Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that I’m back in Washington this week to attend a global Chiefs of Mission conference called by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The key agenda items are advancing our comprehensive economic statecraft initiatives, expanding the scope and pace of diplomatic innovation under our 21st Century Statecraft program, and sharing best practices on a wide array of challenges faced in our Missions around the world.

The conference started yesterday evening with a welcome reception for the Ambassadors and senior Department officials in the historic Benjamin Franklin Room, hosted by Secretary Clinton. I thoroughly enjoyed chatting  with a few dozen of my colleagues about current events and new projects in our respective Embassies. I also had the opportunity to talk with the Secretary about developments in New Zealand and Samoa, including the status of reconstruction in Christchurch.

To launch the formal proceedings, this morning the Secretary delivered a forceful keynote address reporting on the status of restructuring and innovations under our first Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), and highlighting certain priority policy areas for the year ahead.

The priorities discussed by the Secretary include pursuing robust values-based diplomacy in Afghanistan and Iraq as our soldiers depart, expanding our already extensive engagement in and around the Pacific, assisting societies transitioning to democracy, positioning economic engagement at the top of our agenda, continuing to elevate Development as a critical partner of Diplomacy and Defense in America’s security strategy, and maintaining our focus on the status of women and girls.

Following the Secretary’s remarks, Deputy Secretaries William Burns and Thomas Nides drilled down into matters within their respective portfolios. We then spent a couple hours discussing economic statecraft policies and projects with a panel of experts, after which we adjourned to the Ben Franklin Room for lunch with a special guest, Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

The afternoon was devoted to a dozen small-group break-out sessions covering topics ranging from crisis management to cyber policy to human rights. At the end of the day we reconvened in the Acheson Auditorium, named in honor of august Secretary of State Dean Acheson, for a lengthy town hall session with Secretary Clinton. The Secretary’s leadership style is highly interactive and consultative, and she fielded dozens of questions, critiques, and suggestions from our assembled Ambassadors.

The Benjamin Franklin State Dining Room.

Stock photo of the Benjamin Franklin Room, with my personal American hero Ben Franklin looking on from the far wall. (There were, of course, no flowers at lunch.)

Tonight I’ll be attending separate receptions hosted by our Global Partnership Initiative and the Business Council for International Understanding. Led by my friend Kris Balderston, our Global Partnership Initiative forges strategic partnerships with private businesses, philanthropies, foundations, universities, faith communities, Diaspora groups, and individuals to pursue innovative projects to improve people’s lives around the world. The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves is just one example of the exciting and impactful work that Kris’ team is doing.

Wednesday and Thursday will be devoted to separate regional conferences. Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell will run a packed agenda for our Ambassadors from the Pacific and East Asia to discuss issues and projects of particular importance in our part of the world. Kurt has asked me to help lead two of the sessions. With my colleagues from Japan and Thailand, I’ll be talking about lessons learned in disaster response and crisis management over the past year. With colleagues from the Philippines and Indonesia, I’ll be talking about how to develop and implement innovative approaches to public diplomacy.

The formal agenda for the overall conference concludes Thursday evening. I plan to stay for an additional day so that I can devote Friday to a series of individual meetings at the White House, State Department, and other agencies, wrapping up the consultations that I started upon my arrival yesterday.

As usual, my time in DC is inspirational, invigorating, and highly productive. A couple of internal log-jams have already been cleared on projects of importance to Embassies Wellington and Apia. I’ve been proselytizing about Embassy Wellington’s youth, social media, and other idealab activities, some of which are being replicated elsewhere. And, although it’s only Tuesday, I’ve already filled a small notebook with new information and ideas gleaned from my colleagues. Thanks and kudos to the Secretary for convening the full team in such a smart, efficient, and powerful manner.

I am pleased to be back in Samoa for the second time in a month … this time to meet a high-level US delegation arriving from Washington. Leading the delegation is my good friend Dr Kurt Campbell, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. With him will be Admiral Patrick Walsh (Commander of the US Pacific Fleet), Nisha Biswal (Assistant Administrator of USAID), Brigadier General Richard Simcock (Principal Director of the Office for South/Southeast Asia), and several others.

Assistant Secretary Kurt M. Campbell.

Asst Secretary Dr. Kurt Campbell.

During the trip the team will meet with government officials, NGO leaders, entrepreneurs, veterans, scientists, and members of the general public in Samoa and seven other island nations.

Discussions will focus on the full range of issues of concern to those of us whose homelands touch the waters of the Pacific … including fisheries security, climate change, sustainable economic development, disaster planning, humanitarian relief, support for civil society, renewable energy R&D, regional political issues, and donor nation coordination.

Also on the agenda will be the Pacific Island Forum (to be held in Auckland just before the Rugby World Cup this September), as well as American business investment in the Pacific and ways to increase mutually beneficial business opportunities.

The composition of the delegation and the diversity of the agenda illustrate America’s “3D” commitment to robust engagement in the Pacific … through Diplomacy, Development, and Defense. We already have strong bilateral political, economic, and security relationships in our shared Pacific neighborhood. The current trip will take a broad inter-agency approach to building further on that firm foundation.

The journey started yesterday in Kiribati, where the delegation met with President Anote Tong for discussions focused on climate change and economic development prospects. There were wreath-laying ceremonies at a World War II monument and cemetery to commemorate the immense sacrifices made by Americans during the Battle of Tarawa and elsewhere in the Pacific in the service of peace, stability, and self-determination.

The delegation

As I write this, the delegation is en route from Kiribati to meet me here in Samoa, arriving in time for dinner. We will launch the visit with an outdoor banquet for senior officials and other community leaders, so that the American team can get a sense of the diversity and vibrancy of Samoan society in a festive, casual environment.

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As I mentioned in a post a couple weeks ago, this year’s US-NZ Partnership Forum was in full swing at AMI Stadium in Christchurch when the earthquake struck on February 22nd. Among the participants were 11 American students and 11 Kiwi students. Dubbed “Future Partners,” they attended plenary sessions of the main Forum but then broke away for separate panel discussions.

The goal was for the Future Partners to go through the same kind of agenda as the main Forum, formulate recommendations about the future of the US-NZ bilateral relationship, select a couple of spokespersons, and then present their report to the full Forum at the conclusion of the conference. The idea was as innovative and powerful as it was obvious, and I know that the main Forum delegates were energized by the presence of the students.

Our Future Partners delegates, with coordinators Mele (from Fulbright NZ), Adrian (from the Embassy), and Therese (from the Forum).

The students were in the midst of putting together their recommendations when the Stadium suddenly rocked and pitched, parts of the ceiling fell in, furniture overturned, and folks were forced to flee, leaving behind workpapers, drafts, and computers. The evacuation from the Stadium and then from Christchurch prevented the students from completing their deliberations and making their report.

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