Ambassador to Croatia: Who Is Kenneth Merten?
Saturday, March 31, 2012
The Balkan nation of Croatia, known to most Americans as the homeland of NBA stars like Toni Kukoč and Dražen Petrović, will soon have a new ambassador from the U.S. President Barack Obama nominated career diplomat and current ambassador to Haiti Kenneth H. Merten to be Washington’s next man in Zagreb on February 10, 2012.
Born in St. Louis in April or May 1961, to mother Edryne A. Merten and father Helmut L. Merten, at age twelve Kenneth Merten and family moved to Hudson, Ohio, about 20 miles southeast of Cleveland. He attended Hudson Junior High School and graduated from Walsh Jesuit, a Catholic prep school in Cuyahoga Falls, in 1979. “He really wanted to go into foreign service,” recalled classmate Rob McCarty, who later became a magistrate in Summit County, Ohio. “Not a lot of people know what they want to do at 16 or 17 or 18, but he knew.” Merten himself credited that interest to his Austrian-born father, a chemist with a number of patents to his name, “We always had foreigners, family members, parading through the house.”
Merten earned a B.A in Diplomacy and Foreign Affairs at Miami University of Ohio in 1983, and a Masters in Public Administration at American University in 1986. He has also studied at the Université d’Aix-Marseille in France and at Karl Franzens Universität in Austria.
Merten joined the Foreign Service in 1987. His work for the State Department has been divided between assignments in Washington, DC, and those overseas. His previous foreign postings include serving as the economic counselor at the embassy in Paris, France, followed by his first tour in Haiti as vice consul from 1988 to 1990, providing assistance to Americans in distress and interviewing Haitians seeking green cards and tourist visas. He was the economic officer at the U.S. Mission to the European Union in Brussels, Belgium, and then did the same job at the embassy in Bonn, Germany. Merten turned down a position in London, U.K., to return to Haiti in 1998 to serve as economic counselor at the embassy in Port-au-Prince until 2000.
His Washington assignments have included two tours in the State Department Operations Center, service in the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs and on the Cuba Desk, as well as a year as special assistant to the Special Advisors on Haiti.
Merten was serving as deputy executive secretary to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (and earlier to Secretary Condoleezza Rice) when President Barack Obama nominated him in June 2009 to be ambassador to Haiti, where he began serving on August 24, 2009. Present during the devastating earthquake of January 12, 2010, Merten was relaxing before an evening reception and ran out to the back yard, screaming for his wife and daughters to get out. “I had this vision of this 80-year-old house, with its foot-thick cement walls collapsing on them,” he recalled. Unhurt, his family soon left the country, and Merten began supervising U.S. relief efforts.
Kenneth Merten is married to Susan Greenman Merten and has two daughters, Caryl and Elisabeth. He speaks French, Haitian Creole and German.
Kenneth Merten, U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, Calls Hudson, Ohio, His Home (by Diane Suchetka, Cleveland Plain Dealer)
Investment: The Path to a Prosperous Future in Haiti (by Kenneth H. Merten, DipNote)
Statement of Kenneth Merten as U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Before the Senate Foreign Relations (YouTube streaming video)
Entèvyou Anbasadè Kenneth Merten ak Sèvis Kreyòl VOA (Interview in Haitian Creole)
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