regularly with my student advisers at New Zealand’s various universities, but there is nothing quiet as energizing as bringing everyone together to brainstorm, socialize, and debate in an intensely concentrated but casual manner. There is no more powerful investment in the future than these kinds of interactive youth programs, and our first experiment with a conference two years ago was such a success that we’ve institutionalized the gathering as a regular event. This year’s conference certainly exceeded my high expectations.

Our all-star line-up of speakers, panelists, and coaches included Olympian (and CEO of Best Leadership Academy) Beatrice Faumuina, Zeenat Rahman (Secretary Clinton’s Special Adviser for Youth), Westpac Bank senior executive Mark Fitz-Gerald, MPs Jacinda Ardern and Julie Anne Genter, Burgerfuel Worldwide executive Alexis Lam, my former youth adviser (and now head of Maori Development at ICEHOUSE) Shay Wright, and many more. It was the kind of event that keeps me jumping out of bed in the morning, and the students seemed to find it valuable as well. We have already started planning for the next conference.

7. Secretary Janet Napolitano’s Visit to New Zealand

Regular circulation of personnel is as important to the health of a bilateral relationship as circulation of red blood cells is to the health of the human body. One of our top priorities at the Embassy has thus been increasing the number of serious working visits by American officials to New Zealand. We hosted a record number of official visitors in 2012 – more than quintuple the number received during the twelve months immediately prior to my arrival as Ambassador – including three senior members of President Obama’s Cabinet.

Minister of Justice Judith Collins farewells Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano

Minister of Justice Judith Collins with Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano during a successful visit to Wellington.

The first of our Cabinet-level visitors this year was Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, who came for three days of discussions with senior Kiwi officials on a variety of issues including global supply chain security, trusted traveler programs, transnational crime, and human trafficking. The Secretary’s visit easily hits my Top Ten list because of the importance of the topics covered and the tangible progress made on projects of direct benefit to both countries.

In addition to meeting with Prime Minister John Key and Leader of the Opposition David Shearer, the Secretary signed joint statements of intent with Ministers Nathan Guy and Maurice Williamson, launched a study of how New Zealand’s Smart Gate might be synched with U.S. trusted traveler programs to better facilitate two-way business travel, and reviewed ways to extend the world-leading collaboration between the United States and New Zealand on expediting customs processing while increasing container security.

6. Project (R)evolution Social Media Conference

In a sign of just how important it is to our work at the Mission, social media takes another slot on our 2012 Top Ten list, this time for a conference we held in Auckland back in August. Partnering with Auckland University of Technology and Social Media NZ, we brought together more than 200 digital thinkers from New Zealand, the United States, and elsewhere to discuss the current status and future direction of connectivity technology and net-driven change.

Team Project Revolution

At center, Project (R)evolution speakers Alec Ross (Sec. Clinton’s Senior Advisor for Innovation) and Emily Banks (Managing Editor of Mashable), with my colleagues (from left) Laura McNeur, Sean Gillespie, Mike Cousins, and Marie Damour.

Brainchild of my Embassy colleague (and relentless social media czar) Mike Cousins, the gathering was dubbed The Project: (R)evolution and pitched at a 3.0 rather than 1.0 level with research-based sessions and extensive opportunity for discussion. The impressive roster of presenters was assembled from major industry players, change-focused enterprises, entrepreneurial success stories, and seasoned net practitioners.

Approving the seed money to launch the process was perhaps the best decision I made in 2012. The conference attracted an elite cohort of thought leaders and trended globally on Twitter. The proceedings generated vigorous, deep, informed discussion of issues such as innovation, digital ethics, intellectual property, web access, and change management that are too often painted with cartoonish brush strokes. Based on our inaugural experience, we hope to make the conference an annual event with a different cutting-edge focus each year.

*  *  *

Stay tuned. I’ll continue the countdown tomorrow.

As you probably know from my tweets, I have just gotten back from Washington after Prime Minister John Key’s visit. I didn’t try to blog daily while there because I knew that the media here in New Zealand would already be filled with stories, commentary, and photos. I also knew from past experience just how busy time in DC can be, squeezing out any real chance to sit quietly at a computer to draft. Now that the dust has settled, though, a recap makes sense. So, here goes …

I arrived in Washington a couple days before the Prime Minister so that I could attend to final preparations and details. I also wanted a little time for internal consultations, i.e., making the rounds of the State Department and other agencies and departments in town to collect information, discuss issues relevant to my job, and trawl for resources that we need at the Embassy.  

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, speaks at breakfast at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Thursday, July 21, 2011 in Washington.(© AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Prime Minister Key at the US Chamber of Commerce. (© AP Photo)

The Prime Minister arrived late Wednesday night and proceeded directly to Blair House, across the street from the White House. As I discussed in my prior post, staying at Blair House is a special honor. Blair House is also a very comfortable and convenient base of operations. Given the intense heat and humidity in Washington that week, I know that the Prime Minister greatly appreciated being centrally located and having most of the Cabinet Secretaries and other interlocutors come to him for the scheduled meetings.

The first official event of the visit was a speech by the Prime Minister to the US Chamber of Commerce, at the Chamber’s large headquarters just around the corner from Blair House. I greeted the Kiwi press scrum as they hustled into the building a bit sweaty and frazzled just before the Prime Minister. The PM himself was relaxed, rested, and enthusiastic when I met him at the door of the Chamber as his motorcade arrived.

He circulated through the room of approximately 100 business leaders and then delivered remarks that included a report on Christchurch, the current state of the New Zealand economy, and his thoughts on the mutual benefits expected from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). After the speech he responded to questions from the audience and then adjourned to a separate room to take questions from the press, which by that time had cooled and dried off.

While the Prime Minister was engaged with the press, I walked back to Blair House. By that point the temperature was already approaching 100 degrees, but I didn’t want to wait for a lift in the motorcade in case there was any final prep work necessary in the meeting rooms. Also, I always like approaching the White House on foot through Lafayette Park … a thrill enhanced by seeing the New Zealand flag flying above Blair House across the street.

Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, left center, meets with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, right center, at Blair House in Washington,  Thursday,  July 21, 2011.  (© AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)

With Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner at Blair House. (© AP Photo)

Blair House is a superbly run facility, and there was no last-minute prep work waiting. I passed through a security detail surprised to see me arriving on foot, and paused briefly on the front steps to remember police officer Leslie William Coffelt, a true hero who helped foil an attempt to assassinate President Harry Truman in 1950. Though mortally wounded by three close-range shots to the chest as the assassins began their assault on Blair House, Les Coffelt managed to stagger to his feet and shoot the lead assailant as he lunged up the steps, thus preventing him from reaching the President.

I was greeted on the steps by the House manager and had a quiet cup of tea in the Lincoln Room, sitting at the fireplace where President Lincoln himself often sat. The Prime Minister arrived about 15 minutes later, followed shortly by Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner and his senior team for 45 minutes or so of discussions. Following Secretary Geithner was Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and her senior team, including Assistant Secretary Mariko Silver, who was in Christchurch in February when the quake struck.

In both meetings the Prime Minister talked about Christchurch recovery issues, solicited the Secretaries’ views of various current events, discussed ongoing collaborations between the US and New Zealand, and probed re potential new joint projects. The meetings were warm and collegial, as one would expect among friends, rather than formal or stilted. After seeing Secretary Napolitano out, Prime Minister Key left Blair House for the drive down Pennsylvania Avenue to Capitol Hill.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, right, hosts an honor cordon to welcome John Key, Prime Minister of New Zealand, to the Pentagon Thursday, July 21, 2011 in Washington.(© AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Being greeted by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta at the Pentagon. (© AP Photo)

The Prime Minister was greeted at the Capitol steps by Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar. They walked to the floor of the Senate where Senator Kerry introduced the PM as “a great friend of the United States,” noting that New Zealand is “in enormous partnership” with America, indeed ”one of the strongest and best partnerships with us on a global basis.” The Senate then suspended its deliberations on the debt ceiling and went into recess so that the Prime Minister could speak with several of the Senators, including Senator John McCain.

I did not accompany the Prime Minister to the Hill because of the Constitutional framework of separation of powers within our governance system. I reside within the Executive Branch of Government, and the Capitol is the seat of our Legislative Branch. The feedback that I got from my good friends at that end of Pennsylvania Avenue, however, was that the Prime Minister was received with extraordinary warmth, candor, and goodwill … that there were productive exchanges on substantive issues … and that he seemed to thoroughly enjoy his visit.

Thus, I was surprised by some of the media reports about the PM’s Hill visit being “derailed” because Senators Reid and McConnell were unable to meet privately with him. If being escorted into the Well of the Senate during critical deliberations, having the Senate cease urgent business in order to greet you, and having one-on-one conversations with former Presidential nominees and other leading Senators on the Floor add up to being “derailed,” then perhaps those reporting didn’t actually watch or understand what was occurring. Our Senate is a grand and historic institution, and it received the Prime Minister in a most special manner.

After the Senate visit, I rejoined the Prime Minister’s delegation at the Pentagon. I arrived early to spend time with several of my contacts discussing pending projects. I was particularly pleased to see Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joints of Staff, who is America’s highest-ranking military officer and the President’s principal military advisor. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and a full honor guard met the Prime Minister on the steps as his motorcade arrived, and we all adjourned to the Secretary’s private dining room for lunch.

Tomb pic

Approaching the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery.

Later in the afternoon we drove to Arlington Cemetery so that the Prime Minister could lay a wreath at our Tomb of the Unknowns. Over 2.5 square kilometers in size, Arlington contains more than 300,000 graves of those who have served our country in time of war … including two US Presidents, four Chief Justices of the Supreme Court, many dozens of other famous Americans, and 3,800 freed slaves … as well as several special monuments, including to those who perished in the Space Shuttle Columbia and Challenger disasters, the terrorist bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, the Iran hostage rescue mission, and the sinking of the USS Maine.

Whenever I visit Washington I make it a point to go to Arlington. I visit particular graves. I spend time at the Tomb of the Unknowns. And I climb the hill to Arlington House for its panoramic view of DC. Built by President George Washington’s adopted grandson, Arlington House was for more than two decades the home of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and his family. Arlington is a moving, peaceful, yet complex place which offers meaningful insights into American history and character. It is also a working cemetery, with approximately 30 burials each day of the year.

Our motorcade’s route was lined with hundreds of servicemen and women in full dress uniform. A 19-cannon salute, military band, and large honor guarded greeted the Prime Minister at the Tomb. We walked up the steps lined with many dozens of additional servicemen. The two national anthems were played, the Prime Minister laid a wreath at the Tomb, and we toured the museum. The Prime Minister presented the museum with a book about Kiwi Victoria Cross recipients, and the curator placed the book directly into a display cabinet containing Victoria Crosses awarded to fallen servicemen interred at Arlington. It was an unexpected, moving moment underscoring shared values and sacrifice.

After Arlington, we returned to Blair House through the triple-digit heat and heavy humidity. There we met for about 50 minutes with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, followed by my Yale Law School classmate Gene Sperling, who is now Director of the National Economic Council and President Obama’s top economic advisor. I hadn’t seen Gene since 1984, and he gave me one of those exuberant Sperling bear hugs that I remembered from New Haven. The meetings were cordial and substantive, and centered around current events and questions posed by the Prime Minister.

Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, left, meets with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, right, at Blair House in Washington, Thursday, July 21, 2011.  (© AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)

With Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke at Blair House. (© AP Photo)

When the meeting with Director Sperling ended, I hitched a ride with Kiwi Ambassador Mike Moore up to the New Zealand Embassy for a black tie dinner in honor of American hedge fund manager and philanthropist Julian Robertson. I mingled with the assembled guests, chatted with Julian, introduced Dr McWaine to a few people, and had the great pleasure of meeting one of my predecessors, former Ambassador Charles Swindells. When the PM arrived he presided over the formal investiture of Julian as an honorary Knight Companion of the realm, and we settled down to a fine dinner.

The next day, Friday, started early with an hour at Blair House with my colleague Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns. Acting Secretary of State prior to Secretary Clinton’s confirmation by the Senate and now the second highest ranking official in the Department, Ambassador Burns was a superb interlocutor for the Prime Minister in Secretary Clinton’s absence (due to a previously scheduled Asia trip). The Deputy Secretary briefed the Prime Minister, and the two discussed a wide variety of global issues.

After the meeting with Ambassador Burns, I had the pleasure of greeting General Brent Scowcroft, former National Security Advisor to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush. We chatted for a few minutes in the Lincoln Room and then walked down the hall for a rountable conversation with the Prime Minister and more than a dozen Washington think tank leaders. There was vigorous discussion of Afghanistan, trade, East Asia, the Middle East, the Pacific, and other topics, after which several of the think thank experts stayed for a Q&A with the visiting Kiwi media.

The PM, his entourage, and I then returned to the Lee Drawing Room to meet with Ambassador Ron Kirk, the United States Trade Representative, and his senior team. There was discussion about the TPP, the Doha Development Round, and other trade issues. As with the other bilateral meetings, the exchange was warm, collegial, and substantive, and the press scrum was invited in for a couple minutes to take photos of the proceedings.

President Barack Obama, right, with New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key, delivers a statement in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington following their meeting Friday, July 22, 2011.  (©AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

With President Barack Obama in the Oval Office. (©AP Photo)

I returned to the State Department briefly and then made my way to the White House. Rather than drive in, I walked through the 17th Street gates, past the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, and up to the door of the West Wing. I spent a half hour talking with friends who work in the building and then mustered with Deputy Secretary Burns, Director Sperling, and a couple White House staffers to brief the President in the Oval Office.

When Prime Minister Key arrived, he and and President greeted each other warmly, joked a bit about the weather, and settled into a warm conversation about the US-NZ bilateral relationship. The Prime Minister updated the President on the Christchurch recovery process, and the President thanked the Prime Minister for New Zealand’s highly productive engagement in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world. The two leaders ranged across a variety of other topics, and then the White House press corps and the visiting Kiwi media stampeded (literally, believe me) in for film, photos, and statements.

I was a bit surprised later to see Kiwi press reports saying that the meeting was rushed or “cut short.” I didn’t think to bring my stop watch, but it seemed to me that the conversation proceeded naturally, filled the allotted time, and indeed continued for awhile after the press scrum was escorted out of the Oval Office. Anyway, although minutes are certainly easier to analyze than progress or substance, the meeting seemed to me to meet expectations on all counts, particularly given what else was occurring in the world that Friday.

After the Prime Minister’s party departed, I spent a few more minutes with the President, who remarked how much he enjoyed the PM’s visit. As I left the Oval Office myself, I saw a rare copy of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Lincoln, and Norman Rockwell’s The Problem We All Live With, one of my favorite works of American art. I was also happy to see the Prime Minister’s gift to the President — a stunning raukawakawa pounamu (flower jade) wahaika (fish-mouth club) carved by Hokitika craftsman Aden Hoglund and presented by the Ngai Tahu.

President Barack Obama, right, and New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key, shake hands following their meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington  Friday, July 22, 2011.  (©AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Shaking hands after making statements to the press. (©AP Photo)

I walked the few steps from the West Wing to the Eisenhower Building for follow-up meetings and then returned to the State Department for an informal celebration with my ANP (Australia, New Zealand, Pacific) Office colleagues. After that, I drove up to the official Residence of the New Zealand Ambassador for the Prime Minister’s final event in Washington, a small dinner with business folks and trade experts to discuss the TPP. It was a convivial evening with no surprises.

I stayed in Washington for one more day of Government consultations focused on youth outreach, sports diplomacy, educational exchanges, and renewable energy projects, which are among the parts of my portfolio that excite me the most. I enjoyed spending time with my friends at the Sports United office who helped arrange our recent Hawaiian rugby exchange program, and with my friend Andrew Cedar who is the Secretary’s senior advisor for youth programs. I concluded my formal schedule with a trip to Capitol Hill to brief the staff of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations re developments since I last visited, in January.

That evening I had the great pleasure of dining informally with my colleagues Bob, Chad, and Marie who were in Washington for training.  Bob is my outgoing Deputy Chief of Mission to whom I am deeply indebted for his guidance and distinguished service during my first 18 months as Ambassador. Marie is my new Deputy Chief of Mission for New Zealand, and Chad is my new Deputy Chief of Mission for Samoa. We had an enjoyable and productive evening, although it was a bit odd listening to Bob coach Marie and Chad on how to try to manage me.

I only spent one week in Washington this time, but crammed into that week was enough work for a month. I can confidently say that it was the most productive, successful, and enjoyable business trip that I’ve ever had. I’m happy, though, to be back in Wellington with a free Saturday tomorrow to recharge my batteries. Dr McWaine is on his annual camping trip in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains with his old high school mates, so I’ll have the run of the Residence.

The White House today announced the United States’ first, comprehensive International Strategy for Cyberspace. Streamed live on, the rollout was conducted by a megawatt team including Secretary Clinton, Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Deputy Secretary of Defense Bill Lynch, and top White House cyber security officials.

The Strategy lays out the President’s vision for the future of the Internet, and sets an agenda for partnering with others to achieve that vision.  The Strategy is realistic about the challenges ahead, and it emphasizes that policies must continue to be grounded in core principles of fundamental freedom, privacy, and the free flow of information if the benefits produced by networked technologies are to continue.

Given her long-standing leadership on internet freedom and other cyber issues, the Secretary was a logical and compelling voice at the rollout.  I’ll let her outline the Strategy and its goals in her own words:

In a preface to the Strategy, President Obama himself eloquently explains the impulse behind developing and advocating an integrated approach to cyberspace:

“The digital world is no longer a lawless frontier, nor the province of a small elite. It is a place where the norms of responsible, just, and peaceful conduct among states and peoples have begun to take hold. It is one of the finest examples of a community self-organizing, as civil society, academia, the private sector, and governments work together democratically to ensure its effective management. Most important of all, this space continues to grow, develop, and promote prosperity, security, and openness as it has since its invention. This is what sets the Internet apart in the international environment, and why it is so important to protect.”

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