Carmen Suro-Bredie remembers watching the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy on a blustery winter day in 1961. She recalls hearing the young politician dare the American public: "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country."
It's a challenge that Ms. Suro-Bredie took to heart, dedicating her life to serving the United States and logging more than 30 years of public service. In 1991, she helped negotiate the first intellectual-property agreement with the Soviet Union and Poland. In 1994, she was chief architect of the Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement that was signed by 34 presidents, including Bill Clinton, Carlos Menem of Argentina, and Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico. And, in 1998, she became involved, on a pro bono basis, in the Ireland peace talks where she coached the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition, bringing women into the discussions that led to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and, eventually, peace.
In the past year, Ms. Suro-Bredie has supervised the interagency team that approves the negotiating policy used in the free trade areas of Australia, Central America, and Morocco. She's also the editor of the President's report to Congress on trade that was issued in early March. "I'm lucky to have been part of a team that negotiated some very groundbreaking agreements," she says.
But admirers of Ms. Suro-Bredie are more blunt. "She's fearless," says Maria Zammit, vice-chairwoman of the World Affairs Councils of the Americas, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to international affairs. "She's dynamic and talented and can conduct trade negotiations with the best of them."
Helping Ms. Suro-Bredie has been a life lived on a global plane. She grew up in the political backyard of Washington, D.C., and spent summers in her mother's home country of Ecuador. As an adult she has lived in Singapore, Paris, Boston, and Washington.
Her father, Guillermo Suro, emigrated from Puerto Rico to Florida, and eventually became chief of conferences and translation for the State Department. A second-generation American, he spoke several languages – including Spanish, German, English, and Portuguese – and helped invent the system of simultaneous interpretation during the Nuremberg trials. Ms. Suro-Bredie's mother, Piedad, was a former journalist who later joined the Foreign Service and was named president of the InterAmerican Commission of Women in the 1960s.
It was her parents, especially her father, who instilled a sense of duty in a young Ms. Suro-Bredie. "He was very, very dedicated to the fact he was an American," she says. The Suro family constantly debated politics, and her parents openly discussed various issues with their children. Should Kennedy be elected over Richard Nixon? Was Fidel Castro a real threat? Such dialogue instilled a form of respect in Ms. Suro-Bredie for various opinions. "You had to be prepared if you had something to say," she says. "But if you did say something, it was listened to."
Foreign affairs were also a constant in Ms. Suro-Bredie's life. Her parents invited ambassadors, friends from the Foreign Service, international artists, and women leaders to their home. It was this influence that would later inspire her to join the Foreign Service. "The dinner table was a fixed multicultural event every night," she says. "I had really strong role models in my parents and their associates."
Ms. Suro-Bredie entered professional life during a time of political change. In 1969, she graduated from Manhattanville College of Purchase, New York, just as the women's movement was flourishing. She joined protest marches against the Vietnam War, worked on Eugene McCarthy's failed presidential campaign in 1970, and then attended Johns Hopkins University for a master's degree in advanced international studies.
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