Remarks at Swearing-In Ceremony for U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius III
Secretary of State
AMBASSADOR SELFRIDGE: Please, everyone be seated. Thank you. And I know that applause wasn’t for me, but – (laughter) – nonetheless, I say thank you. So distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. It’s my pleasure to welcome you to the Burns Auditorium for the swearing in of Ted Osius, the next United States ambassador to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. I’d like to say we share a lot in common as we both began our careers as legislative correspondents in the Senate, but the similarities end there. He’s got a very impressive resume, so – (laughter) – we’ve got a very talented ambassador here.
We are privileged to have the Honorable John Kerry, Secretary of State, officiating our ceremony, which is why I will be very brief. We are pleased to welcome the ambassador’s family, including his husband, Clayton Bond, their son, Tabo – did I say that right? Great. The ambassador’s mother, Nancy Zimmerman, and his sister, Debra Brooks Barrows. I would also like to acknowledge Representative Lowenthal, the congressman from California, and His Excellency Pham Quang Vinh and his wife. He just happens to be, I guess, what, in office about a week now. He’s our new ambassador from the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. So please join me again in welcoming our special guests. (Applause.)
We begin our ceremony this afternoon with remarks by Secretary Kerry followed by the administration of oath of office, the signing of the appointment papers, and then conclude with remarks by our newest ambassador. It is now my great honor to introduce the Secretary of State. (Applause.)
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you, Pete. Well, Pete, thank you very much. Excuse me. Good afternoon, everybody, and welcome. You can do better than that. Good afternoon, everybody. (Laughter.) You’ve got to relax and have fun here. It’s really nice to see everybody here. What an incredible crowd. I want to welcome Ted’s family starting with his husband, Clayton, and their 11-month-old son who is decked out in the best seersucker suit I ever saw at that age. There he is. (Applause.) You can record the day that Tabo stole the show. (Laughter.)
Mr. Ambassador, it’s wonderful to welcome you here. I know you’ve only been here a couple weeks, but we’re very happy to have you here. Thank you very much. (Applause.) And I see a lot of friends out here, our Assistant Secretary Danny Russel and others who are here who have long been involved with this country that for a lot of time confounded people as a word and a concept called Vietnam. I am very honored to swear in our next ambassador to Vietnam, but I’ve got to get this off my chest. I’m really smarting from the eighth consecutive loss in a row that Harvard handed Yale the other day, Ted. (Laughter.) And it’s really – it’s not appropriate. (Laughter.) It’s what Yalies call – Yalies and Harvey guys call “the game.” And it’s what every normal person refers to as “who cares.” I know. (Laughter.) So anyway, it doesn’t matter. (Laughter.)
Football rivalries aside and colleges aside, Ted is leaving for a Vietnam that is so extraordinarily different from the one that a lot of us got to know when we were younger, and it’s one of Asia’s great economic success stories and a transformation that is quite remarkable and still underway. We all know it wasn’t always that way. I can remember sneaking a short two-day pass to get to then-Saigon and being up on the top of the Rex Hotel back in 1968 in a momentary lapse from all of the craziness, but looking out at the city and flares popping everywhere, bursts of gunfire or a mortar or artillery dotting up the horizon and fogging your senses. And we used to spend time up there sort of looking out at these flares and trying to make sense of it all, and occasionally you’d hear this thing called “Puff the Magic Dragon,” C-130s going “br-r-r-r-r” like that, and it was – and you go back there today and they’re still there at the same hotel, the same rooftop, but wow, what a different nation – a place that most of the people there don’t even know what you’re talking about if you talk about the war, the American war they call it. And it was a different time, different concept. It took a lot of hard work from a number of people who are sitting here, who helped to put the war behind us and get to a place where Vietnam was defined not as a war but as a country.
And we finally worked to normalize our relationship. President George Herbert Walker Bush, President Clinton took part in this. And now, when you talk through these cities, the teeming mass of people on motor scooters and cars and high-rises and the incredible commerce taking place, you really stop and you say, “What the hell was that all about 40 years ago?” Now our relationship with Vietnam is reaching new heights. There’s still a journey to go. There are things we would like to see change, things we hope we can still make progress on, and that’s why I have such confidence in Ted Osius because he’s going to help us to deal with a, believe it or not, partnership trade agreement. We’re engaged in resolving and working together to resolve the tensions of the South China Sea. We’re deepening our people-to-people relationship by sending literally tens of thousands of our students to study in each other’s countries. And we are collaborating on climate change, renewable energy. And I personally had a chance to visit the Mekong Delta and talk about the Lower Mekong Initiative, which is an effort to deal with the Mekong River and the challenges of climate change and food production.
Ted Osius was one of the brave Americans who observed this transformation firsthand and helped to make it happen. That’s why you couldn’t have a better ambassador. He has served on the team that renewed our relationship in Hanoi in 1996, and the – and again in Ho Chi Minh City in 1997, after 19 years of a diplomatic silence between us. Now, I first met Ted in January of 1998, when I traveled to Vietnam to take part in a disabled veterans bike ride. They had come down all the way from Hanoi; I joined it in Vung Tau, and we biked up to Ho Chi Minh City with a bunch of veterans who had been wounded in the war. And the heat and the humidity was pretty intense, as you can imagine, but the worst part of it was every time I’d look up Ted was just kind of biking along – (laughter) – easy Saturday afternoon, whatever, leading the trail with ease, sort of a Sunday stroll for him. And I found out later that it was a Sunday stroll for him because he’s ridden the full distance of 1,200 miles between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, not just the final leg.
So I will never forget the large crowd that was assembled at what had been the Diem presidential palace in the earlier times, just a stone’s throw or so, a little bit more, from the old American embassy and the famous building of the photograph of the last helicopter. And there we were with our bicycles, a bunch of American vets, bunch of Vietnamese assembled, watching acrobatics, a dragon dance, a high-wire act. And as we left, Ted stood up and thanked the crowd on our behalf for contributing to the at times painful, long process of healing the rift between our two countries.
Now, I was frankly taken aback, not because he did that – because he did it with unbelievably good Vietnamese – (laughter) – and there we were in this incredible place of juxtaposition with people happy to see us, shake our hands, and that was all because of diplomats like Ted Osius who took to the streets and literally reached out and turned enemies into friends. He was a trailblazer back then and he will now return in another trailblazing capacity.
When Ted takes the oath in the next few minutes – I promise you it will be that; my old Senate habits will not take hold here – (laughter) – he will become the first openly gay U.S. ambassador to serve in East Asia. And not long ago, that would have literally been impossible. And when Ted first joined the Foreign Service, being open about who you love was grounds for having your security clearance yanked. Today, the LGBT community is embraced by the Foreign Service and well beyond. And we issue family visas for same-sex couples, and with the help of Pat Kennedy, OPM has removed exclusionary language from health insurance plans regarding gender transitions.
Folks, that’s part of the message we want to send to the world: example, leading by example, that we point to our flaws – and we just did so yesterday in a pretty bold way – but we do so understanding that’s the way you make things better in the long run, and that every day we are redefining the meaning of our great American experiment.
Ted’s career is a testament to the American spirit of progress, of striving to live closer to our ideals than we did the day before. So Ted, you’re the right man for the job. You know the Vietnamese people; you have served, and I know you will serve, with courage and with grit and determination. And you can always delight in the fact that you can bike circles around a former senator like myself. (Laughter.) I know you’ll represent your country with honor from the day you arrive in Hanoi until the day you leave, and I thank you for taking this on.
And I will now make it official and give you the oath of office. Thank you. (Applause.)
(The oath was administered.)
AMBASSADOR OSIUS: Mr. Secretary, Congressman Lowenthal, (in Vietnamese), colleagues, friends, and family: Today marks a dream come true for my family and me. We are deeply grateful for all the support we have received, especially from those of you who are here today. I am humbled by the trust placed in me by our President and by the Secretary of State. I am deeply grateful for the support of a loving family. My mother is here today, and so are my in-laws Claudette and Allen, aunt Joyce, sister Lisa, dear cousins Dick, Kate, Deborah, Lizzy, Sarah, M.J., Gretchen, Ted, Josiah, Samuel, and Nicky – (laughter) – and of course our most --
SECRETARY KERRY: I see why he’s the third. (Laughter.)
AMBASSADOR OSIUS: -- and of course our most precious gift, our son, Tabo. And I am truly lucky to have the love and support of my spouse Clayton, also a Foreign Service officer. With a tandem couple, you get two for the price of one. (Laughter.) I’d also like to thank the mentors and former bosses who are here today and who’ve inspired me along the way. I won’t name them all for fear of overlooking someone, but I wouldn’t be standing before you without the patient guidance of some of our greatest diplomats, people such as Leon Feurth and Cameron Hume.
And I want to give a special thanks to GLIFAA leaders and to the GLIFAA members who’ve joined us. Twenty-two years ago, when we founded GLIFAA to end discrimination against LGBT personnel, we had to keep our member list secret or risk losing our jobs. Ten years ago, when I met Clayton at a GLIFAA meeting, we didn’t expect that we could marry, that we could raise children, or that we could represent our country at the highest levels. We made progress because of people like our cousins, Julian Bond and Pam Horowitz, who took risks. We made progress because of Madeleine Albright and Hillary Clinton, Secretary John Kerry and Teresa Heinz Kerry. When it was very unpopular to do so, Teresa stood with us and said, “You can count on Mama T.” (Laughter.) You are our heroes. And as President Obama said, each time we make a step toward inclusion – whether in Seneca Falls or Selma or Stonewall – we help fulfill the promise of a more perfect union.
John Kerry didn’t shrink from taking risks for his country. While in the Senate, he and John McCain helped ensure that Americans could see Vietnam not just as a war, but as a nation and a people the United States could work with peacefully. And as the Secretary just said, I had the pleasure of serving as his control officer in 1998. Along with the first ambassador to Vietnam, my friend and mentor Pete Peterson, we rode bicycles, as the Secretary said, from Vung Tau to Ho Chi Minh City. But my memory of the ride is a little different from the Secretary’s. (Laughter.) I remember being very impressed by how fast John Kerry rode that bike. What I remember is that John Kerry led the way and that I was proud to follow.
Now I want to thank Congressman Lowenthal for joining us today. I hope you will permit me to visit your district in the future. I am very happy that Tom Vallely could join us from Boston. You have our enthusiastic support as you pursue a transformational project: an independent Fulbright University near Ho Chi Minh City.
Last year in Hanoi, Secretary Kerry laid out his vision, which was then amplified by my strategic and thoughtful predecessor, Dave Shear. A strong, prosperous, and independent Vietnam that respects the rule of law and human rights will be a critical partner for the United States on many regional and global challenges that we face together. That will be my leitmotif as well.
And as we look toward the 20th anniversary of normalized relations, we have a unique opportunity to deepen our comprehensive partnership in ways that will make it last. A successful Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement will create jobs and growth in both countries. On rule of law and human rights, we will continue to show the government and people of Vietnam that the United States is on the side of openness, transparency, and respect for the individual. We should continue strengthening security ties, with a special emphasis on the maritime realm. We will send more students back and forth. U.S. scientists will work with Vietnamese scientists. Our health care workers will collaborate with their Vietnamese counterparts. And we will partner on climate change and the environment. We will honorably complete the fullest possible accounting of servicemen we lost in Vietnam.
And for all these endeavors, we have an extraordinary asset in the community of Americans of Vietnamese origin here in the United States. (In Vietnamese.)
Mythology tells us the Vietnamese people are the children of two winged creatures: the dragon from the sea and the fairy from the mountains. So I told Ambassador and Mrs. Vinh that through our partnership, we are ready to support the people of Vietnam as they soar higher and farther.
My family and I could not be more excited about the challenges that lay ahead. Thank you, Mr. Secretary, and thank you very much to all of you. (Applause.)
AMBASSADOR SELFRIDGE: On behalf of Ambassador Osius and his family, thank you again for joining us. The Ambassador will form a receiving line in the room to our left, so if you can stick around, if time allows, please proceed to the door to the left. You can wish him well, and then there’s some refreshments. Thank you all. Otherwise, the exit to the right is available as well. Thank you again.