Remarks at Reception in Honor of U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy
Secretary of State
This is a special, special evening. I reminded Caroline earlier this afternoon that the first time I met her was when she was four and a half years old, and I was visiting, having – I was working for Teddy Kennedy in his campaign back then, 1962, and was visiting, and she was about to go riding on Macaroni – I remember the pony, and all of us do – and I managed to back into her and step on her foot sufficiently that she broke into wild tears. And I thought I would never be welcome again near her. (Laughter.) So somehow, she forgave me, and we are here on a very, very special occasion.
Ambassador Sasae, thank you, and I notice – I don’t know how many of you noticed – I knew she had invited the whole Kennedy family when I saw the traffic jam out there, guys. (Laughter.) I said, “This could be a big do.” But this is special.
Ambassador Sasae, thank you for all your help and work on our relationship. We’re so grateful to you. I’ve been now already to Japan twice in the last months, and most recently with Secretary Hagel. We had what we call in the vernacular a 2+2 meeting – Defense and State – and we re-signaled the importance of our relationship with Japan. And we could not be more excited or more pleased with the incredible efforts of Prime Minister Abe and the way in which they are taking hold of a new and stronger role in the region. And Ambassador Kennedy is going to contribute to that, we know, in so many significant ways.
I think it is true – and I think everybody here knows this – that because of her family and because of the road she has traveled – it’s hardly the road less traveled – but she has done so with special grace and with the captured imaginations of all Americans who, from the time she was ye high, have watched her. And in many ways, she’s been an ambassador all her life. She has worked so brilliantly in New York City – the work that she did with the New York schools, bringing people together, a convener, not content to simply be who she was by birth, but be who she was going to be by definition of her own choice. And so she’s always done that – written the books, went to law school, but – not a practicer – but used the experience to apply to everything else that she does. Her work with the Kennedy Library, which I got to know so well, is beyond special.
And I think that everybody here would agree that she has superbly carried into public life and her life the ethos of her family, which her father so expressed, which is sort of reach out beyond yourself, live beyond your own persona in an effort to try to make a difference. And I know how proud Uncle Teddy would be if he were here. I joked with her earlier this afternoon about those “forced march” camping trips during the summer where they’d all be piled into a van and they’d go to Mount Vernon or they go to the Civil War battlefields and Teddy would arrange for somebody to take them around and tell them about the history and make sure everybody had a sense of history. And now, Ambassador Kennedy will join a remarkable period of history by leading our relationship to still a stronger place.
It’s pretty remarkable – the daughter of a heroic lieutenant in World War II will be the first woman in the next generation after the war to represent our country in a relationship that symbolizes so much more than just a normal diplomatic relationship. This is a symbol of reconciliation, a symbol of possibilities, a symbol of people who know how to put the past behind them and look to the future and build a future together. That is, in today’s world, both remarkable and beautiful
And so I am really excited, as the President is, that Caroline’s going to be heading over there to represent this relationship at a critical time – the rebalanced Asia, the global marketplace and competition therein, the efforts to deal with North Korea to try to reconcile even more so with the Republic of Korea, the challenges of the South China Sea, the challenges of climate change and of communications. These are huge, huge issues, and I know from my own experience with Caroline her ability to step up and undertake this great challenge.
I’m blessed to have had her campaign for me in Massachusetts way back when she was in high school, and many times since. President Obama could not be more grateful for her support and her efforts and leadership as chair of his campaign, the work that she has done. So Japan, Mr. Ambassador, knows that it is getting an envoy who has the ear of the President, the respect of the President, the affection of the President. And that, as we all know, is a vital thing in the conduct of foreign policy.
Caroline joins Jean Kennedy Smith and her grandfather in serving as Ambassador by an ironic twist of history. I’m proud to say that my grandfather’s cousin was Ambassador to Japan, and today, I have a cousin who is working in the Embassy in Japan, will be working for you, who is working for the Tomodachi youth program, while her husband is serving in the United States Navy as a pilot defending the region. So I’m going to look out for you over there. (Laughter.)
Let me just say to all of you that this historic occasion does send a powerful message, I think, to countries. When Caroline was 20, Teddy took her over there – I think it was Teddy who took her over there – and laid a wreath at Hiroshima. And at that young age, Caroline, I think, forged a bond with Japan and the Japanese, and I want you to know it will not be an accident, Caroline, that when you get there, all the baseball teams will sing Sweet Caroline, so – (laughter) – in honor of the Red Sox, of course. (Laughter.)
So tonight, folks, we celebrate a lot. We celebrate the march of history and the march of time. We celebrate a superb new Ambassador. And we most of all, I want you to – you don’t have glasses, do you? We’re supposed to raise our glasses. We’ll fake it. And we’ll – Mr. Ambassador, would you come up here with Caroline, and we will drink a toast, if we may, and celebrate our new Ambassador, to celebrate our history – Ed – and Mr. Ambassador, we drink to the strength of the relationship between the United States and Japan, and to continue history we will write together. Thank you so much. (Applause.)