Meeting with the Staff and Families of the U.S. Missions in Rome

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Ambassador's Residence
Rome, Italy
May 6, 2011

SECRETARY CLINTON: Bonjourno. It is so wonderful to be here and to see all of you and to have this opportunity to thank you, beginning with Ambassador Thorne and Rose. Thank you for not only a wonderful dinner last night, which is fine if they put what I ate, just not how much of what I ate. (Laughter.) And to be joined here by Dr. Marian Diaz – please give very best regards to Ambassador Diaz – and Ambassador Ertharin Cousin. She and I were just together over at the FAO making a very strong emphasis on the work that we’re doing in the Obama Administration for hunger and food security, our Feed the Future program. I also have with me Assistant Secretary Esther Brimmer, who is our Assistant Secretary for International Organizations.

And it is just a delight for me to be with you. As the Ambassador said, I planned to be here about two years ago, and then I broke my elbow and I couldn't get the trip rescheduled, which was especially irritating because I stayed here at this beautiful villa before in the ‘90s and I have enjoyed all of my visits to Italy. And this is an absolutely stunning place to meet our tri-mission family. There is hardly an important issue that the ambassador mentioned that we don’t look to all of you to work on and to help us make the most of. Because this tri-mission family, from Embassy Rome, our consulates, our Mission to the Holy See and the UN Mission, along with our local employees, every single day you broaden, deepen, and strengthen our relationship.

And it’s such an important relationship. There is no doubt that our ties with Italy as evidenced by 6 million American tourists, 30,000 students, hosting our military personnel, and working together from Afghanistan to Libya, has made a real difference to us. And when I met with my counterpart, Minister Franco Frattini, we were going through all the issues that we meet on regularly. And of course, our meeting yesterday was about Libya, where Italy has been crucial for our NATO operations and a vital contact for Embassy Tripoli when it was forced to close down. I know that five of you working with FSOs from London and Malta helped get hundreds of people, including Embassy staff and family, on to that ferry from Tripoli to Malta, the one that stayed and stayed and stayed. And the President and I were biting our fingernails because we weren’t going to say anything negative about Libya. You might remember there was press coverage, like why won’t the President, why won’t the Secretary come down hard on what’s happening in Libya? And we would not come down hard till we got all of our people out safely. And that could not have happened without your assistance. You sat in that harbor for three days, you braved 12-foot waves and seasickness. I was told about one of you who played Garfield DVDs for the kids, which has to be a particular form of punishment. (Laughter.) You pressed wet cloths to hot foreheads and generally kept up morale as you waited for safe passage to Malta.

Back here in Rome, when the no-fly zone was established, the military attaché, the Office of Defense Cooperation, helped Jordanian planes land, gave them a place to refuel, housed their pilots overnight. Your Embassy team has worked closely with the Italian military and government so that we can build a network of information about the situation in Libya. That helped us then safely transport our special envoy to the Transitional National Council, Chris Stevens, to get into Benghazi safely.

And no less importantly, the USUN worked closely with the World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization to deliver absolutely essential humanitarian supplies to Libyans – blankets, food, and medicine – so that the men, women, and children in Benghazi could be taken care of.

And that’s just one thing you’ve worked on – Libya. There could be so many more examples of what we do here in our three missions, whether you’re Foreign Service officers working with your Italian counterparts to advance a trade agreement or to run joint security maneuvers; whether you work for the Mission to the Holy See holding inter-faith conferences, bringing Christians, Jews, and Muslims together; or whether you’re with the Mission to the United Nations engaging in the critical work of food security for developing countries.

And I particularly want to thank all of our locally engaged staff. I often say when I come to missions like this to thank people that ambassadors come and go and secretaries come and go, and in fact, FSOs of all kinds and civil servants come and go, but the locally engaged staff are still here. Two of them were here when I was here back in ’94 that I just met.

So everything you do is essential, and you do it with great style, because you’re in Italy. (Laughter.) We would not expect anything less of you. There’s a tradition in the State Department about what it’s like preparing for people like me to come and visit, and then you have another visit upcoming when the Vice President comes for the 150th celebration. And I know in addition to everything you have to do all day, you then have to do even more to prepare for these visits. So I believe that at least some of you will be so relieved when my plane finally moves up and off the tarmac. And Ambassador, there is, I think, a well-deserved reason for a wheels-up party – (laughter) – to thank everybody for all they’ve done to make this visit such a memorable and successful one.

Thank you all very much. (Applause.)

PRN: 2011/T45-04