WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama on Wednesday announced he would nominate Caroline Kennedy, a close friend and key political ally, as the next U.S. ambassador to Japan.
The daughter of President John F. Kennedy, the 55-year-old Kennedy is president of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. She has written and edited a series of books, most of them related to the Kennedy family and its legacy, but has never held a government post.
The ambassadorship is a major diplomatic assignment, and her appointment comes at an important moment. Japan is embroiled in conflict with China over control of disputed island chains, and is struggling, under a new government, to restore the nation’s stalled economic growth.
Douglas Paal, an Asia specialist at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and a former U.S. official, said Japan “is entering a difficult period,” making the post an important one.
Obama has described Kennedy as “one of my dearest friends.” In early 2008, she was crucial to the success of his presidential campaign by throwing the Kennedy family support to his side, rather than Hillary Rodham Clinton’s. Kennedy was co-chairman of his 2012 presidential campaign.
Obama announced this appointment, first rumored last February, with little fanfare, in a two-page announcement with three other officials.
Her grandfather, Joseph P. Kennedy, was U.S. ambassador to Great Britain from 1938 to 1940.
The Japanese government formally approved Kennedy’s selection earlier this month. The post has gone in the past to a series of distinguished American political figures, including former Vice President Walter Mondale, former House Speaker Tom Foley and former Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield.
The current ambassador is John Roos, a former Silicon Valley lawyer and fundraiser.
When Clinton was named secretary of state in early 2009, Kennedy appeared to be a front-runner among those who might be named to fill the remainder of her term in the Senate.
But Kennedy, a very private person uncomfortable with press attention, abruptly withdrew her name from the running in late January 2009, citing “personal reasons” she would not explain.
Kennedy, if confirmed by the Senate, will be the first woman to hold the Tokyo ambassadorship. Some advocates have argued the move may help the cause of women in male-dominated Japan.