Caroline Kennedy reportedly in line as US envoy to Japan; would be first female to fill high-profile post

WASHINGTON _ Caroline Kennedy, whose endorsement of President Obama in 2008 helped propel him to the Democratic nomination, is in line for the post of ambassador to Japan, according to a new published report.

The potential appointment, rumored for weeks and reported Monday by the Washington Post, would catapult the 55-year-old New York lawyer, author, and daughter of President John F. Kennedy into the center of one of the world’s most dynamic and challenging regions at a time when the rise of China and threats of renewed conflict on the Korean peninsula require keen negotiating skills.

It would also make her the first female ambassador in Tokyo, a stalwart US ally with a tradition of hosting big-name US envoys, including a former vice president, former House speaker, and former Senate majority leader.

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But the possible selection of Kennedy came as a bit of a surprise to some close observers of the Kennedy clan.

“She’s been reluctant to be in public life in a full-throated way,” said historian Robert Dallek, a JFK biographer. “She’s never run for anything. It is a little surprising. What is her connection to Japan?”

Kennedy unsuccessfully sought an appointment to a vacant New York Senate seat in 2009 but declined to run in a special election. Dallek noted that serving as a diplomat would carry on different sort of Kennedy family tradition. Her grandfather, Joseph P. Kennedy, was President Franklin Roosevelt’s ambassador to Great Britain in the early 1940s and her aunt, Jean Kennedy Smith, was US envoy to Ireland for President Bill Clinton.

“There is a kind of dynastic tradition here,” said Dallek.

Others, meanwhile, saw her possible elevation to the post as marking the beginning of a more active role in public life-- perhaps even leading in the future to elected office.

“It’s a great start for her,” said former Senator Harris Wofford, who served as an adviser to President Kennedy and remains close with the family.

If she accepts and is confirmed for the post, Kennedy, who sits on the boards of several non-profits and has raised private funding for New York City’s public school system, would replace John Roos, a Silicon Valley lawyer who is expected to step down from the post after three and a half years.

Another factor in the timing of Kennedy’s potential nomination may be the departure of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who stepped down in January.

Kennedy disappointed Clinton’s supporters when she chose to endorse Obama during the bitter primary battle in 2008. The endorsement, along with that of her uncle, Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, lent a much-needed boost to the then-Illinois senator’s underdog quest to capture the Democratic nomination for the White House.

“I have never had a president who inspired me the way people tell me that my father inspired them,” she said of Obama in January 2008. “But for the first time, I believe I have found the man who could be that president.”

Kennedy also co-chaired Obama’s 2008 search for a vice presidential running mate and co-chaired his 2012 re-election effort.

If she is confirmed to the post now, Kennedy’s boss would be Secretary of State John F. Kerry, the former Massachusetts senator.

Close Kennedy confidants on Monday said it was difficult to tell whether persistent rumors of Kennedy’s nomination had much truth to them. One said that a White House aide dealing with ambassadorships said that 200 people wanted a posting but there were only about 40 such openings.

The White House declined to comment, but it seemed unlikely that an ambassadorship would be announced on Monday. Further complicating the matter are that several members of the Kennedy clan are said to be interested in an appointment.

In addition to Caroline Kennedy, some have said that Vicki Kennedy – the wife of the late Massachusetts senator – might be interested in a government post. The late senator’s eldest son, Edward M. Kennedy, Jr., has also expressed interest in an appointment, although likely not an ambassadorship.

“Things are in flux, let’s put it like that,” said a longtime Kennedy confidant, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.