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The term statesman is a respectful term used to refer to diplomats, politicians, and other notable figures of state. It is often used in the context of international or foreign affairs, e.g., "a meeting of statesmen." Foreign ministers are often called statesmen, for example, while more local level officials, such as mayors are not.
Whether or not an individual actually is a statesman, is generally a matter of opinion, although in some cases there is little controversy. Politicians who are regarded as statesmen are usually old, with long careers.
The term most frequently refers to individuals associated with a governmental shift from monarchism to republicanism. Geneally, one can use the word as a euphemism for politician. When a politician retires, he is often referred to as a "respected elder statesman" by his supporters.