STATE DEPARTMENT - Amid chilly diplomacy on many fronts, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry next week intends to place his legacy into the deep freeze.
Kerry is to venture to Antarctica and most likely will step on the South Pole, officials at the State Department announced Friday.
Kerry is to become the first secretary of state and the most senior U.S. official ever to visit the frozen continent.
Kerry's predecessor, Hillary Clinton, now the Democratic Party contender for the presidency, intended to go to Antarctica, but the logistics never fell into place.
The secretary of state will visit McMurdo, which is the largest research station of the U.S. Antarctic Program, as well as surrounding areas on Ross Island and the U.S. government's Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.
Skeptical reporters at the State Department immediately quizzed officials about the efficacy of what some of them referred to sarcastically as "people-to-penguin diplomacy."
Any encounters with the flightless birds, however, will be strictly hands off.
"We've been told we're not allowed to touch the penguins," said a senior State Department official.
Science foundation trip
The secretary's trip, hosted by the U.S. National Science Foundation, is not a boondoggle, diplomats insist.
"It's a chance firsthand to see what's going on with climate change research," State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters, explaining that Kerry, who has placed environmental stewardship high on his diplomatic agenda, also will get a chance to see a new, expansive marine protected area in the Ross Sea.
The remoteness of the destination means Kerry will be out of the United States on Election Day.
There is no deliberate attempt by Kerry to place himself as far as possible from Washington when the votes are counted, officials insisted.
The South Pole is 8,700 miles (14,000 kilometers) away from the U.S. capital, while Perth, Australia, is even more distant from Washington — 11,550 miles (18,600 kilometers).
November is penguin courtship season, and temperatures next week at the South Pole are forecast to rise to a balmy -13 degrees Fahrenheit (-25 Celsius).
"This schedule was very literally driven by the weather," Kirby explained.
As for Kerry not being in his home state of Massachusetts on Election Day, the State Department spokesman told reporters on Friday, "I know he has voted."