- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 27, 2009

TURNING A PAGE

President Obama is turning out to be a new asset for public diplomacy, as U.S. ambassadors refer to his unique personal story and call for change in their own appeals to foreign audiences.

“We expect President Obama’s ability to reach across political, generational, ethnic and racial lines to characterize his approach to international issues as well,” Ambassador Daniel V. Speckhard wrote in a Sunday newspaper article in Greece.

Mr. Speckhard praised Mr. Obama as a political leader who has broken racial and economic barriers and as the first American president to have spent his “formative years” living abroad.

“Mr. Obama is a uniquely 21st century president, reflecting America’s capacity to renew and reinvent itself through the democratic process,” the ambassador said in his article in “Free Sunday.”

Mr. Speckhard noted the “amazing” progress of the United States, where racist laws were common when Mr. Obama was born nearly 50 years ago. His black African father and a white American mother would have been breaking laws against mixed-race marriages in several states.

“It is amazing how far the United States has come in such a short time,” said Mr. Speckhard, a career diplomat. “When Barack Obama was born in 1961, many states had laws on their books that enforced racial segregation, banned mixed-race marriages and restricted minority voting rights. Today … Mr. Obama is the living embodiment of the idea that all people are created equal.”

The ambassador also noted that Mr. Obama, himself, “has broken barriers and crossed political divides.”

“Through hard work, dedication and creativity, Barack Obama succeeded as a student, professor, senator and ultimately was elected president,” Mr. Speckhard said.

The ambassador also predicted that the Obama administration will deepen U.S.-Greek relations, which are already strong.

“As America turns a page,” he said, “we look forward to working closely with the world’s first democracy, Greece, to widen our dialogue and enhance cooperation.”

Meanwhile, in Berlin, the top American diplomat there was equally effusive when he addressed American students entering a U.S.-German fellowship program.

“The world has greeted President Obama with an outpouring of goodwill and hope,” said John M. Koenig, the charge d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy. “Here in Germany, this enthusiasm and fascination opens new opportunities for strengthening our partnership on all levels.”

Mr. Obama got a rock star’s welcome in July when, as a Democratic candidate for president, he addressed a crowd of more than 200,000 in Berlin.

“As the embassy, we have received many indications about how motivating President Obama’s message of change is to the German audience,” he told fellowship students at the American Academy in Berlin.

He said one German company even requested buttons imprinted with one of Mr. Obama’s campaign slogans, “Yes, we can,” to inspire its employees.

Mr. Koenig is in charge of the embassy until Mr. Obama names a new ambassador to replace William R. Timken Jr., a political appointee of President George W. Bush.

PIRATES BEWARE

The United States and Kenya reached an agreement to lock up suspected pirates captured by U.S. forces off the coast of Somalia.

The U.S. Navy, patrolling the waters off the Horn of Africa, will turn over the maritime outlaws to Kenya for prosecution, although details have yet to be finalized.

“It’s a little early to say how [the agreement] will be implemented,” said U.S. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger, who announced the deal in a press conference Monday in Nairobi with Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail James Morrison.

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