Meeting With Staff and Families of Embassy Rome, Embassy Vatican, and the U.S. Mission to the UN Agencies

John Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Embassy
Rome, Italy
February 28, 2013

Date: 02/28/2013 Description: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with staff and families of Tri-Mission Rome which includes--the U.S. Embassy in Rome; the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See; and the U.S. Mission to the UN Agencies in Rome, on February 28, 2013. - State Dept Image SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. (In Italian.) That’s our nickname for him anyway. But I can’t go into all the stories, folks. Neither of us would be allowed to go home – probably be arrested in ex post facto.

It’s an enormous privilege for me to be here with you. Thank you very, very much for turning out to welcome. And let me just begin by, first of all, saying notwithstanding our 50-year relationship and our friendship, which goes back through college and the Navy and years thereafter, David, because he did live here as a young person – his father worked here after the war, helping to implement the Marshall Plan, and then later stayed on and was engaged in business and with the newspaper, et cetera – David has had a huge passion and understanding of Italy. And I think the President could not have picked better when he appointed him. His knowledge of the country, his ability to speak in Italian, his feel for it, I think has made him a superb ambassador. And Rosie has been a terrific partner in that effort. So I think we all ought to say thank you to Ambassador Thorne and to Rosie. Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.)

And I want to thank Ambassador Lane for being here also, and the mission that he does, which is so important, and the Charge representing the Holy See. And this could not be, obviously, a more moving and emotional and historic day than today. I think in about 20 minutes, His Holiness will get in a helicopter and fly to Castel Gandolfo. And then at 8 o’clock tonight, as we all know, his papacy ends. And we haven’t seen that in nearly 600 years.

So it is a momentous day to be here. Somebody teased me with a headline earlier today – say “Kerry Arrives; Pope Goes.” I don’t know – (laughter). But I’m not going near that one.

And I was looking – thank you consulate Naples and consulate Milan and consulate Florence. I was looking at you guys. Consulate Florence, you guys look like we’re about to sign a banking closing deal – (laughter) – sitting there ready to go. And as for Milan and Naples, you guys look like you’re in church and I’m preaching to you or something. I don’t know. (Laugher.) So let’s get less serious somehow.

I’ll tell you, the years when Ambassador Thorne and I were younger and were here, we actually had an extraordinary adventure. I think we found a – I think he found it – this derelict, old – we went to the graveyard in London for London taxis. And David managed to actually find one that worked, and paid the guy a little extra who fixed up the engine and everything, and bought this London taxi. And so I would sit on the left side, where the luggage used to go in the old ones that were open. And we had a deck chair in it, and I had my feet out on the fender, and I’d roll a window open and talk to the driver or vice versa, depending on who was driving. And we drove all the way down – I think we left London one night at midnight and went to the ferry and went across to France, and went down through France and Spain and then down into Italy, and had a great adventure, running with the bulls in Pamplona and all those crazy things you do when you’re 18-years-old. And now we are older, I hope wiser. (Laughter.)

But one thing I came to understand – My dad was in the Foreign Service for a number of years at that critical stage. And I see some kids here, and I’m glad you guys came out. Thank you very much.

Hi. What’s your name?


SECRETARY KERRY: Virginia, how old are you? Come over here, Virginia. I can’t hear. Everybody can’t hear you. Come here. Come on up here. All right. (Applause.)

How old are you?


SECRETARY KERRY: You’re nine-years-old, and how long have you been living here?

PARTICIPANT: A year and a part.

SECRETARY KERRY: A year and a bit. Okay. And what grade are you in?


SECRETARY KERRY: Are you having fun?


SECRETARY KERRY: What’s it mean to you to live in Italy? What do you like best?

PARTICIPANT: To try to speak Italian to people that don’t understand me. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Uh-oh. So tell me something in Italian. Help me here.

PARTICIPANT: Ciao. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Wait. No, that’s way too easy. You got to give me a sentence, okay? One sentence.

PARTICIPANT: Io sono Americana. (Laughter and applause.)

SECRETARY KERRY: I love that. That’s a good thing to remember. (Laughter.) (In Italian.)

So when I came over here, I was 12-years-old. And my dad was stationed in Berlin, and I got to see the difference sort of between the East and the West, and it was a divided city after the war. You had to get in a special train and drive from Frankfurt all the way into Berlin, I mean, in the train. And I used to see this guy. I was all alone because I was coming back from a place in Switzerland, and I’d sit at the table with this soldier who had a valise padlocked to his foot. And I learned that this was the courier who was carrying all the secrets. And when you arrived at the station in Berlin, it was such a – it was, I don’t know, twice a week, three times a week or something – the Army band was at the station playing the Stars and Stripes, and America, and you – God, you felt this great sense of the country and patriotism. And here was this American island in this other country after the war.

So I learned a lot about everything people go through in the Foreign Service, about packing up a lot, moving a lot, losing some friends at one school, making them at another school. And it’s always transitory. But what’s beautiful about it is I can’t think of anything else that people do where you get as varied, as exciting, as adventurous, as culturally diverse, as historically full, and as challenging an opportunity to learn, learn, learn all the time, new input, and to give back in a way that makes an everyday difference to your country. It’s a great, great undertaking.

So whether you’re a Foreign Service officer or whether you are a civil servant or a political appointee, or whether you are a locally hired indigenous – we have a bunch of people here, I’m sure, who live right here in Rome who are Italian, correct, who work with the Embassy? Raise your hands if you’re in the local – there you go. Grazie. Thank you. (In Italian.) (Applause.)

But I’ll just say to you that this is a particularly complicated time. Last night, I had dinner with a huge group of foreign ministers who came from all over Europe and outside to have dinner and to talk about the world and where we are. And it was really interesting, because I made the comment of how much more complicated diplomacy is today than it was during the Cold War. And we lived with the Cold War for 50 or 60 years, the whole last part of the 20th century. That was East-West. Nuclear, communism, capitalism, pretty defined, pretty easy. And a whole bunch of things that have been released out of Pandora’s box as a result of the Berlin Wall coming down and the fall of the former Soviet Union and this opening up. Now we have to cope with the things that really defined a lot of the differences in the 1900s and the 1800s, with nation-states and balance of power and different interests.

But we’re doing it in an age where it isn’t a letter that comes from the cardinal to the king in someplace; it’s instantaneous. It’s more information than people can manage, unbelievable technology, unbelievable sense of freedom. So it’s no surprise that a fruit vendor in Tunisia ignites a revolution, not over something religious, not over something ideological, because he just wanted to be able to sell his fruit and live peaceably and with dignity.

And then a bunch of kids in Tahrir Square with all their cell phones and texting and messaging through the social media, they’re the ones who brought about the change in Egypt and brought about the revolution, notwithstanding that obviously the Brotherhood won the election because they’d been organized for 80 years. But that hasn’t yet addressed, and we don’t know if it will, the social upheaval and the conflict we face.

So everybody sees it. You just had a very interesting election here in Italy. People want change. They may define it differently and have different ways of doing it, but that’s the vitality of democracy. And that’s exactly what we are trying to get people to embrace and understand and be part of and make some tough choices for all of us as we go forward.

Every single day, every single one of you, no matter what department you’re in or what you’re doing, you’re contributing to our strength, to our message. You are defining the face of the United States of America. So I come here to thank you on behalf of President Obama, on behalf of our country. We are so honored by your service. And hopefully, over these next months we will be able to see some of the fruits of the labor in the vineyards that you’re involved in come to fruition.

And I’ll tell you this. I promise you this as your Secretary. I will do everything I can to fight for the resources, for the support, for the continuity, for the knowledge that the career you’re in is worthwhile, and worth fighting for. And we’ll do everything in our power to educate Congress, if they need it, to have a sense of what we get back for this investment of time and energy and effort.

And I know a lot of you, we’re lucky to be in Rome, but many of you’ve been in a place like Afghanistan or Iraq or other tough places before you got to come here. So enjoy while you are here, and thank you so much for the service that you contribute to our country, and I hope I have a chance to say hello to a bunch of you now. Thank you very, very much. (Applause.)