Meeting With Staff and Families of Tri-Mission Brussels
Secretary of State
AMBASSADOR GUTMAN: Good afternoon. Michelle and I would like to welcome you to our home, which is America’s home here in Brussels. Today, it’s another huge thrill. First of all, it’s always a special day when I join Ambassadors Kennard and Daalder. I will skip the usual joke about the smart one, the wise one, and the good-looking one. (Laughter.) Besides, both Ambassadors Daalder and Kennard told me that they wanted to be the good-looking one this time. (Laughter.)
It is a true honor and a privilege to get to assist in introducing Secretary John Kerry here today. I’ve known Secretary Kerry for several years. I got to witness repeatedly and firsthand his terrific judgment at weekly meetings during the period leading up to the 2008 election campaign. At these meetings in Washington, there’d be about 15 topnotch Washington advisors and insiders, plus me. And one by one – I would say nothing, but one by one, the leading guys would give their opinion, and usually Tom Daschle and Secretary Kerry, then Senator Kerry, would speak last. And having heard from a roomful of well-meaning opinions, when these two men spoke the campaign heard the measured voice of experience, and I reveled at being able just to be a spectator during that process.
So I knew his judgment. I got to see his effectiveness firsthand at my own Senate confirmation hearing for the ambassadorship four years ago in the Senate. I was on a panel with two dear friends – David Thorne, who’s a dear friend of the Secretary’s, and Don Beyer. And we got to the room. There were – a lot of senators had come from both sides of the aisle. And we were sitting David Thorne, a seat, myself, a seat, and Don Beyer. And then Senator Kerry got off the bench, came down, and sat between David Thorne and myself, and any potential opposition left the room, because he was going to be testifying on behalf. That was his effectiveness. And again, I sat there.
But knowing about his effectiveness and his judgment, nothing prepared me for how amazing he would represent our country in just the first two months. Even before the President’s trip to the Middle East, Secretary Kerry had personally worked on the Israeli-Turkey reconciliation and he’s been relentless repairing that relationship since. He’s personally brought back to life the Israel-Palestine efforts.
He then stayed in the region, traveling to Iraq to open blind eyes to what was happening in Syria. When we realized that Secretary Kerry had gone to Iraq and had not come home, I joked to my DCM, to Rob, “Where’s he going to be tomorrow, in Kabul, fixing the Parwan detention center?” And sure enough, when I woke up the next day, he was meeting with Karzai, fixing the Parwan detention center.
And on his way home, just for a stopover, he stopped in France, got the French to reconsider Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, to take a good look at the new trade negotiations. Then he went back to Asia to talk about North Korea, and things have been quiet since.
Both of the achievements, worthy of several careers for this Secretary; it’s the opening salvoes in his first two months. I, for one, am so proud to be, even for just a few months, a part of this State Department and so thrilled to welcome Secretary Kerry here today.
But first, the good-looking one, my dear friend Ambassador Kennard. (Laughter and applause.)
AMBASSADOR KENNARD: Thanks. Okay. Next time I want to be the wise one. (Laughter.) Well, thank you all for coming. And Senator Kerry – Secretary Kerry, thank you so much for being here. I don’t think that in the history of our country we have had someone who was better prepared to be Secretary of State than John Kerry. And I witnessed that firsthand today. We had a luncheon with Presidents Barroso and Van Rompuy over at the European Commission. And I saw Secretary Kerry speak so passionately and represent our country so well on a large range of issues.
And then afterwards, we met with a group of stagiaires in the Commission. And there was a young woman who asked a question of Secretary Kerry: “Now, how are you going to follow in the footsteps of Hillary Clinton and ensure that the role of women and girls around the world is still a high priority for the U.S. Government?” And I thought to myself, “How is he going to handle this one?” (Laughter.) And true to form, he hit the ball out of the park. So I felt so proud watching our new Secretary of State represent our country so well.
And Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for being here. You’ve already spent a considerable time in Europe. You’ve only been in the job two and a half months and already made your first visit to Brussels, so all of us really appreciate the time and attention that you’ve paid to our issues. We appreciate it so very much.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. (Applause.)
AMBASSADOR DAALDER: I’m not sure what that makes me, but it’s – (laughter) – what’s left. Mr. Secretary, it’s a real honor and a pleasure to welcome you here on behalf of U.S. NATO to Brussels. Tomorrow will be the first time that you take the chair as the Secretary of State to represent the United States at the North Atlantic Council, and I can’t think of a better person to take on that job tomorrow.
May I mention three – first, your language skills. Everyone knows that – by now – that you speak excellent French, which, after all, is the second language of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. But I’m not sure that everybody also knows that you speak a language that’s frankly far more difficult and impossible for most people to understand. It’s the language of NATO – (laughter) – where we speak entirely in acronyms. (Laughter.) You can talk with them, effortless there, over there, about (inaudible) PASP (inaudible), ISAF and (inaudible). And if you like, you can make up some acronyms just by your – on your own. (Laughter.) The other ministers won’t admit it, but they don’t know what you’re talking about. (Laughter.) They’ll just nod knowingly, smile, take notes. (Laughter.)
Second, really a little bit more seriously: You know the military in a way that few other people do. You’ve earned the Silver Star, Bronze Star with Combat Valor, three Purple Hearts for your incredible service in Vietnam. You know what it means to send young men and women into harm’s way, because you’ve been there yourself. That is what we try in NATO not to do, and having you at the table to make sure that we don’t need to send our young men and women into harm’s way is what we are looking to you for.
Third, you’ve known our alliance and fought its battles for almost three decades. When you became a senator, there was just 16 members in NATO. There was a Berlin Wall dividing the continent, and there were Soviet divisions lined up in Central Europe. Today, there are 28 nations that sit around the NATO table, the Berlin Wall is a long-gone artifact of history, and so is the Soviet Union. You’ve been part of all the great changes and challenges in Europe and of the alliances, so you know from where we came and from where we need to go.
You followed the advice of President John F. Kennedy, in whose Senate seat you had the honor to serve for 28 years. He said, “If we’re strong, our strength will speak for itself. If we’re weak, words will be of no help.” You’ve worked very hard to assure that the American military in the forces of NATO are strong and second to none. But you’ve also worked tirelessly on that basis to try to reduce tensions, to resolve conflicts, to work through arms control and nonproliferation, and through diplomatic rather than military solutions to make this a better world.
By your own example, you illustrate those other words of John F. Kennedy: “We are not here to curse the darkness but to light the candle that can guide us through the darkness to a safe and sane future.” All of us here in Brussels at U.S. NATO, at the U.S. mission to the European Union, at the bilateral mission, we’ll do everything in our power to support you as you search for the way for a safer and saner world. We wish you every success, not only tomorrow at the NAC, but in the months and years ahead as you travel that journey.
And now, ladies and gentlemen, it’s my wonderful pleasure to introduce to you the Secretary of State of the United States, Mr. John Kerry. (Applause.)
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much. I have never been introduced by the smart and the wise and the good-looking. (Laughter). In fact, I’ve never been introduced by three ambassadors, may I say. (Laughter.) I thought I’d come here today and change their mind – just call them the good, the bad, and the ugly. (Laughter.) But that will get me in a lot of trouble, so I’m not going there.
I have to tell you, my cup really is running over from the series of introductions that I just have heard. I’m not blowing smoke – oops, what happened? We lose somebody? Testing – there we go.
I’m not blowing smoke at anybody when I tell you without any question these are three of the finest ambassadors that we have serving in the State Department today, and I’m honored to come here. (Applause). Really, each of them stands out in their own way very, very specially, as do all of you, because you’re bringing together – which is not easy – three separate embassy efforts under one roof, in a sense, the tri-embassy effort here. And each is distinct in a very significant way with increasing responsibilities, increasing tasks.
Since Howard has been here, I’m proud to say that our relationship with Belgium has grown extraordinarily. I’m not going to go backwards sort of negatively in history, but we weren’t doing so well here not so long ago, in substance and in terms of the data, the polling data and the relationship. And there were concrete things that people were trying to do or had done to try to sort of step in the way of the United States policy as a result of that.
In these last four years, under the leadership of President Obama and the direction that he has taken our nation, restoring our relationship and our reputation, in many ways, in so many parts of the world – excuse me – he has leveraged what every one of you are trying to do and have to do in your responsibilities. He leveraged my ability to go out and meet the needs and promote the values and interests of our country. And I really congratulate him for that. He and Michelle have been just a superb team together. I don’t know of any ambassador anywhere in the world who has visited 588 of 589 communities in the country he lives, and he’s about to hit the 589th. And it’s so important to the country that the Prime Minister of the nation is going to come to be there to greet him and to celebrate that accomplishment. It’s certainly quite extraordinary and I really tip my hat to him. (Applause.) It really is diplomacy at its best.
And I tell you, when you go into those communities, they’ve never seen an American, and the Ambassador comes in, and you have a day of events that are planned and different people are partaking in it – the mayor, other kinds of folks. Man, that leaves such an impression. And Howard, my understanding that he’s giving autographs when he walks down the street – (laughter) – and kind of being treated like a rock star. But that’s the way an American Ambassador ought to be treated. (Laughter.) I like that.
And as for Bill and his efforts with respect to the EU, the EU is growing so significant in its importance – the euro crisis, their help in Afghanistan, in Libya, in – and obviously a lot of that spills over into NATO, obviously, also. But the EU is the largest trading bloc in the world, all by itself. And the idea of the United States joining up, under this TTIP, and raising the standards of the world for trade, and being able to create interoperability in terms of our communications and internet networks, so forth; to raise standards so we have a common understanding about safety, about regulations, about law enforcement – all the kinds of things that go with it – will change the world. Because other people already want to get into it.
I was in Turkey, and the Prime Minister of Turkey said to me, “Hey, this TTIP thing, we really want to be in it. We want to negotiate with you.” And I said, “Well, it’s kind of complicated. It’s with the EU” – (laughter) – and that can open up a whole new can of worms. I’m telling you. (Laughter.) At which point – but I said, look, we ought to be – but then they’ve talked about negotiating parallel. Now, obviously it’s complicated enough to figure out where we’re going to go with Europe, and as we get ahead of this effort with Europe, the possibilities of doing that with Turkey, I think, are very real. And we should think about sort of how we can be inclusive and bring more people to the table.
So the EU agenda, as the EU evolves and as the Eurozone crisis forces this confrontation with the question of the euro project – this is a project that began after World War II, the vision of Jean Monnet and the whole effort to have sort of a monetary union, and ultimately, the European Common Market. But that’s only the beginning. The end is, how do you deal with the sovereignty issues of each of these countries so as to have a fiscal discipline and a capacity to be able to be united and move forward with the real power of the euro that is a governing entity? And it’s complicated. It’s not easy. Culturally, you all fight with those issues all the time and you see them.
And then, of course, there’s the challenge of NATO, which has proven the viability of this alliance through a period where a lot of people thought, “Well, the Cold War was over in the 1990s; what do we need NATO for?” And what started with these few countries now has the 27 members, the 28 at the table, and talk of expanding still with important countries coming to the table. That is a great stabilizer. It is a great equalizer in the end. And it’s a great sort of bringing together and uniting of common values and interests that is critical in terms of this struggle against violent extremism and chaos in certain parts of the world.
There are parts of the world today where I regret to tell you that extremism, and violent extremism, and religious extremism is growing faster than democracy or a yearning for democracy. And that’s dangerous, dangerous for all of us. We’re going to have to figure out what the model is and what the means it is by which we’re going to change this dialogue. Because one thing I know: We’re not going to solve this problem with drones and Seal teams. It’s going to take something more than that, and that’s all of you – it’s called diplomacy. It’s the extraordinary numbers of different agencies – I think about 40 different agencies – that are working together here, under one roof.
And so many of you have worked in different capacities. I just met a group who either are going to Afghanistan or who were in Iraq and Afghanistan who have come back from that, have been part of that sort of process. This is the year of transition. This is the critical year in Afghanistan. I was just there with President Karzai. In fact, I’ll be meeting with President Karzai and with General Kayani and with the civilian Foreign Minister from Pakistan while I’m here. We’re going to have a trilateral and try to talk about how we can advance this process in the simplest, most cooperative, most cogent way so that we wind up with both Pakistan’s and Afghanistan’s interests being satisfied, but most importantly, with a stable and peaceful Afghanistan, which is worth the expenditure of the treasure and effort of these last years, and the service of all of you who have been there and those of you who are going.
So these are the challenges. The bottom line is this: Even though Bill and Howard each talked about my taking on this job and my sort of, quote, “readiness” for it, or whatever you want to call it, that the proof will be in the pudding. I don’t know about all that, and I’m certainly not going to stake any claims. But I’ll tell you this: I could not be more proud than to be at the helm of the State Department, because it’s something that is literally in my blood because of my father. But more than that, it’s in my blood because I believe in building relationships. I believe in reaching out to people and trying to break down barriers. I don’t know a child – two years old, two and a half, three, four years old – who hates anybody, except maybe he hates broccoli or there’s something that they got to – (laughter) – but they don’t hate people. And they don’t have an idea in their head that is malevolent and angry and mean-spirited. It is taught. And it’s taught in too many textbooks and too many streets and too many religious institutions in different places, because people don’t have anything else to offer.
Those guys who blow people up, whether it’s the two kids in Boston or people in Madrid or London or Islamabad or anywhere else, they don’t have a theory of governance. They don’t have something to offer that actually keeps faith with people’s aspirations for human rights and for opportunity and dignity. And I’d just remind all of you, that fruit vendor who ignited a revolution in Tunisia, he didn’t do what he did because of any Islamic extremism or any religious extremism or any ideology. He did what he did because he wanted dignity and opportunity of the right to be able to sell his fruit without the interference of corrupt police officers beating him around in the street.
And those kids in Tahrir Square, they’re the ones who brought you that revolution – not the Muslim Brotherhood. It was not an Islamic driven revolution. It was a generational revolution. And I say to you as sure as I stand here, we’re going to see more of that in these years ahead, because young people, people under the age of 30 – 30 years old, 60 percent of Egypt – 50 percent of Egypt is under the age of 21. Forty percent is under the age of 18. If they don’t get an education, and if they don’t get an opportunity to have a job, they’re too connected through these little machines you guys are holding up over there. Those video things and telephones and all the rest of it, they’re going to talk to each other, and they see what the rest of the world has, and they exchange ideas, and they blog and they tweet and they get it.
So these guys who don’t offer anything are not the future. I believe the future is standing in this room. I believe the future are the aspirations that are espoused most days – not every day – in the United States Capitol. I believe that is what our country stands for and what has brought all of you to this great endeavor of representing our great country.
Sometimes we have setbacks. Losing Anne Smedinghoff hurt all of us. Losing the guard in Ankara, who saved lives as he stood out and prevented that guy from getting through there and hurting a lot of people in the embassy. Those things happen. And Benghazi, obviously. And Khobar Towers and Nairobi Embassy. You can go back. I admire all of you for being willing to come into a job, which may not carry all of those risks as much here in a place like Brussels or in some other place, but at one point or another in your lives, and everybody, even here, there are always risks. We do that because we believe in what we’re doing, because we believe in the values that are at the core of our DNA as Americans, and because we believe in protecting the interests of our country. Real diplomacy is a balance of interests and values. Sometimes you get to represent one more than the other in the effort to get something done. But all the time they’re both on the table.
And so I just want to thank you for taking time away from friends and family sometimes. A lot of you in this post – got a lot of families here – I thank you for that too. I remember what it was like to pack up when I was 11 years old and go somewhere that I didn’t have a clue where I was. And the language was obviously strange and it was hard to make friends and find people and all of those things. But you know what? Looking back I wouldn’t have it any other way. I was very lucky and I think your kids are and so are you.
So God bless you. Thank you on behalf of President Obama and the entire Administration for doing what you do. Keep on doing it. Keep on making these three embassies click together the way they do. Keep on pushing the interests of our country, and I will do everything in my power, whether in the budget or in policy, to back you up every single day.
Thank you and God bless. (Applause.)