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Foreign ambassadors invited to visit Chicago

Diplomats to meet with mayor, tour Obama’s hometown

By Katherine Skiba, Tribune reporter9:06 p.m. CDT, April 5, 2010

Chicago will play host to dozens of foreign diplomats for three days next month under a State Department program called “Experience America.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday will unveil details of the trip to about 150 ambassadors, whetting their appetite with Eli’s Cheesecake, a State Department official said.

The official, Capricia Penavic Marshall, the nation’s chief of protocol, will lead the Chicago trip May 12-14.

“Experience America” began in 2008 under President George W. Bush, and the upcoming trip is the first since President Barack Obama took office, she said.

The program aims to introduce a distinguished group to “the best of America, and Chicago is the perfect city to do just that,” she said.

Chicago won the nod in part because so many ambassadors were curious to learn more about the president’s hometown, she said.

About 50 ambassadors, many of them with their spouses, have taken past trips through “Experience America,” which has hit New York City, Florida, California and Texas.

The ambassadors will be welcomed by Mayor Richard Daley and his wife, Maggie, at a reception in the new wing at the Art Institute of Chicago and will take in the Matisse exhibit.

Also on tap: Visits to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Wrigley Global Innovation Center, Illinois Institute of Technology, University of Chicago and Field Museum, where the ambassadors will lunch with civic leaders.

They also will take an architectural tour by boat and attend a “Taste of Chicago“-style farewell party with the mayor at Millennium Park, Marshall said.

In a statement, Mayor Daley praised the program and said, “The well-being of cities like Chicago depends to a large degree on how we plan for and deal with global inter-connection.”

Ireland’s ambassador to the U.S., Michael Collins, is among those planning to have his passport stamped “Chicago.” He came last for this year’s St. Patrick’s Day parade. “A wonderful opportunity,” he said by phone Monday from Dublin.

Collins took in Florida, Texas and California on the previous trips and said they let diplomats “experience the wider America,” engage with local leaders and pursue issues such as energy efficiency.

He called Daley “a good friend of Ireland and a good friend of mine.”

kskiba@tribune.com

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