Meeting With Mission Afghanistan Staff
Secretary of State
AMBASSADOR CUNNINGHAM: I apologize for keeping you waiting. It’s been a very long and eventful day, and it’s not over yet for us, but it’s been very successful so far. And Secretary Kerry, I really want to thank you on behalf of all of us here, not just for coming to see us again, but for leading such a productive period here in our discussions with the Afghans.
I’m not going to introduce the Secretary, except to say that – how proud we are to welcome him here, and to say what a pleasure it is to have him come and meet with all of you. And what I can promise you is an extremely grueling day, but he very much wanted to do this.
So without further ado, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you, sir. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you very much. Well, hello, Embassy Kabul. Nice to be here. Great to be here, great to be here. In fact, I am having such a good time, I just decided to stay all – (laughter) – why would I ever want to leave? (Laughter.) We’ve had a terrific day, a very long – very, very long day; long night last night too. And it’s going to be a little bit longer even this evening. We’re going to go back to the palace and enjoy a dinner, again, with the President and his crew, but more importantly, we’re going to try to see if we can make a little more progress, which is what we’ve been doing all day long.
So I am very, very blessed to be part of an extraordinary team out here. First of all, Jim Cunningham and Leslie, I got to know them a little bit when they were in Israel. My wife Teresa and I went out, we had dinner with them there, and now I’m having dinner with them here. So we just dine all around the world, folks, wherever he is. (Laughter.)
But Jim, thank you for your outstanding leadership out here, and likewise Mike McKinley and the gang, and Fatima, and all of you who are part of an extraordinary team out here. About a thousand or 1,100 strong I guess, and almost a thousand local folks working with us. How many are there? A bunch – any locals here, raising your hands? Raise – we want to say a special thank you to you, all of you who are so important. Thank you very, very much. (Applause.)
We really couldn’t possibly do what we try to do without your help, and so we’re extraordinarily grateful. And I know it’s not easy. So we thank you for the extra commitment, in a sense, that it takes to go through the barricades, walk through the process, come in here, be affiliated with this great endeavor. It’s courageous and it’s significant. So we say thank you to you from everybody in America.
Likewise to all of you who are a part of that 1,100 Americans who are stationed out here. This is one of those posts, obviously, that will be with you for a lifetime. And for some of you, it probably feels like it has been a lifetime. (Laughter.) And for a few of you, this is not your first tour here, and we recognize that.
What is happening here is one of the great challenges on the planet today that really represents part of the complexity of the world that we’re dealing with and of the new foreign policy that not just we face, but every country that is engaged with the world faces. I just came from several days in the Far East. I was at the APEC conference and the ASEAN conference and East Asia Conference. And I can’t tell you how amazing it is to sort of sit around an ASEAN table, for instance, and sitting to my right is – or left – the Prime Minister of Myanmar, and on another side the Prime Minister of Vietnam, and Prime Minister of Laos, and you run the list. Improbable as that picture might have been quite a few years ago, that’s the new norm. And they’re all talking about global engagement. And in many of these meetings, they’re all talking in English. That really struck me.
When we sat around – the leaders, because I represented President Obama at the summit in APEC – with a few exceptions, people chose to speak their native language, but even those who could have, didn’t. They chose to speak English. And leader after leader was speaking in what is sort of the new international language of diplomacy and of business, of culture, of a lot of other things.
But what struck me that I think is important to your mission here and what you’re engaged in is the fact that they were, all of them, talking about stability and peace and trade and development, and the needs to meet the demands of their people, and how they see a new connectedness that is creating a new accountability in public life. There’s a new cop on the beat. It’s called the social network, the internet. Literally, a leader – I guess half a leader anyway – China – was viewed – a picture, and they saw this white spot on his arm in the picture where sort of a watch had been, and clickety-click, people said, “Well, that’s very strange.” And they went back and looked at other pictures, and they saw him with a bunch of different watches over a successive period of time. He’s a guy who couldn’t possibly have earned each of those watches. And lo and behold, they uncovered corruption.
That’s the kind of internet connection that we face today. You can’t beat up people in the streets without people seeing it all over the world. And that new connectedness is going to change everything – foreign policy, politics, all of the things we’re engaged in. You know that and you feel it.
Here in Afghanistan, you’re on the cutting edge of everything. You’ve been part of taking the country, which not so long ago had very few girls in school, and not that many boys, and now it has 8 million children in school, 40 percent of whom are girls. A country where you had about 9 percent or something who had access to health care; now it’s 60 percent have access to health care. A country where the life expectancy has grown by 20 years in the past 10 years, where you have an extraordinary amount of opportunity that didn’t exist previously. It’s mind-boggling what has gone on. And you are at the heart and center of how that has been able to happen.
Now we’re on the cusp of something new, and what the Ambassador and General Dunford and I and others have been negotiating over the course of the last day and a half is to guarantee that we can define that something new in the most confident terms possible, so that we know that your work here is going to be possible in an environment that can get safer, in a place where Afghans have confidence there’ll be a partnership with the United States and the rest of the international community that have been here, where we understand the rules of the road, and we’re giving our work the best opportunity to flourish into an Afghanistan that’s independent, that’s proud, that has respect, and that has the ability to have a fighting chance to define its own future for itself.
I think that because of that, if this thing can come together, this will put the Taliban on their heels, this will send a message to the community of nations that Afghans’ future is being defined in a way that is achievable, and all of your work will have a greater meaning than it does anyway.
So I just want to say thank you to you. This is on the cutting edge of diplomacy, right here. This is the toughest – one of the toughest places you could be anywhere in the world today. So I thank you profoundly. I want to have a chance to say hello a little bit and move around. But I cannot thank you enough for being part of this really extraordinary team. And obviously, it’s not without its risks. Last time I was here, a young woman, and you know her – Anne Smeddinghoff. Some of you knew her personally. Some have rotated out. She was my control officer during that visit and she died about a week later, trying to deliver books to help people be able to read. In Herat, we just lost local folks. No difference; all the same commitment, all the same action. And there have been a lot of others over the course of time who have put their lives at risk out here in order to make things better.
So this is the proudest tradition in the world, what you are engaged in. You can get up every morning and feel like your work is the most rewarding in the world, because you are touching those kids who are in school, those women who have businesses, the health care – all of those things that are happening, you’re a part of that. It doesn’t get better than that.
So on behalf of President Obama, the American people, thanks for putting up with the hardship of a yearlong out here, and those on second tour, for second-touring it. And we will welcome – and I promise you that those of us in Washington, when the government opens up again, we’ll get you all the money in the world, get you paid. (Laughter.) We’ll keep fighting. Don’t despair. Hope you ordered your turkeys. Have a great Thanksgiving and God bless you all. Thank you. (Applause.)