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U.S. Ambassador Takes on Lead Role in Wake of Japan Disaster

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U.S. Ambassador John Roos addresses a press conference at the American Embassy in Tokyo, Japan, March 12. (AP)

A U.S. diplomat is taking on an outsize role as the Obama administration's voice on the other side of the world, as Japan reels in the wake of Friday's earthquake and tsunami. 

With thousands dead in the wreckage and coastal towns obliterated, U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos has emerged as the president's man on the ground. In the three days since the disaster, Roos has made clear that he will be playing a lead public role as the United States determines how best to direct its resources toward saving lives, getting control of the country's nuclear reactors, cleaning up the devastation and ultimately rebuilding. 

"This is a time when our country needs to step up for the country of Japan," Roos said at a press briefing Monday. 

Expect to see a lot more of Roos in the days and weeks ahead. 

While holding down the diplomatic fort in Tokyo, Roos has provided round-the-clock updates on disaster response efforts and efforts to track down U.S. citizens. 

He is briefing reporters daily and sending out Tweets and Facebook updates -- in Japanese and English -- at a frantic pace. Roos has used the platforms to give Americans information about English-speaking hospitals in the area; update the public on where U.S. military teams are heading; and reassure the Japanese people that the United States will support them "in every way." 

On Friday, Roos was quick to declare a disaster, triggering USAID to deploy a response team -- including two elite search-and-rescue units from California and Virginia -- to the country. 

He said Saturday the embassy and its five consulates in Japan were working to get information on "all United States citizens" in the country and provide help as needed. He said Monday that officials are working "around the clock" to find out the location and safety of every American citizen. He said about 1,300 U.S. citizens were in the areas "most affected" by the earthquake and tsunami. And he asked any citizen in need of emergency assistance to e-mail JapanEmergencyUSC@state.gov with their whereabouts and contact information. 

Roos did not come into the job as a career diplomat by any means. He was nominated in June 2009 after serving as chief executive at a Silicon Valley law firm. He also worked on President Obama's campaign and a handful of other political campaigns. 

His diplomatic tact in Japan has won praise over the last year and a half. Roos last summer became the first U.S. delegate to attend a memorial service in honor of the Hiroshima bombing victims. 

One day before the tsunami struck, Roos also was doing damage control after a State Department official allegedly insulted the people of Okinawa. The official reportedly told a group of U.S. university students that the residents of Okinawa - which plays host to thousands of U.S. troops -- are "masters of manipulation and extortion." Though the official disputed the way his remarks were portrayed, he was swiftly fired. 

According to The Japan Times, Roos offered his "deep apologies and regrets" during a meeting with the Okinawa governor Thursday.

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