Meets with Staff and Families of Embassy Rangoon

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Rangoon, Burma
December 2, 2011

Well, good afternoon. And Mingalaba. (Laughter.) I am delighted to be here in one of our new Embassy buildings on an old site where people have been working on behalf of the United States and our relationship here for many years. I want to thank Chargé Michael Thurston, DCM Eleanor Nagy, the whole Embassy team, all of you, including those who came from other posts to help work toward and implement this visit, because obviously, it is historic, first time in 55 years that our Secretary of State has visited.

I also want to thank you for what I know are very challenging environmental conditions when it comes to the work that you do every single day on behalf of this relationship. I so appreciate each and every one of you, because without you we could not be trying to represent American interests and American values at a time when it's particularly important to reach out to people throughout the country to let them know how much we support democracy, how much we support an end to all of the ethnic conflicts, how much we support civil society and so much else. Because of your efforts, I did have a chance to meet with representatives from Burma's ethnic minority groups, as well as civil society, and to hear firsthand about the challenges that they and you face.

I want to say a special word of thanks to your management team led by Eric Lindberg and your press team led by Adrienne Nutzman for their extra efforts. They went to extraordinary lengths to ensure that every site had reliable electricity and lights by providing backup generators. They also obtained unprecedented cooperation with the government, getting all kinds of support from visas to cars to even an additional internet bandwidth so that the journalists who travel with me and the news crews could do their live feeds. I'm also grateful to Doug Sonnek and the entire political econ team for their tireless work with my staff.

I thought that the meetings that I had in Nay Pyi Taw yesterday were promising, encouraging signs of commitment to democratization. The dinner and meeting that I had with Aung San Suu Kyi were very gratifying and challenging because we know how much she represents not only to people here but people around the world. And her determination is so admirable, and we will continue working to support democracy and human rights and justice here.

And I also want to thank you because with this visit will come a lot of follow-up work. If it's just a visit, then I will be disappointed. But if it's the beginning of a principled engagement that once again brings our two governments closer together and therefore creates space for the people of both of our countries, then I will think we have made a good first step. I think the government heard our message that we were prepared to begin a new chapter in the relationship if it took steps to free all political prisoners, to reconcile the longstanding conflicts with ethnic nationalities, to hold elections that are free, fair, and credible, and to take other steps along the path of democratic reform.

So we will press the government to follow through on those commitments, and we will also look for ways to continue bringing our two nations closer together. The American Center, which provides uncensored access to the world's media, serves 4,000 people a week. Working to strengthen civil society or with the ethnic minorities through our training seminars or our voluntary small grants programs are lifelines for people. Ensuring that the $85 million the United States donated toward recovery from Cyclone Nargis, the continuation of these programs in the Dry Zone, are important investments in the humanitarian needs.

And I especially appreciate the work that our locally employed staff do. I know it's not been always easy to work for the American Embassy, but I want you to know that we greatly appreciate your commitment, because we do think it's not only about supporting our American team, but it's about supporting your country and supporting the aspirations of your people. And I want to thank all of the Embassy families here today -- husbands, wives, children, partners. And I was told about a young man; I think Toby is his name. He's three years old, and he has an enormous cast on. So I hope he recovers quickly.

So again, let me express my deep appreciation. We are very grateful to you. And although it's been, now, I guess, 56 years since a Secretary of State last visited, I trust it will not be that long in the future, because we will see progress and we will be able to demonstrate that progress by a series of high-level meetings that will demonstrate the engagement that we are pursuing. So with that, let me just come by and shake your hands and thank you personally, and especially thank you for this very important work that you do every day. Thank you all. (Applause.)

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PRN: 2011/56-15