Remarks at the Tri-Mission Vienna Meeting With Staff and Families

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Vienna, Austria
July 14, 2014

Date: 07/14/2014 Description: Secretary of State John Kerry addresses staffers and family members from the three State Department missions in Vienna, Austria, during a break in the Iran nuclear talks on July 14, 2014. - State Dept Image

AMBASSADOR MACMANUS: (In progress) working the last several days, and have probably seen more of the Secretary than the three ambassadors up here. (Laughter.)

So if anything, this is a great honor for us to be with you, Mr. Secretary, and of course with this combined staff of S staff coming from Washington with you and the Vienna missions staff. If there’s a great opportunity – I learned – I’m an old staff guy. The Secretary knows this. And if I learned an important lesson, it’s that you can determine the leadership of a principal, of a leader, by the staff that are around them. I know that Dan and Alexa and I have been amazingly well-served by the people in this room who work for us, and that you have served by your staff, and together they make an incredible combination.

So for all of you, you made the three right decisions. One, you worked hard and you worked well with each other; two, you showed the Secretary that Mission Vienna is exactly the right place to come to get a job done, which it better be, because I think we’ll see him again and again. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY KERRY: I know you’re just saying it to get a job. (Laughter.)

AMBASSADOR MACMANUS: Well, I’m working on that.

And the third thing is the staff was smart enough to keep the three ambassadors away. So we’re happy to be here; we’re happy to join all of you in welcoming our leader, our boss. We all get up in the morning and say, “I work for the Secretary of State.”

SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah, yeah. (Laughter.)

AMBASSADOR MACMANUS: Now you can say when you get up in the morning, “Me, I work for John Kerry.” (Laughter.) Mr. Secretary, welcome.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you, Joe. I’ll take it all, I’ll take it all. (Applause.)

(In German.) Nice to see you all. (In German.) It’s nice to be with all of you. And one thing that’s for certain after that introduction: With the name Macmanus, you know there’s a lot of blarney there too. (Laughter.) And you just heard some of it, but anyway.

I am really happy to be here in this incredible city, and especially with the three missions that we have here. I’m deeply appreciative for the work that all of you do. I’m very grateful to Dan, Dan Baer, and all of the work that the folks at the OSCE have done. It’s been so critical to our ability to be able to try to have a hand in working things out in Ukraine, among other places and other things, but that’s been the most recent crisis. And Dan has been there every single minute and helpful, and the folks there on the front lines have been really making a difference. As he just said to me, I talk to Lavrov, Lavrov and I work it out, and we dump it on Dan and other people to figure out after that. (Laughter.)

And Alexa, thank you so much for your leadership of the flagship mission, in a sense – our representation in the country, to the country. We appreciate that, and I expect to see you out on your bike tomorrow morning early with me. (Laughter.) She’s a – I’ve been told by everybody – I’ve been warned don’t ride with her, because she’s going to crush you. (Laughter.)

AMBASSADOR WESNER: John can keep up.

SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah, not at all. Not at all.

But we went out for a ride this morning. Actually, I had a wonderful time. I went out in the complete peace and quiet of about four motorcycles and 15 cars, all – (laughter). It was really fun, and I rode through the streets and by – hit all this fabulous architecture, obviously, and history. And then across the bridge and down onto the island, and we rode up and down the island, which is really beautiful. So I think we’ve got to plan more trips here, staff. Where the hell are you? It’ll be fun.

And Joe – this guy is very, very special to the Department, as all of you know. And we are in the middle of the – in talks about nuclear proliferation and reining in Iran’s program, which is really tough negotiation, I will tell you. And the IAEA plays such a central role, not just there but all over the world, in holding people accountable. And he’s done a tremendous job, so much so that I am dragging him back to Washington to the Department to be the executive secretary for me. He’s worked there with Condi Rice, worked there with Hillary Clinton, and he does such a good job that he keeps getting called back, I’m afraid. But thank you, Joe, for (inaudible). (Applause.)

And is Charlie Slater here, by any chance? Charlie. Charlie’s worked for 36 years for the Department here, right?


SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Everybody wants to say thank you (inaudible). Thank you very, very much. (Applause.)

And Marianne Spitzer. Is Marianne Spitzer here? Marianne, 40 – how many years?

PARTICIPANT: Forty-three.

SECRETARY KERRY: (In German.), right?


SECRETARY KERRY: Incredible. Thank you very, very much. We thank you. (Applause.) Thank you.

And then I understand that Jodie, Julia, Josh, and Jennifer – do we have Jodie, Julia, Josh, and Jennifer? They’re probably all over at – you are obviously Josh, not --

PARTICIPANT: Actually, I’m Jodie, sir. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Oh, you are? (Laughter.) I screwed that up. (Laughter.) Okay. Well, I want to thank you. Will you tell the others – they’re probably off with my team, but they’ve been the key link to my team. And obviously, your name has to begin with J to work for Wendy Sherman or something. I don’t know. Thank you for what you guys have done. Our team could not survive here without all your effort, and I really appreciate it. Thank you. (Applause.)

It’s really special to be back here. I have to tell you, years ago – it’s too long, too quickly, I will tell you – I was in Budapest for a conference when I was a senator, and I had my kids with me. Then – I can’t really – I think they were about 15 and 11 or something like that, and we took the boat back from Budapest up the river to Vienna and spent a couple days here. Really had a very, very special time, and it’s wonderful to come back here. I know western Austria a lot better than I know the east because I was lucky enough as a kid to have a dad who was in the Foreign Service who was passionate about skiing, and so he dragged me to the mountains of the Tyrol and Vorarlberg. I got to fall in love with the place.

But it’s fun to be back, even though it’s very brief and I’m in and out. It gives me a chance to be able to say to you on behalf of President Obama and myself a very deeply felt and real thank you for what you do. This is tough work – not as tough in Vienna – (laughter) – as it is in a lot of other places I’ve been recently like Kabul or Cairo or other very difficult parts of the world. And many of you have spent time in those places, which is part of the reason you’re here now.

But it’s – I just did live conference from Kabul the other night with this group of moguls who assemble in Ketchum, Idaho, Sun Valley every year, the so-called Allen Conference. And it’s a lot of media moguls, people like Rupert Murdoch and Barry Diller and whole bunch of names well known in the media world. And Charlie Rose was doing this interview with me, and he asked me about sort of the world, where we are now. And I will tell you, I had to explain all of – that America is not retreating, we are not disengaging. There is a very disingenuous narrative that is being pushed by some people in the course of politics to try to somehow fault President Obama for the Arab Spring or for the aspirations of people in Syria who’ve been met by a brutal dictator and so forth.

But I am confident – and I’m particularly confident as former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as well as a 29 member – year member of that committee – never have I seen the United States of America as engaged on as many fronts that are as critical to us at a time where the world is in as much conflict and turmoil and transformation as it is today. This is a tough time, complicated time. What happens with Russia in helping us to get chemical weapons out of Syria is affected by what we do and respond to their aggression in Crimea and in Ukraine, and what happens in Egypt affects whether or not we can move forward with the peace in the Middle East or what happens on the border of the Sinai and what happens with Gaza and a ceasefire, and all of these things are interrelated.

And you see this sectarianism being released in parts of the world, which has been bottled up for years in the Cold War, in the press of dictatorships that were able to tampen these aspirations down, the former Yugoslavia and Tito classic example of that. And when the Iron Curtain fell, when the wall came down and the world changed, all of the sudden all of those forces had been released in a world where globalization is also changing everybody’s connection to each other. Everybody is connected to everybody all the time now, and the news is coming at you at such a volume, it’s hard for the average person to digest it and to make sense of it and understand where things are going.

It’s harder to build consensus, I will tell you, in politics than it ever was before. When I was a kid growing up, you could listen to Richard Nixon or Lyndon Johnson if you wanted to – (laughter) – I did – on what was it, four channels – ABC, CBS, NBC, and public television. That was it. That’s it. And so the whole country stopped and listened. And the next day at work around the coffee counter or the water cooler or whatever, that was the topic of conversation. Today people will go to the shopping channel or to HBO or whatever it is, and it’s hard to find an audience, and that makes it harder to communicate and harder to build a political understanding of the choices that we face.

So all of this I say not by way of prolonging my presence here, but just to tell you this is complicated, tough stuff, and made the more so by the fact that there are more economic powers than there ever were previously, feeling their oats, and lots of people who are jealous or angry or pressured or humiliated by one part of history or another, and we’re an easy target.

So I ask all of you to think about that every day as you do get up to go to work – not about John Kerry being your Secretary of State, but about what you’re doing, your work. And I really want to say thank you to you for this, because it’s not a lot of jobs in today’s world where you can get up in the morning and really make a difference in the lives of other people, make a difference for your country, have an impact on people. And whatever you do in here, it doesn’t matter who you are, whatever your role is, you are an ambassador, not just these folks up here. You are. You may be the only person sometimes some people will ever meet – less so here in a place like Vienna, but in a lot of posts that’s true, when they come for an interview for a visa or where they come in and they have a problem, so think about that. And think about how we take the values that we cherish so much about our country and protect our interests.

And for those of you who are local employees, I thank you particularly, because you have sort of joined us. You’ve become part of the family, even as you are a proud of and will always be a citizen of your own country, but you’re helping us in this mission, and we can’t possibly do this without you. So I thank you very, very, very much for that. (Applause.)

And (inaudible) have a chance just to shake a few hands and say hello to everybody. But as I leave here, just remember – I said this – I was privileged to speak to the graduating class of Yale this year, and it was particularly a pleasure because it happened to turn out to be, literally, I hate to say it, 48 years to the day that I was privileged to speak as a graduating senior to my own class. And I talked to them about sort of the world we’re in right now, but at the end I tried to remind them all, which I remind you of, we are – I get always a little uptight when I hear politicians say how exceptional we are – not because we’re not exceptional, but because it’s kind of in-your-face and a lot of other people are exceptional, a lot of other places do exceptional things.

But we are exceptional in a certain way that no other nation is. We are not defined by thousands of years (inaudible) of history. We are not defined by ethnicity. We are not defined by bloodline or by anything except an idea. And that idea was expressed in the Declaration of Independence and in our Constitution, the idea that people are created equal and that all people have a chance to aspire for greatness, for anything they want. Pretty amazing, right? So think about that. It’s the only country that is literally united and formed around and whose rule of law is based on that idea, one idea, and it’s pretty special. So thank you for representing it. Thank you. (Applause.)

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