Meeting With Staff and Families of Embassy Kuwait

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Bayan Palace, Kuwait
June 26, 2013

AMBASSADOR TUELLER: Mr. Secretary, it’s a real pleasure to welcome you here to Kuwait, and you have here one of the most dedicated, professional, creative groups of embassy employees that I’ve had the pleasure to work with, and they’re delighted to welcome you here. And without further ado, introduce you to the staff of the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait.

Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY KERRY: Cool. Thank you very much, Mr. Ambassador. Wow, you guys are so well behaved toeing this line here. (Laughter.) I can’t believe this. This is – you got to kind of huddle in here a little bit or something in this massive tent. I feel overwhelmed. But anyway, thank you. Great to be with everybody. How you all doing?


SECRETARY KERRY: Everybody good?


SECRETARY KERRY: All right. Thank you for the great work you’re doing. Mr. Ambassador, thank you. I was just talking to Matthew. This is his third tour out here. I guess you all know that. But we’re glad to have his expertise working on a place where we have such an important relationship, and I’m appreciative for all of you.

I think we have something like 250 direct hires and then about 300-and-some or more people from 23 different nations, which is really rather remarkable. How many of you represented one of those – I want you to raise your hands if you represent one of those other nations other than the United States of America. How many are you? A whole mass of you here. Well, thank you. We are very, very appreciative. We couldn’t do the work without you and we’re very grateful. And I gather that a whole bunch of you take time to go out and take part in some diwaniyas; is that right?


SECRETARY KERRY: How many of you have done that? Raise your hands. That’s exciting. That’s really neat. That’s got to be kind of a great experience. And you listen to all the local citizens and they’re talking about their issues and so forth. That’s pretty – that’s better than it is sometimes in Massachusetts. No, I’m only joking. (Laughter.)

Anyway, well, I just want to say – well, I want to have a chance to meet everybody, and maybe that’s the virtue of your being lined up on the line here and I can come by and say hi. But I want to say really a special thank-you to you from President Obama, from myself, and most importantly, I think, from all the American people. Serving abroad, if you are an American and coming to an embassy and being there for several years and bringing your kids, thank you, kids, for being here.

I was a young kid in the Foreign Service. I was 11 years old when my dad went off into the Foreign Service, and to make myself quite old, it was back in the 1950s not too long after World War II. We went to Berlin and I remember huge parts of the city totally bombed out and I’d ride my bicycle all around the city. It was a great adventure for me. And I learned enough German to still be able to go order a meal and know what I’m doing and when I’m getting into trouble, but – so it’s a lot of fun if you’re your age. How old are you? There you are; you’re exactly the age I was when I started. So you can be Secretary of State in about 50 years, how’s that? (Laughter.) You ready for that? Not yet, but you will be.

I learned what it was like to pack up the bags, to leave your friends, to go to another country, to be confronted with a culture that was just totally different and things that are different and food and habits and all those kinds of things. And for a while, I scratched my head and I said, “What’s all this about?” Now I look back on it and I am so grateful to my parents for having given me that experience. I’m so grateful for having been introduced at an early age to other people and to learn something about the way those other folks look at the world.

We don’t always do that as well as we should, any of us in places. And sometimes it’s just not taught. We don’t know how to do it, or we don’t think about it, or we think the way we do something in one country or another is the way it is everywhere, but it isn’t, as we’ve learned. And it’s so important to understand where other people are coming from, why they think the way they think, why they believe what they believe. And we can learn enormous amounts from everybody. So for all of you who represent those 23 nationalities that are helping us, we say thank you, because we learn from you, but we also say thank you because you are sort of adopting us and you’re helping us to carry our message about our country, our hopes, our aspirations for people, for the world. You’re helping us to carry that message to people here in Kuwait and anybody who happens to come through here.

And no matter what section you’re in, whether you’re in consular or whether you’re in economic or you’re working as a civil servant or Foreign Service or whatever it is you’re doing, every one of you is an ambassador for our country. You carry a message. You may be the only contact that some people ever have with the United States, or you may be the first contact that they have. And as a result, the impression that you leave and the sense of America that you give is a very, very important impression. It’s an important message. So I want to thank you for that.

I also know that this happens to be a pretty good place for families. The Ambassador was bragging on sort of the good elements of serving here with respect to families, but I also know that there are restraints. And in 1983, for some of you who were here working back then, there was a terrorist attack. And of course, during the period of Saddam Hussein, we all know there was the occupation. So there have been times of great conflict and great tension and strife and even danger. So I want to thank you. It’s really important to have you here.

This relationship with Kuwait is a very, very important one. I just had a long meeting with the Amir, with His Highness, and we talked a lot about the region and Syria, the difficulties, Middle East peace process, Egypt, all the things that are happening. But remember something: All those things that are happening represent people’s hopes and aspirations for change. Tahrir Square was not a religiously inspired event. It wasn’t an extremist-inspired event. It was young people who, using their cell phones and texting and Googling and Facetiming and whatever they did, communicated to each other and talked about their hopes for the future. They wanted jobs, they wanted opportunity, they wanted respect, they wanted education, they wanted all of those kinds of things. It wasn’t till later during the election process that the sort of religious components and other organized components began to come into it.

Same thing in Tunisia, as a young fruit vendor who was completely frustrated with corruption and with the lack of economic opportunity and the fact that some police officer was restricting him from selling his fruit and he was so frustrated that he saw fit to take his own life in front of the police station, and that ignited this sense of protest. It’s playing out in many, many, many places. We’ve seen demonstrations in Turkey that don’t just have to do with the square. We’ve seen demonstrations in Brazil that aren’t about soccer games.

These are people everywhere who are looking for governance that meets their needs. I do like to think that in the United States of America, we have a special sense of that responsibility and a special opportunity with the freedom of our government, the freedom of our press, and the freedom of anybody to go out and say what they want and not get thrown in jail for it and do what they want, running for office, or anything else, that that’s a model worth fighting for and carrying to the rest of the world. So you’re all doing that. Not a bad deal to have a job where you can get up in the morning and feel good about what you’re doing and know that you’re making a difference in the world. A lot of people don’t get that privilege.

So I thank you again on behalf of our country, on behalf of the President, and personally as the Secretary of State who has the privilege of leading this great Department that is so involved in trying to make this planet we live on a better place to live. I’m grateful to you and I thank you. For those of you who will celebrate Ramadan soon, Ramadan Kareem. I wish you well. And I hope for everybody that the days ahead bring you everything that you need and want. Thank you for your service. God bless. (Applause.)

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PRN: 2013/T09-15