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Memories of JFK, 'Uncle Ted' at Kennedy hearing for Japan post

Caroline Kennedy (C), daughter of former U.S. President John F. Kennedy, arrives to testify at a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hea
Caroline Kennedy (C), daughter of former U.S. President John F. Kennedy, arrives to testify at a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hea

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Caroline Kennedy faced a friendly U.S. Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday on her nomination as President Barack Obama's next ambassador to Japan, amid memories of her father, the late U.S. President John F. Kennedy, and uncles who served in the chamber.

"This appointment has a special significance as we commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of my father's presidency. I am conscious of my responsibility to uphold the ideals he represented - a deep commitment to public service, a more just America and a more peaceful world," Kennedy said.

She noted her father had hoped to be the first sitting U.S. president to make a state visit to Japan. John F. Kennedy, a World War Two veteran who had fought against Japan in the Pacific, was felled by an assassin's bullet when she was a young girl, as was her uncle Robert, a U.S. senator and attorney general.

Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee asked about touchy issues such as trade policy, the thousands of U.S. troops based in Japan and relations with China, but made clear they expected Kennedy would easily be confirmed to the high-profile post.

"I doubt you're going to get much of a hard time here for lots of reasons," Senator Bob Corker, the top Republican on the committee, told the nominee as the hearing began.

Kennedy, a lawyer, is president of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and chairs an advisory committee at the Institute of Politics at Harvard University. Active in Democratic politics, the 55-year-old was an early and prominent supporter of Obama in his initial quest for the presidency in 2008.

If confirmed as expected by the full Senate, she would be the first woman to serve as U.S. ambassador to Japan.

"Ms. Kennedy, your uncle Ted was a good friend to me here in the Senate and a good friend to many of our colleagues," said Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the panel, referring to the late Senator Edward Kennedy, who held his Senate seat for half a century.

Edward Kennedy's widow Victoria attended, as did first-term U.S. Representative Joseph Kennedy, a cousin of the nominee.

"I know that Ted is very proud today to have you here continuing a long family tradition of outstanding service to our nation," said Republican Senator John McCain, who ran against Obama in the 2008 presidential race.

Senator Ed Markey, a Democrat and former congressman elected to her late uncle's Massachusetts Senate seat this year, told Kennedy that her family had inspired him to enter politics.

Japan is a particularly close and important ally of the United States. Many past ambassadors have been well-known political figures, including former Vice President Walter Mondale.

Kennedy's stature as a close Obama ally and leading member of a storied U.S. political dynasty sends a strong signal about the value the United States places on the relationship. Japan's ambassador to Washington, Kenichiro Sasae, attended the hearing.

The foreign relations panel will vote on Kennedy's nomination at its next business meeting, before it would be sent to the full Senate for approval.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Vicki Allen)

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