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Caroline Kennedy begins Tokyo role


New US ambassador Caroline Kennedy smiles as she gives a statement upon her arrival in Japan (AP)

New US ambassador Caroline Kennedy smiles as she gives a statement upon her arrival in Japan (AP)

New US ambassador Caroline Kennedy smiles as she gives a statement upon her arrival in Japan (AP)

Caroline Kennedy has arrived in Japan to take up her position as US ambassador with one important strength: she has the ear of the American president.

"I bring greetings from President Obama," she said in a short statement after getting off the plane with her husband, Edwin Schlossberg, at Narita airport.

Japan hopes the 55-year-old daughter of late President John F Kennedy will work closely with Barack Obama to tackle some urgent US-Japan matters, analysts said.

Her close ties to Mr Obama come from playing a pivotal role during the Democratic presidential primaries in 2008 by endorsing him when Hillary Clinton was the lead candidate.

"What's important here is her strong pipeline with Obama and an ability to be able to pick up the phone and speak with Obama directly in the middle of the night for consultation on urgent matters," said Ryuichi Teshima, professor of diplomacy at Keio University in Tokyo.

As the first woman to serve as US ambassador to Japan, Ms Kennedy may also be a role model in a country which has traditionally restricted the role of women, said Toshihiro Nakayama, professor of international politics at Aoyama Gakuin University.

"I am also proud to carry forward my father's legacy of public service," Ms Kennedy said. "He had hoped to be the first US president to visit Japan. So it is a special honour for me to be able to work to strengthen the close ties between our two great countries."

US-Japan relations are generally on an even keel, but Mr Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are not as close as some would like. "The chemistry is off, possibly because Obama does not support the right-wing views Abe holds," Prof Teshima said.

Major bilateral issues include the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks, the relocation of a US military base on Okinawa and a revamp of defence co-operation guidelines between the two countries.

US ambassadors to Japan can be grouped into three categories, Prof Nakayama said. They are big political names, Japan experts and those with close ties to the president. Former US vice president Walter Mondale and former senator Mike Mansfield fall into the first type. Edwin Reischauer, President Kennedy's envoy, would be the second.

Prof Nakayama puts Ms Kennedy, a lawyer and author, in the third group, along with her predecessor, John Roos, a Silicon Valley lawyer and Obama fundraiser, and Tom Schieffer, who was George W Bush's business partner in the Texas Rangers baseball team.