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'There's a lot to do out there'

Ambassador Christopher Hill gave the Mary Choncoff lecture Thursday at ASU.
Diplomacy involves a lot of hard work, says former Ambassador Christopher Hill.
April 7, 2016

Ambassador Christopher Hill discusses the hard work of diplomacy in a lecture at ASU

The United States is facing many global problems that demand diplomacy, but America must always be wary of unintended consequences, according to one of the country’s top diplomats.

“There’s a lot to do out there,” said Christopher Hill, who served four ambassadorships under three presidents. “But when you engage in a big pivot move, even small things can be open to misinterpretation.”

Hill (pictured above) gave the 20th annual Mary Choncoff Endowed Lecture at Arizona State University on Thursday. The talk was sponsored ASU’s Melikian CenterThe Melikian Center is an instructional and research unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences., which supports undergraduate and graduate students studying Eastern Europe and Eurasia.

Hill, now dean of the Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, was ambassador to Macedonia, as well as Poland, South Korea and Iraq. He co-authored the Dayton Accords, ending the Bosnian Secession War, and served as special assistant to the president heading the Six Party Talks on the North Korean nuclear issue.

In his speech, Hill said that sectarian violence in Iraq is one unintended consequence of the U.S. military surge.

“We didn’t understand what the fault lines were,” he said. “It’s fair to say that ISIS is worse as a result of the loss of Iraq to the Shiites.”

Hill said that the U.S. switch in diplomatic attention from the Middle East to Asia — President Barack Obama’s so-called “pivot to Asia” — in the past few years had several consequences, including accusations that the Americans were “confronting” China.

Even more fraught, however, is the U.S. relationship with Russia, which Hill said is a result of U.S. “triumphalism” in the 1990s.

“End zone dancing in the NFL is fine. But with the demise of the Soviet Union, the perception was that we won the Cold War,” he said.

“We now have the second iteration of Russia after the Cold War. The first was when Russia was in shock but willing to work with us.

“Now we have a brutal, nasty regime whose foreign policy operates on the basis of spite: ‘What you want, we don’t want and whatever you don’t want, we want.’

“It’s a dangerous problem, but one reason it’s dangerous is that they are a regime in decline.”

Hill said that the U.S. must be more attentive to its alliances in Europe.

“We need to finish the enlargement of NATO. It’s high time we brought Macedonia into NATO.”

Hill was introduced by Lattie Coor, former president of ASU. Hill’s visit to ASU was a return favor of sorts. In 1998, Hill was the U.S. ambassador to Macedonia and hosted a gathering in Skopje for Coor and his wife, Elva, marking the 25th anniversary of the ASU academic exchange with the University of Saints Kiril and Metodij in Macedonia. More than 130 Macedonian scholars crowded into the party, leading Coor to remark that it was the largest ASU alumni rally he had ever attended outside the United States.

Hill recently released a memoir, “Outpost: Life on the Frontlines of American Diplomacy,” in which he credited his stint in the Peace Corps with instilling in him the determination to fully understand other countries, and not tell them what to do.

In his speech, Hill said that the complex issues facing Syria can present an opportunity for the U.S. to work in diplomatic partnership with Russia.

“The thing about diplomacy is that the only rabbits you pull out a hat are the ones you stuff in there.

“You have to do a lot of hard work.”

Top photo by Ben Moffat/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now


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ASU’s unique instrument lets tradition ring

ASU carillonneur keeps university tradition alive.
The bells from ASU's carillon can be heard daily on the Tempe campus.
April 7, 2016

New university carillonneur appointed to keep chiming the bells

Have you ever wondered where the bell chimes on Arizona State University’s Tempe campus come from? They are not ringing from some mysterious tower, but instead can be traced to the university's carillon in Old Main, played over electronic speakers.

A carillon is an instrument that has at least 23 cast-iron bells, which are connected to and operated by a keyboard. The ASU Maas-Rowe Symphonic carillon — which has 258 bells — was a gift from the student government in 1966 and represents tradition on a campus driven by innovation.

“What makes it cool is that it is anachronistic,” said Brendan O’Connor, ASU’s most recently appointed university carillonneur.

O’Connor, an assistant professor for the School of Transborder Studies, was an audience member during a carillon Fall Hymn Sing at ASU in 2014. He volunteered to play a few pieces on the carillon and was a natural, according to Carl Cross, co-chair of the ASU Carillon Society. 

“Each carillonneur has a unique style,” explained Cross. “Brendan’s is more like an organ player. He plays hymns well.”

O’Connor said that although he’s no organist, his experience playing the piano and musical background is why he was initially interested in the carillon.

“I had never played a carillon, or seen one before. I am a musician and I hadn’t participated in anything musical in Phoenix. This was strange and different from anything I had done at ASU,” said O’Connor.

man playing carillon
Brendan O’Connor, associate professor and ASU’s newest university carillonneur, plays the carillon at Old Main on the Tempe campus.


Appointing university carillonneurs is an integral part of keeping the tradition of the carillon alive.

For 35 years, the carillon was buried in storage, forgotten. Judith Smith, co-chair of the ASU Carillon Society, and Cross worked hard to uncover and implement the carillon. Together they started the ASU Carillon Society and appointed two of the original university carillonneurs in September 2006.

“We decided to appoint university carillonneurs to provide professional leadership for the carillon. Their appointment is part of the intention to make the carillon a vital part university life and tradition,” said Smith.

Once appointed, the University Carillonneurs play concerts like the seasonal hymn sings and at holiday festivities. They are welcome to produce their own concerts and serve as mentors to students who are selected for the Arizona State Credit Union Student Carillonneur scholarship. 

Smith and Cross hope that O’Connor’s appointment will allow the carillon’s presence on campus to grow. 

“I think people enjoy having music as part of their day,” said O’Connor, “Part of the coolness is that it is a strange thing and is surprising to people that ASU has something like this.” 



Reporter , ASU Now