The Nikkei Shimbun asked: “How good is the next ambassador to Japan, John Roos?” Check out the translation of their interviews with ex-Vice President Walter Mondale and Stanford University Professor Emeritus Daniel Okimoto below.
The U.S. government has nominated lawyer John Roos, 54, as the next ambassador to Japan, and his appointment will soon be submitted to the Senate for confirmation. There is high interest in the personality and capability of Roos, who is not well-known in Japan. We interviewed former Vice President Walter Mondale, 81, a former ambassador to Japan who hired Roos for his presidential election campaign in 1984, and Daniel Okimoto, 66, professor emeritus at Stanford University, an American political scientist of Japanese descent who advises Roos.
— What was the decisive factor in the nomination?
Mondale: He is a close friend [of the President]. President Obama respects Mr. Roos, and he is happy to send him as envoy to an important ally.
— He has not had much connection with Japan.
Mondale: He has had contact with many Japanese companies through his law firm and has had a long-standing interest in U.S.-Japan business exchanges. He will probably be a strong ambassador. He has been involved with hi-tech and other advanced fields and will be able to make contributions on issues such as global warming. He is a graduate of Stanford University, and interestingly enough, Prime Minister Taro Aso and Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) President Yukio Hatoyama both studied at Stanford, as well.
— His lack of diplomatic experience is a concern at this crucial point in relations with North Korea.
Mondale: The ambassador needs to be able to convey the issues to the president when frictions arise between the two countries. He is most appropriate for this role. You have Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell and Assistant Secretary of Defense Wallace Gregson. The North Korea issue can be handled by the team. There is also a strong staff at the embassy. He will do fine.
— How does the Obama administration perceive Japan?
Mondale: The U.S.-Japan relationship is very important. This is reflected in the fact that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a visit, and [Aso] was the first leader invited by President Obama to Washington.
Japan’s importance has not diminished (just because of the growing influence of China and India); its importance is rather increasing. A strong bilateral relationship will help deal with China and India. Japan and the U.S. are democratic countries, and such is the basis of the cooperation.
(Itaru Oishi, Washington)
— How would you describe Mr Roos’ personality?
Okimoto: He is an honest, thoughtful, and optimistic man. While he is not the sophisticated type you often find on the international stage, you come to like him the more you know him.
— His nomination is said to be a reward.
Okimoto: The intelligence and organizing ability he displayed during the election campaign was highly regarded. John is able to analyze things level-headedly and objectively. If it’s just fundraisers, there are many in the Obama campaign. You don’t get an important post like this just for that.
— He appears not to have much connection with Japan.
Okimoto: Positions other than the ambassador to Japan were also considered but John was most interested in Japan. He has a lot of respect for the Japanese through his work at his law firm and has been fascinated by Japan’s culture and traditions. The Japanese people may be disappointed because he is not famous. However, in terms of intellectual level and closeness to the president, he is a top class ambassador to Japan for the postwar period. He will bring new perspectives to the Japan-U.S. relationship.
— This is the first time he will handle diplomacy.
Okimoto: He is a man who belonged to the top 5-10 percent in the law school. He is a man with intellectual curiosity and is a fast learner. He may have some gaps in his knowledge of Japanese history and politics, but they will be filled very quickly. My class was on international disarmament. He will probably have a good grasp of the issues of North Korea, China, Okinawa, and so forth very quickly. I have been sending him various documents every day.
NIKKEI (Page 6) (Full), June 20, 2009 by Tomoko Ashitsuka, Washington