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Kerry uses Famous Idaho Potatoes as diplomatic gesture in Syrian peace talks

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry put a smile on the faces of everyone on both sides of the table at the Syrian peace talks at the U.S. Ambassador's home in Paris Jan. 13 when he presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with two large "Famous Idaho Potatoes."

Just as the meeting was about to get down to serious discussions over a tense situation, Kerry lightened the atmosphere with the gift, inviting reporters into the room to record the moment.

As he took the two jumbo-sized potatoes out of a large white box, Kerry explained that Lavrov had talked about "Famous Idaho Potatoes" to him in a conversation a few weeks earlier, validating what Frank Muir, president of the Idaho Potato Commission, has said on many occasions regarding how well Idaho potatoes are known around the world.

Muir told The Produce News Jan. 16 that although the presentation of the potatoes to Lavrov and Kerry's specific use of the phrase "Famous Idaho Potatoes" was a huge publicity coup for the Idaho potato industry, the Idaho Potato Commission did not have a hand in the event. It was something Kerry, who has spent time in Sun Valley and is very familiar with Idaho, did on his own.

But the fact that both Lavrov, in his previous conversation with Kerry, and Kerry in making the presentation, used that trademarked phrase, is evidence of how successful the commission's promotional programs have been, Muir said. "That is just the impact of our advertising."

The expression "Famous Idaho Potatoes" is "clearly in [Kerry's] everyday language," Muir said.

"I have traveled to nearly 30 countries, and as soon as I say 'Idaho,' the folks say 'potato,' and they always say it with a smile," Muir continued. "That means that Idaho and potatoes have a very positive connection with people around the world."

Kerry's gesture, perhaps knowingly, perhaps inadvertently, may also help the Idaho potato industry and the U.S. potato industry as a whole, in their efforts to gain access to the Russian market.

"In the past two years, the IPC has been involved in two trade missions to Russia" in an effort to open Russia's doors to fresh Idaho potatoes, Muir said. "We hope the Russians will, in the near future, be able to experience fresh Idaho potatoes for themselves."