Remarks with Embassy Colombo Staff

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Colombo, Sri Lanka
May 3, 2015

SECRETARY KERRY: (Applause.) Can I just -- really, thank you. Thank you. Thank you and good morning. You love it. I’m just getting at it, just (inaudible). It’s really nice to see all of you. Kids, thank you for coming out. How are you? You all look fabulous. You look terrific. No school today, right? (Laughter.) Yay. (Laughter.) That’s really, really good. Anyway.

Well, I’m really happy to see all of you. Thank you. And, Marines, thank you very much. Semper Fi, and we appreciate your service enormously. I didn’t know we had so many Marines out here. I just was with four of them down there. What’s the complement, about 12?

PARTICIPANT: Seven, sir.


PARTICIPANT: Seven, sir.

SECRETARY KERRY: Seven in all. All right. Well, thank you very much for what you do and your service.

And thank you all very, very much. It’s really nice to be here. I’m enormously excited to be in Sri Lanka for the first time, and I wasn’t aware, actually, when I came out here that it had been so long since there had been an official visit by a Secretary of State. I know Colin Powell came through during the time of the tsunami very briefly for a few hours. But it was a pleasure for me yesterday to be able to spend time with the new leadership and get a sense of the excitement about the future for Sri Lanka and the end of so many years of war, so many years of this island nation being torn apart, and now coming together. And I just met this morning with some of the Tamil leaders, which was really interesting to hear them share their vision for a united, peaceful Sri Lanka even though there are difficult issues still to get over.

I want to thank all of you. I particularly want to thank – we have about 417 local employees. Could you all raise your hands, all the local employees? Well, we can’t do this without you in any way at all, so thank you very, very, very much. (Applause.) And there’s one person in particular. Is ‎Niranjan Fonseka here? ‎Niranjan, come up here for a minute. Come here; I’m going to embarrass you. This guy – (applause ) – he not only (inaudible) different town (inaudible) driving through over here, but he has worked here for more than 30 years, and we want to say thank you to, friend. Thank you so much. Really, really appreciate it. Thank you, Niranjan. (Applause.)

I want to thank Drew for the tremendous job that he’s doing. He’s had more than 30 years of service and he’s been in a lot of different places – Darfur and Tikrit, in Iraq, and Kabul. So I think it’s about time he got an ocean-front view and – (laughter) – (inaudible). It’s not a bad deal, right?

MR. MANN: It’s not so bad.

SECRETARY KERRY: Anyway, let me just say that I want to thank all of you. I really do. There is a reason that we raise(inaudible) flag every single day opposite Temple Trees and that all of you do what you do here, which is because we believe in the future of democracy, of stability, and the opportunity for people in other countries to be able to live better lives free from persecution and free from dictatorship, and most importantly, just able to share in the global community’s aspirations for everybody – for all human kind. And the United States is very proud – I’m really proud as Secretary of State – to touch down in various countries and be able to meet you and get a chance to see the people who – the local appointees, the Foreign Service officers, the civil servants, temporary duty, various agencies – all come together to help promote values and interests of our country, but happily, values and interests that match those of so many people in so many parts of the world.

And I’ve got to tell you, I had the privilege of running for president and running around the country, and I met so many people in so many parts of America who contribute as citizens to the building of our country. And I have to tell you, not everybody could tell me they were as satisfied with the job that they had as the people I meet who get to get up every morning and go to work and make life better for other people, and work to carry their country’s interests, and work to represent their nation. And in many cases, those of you who are American, when you meet somebody, you’re an ambassador and you are perhaps the only face of America somebody will meet at that particular moment or maybe for the rest of their life. How you engage with them, what you say, how you carry yourself, what you do is critical to the opinions that people will form about who we are and what we care about.

So whether it’s the granting of the visa, or it’s working out a problem to reunite somebody with their family, or it’s helping somebody find the medical care that they need, or helping to bring people together to help resolve conflict and war, all of those things contribute to the building of community and to the building of the relationship between Sri Lanka and the United States of America.

So I want to say thank you on behalf of our country. I hope you feel good about what you’re doing, because you should. And it’s – I see our assistant secretary. Let me get our assistant secretary up here, Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Biswal. (Applause.) And she does a great job for all of us. And she’s been passionate about making sure that I got out here at some point, and now that I’ve been here I just want to come back and stay longer and get a chance to see (inaudible). (Applause.)

So how many kids do we have here? Kids, come on up here. Come up here and say hi to me. Come here. We’re going to get everybody up here. Come on up here. How are you? What’s your name?

CHILD: Sidney.

SECRETARY KERRY: Sidney, how old are you?


SECRETARY KERRY: Good. All right, 10. She’s one year younger than I was when my dad went into the Foreign Service and packed my bags and I went off to school in another country. And I said, “Where am I? I don’t know what’s going on.” You having fun? Come on up, guys. Come on up, everybody. You all look so good, I want to show you off. (Laughter.) How are you? What’s your name?

CHILD: Keenan.

SECRETARY KERRY: Keenan, how you doing? How old are you?

CHILD: Eight.

SECRETARY KERRY: Eight. Come on over here, everybody. So everybody get up here, I want a photograph with all of you. You guys don’t want to come up? No? Okay. I don’t blame you; I’d be shy too. Come on up. Who’s the oldest person here? Anybody 11? Nobody’s 11, so 10 is the oldest. Okay. How do you like living here? Do you like living here?

CHILD: (Inaudible.)


CHILD: What’s (inaudible)?

SECRETARY KERRY: Do you like living here? Do you love it here?

CHILD: Yeah.

SECRETARY KERRY: Good. Okay. Right answer. (Laughter.) I’m standing here just – anyway. And how do you – do you like school? Are you learning a language? Good. What can you say? (Laughter.) I don’t want to embarrass. I’m sorry. (Laughter.) Who wants to say something? Anybody want to say something in – ooh, can you speak any of the language?

CHILD: A little bit of Spanish and French. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Good for you. How about you, what are you learning?

CHILD: French.

SECRETARY KERRY: French, all right. Yeah, a lot of French. That’s incredible. Hello. How are you? So come on over here, everybody. All the kids, we’re going to pose for a big photograph.

Here’s our photographer here and he’s going to take a picture. Everybody get in here. Big smile. There you are. Turn around. All right. How about a big hand for these kids, guys? (Applause.) Thank you again.

I want you to know you’re very, very lucky, and whatever you do in the rest of your life, living in somebody else’s country and getting to know another culture and another history is something that will serve you well for the rest of your lives, so you should really enjoy it.

Now, quickly before I have to go. I have to go to the airport because I’ve got to fly to Nairobi and I want to have a chance to shake hands and say hello to everybody. Profoundly, from President Obama, from myself, from our country, to all of you local employees, again: thank you for helping our country be able to tell your country who we are; and thank you to everybody else who serves in our Foreign Service, Civil Service or in any way whatsoever. We’re deeply grateful to you.

I want you to know this is a very, very complicated time in the world, and all of the things that we could expect almost automatically during the Cold War – because we grew accustomed to it and because it was simpler, sort of East-West and the big divide of communism and freedom, democracy – that’s been far more complicated now by sectarian divisions, religious divisions, by many forces we’ve released as a result of the freedom that has come to countries, but also as a result of the remarkable level of communications that takes place today. Look at all these mobile devices that are pointing at me now. (Laughter.) I don’t know how many of you are going to tweet or Instagram or do something, but that didn’t exist 10 years ago. And so people now tune in instantaneously. Everybody is a reporter. You can put something up on YouTube and the rest of the world sees it. So there’s so much information coming at people nowadays, it’s hard to manage. It makes things look a little more disorderly in many ways.

So we have to work even harder to get facts to people, to get real choices to people and begin to be able to build consensus around commonsense decisions about how you make a country stronger and how you bring people together, how you resolve differences. And in many cases, because of these communications today, differences are just magnified so much more that, in fact, they may – some of the same things may have existed 20 or 30 years ago, but you didn’t read about them instantaneously. You didn’t see them on a 24-hour cable television show. And so the intensity with which this comes at people changes people’s views – not all for the better, may I say.

So that’s the struggle: How do we break through with commonsense choices, with the opportunities that we want to give people so they can sense that they have actually some control over their lives and some input to their own governments? That’s the great struggle today, and I am personally very, very grateful to all of you for being a part of it. Thank you and God bless. Thank you.