Prepared Remarks: Secretary Clinton Remarks at Swearing-In Ceremony for Chris Stevens, Ambassador to Libya

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
May 14, 2012

Thank you. It’s a pleasure to welcome you all here to the State Department for the swearing-in of our next Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens. Senator Lugar and Deputy Chief of Mission Fares, thank you for joining us. Several members of Chris’ family are also here from the west coast for the occasion—we have Chris’ father Jan, his stepmother Carole, sister Anne, and brother-in-law Peter. I’m glad you were able to make it to Washington for this moment, and I know Chris is too.

Chris has spent over twenty years working on issues related to the Middle East and North Africa. He started his career as a Peace Corps volunteer, teaching English in Morocco, and he’s been passionate about the region ever since. He’s repeatedly taken on some of the most pressing foreign policy issues of our time. He’s famous for always maintaining his California sense of calm, even when he’s up against the most challenging diplomatic crises out there. I’m not sure where Chris’ magic touch comes from, but I would never want to find myself caught at a negotiating table sitting across from him.

A few years ago, Chris was serving as Deputy Chief of Mission in Libya, when it was a very different country than it is today. At one point, he took a trip to see the Greco-Roman ruins at Cyrene. Chris realized quickly that he wasn’t alone—a couple of Gaddafi’s intelligence agents had followed him there. And instead of taking pictures of the ruins, they were taking pictures of him. Chris was used to being followed, but he was worried that the minders were intimidating some of the other tourists.

So, Chris used the best tools he had on him—his quick wit and his disarming smile—to diffuse the situation; he reached over to one of the men, stole the camera out of his hands, and started taking pictures of the men who had been following him! They were so dumbfounded that they had to laugh, and after a quick conversation, Chris convinced them to stand down.

This same combination of charisma, creativity, and quickness that made Chris so effective with the minders in Cyrene also made him an invaluable resource throughout the crisis in Libya last year.

As the conflict unfolded, Chris was one of the first Americans on the ground in Benghazi. Everything about his job was challenging. Even getting into Libya was a complex effort. Chris and his team had to sail into Benghazi on a Greek cargo ship. He might be the first American diplomat in half a century to arrive at post by way of boat. He travelled with a first-tour officer, nine diplomatic security agents, a few armored vehicles, and a bag filled with 60,000 Euros—seed money for the mission.

And that was all he needed. With that short list of supplies, he strung together a makeshift embassy by operating out of hotel rooms, and he began making inroads with the opposition. There was no protocol for how to move forward. No past precedent to follow. No list of important figures to look out for. Chris had to work from scratch to identify the key players on the ground and carve out his own set of rules for working with the opposition. Building the path towards progress wasn’t intuitive, but Chris’ instincts and abilities were so strong that we immediately knew we could rely on him to get the job done – and so did the Libyans.

So as we turn a new page in the history of U.S.-Libyan relations, it is only fitting that Chris represent the United States in Libya to help finish the work that he started. Chris, we are excited to see the strides that you will make to strengthen the partnership between our two democracies and in lending the Libyan government a helping hand to build the foundation for a new, free nation.