Meeting With Staff and Families of Consulate General Jeddah

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
June 25, 2013

MS. CASPER: Dear colleagues and friends, help me give a warm Jeddah welcome to Secretary of State John Kerry. (Applause.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much. Thank you. Assalamu alaikum.

AUDIENCE: Wa alaikum assalaam.

SECRETARY KERRY: Nice to be with you all. Thank you very, very much. It’s wonderful to be here. You’re getting ready for the Fourth of July right here. I love it. And I love seeing all the kids here, but I was commenting a moment ago there are one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten girls, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen – I don't know what’s happened to the boys in this thing, but – (laughter) – anyway.

It’s a really great privilege to be here at Consulate Jeddah, and I’m happy to be accompanied by our great Ambassador, James Smith. I last saw him at Embassy Riyadh not so long ago, mind you, and I’m happy to be here with Anne Casper and the troops and – your husband Carl here somewhere? Is he hiding? Where is he? (Laughter.) Carl, thank you. Thanks for putting up with us and everything we do and for being part of the team. I appreciate it. I’ve been here to Consulate Jeddah before, and it’s fun – it’s good to get back here, and thank you for the warm welcome, though I guess in the month of June, everything’s warm around here. (Laughter.) I appreciate it.

I want to pick up on something that the Consul General just said about the numbers of folks who work here, 17 different nationalities, and a whole bunch of folks who are local employees together with the folks who are the direct hires from the United States. Some of you, I gather, have worked here more than 30 years. Is there anybody here who’s been here that long? Raise your hands. Over here? Wow. Well, we want to thank you. Everybody here, how about a thank you for 30 years-plus of service and – amazing. Thank you. (Applause.)

And it’s very special for me to be in this very special place, and I’ll tell you why. The relationship with Saudi Arabia is one of our really super-important ones for a lot of obvious reasons. And it’s not just about resources and so forth, but Saudi Arabia has been particularly helpful, particularly constructive and engaged, proactive, and shown leadership on some of the most vexing challenges that we face. Saudi Arabia has been front and center for years now thanks to King Abdullah on a major peace initiative, the Arab Peace Initiative, which he started, securing the support of all of the Arab League as well as most Muslim countries in the world, to support the notion that if we can resolve the differences with respect to creating a Palestinian state, that you could wind up with peace with every single one of those countries. He also had the foresight to think about a forward-leaning security arrangement that might be able to be created between all of the countries, including in Israel, with whom you are at peace.

That’s visionary, and that’s the kind of leadership that we need. Just recently in the last few months, the Arab League, led by Saudi Arabia and together with Qatar and others, came to Washington, and they not only reiterated their support for the Arab Peace Initiative, but they tweaked it, they changed it. And they recognized the changes that have taken place in the region over the last years and talked about how we could negotiate along ’67 lines with swaps, which was something new and different. And frankly, it brought some feedback, some kickback, from people who didn’t like the fact that they were willing to show that kind of leadership.

In addition to that, they’ve been enormously helpful with respect to terrorism and counterterrorism, working now with President Hadi in Yemen and helping to try to create stability in Yemen and all of our interests there as well as in Syria, where they have stood up and helped to take the lead against the aggression of Assad and his regime against his own people, as well as the fact that Iran and Hezbollah, which is a terrorist organization, are now deeply involved across international lines in that country.

So I don’t want to give you a long – I’m not going to go into all the issues and everything. But I think you get a sense from what I’m saying that this strategic relationship is important, and you are here in this cosmopolitan city with the enormous crossroads that it represents, so many pilgrims coming to take part in the Hajj, so many people that you have to process through the Consulate and work with and represent in a city that is known for innovation and for being this kind of international crossroads. So it’s a very special place, important to us, important to the relationship with Saudi Arabia.

And none of what we do could be done without the help of the 17 nationalities and all those of you who were hired locally to work with us. So on behalf of President Obama and the American people, we want to say thank you to you for coming here to be part of our mission to try to create stability, to bring values and freedom and democracy and opportunity for everybody – women, men, children, education – all of the things that, in the end, make a difference to the lives of our fellow human beings. We are very, very grateful to you.

And I understand – I’m told that first and second tour folks here, at some point, you all had a dinner, or a lunch, I guess it was. You prepared a big lunch and you had a big luncheon for all the local hires to say thank you. And then, lo and behold, you got a great big thank you because all of the local folks cooked up an amazing meal and brought it in and everybody shared that meal. That’s a beautiful gesture. It’s a wonderful thing to do. And there’s a great Arabic saying, I think, if I get it correctly, (in Arabic), that if you share – (in Arabic), correct?

AUDIENCE: Very nice.

SECRETARY KERRY: -- that bread and salt, you have a bond together forever. Now, unfortunately, in 2004, there was an event here which took the lives of five people which created a bond well before a meal. And I think we are so grateful to some of you who are here who helped to fight and push back against an act of terrorism.

So this is a difficult place too, and there are times when there is tension and times when there are potential of a – there is potential of conflict, and only recently in the last years has it become a place where families can again be here and be together, and that’s such an important step. So I just want to thank Ambassador Smith, I want to thank Consul General Casper, and all of you for being ambassadors for the United States of America, but most importantly, for humanity, for values that I think are universal that we all share. And we are very, very grateful to you.

So I know Ramadan is around the corner. Ramadan Kareem, and I hope everybody has a safe and good Ramadan, and I look forward to coming back here again someday and maybe we can break bread together, and then we’ll have an irreversible bond forever. Is that a deal? All right. Thank you and God bless everybody. Thank you so much for being here, appreciate it. (Applause.)

PRN: 2013/T09-12