Meeting With Staff and Families of Embassy Brasilia

John Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Embassy Brasilia
Brasilia, Brazil
August 13, 2013

AMBASSADOR SHANNON: (In progress.) -- serve the United States and serve Brazil in building a relationship that we think holds enormous potential for us. So, sir, thank you very much for being here.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you, Tom. Thank you very, very much. Thank you, everybody. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you very much.

Thank you. Muito Obrigado. I am very happy to be here. Bom Dia. (Laughter.) I have Portuguese around my house every day, guys. I sit there and I go (in Portuguese). That’s right. But I learned a little bit. My wife – her native tongue, my wife’s native language is Portuguese. She was born in Mozambique, and we actually had to come to Rio to meet. We actually met in Rio at the Earth Summit back in 1992, and the rest is history, as they say. (Laughter.) Anyway, but it’s a real pleasure for me to be here, and I’m listening to my wife speak Portuguese all the time and I’ve been very bad about not learning it. I’m struggling with some other languages.

Anyway, it’s great to see you all. Everybody good?


SECRETARY KERRY: Good. I’m delighted to hear that. You have to be. I just saw three tennis courts out here. (Laughter.) I said, man, this can’t be that tough. I don’t know. (Laughter.) Looks pretty good to me. But it’s really wonderful to be able to be here, and thank you to all the kids. Where are all the kids here? Hey, guys. Why don’t you guys come up here with me? I like having kids come up here with me. Come on. Come on, guys. Come on.

You’re the future and this is what it’s all about, so I’m happy to have you here. Is this – and we have a six-month-old over here, very patriotically dressed. (Laughter.) What’s the name of our six-year-old patriot? Has everybody seen how patriotic this six-month-old is here? (Laughter.) Come here. Look at this. Yeah. There you are. What’s --

PARTICIPANT: Her name’s Willow Grace.

SECRETARY KERRY: Her name is Willow Grace, and --

PARTICIPANT: Nine months.

SECRETARY KERRY: Nine months, okay. All right. How we doing? Yeah. I have a new grandchild, a new grandchild on the way, a couple of other grand – so it’s really great. I love to see it. Anyway, you have to stand up here the whole time. (Laughter.)

Anyway, how are you guys doing? You having fun? How old are you?



SECRETARY KERRY: Wow. You’re 11. She is exactly the age that I was when my dad joined the Foreign Service and we went off to Berlin, Germany not too long after the war, World War II. I’m really dating myself now. (Laughter.) But it was a great adventure. You having fun? You like the adventure?


SECRETARY KERRY: This your first posting?

PARTICIPANT: Yeah, this is my first.

SECRETARY KERRY: Pretty cool. How’s your language coming?

PARTICIPANT: Oh, it’s okay. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Okay. Alright. I won’t push you any further. (Laughter.) I won’t push you any further.

Anyway, so the rest of you all, you go to school – at which school, international? American?

PARTICIPANT: (Off-mike.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Cool, and that’s fun, isn’t it? How big is it? How many kids are in it?


SECRETARY KERRY: Fifty? (Laughter.) That’s pretty small.

PARTICIPANT: Six hundred and fifty.

SECRETARY KERRY: Six hundred and fifty, that’s better. All right, that’s better. (Laughter.) All right.

Well, listen, I just want to – where’s (inaudible)? Is (inaudible) here? Is she out here?

PARTICIPANT: She couldn’t come.

SECRETARY KERRY: She couldn’t come. Forty-two years of service, I understand. That’s one of – that’s the longest period of service. I’ve now been to, what, 29 countries, I think, as Secretary. I haven’t met anybody who’s done 42 years, so – I haven’t met her either, so what I can say? (Laughter.) But I met a bunch of people who have 37, 38, 39, things like that, which is pretty amazing.

I just want to say thank you to everybody. I really appreciate the chance to be back in Brazil. Thank you.

PARTICIPANT: We have an employee here, who is 42 years of service.

SECRETARY KERRY: Forty-two years? Come on. Come up here and let me tell who you are. (Applause.) What’s your name?

PARTICIPANT: Maria Salle Jorgia.

SECRETARY KERRY: Maria Salle what?


SECRETARY KERRY: Maria Salle Jorgia, and she has 42 years of service. I can’t believe it. And you look like you’re only, like, 28 years old. (Laughter.) It’s very – how did you do that?

PARTICIPANT: (Inaudible.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it’s really fabulous.

PARTICIPANT: I started here at the Embassy back in ’71.

SECRETARY KERRY: Wow. That’s incredible. So you’ve been through a few secretaries. (Laughter.) Okay. I won’t --

PARTICIPANT: Happy to be here with you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Thank you so much. We really appreciate it.

PARTICIPANT: You have so much hair. It’s amazing. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY KERRY: I know. I need a haircut. (Laughter.) Thank you very much. It’s not every day I get my hair cut, but the truth is I’ve been so busy, I literally have not been able to get a haircut. (Laughter.) I got up this morning and I looked at myself and I said, “Oh my God, I got to get a haircut,” but anyway, isn’t there something more serious to talk about here? (Laughter.)

I just, really, on behalf of the President and behalf of everybody in the country really want to say thank you for what you do. And it’s a mix of so many different people. We got Foreign Service officers and civil servants and locally employed and contractors and different agencies. I think there are something like 25 or – how many do you have – about 25 agencies here with whom we cooperate, and then a whole bunch of TDY-ers and others who come through, and then three consulates and five consul agencies, so it’s extraordinary. And you guys have processed something like a record million-plus visas last year, which is absolutely extraordinary.

And it’s a reflection of a lot of things, not the least of which is the efforts by President Rousseff and the Brazilians to send more of their young folks to study in the United States, and of course, our reciprocal efforts to bring people to study here. And I can’t tell you how sometimes that seems sort of like light diplomacy or soft diplomacy, whatever you want to call it. I have always found it’s amazing when I’m meeting with people – and I’ve been meeting with people now for 35 years or more, 29 of them in the United States Senate, and some of them this term in the Foreign Relations Committee, so I would meet everybody. And the numbers of foreign ministers, finance ministers, environment ministers, prime ministers, presidents who look at me and say, “I studied at the University of Chicago,” or “I studied at Stanford,” or Berkeley or Harvard or wherever it is, University of Mississippi – it’s just amazing how they are – they take pride in it, they love it. And it’s an experience that stays with people for a lifetime.

Most recently I’ve been talking with Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Foreign Minister – longest-serving foreign minister in the world incidentally – of Saudi Arabia, and he is a proud Princeton graduate, and he’s always talking to me about his years at Princeton, what it meant to him, and what it means to him now. And more often than not, I’m meeting now even more of these officials whose sons and daughters are all studying abroad. I mean, yesterday when I was in Colombia, the President was telling me how his youngest son is about to go off to UVA. He has another son who just graduated from Brown and another one – I forget where, but this is important, so this is a very important part of what we do, and in the long run, it will do more to bring people together than anything that I can think of.

Years ago, when I was a younger senator, I started the Fulbright Program in Vietnam when we were first trying to open up our relations after the war, and that program became the largest Fulbright Program in the world. It’s now the second largest, the largest being in Pakistan. But the other day I met the Foreign Minister of Vietnam, and he pulled out a photograph, and he showed me the photograph, and it was me as a young senator 25 years ago meeting him as a student at Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and he proudly showed it to me, and here I am dealing with him now, and boy did I feel old. Huh? (Laughter.) Scary.

But I just very quickly – I don’t want to tie you all up too long. What we are doing – and I mean we. I get to be the Secretary and run around and get to a lot of countries and you all are doing different things here in one place for a period of time, and then you move somewhere else. But this is a family effort. The State Department is a great family, and no way has that come home to us more than with some of our losses in the last few years. Ambassador Chris Stevens and Anne Smedinghoff recently in Afghanistan, who happened to have been my control officer only a week and a half before that.

So there are risks, and there are hardships. People leave home, you have to pack up, you’ve got to repack, go another place, leave friends behind, take your kids to another school, but in the end I can’t think of anything – very few things at least where you get up in the morning every day and go to work and know – not just feel like, but know that you are contributing to making a difference to the relationships between peoples, to the opportunities that some people will have in a lifetime: that person who gets a visa, that person whose human rights are protected in some country or someplace, the person we fight for because no one else will fight for them, the kids that we feed in one country or another, the young people who will grow up now AIDS-free because of a program called PEPFAR and because of the health programs we bring to people.

We are making a difference every day in the relationships between countries, the relationship between peoples, and the aspirations and opportunities that people will have somewhere in the world. That’s a great adventure. It’s also a well-spent life. It’s a way to do things where you can say there’s a real reward to risk factor, and you know you’re contributing to something bigger than yourself. We are dealing in the most complicated world ever, and I mean ever.

I’m a student of history, and I love to go back and read a particularly great book like Kissinger’s book about diplomacy where you think about the 18th, 19th centuries and the balance of power and how difficult it was for countries to advance their interests and years and years of wars. And we sometimes say to ourselves, boy, aren’t we lucky. Well, folks, ever since the end of the Cold War, forces have been unleashed that were tamped down for centuries by dictators, and that was complicated further by this little thing called the internet and the ability of people everywhere to communicate instantaneously and to have more information coming at them in one day than most people can process in months or a year.

It makes it much harder to govern, makes it much harder to organize people, much harder to find the common interest, and that is complicated by a rise of sectarianism and religious extremism that is prepared to employ violent means to impose on other people a way of thinking and a way of living that is completely contrary to everything the United States of America has ever stood for. So we need to keep in mind what our goals are and how complicated this world is that we’re operating in.

So I thank you, every single one of you, about 1,322 people here I think representing all those different entities that I talked about. You really do make a great team, and you are engaged in a great enterprise. And on behalf of President Obama, on behalf of the American people, and on my behalf as the Secretary who has the privilege of leading this great Department, I want to thank you. This is the adventure of a lifetime, and as these kids will learn and look back on it years from now, they have pretty special parents, and they have pretty special opportunities made available to them because of what you all do. So thank you all, and God bless. Thank you. (Applause.)

PRN: 2013/T12-05