Meeting With Staff and Families of Embassy Moscow

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Spaso House
Moscow, Russia
May 8, 2013

AMBASSADOR MCFAUL: Well, ladies and gentlemen, it is a great privilege and honor to have with us today Secretary Kerry. I think we had an extraordinary day of diplomacy yesterday, and two things I just want to say in front of you Secretary Kerry.

Number one, with an incredibly productive, intense at some times, discussion with President Putin, and then later with a marathon day of diplomacy that I think ended at about 2:30 a.m. with Minister Lavrov, we got a new infusion and a new framing and a new strategic vision about how to talk about U.S.-Russian relations. And I want to tell you, Secretary Kerry, your trip could not have come at a better time, and I came away from that meeting thinking we have a very concrete set of issues to work with. We’re not always going to agree, as you said many times yesterday, but I thought the framing at the strategic level was at a very important time in U.S.-Russian relations.

And number two, I just want to say, on Syria in particular, we don’t know how it’s going to end, as you said yesterday many times, but I found it to be extraordinary the amount of time and effort that you are putting to work with our Russians on what I think is one of the biggest issues before our time. So for that infusion of new energy, I thank you greatly. I am enthused to be going back to work tomorrow. I’m glad that you all helped on this trip. And without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, Secretary of State John Kerry. (Applause.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much. Thank you Mr. Ambassador, Michael. Thanks for the job that you’re doing, and Donna. Where’d Donna go out there? She’s here? Hey, Donna. Thank you very much. I appreciate your work with disabilities and children and everything. Thank you. And that’s Luke. We got Luke here. And Cole’s at school, is that right?


SECRETARY KERRY: Oh, no. He’s at the model UN. He’s Helsinki – what am I talking about? – which is very exciting. But anyway, thank you very, very much for what you do.

And it’s always nice to be in the humble home of an ambassador in a foreign country. (Laughter.) I’m looking around here. I was talking to the President the other day, because he’d been to a couple places and I’d been to a couple places. I said, “Boy, these ambassadors have better homes than any of the rest of us.” The President said, “Even better than the White House in some cases.” But thank you all for coming out here this morning.

And kids, thank you very much for being part of this. You all look terrific. Did I get you out of school? (Laughter.) Yeah. Pretty exciting. So that’s really worthwhile, right? You’ll remember this forever, the guy who got you out of school. You won’t remember who I am or what I do – (laughter) – but gosh, you got out of school for a day and that was really fun.

Anyway, it’s really special for me to be here. Spaso House is an incredible place, historic obviously, when I think that Ambassador Bullitt was here and George Kennan, Ambassador Kennan, and our own Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns. I was here once. I remember doing a big reception here with Bob Strauss when he was here. So historically, we have always had savvy, competent political players who also have a sense of history and an ability to do things in our ambassadors here, and Mike McFaul is no exception to that, and nor are any of you who work here, in terms of the tradition of the importance of this posting.

Russia is complicated, we all know, but vital. And the relationship with a Permanent Five member with as important a capacity to play a global role as Russia is is one of the most important diplomatic postings there is. We have had sort of a merry-go-round/rollercoaster ride over the last 20 years when the Soviet Union no longer – ceased to exist, and we’ve been transitioning. And I don’t think anybody can expect that kind of complicated transition to produce this ideal within this short span of time. It rarely does.

Look at the United States of America. I mean, you think of the 1700s and the turmoil between the Articles of Confederation and then later the Constitution, and then a civil war in the 1860s and then a civil rights movement in the 1960s, and we’re still trying to fill out the full promise of our own country’s Constitution. So we need to be thoughtful as we look at other countries as they go through their economic and social transformations.

And what all of you get to do is not just be sort of present at the creation, to think of a great book about diplomacy, but you get to be shaping the creation and involved in helping people to understand their way forward. There really isn’t a more exciting challenge, to be honest with you. And we can’t do it without you. It doesn’t matter what you do within the Embassy, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a Foreign Service Officer or a Civil Service or whether you are temporarily assigned to duty or whether you are here as a representative of a different agency of government among the many agencies that get housed under an embassy. We all have to work as a team.

And we particularly need the help of the locally hired, locally employed people. Those of you who are Russian or third-party, third-country employees are just as important as anybody else, because we can’t do it without your knowledge of the locality, your ability to guide us, the language abilities, knowing the social customs and the culture. All of that contributes to our ability to be able to be better diplomats.

I had the privilege, last Friday, I think it was – it’s a blur – to swear-in the newest class of young Foreign Service Officers. And it was really interesting. There were a group of former military personnel, former Peace Corps volunteers, former teachers, former journalists. Almost every one of them was coming to this mission with some other work experience behind them. Ninety-eight percent of the people that we brought in in this new class have lived abroad, traveled abroad, studied abroad extensively, and every single one of them had broad language skills.

So I think if you want to pick something to do in life in a world that is going through enormous change and enormous confrontation, there is no more exciting challenge than to be on the frontlines of representing the United States of America, our interests and our values, and working to build relationships with people in other countries. Every single one of you, whether you’re doing an interview in a consulate and you get tired doing it because you got too many people to process every day – you’re the face of America. In many cases, you may be the only government official people ever meet. You’ll be the impression and you’ll be the ambassador of our country to say to those people here’s how we behave in America, here’s what we believe in America, here’s how we treat people in America, here are the door of opportunities that we open to you because we are America.

So stand tall, don’t get tired, keep fighting. I know sometimes it’s frustrating. We’re just starting to get at the bureaucracy and all those kinds of issues. I hate bureaucracy. I’m sure you do too. We’re working hard to try to break down some of the walls and barriers, speed things up. I hope over the course of the next year you’ll begin to see some of those changes.

But from me, from President Obama, from the American people, thank you. A profound thank you to you for being here, for packing up your family, going to a new school. I remember what that was like. I was 11 years old when my dad was in the Foreign Service, and I thought it was the biggest adventure in a lifetime. I didn’t have a clue where I was, but it worked. And so somewhere here, maybe you’re a future Secretary of State. Would you like to be Secretary of State? (Laughter.) She’s nodding her head. Okay, guys. (Laughter.) We got – just wait a few years, when I’m finished. (Laughter.)

It really was a great adventure, and it’s something that has stayed with me all my life, because it helped to open my eyes so I could begin to look at other people not just as an American and not just through our view of the world, but begin to see things through their view of the world. And it’s better to balance things that way and have an understanding of how everybody else thinks works and doesn’t work.

So on behalf of America, thank you for being here in Moscow. And if you’re in a consulate somewhere else and happen to be visiting, thank you for that. But we are profoundly grateful to all of you, and I’m privileged to be here for a couple of days.

We, incidentally, did have a great day yesterday. I think we, hopefully, found a cooperative way forward to maybe try – I can’t guarantee you can – but try to bring people together to deal effectively with Syria and hopefully end bloodshed and see if there isn’t a way to find a way forward. It is not easy. Nothing is easy in this process.

I just met with a group of your civil society folks who are struggling to find their voice in their own country, who courageously stand up and fight for what we take for granted in many cases in America. And so you’re part of that journey too. Every single part of this is a mosaic, are the pieces that all come together to create the values and the policies that represent our great nation.

And I’m very proud to be at the State Department, where I promise you I will have your back. Let me count on you to have mine, and together we’re going to fight hard to make real the values that motivated most of you to join up in the first place. Thank you, and God bless. Appreciate it. (Applause.)

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PRN: 2013/ T05-04