YEAR 175 TOP TEN

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Near the end of each year I like to do a countdown of the greatest hits of the past 12 months as a way of pondering and celebrating prior efforts before jumping into the new projects ahead. I always enjoy assembling the Top Ten list, but 2013 posed a couple of special difficulties. First, this 175th year of American diplomatic engagement in the territory of Aotearoa has been one of the busiest and most exciting periods in that long history of relations between our two societies, which makes choosing just ten highlights very difficult. Second, this will be my final year-end musing as Ambassador, which makes the enterprise bittersweet.

A few of our featured icons.

A few of the American icons featured at our 2013 Independence Day receptions.

Among the impactful efforts that would easily have made the list in prior years but got edged out this time around were our exuberant, super-hero themed American Independence Day events, the visit of Attorney General Eric Holder in May, deployment of NASA’s SOFIA airborne telescope in Christchurch, our joyous tour of Samoa with the Harlem Gospel Choir, Dancing Earth’s inaugural trip, commemorations of the 70th anniversary of Eleanor Roosevelt‘s visit to New Zealand …

… the launch of the American Ambassador Award for Best Social Impact at the inaugural Film Raro Festival, the Arizona Diamondback baseball clinic in Eden Park run by superstar Paul Goldschmidt, the launch of Hawaiian Airlines service between Auckland and Honolulu, bringing the NASA Space Apps Challenge to Auckland University of Technology, and, of course, celebrating the 175th anniversary of the opening of the first American consulate in 1838 in the Bay of Islands.

Click for image source. Hawaiian soars above Oahu en route to New Zealand.

Hawaiian soars above Oahu en route to New Zealand.

Despite the overwhelming temptation, I decided against a Top Forty-Seven List because that just would not have had the right resonance. So, after a great deal of thought, anguish, and revision, what follows is my Top Ten countdown for the very special year now rapidly drawing to a close:

10.  Benjamin Franklin Salons

This year we launched a new program to assemble small groups of experts to share perspectives with each other, brainstorm, discuss common ground, and deepen understanding on particular issues of importance. Named after one of my American heroes, Benjamin Franklin, the series is among our most dynamic and impactful projects of the past four years. Thus far I’ve hosted salons on topics such as oceans health, civil society capacity-building in Pacific island nations, intellectual property, and social entrepreneurship.

Click for source.Benjamin Franklin’s legacy endures in this statue in Paris

Benjamin Franklin’s legacy endures in this statue in Paris.

Usually held at the Residence in Wellington or the Consul General’s home in Auckland, each salon brings together 12 to 15 experts and interested persons from a great diversity of perspectives and positions for an extended lunch discussion. For example, our oceans health salon included not only scientists and environmentalists but commercial fishing executives, journalists, and a poet. All of the salons have been interesting, dynamic, useful, and – despite the weighty topics – much fun.

I think that Ben would be pleased. One of history’s greatest polymaths and America’s first Ambassador, Franklin was dispatched to Paris to persuade the French king to recognize the young American nation and assist us in our Revolution. Denied access to the French court for an extended period, Franklin began regularly hosting salons that brought together French scientists, writers, philosophers, clergy, and politicians to discuss the big issues facing the two countries, thus building understanding that greatly benefited both societies. In my view, he invented public diplomacy and saved our Revolution.

9.  Our new Digital Studio

Another highlight of the year was the opening of our new Digital Studio in what had been the Embassy’s library for the past 40 years. Fully outfitted with alternate sets, full-wall green screen, and high-grade digital equipment, the space is now being heavily utilized for content creation for our social media platforms as well as taping interviews and features for other uses, livestreaming, multilocation hangouts and collaborations, audio/video podcasts, graphics, and more.

Interviewing CEO of Genovation Cars Andrew Saul in the Studio

CEO of Genovation Cars Andrew Saul is interviewed in our Studio.

Creating the facility was the most impactful manifestation this year of our commitment to developing and employing new diplomatic tools and approaches. As I’ve discussed before, we have positioned Embassy Wellington as a bit of an idea lab for 21st Century Statecraft because embracing change allows us to engage with Kiwis, Samoans, and others in a more expansive way, to have more meaningful conversations, and to be more effective in our work.

Thus far, dozens of visitors and local luminaries have shared their observations and ideas in front of the cameras, including Minister of Women’s Affairs the Hon. Jo Goodhew, NASA astronaut Marsha Ivins, Victory University Wellington Student Association President Rory McCourt, community resilience expert Daniel Aldrich, Lise Edwards of Gender Allies, visiting think tank and corporate leaders, and many of our Fulbright Scholars and IVLP alumni. And we’re just getting started.

8.  First Nations International Visitor Leadership Program

Although the study tour won’t actually occur until 2014, I have to include on the 2013 Top Ten list an exciting exchange program that we developed and planned over the course of this year. We will be sending six young Maori entrepreneurs and business leaders to the U.S. for three weeks next March to meet with American Indian and Alaskan Native business leaders and to experience firsthand the diversity and richness of American first peoples’ cultures, tribal structures, and economic enterprises.

Click for image source.Solar Project at Ho-Chunk Incorporated in Nebraska.

Among the planned stops on the itinerary are the extensive green energy and other enterprises of the Winnebago tribe in Nebraska.

Organized within the framework of the International Visitor Leadership Program, one of my favorite State Department exchanges, the itinerary will include visits to energy projects in Arizona and New Mexico, tech and investment companies in Washington State, a diversified international economic development enterprise in Nebraska, and large-scale commercial fishing operations in Alaska, all owned and operated by first peoples tribes. The study tour will end in Washington, DC with policy discussions at various agencies and the Embassy of Tribal Nations.

Our travelers will be Ngarimu Blair of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, Toa Greening of Te Huarahi Tika Trust, Gina Rangi of Tuaropaki Trust, Paki Rawiri of Tainui, Lisa Tumahai of Ngāi  Tahu, and Jamie Tuuta of Te Tumu Paeroa. My hope is that they will return to New Zealand with valuable new relationships, business networks, and ideas that will help expand, deepen, and enrich the relationship between our two societies and among the first peoples of our two countries. If successful, I hope that this will be just the first of an ongoing series of similar networking projects.

7.  Connecting Young Leaders Conference

It should be no surprise that our annual Connecting Young Leaders (CYL) Conference hits the list again this year. You just cannot beat the extraordinary energy, enthusiasm, excitement, and intellectual ruckus when we bring my student advisers from New Zealand’s various universities together for a long weekend of networking, policy discussions, and leadership training. I plan my year around Connecting Young Leaders, and it is always one of the most instructive and valuable events that I attend.

With several of my student advisers at the opening reception.

With several of my student advisers at the opening reception.

This year’s conference was the biggest and best to-date, with more than 80 of New Zealand’s top students and more than a dozen impressive speakers and workshop leaders convening at the University of Otago in Dunedin. The program included particularly dynamic break-out sessions on topics such as youth involvement in local government, establishing and running a charitable organization, sustainable development, the role of media in effecting change, and protecting heritage and cultural values.

As I’ve said before, perhaps what makes me happiest about my time as Ambassador is how well our student programs have put down deep, vibrant, authentic roots and spread to other Embassies. You can’t genuinely understand and embrace a society without engaging its youth, and I’m delighted that we have now firmly focused our attention on the future rather than just the past or present. It’s an investment that will greatly enrich both of our societies. I very much look forward to reading about CYL conferences for many years to come.

6.  Pacific Armies Conclaves (PACC & PAMS)

The United States and New Zealand have a long and distinguished history of working together to make the world a more stable, secure, and free place. Over the past four years we have together reinvigorated our security cooperation by conducting humanitarian and disaster relief exercises, restarting regular strategic dialogues, and celebrating touchstones of our shared history such as last year’s 70th anniversary of the arrival of American military forces in New Zealand during World War II and this year’s 70th anniversary of key exercises by U.S. Marines here before determinative battles in the Pacific islands.

New Zealand Defense Minister Coleman welcomes General Odierno to New Zealand.

Defence Minister Coleman welcomes General Odierno to New Zealand.

In 2013, we jointly hosted in Auckland both the 8th biennial Pacific Armies Chiefs Conference (PACC) and the 37th annual Pacific Armies Management Seminar (PAMS), with an agenda focused on collaboration in peacekeeping operations in a United Nations context. The chiefs of army and other senior officers from 32 nations in the Pacific and Indian Oceans region attended, including U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno and Commanding General of the U.S. Army in the Pacific General Vincent Brooks.

The American and Kiwi military co-hosts led multilateral discussions with our regional counter-parts on issues of humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, training for unit interoperability, and coordinating and expediting operational and tactical logistics during emergency situations. There was a full and productive exchange of perspectives, dynamic brainstorming, and the networking that seeds life-saving collaboration. PACC and PAMS were unequivocal successes, demonstrating the wisdom and value of our renewed security engagement.

* * *

Please stay tuned. I’ll continue the countdown in a couple days.

DH Sig

I am in Washington this week for consultations. Each year I come back to HQ for a week or two to meet with colleagues at the State Department, officials in other agencies, Congressmen and staff on the Hill, think tank contacts, and NGO and business leaders working on issues relevant to projects at the Embassy. My short time in DC is always the most productive part of my year because of the efficient way in which face-to-face meetings can move projects forward, generate new ideas, obtain approvals, iron out priorities and schedules, and arrange funding.

National Museum of the Marine Corps.

The National Museum of the Marine Corps.

This time is no different, and it has already been a busy week. First thing Monday morning I visited the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia to talk about next year’s 70th anniversary of the arrival of American military forces in Aotearoa after Pearl Harbor. The Museum is a marvelous new facility with exhibits covering the founding of the Corps in 1775 through present-day missions. The Director and I discussed World War II artifacts from New Zealand, Tarawa, and Guadalcanal that the Embassy might be able to borrow next June if we can find an appropriate exhibition space.

In the two days since my arrival I have also met with my State colleagues in Secretary Clinton’s Office of Global Partnerships, the trade and strategy folks at the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, the Secretary’s Special Advisor for Innovation, our special Ambassador for Trafficking in Persons (TIP) and his deputies, and the team implementing the Presidential Memorandum on LGBT human rights, ending today with an evening call on Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell to talk about next year’s priorities in New Zealand and Samoa.

State Department lobby. Click through for image source.

The State Department lobby.

The visit to the TIP office was particularly instructive. Ambassador CDeBaca and I discussed at length the Palermo Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. Adopted by the United Nations in Palermo, Italy in the year 2000, the Protocol is a legal agreement that supplements the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. New Zealand, the United States, and 115 other nations have ratified the Protocol and have thus agreed to be bound by its provisions.

The Protocol defines human trafficking as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”

Human trafficking is a worldwide scourge, even in highly developed societies, and numerous governments, corporations, and NGOs have launched projects to raise awareness and combat the problem. Notable examples include Stop the Traffik, MTV ACT, Save the Children, and CNN’s Freedom Project.

Created by act of Congress, the State Department’s TIP Office engages in a range of anti-trafficking activities including producing an annual TIP Report that slots countries, now including the United States, on three tiers based on how well they comply with minimum standards to eliminate trafficking.

Washington. Click through for image source.

The National Mall at night.

Beyond the walls of the State Department, I met with friends at the Pentagon to discuss the 70th anniversary, South Pacific humanitarian missions, and a few other projects that we’re working on together. I also called on the American Association of Museums to talk about a couple of US/NZ museum exchanges that I hope to facilitate.

And, in a very 21st Century surprise, while purchasing my two daily Snapple Diet Peach Teas in a grocery store at Columbia Plaza — I wish I could find the stuff in New Zealand — I was approached by my Facebook friend Ray, whom I had never before met in person. He saw me across the aisle and came over to introduce himself and say hello.

In my two remaining days in DC I’m scheduled for another 18 meetings within State, at the White House, and on Capitol Hill. I am particularly looking forward to briefing the staff of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations regarding developments, priorities, and challenges in my two jurisdictions. Another highlight ahead is a visit to the National Museum of the American Indian, where I will tour that extraordinary institution and discuss potential projects with the Director. And of course I’ll pay my usual calls at the White House.

Christmas time in Los Angeles. Click through for image source.

Christmas time in Los Angeles.

Friday morning I’ll head to Los Angeles for the Christmas weekend, followed by several days of commercial diplomacy in Southern California, including meetings with business groups interested in exporting to and/or investing in New Zealand and the South Pacific.

Because we’ve rented our Hollywood home while we’re stationed in Wellington, Dr McWaine and I will be crashing for a couple days with our great friends Vana and Kevin, and then with our Princeton mates (and the parents of our two oldest godsons) Keith and Rose.

I am always energized by being in DC, so I could keep on talking about the goings on here for another hour or two. But it’s getting late, and I should sign off. Tomorrow morning starts early, and the day is especially tightly packed.

If you happen to be in DC and see me on the street or at a Snapple case somewhere, please pull a Ray and say hello.

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.

DR. LIMAYE TALKS EAST ASIA

The Embassy was delighted recently to host Dr. Satu Limaye, director of the East-West Center in Washington, DC, for a busy schedule of lectures in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch as part of our visiting speakers program.  Dr. Limaye is a dynamic thinker on matters Asia-Pacific, and he is the kind of speaker who can really engage an audience.    I particularly enjoyed meeting him because we share a past-life experience – we both spent time in Japan early in our careers as Luce Scholars.

I pulled Dr. Limaye aside at a reception to ask him a few questions so that I could share his answers with my readers:

Dr. Limaye, making a point.

Dr. Limaye, making a point.

DH: What is your evaluation of the Obama Administration’s engagement in the Asia-Pacific region today?

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