Washington DC: Diplomacy, Defence, and Donald.

Having survived flight delays and turbulence, we arrived in historic Washington DC ready to navigate diplomacy, defence and Donald. Waking up on Wednesday morning to weather warmer than Wellington, we set off to the highly anticipated meeting with our incredible New Zealand Embassy here in DC. We were lucky enough to meet with First Secretary James Waite, and Second Secretary Caroline Eszes, two very accomplished and interesting NZ experts! Both James and Caroline gave us insight into New Zealand diplomatic efforts in the country, US and NZ foreign relations as well as a look into the day to day proceedings of life as a diplomat.

The delegation with Second Secretary Caroline Eszes outside the Embassy.

Following a break for lunch, our first peek at historic monuments and stuffed unicorn shopping at Walmart, we headed in to meet Francisco Bencosme, a Legislative Aide to Senator Ben Cardin of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Francisco explained to us the inner workings of the committee and its relationship with its counterpart committee in the House of Representatives. With the current political climate, the delegation was interested to hear Francisco’s thoughts on future foreign policy and the changing bipartisan relationship within both the committee and the Senate. The delegation was particularly excited to briefly meet the leader of the Committee, Republican Senator Bob Corker, however, some of the group’s hopes were dashed when a similar chance encounter with with Vermont Senator and America’s lovable grandpa Bernie Sanders did not arise.

Taken moments before our chance encounter Senator Bob Corker!

The afternoon was filled with the chance to visit the National Mall and to flood Instagram feeds with pictures of the Capitol, the Washington Monument, the White House and the Abraham Lincoln Memorial. With the weather reaching its highest winter temperature in 117 years, the delegation were able to spend the time exploring the Mall, following in the footsteps of the millions of those who attended the most recent inauguration (or even more excitingly, those marching in the record breaking Women’s March!). The opportunity to take in some of Washington’s historic sights was relished by the group, before finishing the all-American day with some old fashioned burgers and soda from a diner.

Taking in historic sights, (unicorns not pictured).

The delegation awoke to ice cold temperatures, and after rugging up, we headed off to catch the Metro to the US Pentagon. Arriving outside the impressive building, our first stop was at the Pentagon Memorial to the victims of the 9/11 attack on the building. Heading inside we were greeted by members of the Air Force Honour Guard, who lead us on the tour of the building. Lt Ryan provided us with fun facts and information surrounding the history of the US military, the Pentagon and notable servicemen and women including Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy.

The afternoon saw the delegation visit the US State Department, the US equivalent of the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign affairs. Whilst we were unable to spot newly appointed Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, we were fortunate to meet with three highly experienced staffers of the department; Andrew Hyde, the Director for Regional and Policy Coordination, Jenny Wright, the Pacific Islands Multilateral Officer and Gaeten Damberg-Ott, the New Zealand Desk Officer. We were able to gain insight into the US perspective of the relationship between the two countries and how recent policy changes have affected US standing on the international stage. The visit strengthened the delegation’s understanding of the bilateral relations that exist between NZ and the US, and policy areas in which the two collaborate and can continue to do so in the future.

The delegation with our impressive speakers.

The day ended with a spot of shopping through the central city, with some choosing to indulge in hot soup, while the braver of the group battled the elements (including a brief snowstorm) in pursuit of ice cream!

– Lexi Finucane

The US Leadership Tour is a month long study tour across the United States. The 14 delegates and two co-directors will be meeting with NZ and US diplomats, NGOs, think tanks, companies and academic institutions, and representing NZ at the 63rd Annual Session of the Harvard National Model United Nations. Read more…