Kaplan discusses his role as ambassador to Moroccoby Madeleine Baran, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Minneapolis attorney Sam Kaplan, a prominent DFL fundraiser, said he believes his appointment as the new ambassador to Morocco reflects President Obama's committment to developing better relations with the Middle East.
Kaplan, 73, was confirmed to the post Tuesday by the U.S. Senate. He is a partner in the Minneapolis law firm of Kaplan, Strangis and Kaplan.
Morocco is in northern Africa, and Kaplan, who is Jewish, said it's significant that he was appointed ambassador to a predominantly Muslim nation.
"I hope the message that's sent is that we can play a role in bringing the leaders of that part of the world together, and that sending a Jew to a moderate country is consistent with that," Kaplan told MPR's All Things Considered today.
Presidents have a long history of appointing campaign fundraisers to ambassadorial posts. Kaplan raised between $100,000 and $200,000 for President Obama's election campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. He has never been to Morocco.
Kaplan said he understands that some might be critical of such appointments, but that his experience as an attorney will prove useful in engaging in conversation with the country's public and private sectors.
"I understand the criticism, but all in all, I'm at peace," he said.
Kaplan said he began preparations for an appointment several months ago, and is currently learning French, the language most commonly used in Moroccan business and diplomatic affairs.
Morocco was the first country to diplomatically recognize the United States, and the two countries are longstanding allies. A recent poll found that 57 percent of Moroccans have a positive opinion of Obama.
The Moroccan government created controversy on Saturday, when it removed two magazines from newsstands. The government objected to a published poll about the public's opinion of the monarchy that rules the country.
Kaplan acknowledged the restrictions, but said that press freedom in the African country has grown in recent years.
"The level of press freedom, particularly for a country in that part of the world, is still pretty impressive," he said.
Kaplan will be sworn in Sept. 18.
Another Minnesotan, Miguel Diaz, 45, was confirmed as ambassador to the Vatican Tuesday. Diaz is a native of Cuba, and is the first Latino to serve as ambassador to the Holy See.
Diaz is a theology professor at the College of St. Benedict and St. John's University. He said in a statement that he and his family look forward to relocating to Rome as soon as possible, and presenting his credentials to the Vatican.
- All Things Considered, 08/06/2009, 5:19 p.m.