Meets with the Staff and Families of Embassy Seoul, U.S. Forces Korea, Republic of Korea Military Personnel, and Koreans Who Assisted Ambassador Lippert

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Collier Field House, Yongsan Army Garrison
Seoul, South Korea
May 18, 2015

GEN SCAPARROTTI: (Applause.) Well, welcome. It’s my great pleasure to introduce our ambassador. He’s a seasoned diplomat, has a deep appreciation for Korea as a country and also this region. And he’s also a seasoned service member with experience down range and appreciates what we in the military do here every day to defend Korea. So if you’d give a warm welcome to our ambassador, Ambassador Mark Lippert, please. (Applause.)

AMBASSADOR LIPPERT: All right, thanks, everybody. I’m going to be – it’s just a great honor to be here, and thanks, General Scap – a great partner. We have one team, one fight here, so it’s a great, great partnership with the military. Just – I’ve been given the great pleasure of introducing our Secretary of State, Secretary Kerry, a man who literally needs no introduction, but just so people know: a person who served in the military honorably; the son of a Foreign Service officer; chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee; federal – or prosecutor; again, a welcome, a distinguished – please welcome a very distinguished, finest public servant, Secretary Kerry. Thanks. (Applause.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Wow, thank you very much. Thank you, guys, very much. We appreciate it. What a rousing welcome. It is great to be here. I’m honored to be here, delighted to be partially introduced by General Scap, Scaparrotti, and appreciate his leadership of U.S. forces in Korea. And for all of you guys in uniform, every single one of you, our friends who serve with us who host us here, we’re so grateful to all of you. I’m honored to be here today. Thank you very, very much. And kids, thank you for coming out. It’s really good to see you all. Appreciate it.

I’ll tell you, I served 28 full years in the United States Senate, and in the last couple of years politics began to change in America. And I was walking through the airport in Boston one day, and I kind of – you learn how to walk and not necessarily have somebody see you because you knew something would come up, some issue, something that mattered. And so this guy sort of shouts at me and says, “Hey, you! Hey, you, anybody ever tell you you look like that Kerry we sent down to Washington?” (Laughter.) And I said, “Yeah, they tell me that all the time.” He says, “Kind of makes you mad, don’t it?” (Laughter.) So that’s how bad politics has gotten back home. You guys aren’t missing anything, I’ll tell you.

I am really happy to be here. When President Obama came here, he talked about this being the frontier of freedom. And when you look at the events that are going on in the world today – I was just recently in Africa, and I was at AFRICOM in Djibouti. I met with a lot of your fellow service folks. And then I was in Somalia; I was the first Secretary of State to ever go to Mogadishu, and they wouldn’t let me off the base – it’s that dangerous still there. But the folks there are doing an amazing job. No matter where I go, anywhere in the world, I am privileged to see you in uniform and I want – I’ll come back to the State Department in a minute, but I want to speak to those of you in uniform.

The – I had the privilege – I know Mark also served. He was in the Navy. I served in the Navy. I was in the Brown Water Navy in Vietnam during the 1960s, late 1960s, so I’m not quite as old as – and I think back on that because I remember being there in Christmas of 1968 and feeling kind of distant from family and all the rest of it. So I have always had a deep, deep appreciation for what it means to put on the uniform of our country and to go serve. But I’ll tell you this: Today’s military, all of you, are so much better trained, so much better prepared, so much better equipped, and our military overall is so far ahead and away the finest fighting force, most capable entity on the face of this planet, and every single one of us in civilian life every day wake up and proudly say thank you to you for your service. We are deeply, deeply grateful for what you’re doing. You are on the frontier of freedom. And here particularly in this part of the world, as we see Kim Jong-un engaging in these extraordinary, provocative activities, building nuclear weapons against all of the UN conventions and everything that we’ve tried to prevent together with the Six-Party powers – Russia, China, Japan, et cetera – it’s dangerous. And nobody quite knows what a reckless person like this fellow will do, so you have to be prepared for every eventuality, which is why we redeployed some ships and forces and why we’re talking about THAAD and other things today.

But in the end, the greatest deterrence we have is really all of you and the capacity that the world knows you bring to the table. We’re fighting on so many fronts right now, it’s challenging. I talked to Henry Kissinger, the famous Henry Kissinger the other day. He’s 90-something now, and we were talking about Iran and Iran’s nuclear weapon and the deal we’re trying to negotiate. And I was – he was telling me about not flying around too much. And I said, “Well, you’re the guy who wrote the book on shuttle diplomacy and moved around.” He said, “No, no, no.” He said, “I had one or two things to deal with. You guys are dealing with Afghanistan and Pakistan and North Korea and Syria and Libya and Yemen, Iraq – everything simultaneously.” And we have this unbelievable set of non-state actors. During the Cold War, we were dealing with states. Now we have these non-state actors, and it’s a whole different challenge. And it’s going to go on for a while.

But I’ll tell you this, from what I’ve seen of what we’re doing in Iraq today as we’re pushing ISIL back – and we will push them out of Iraq ultimately, and we’re putting together the plans to be able to know exactly how we’re going to deal with Syria. In the end, there’s nothing to negotiate. There’s no way to deal with these people except eliminate them from the field of battle, and that is exactly what we are going to do over time. So I thank you for all you do. (Applause.)

Now, we are very privileged, as you all know, in this diplomatic room we’re in today. There’s not a lot of separation between the military and diplomats anymore. I was in Kunar province, in Afghanistan. How many of you served in Afghanistan? Well, I got up there – thank you for that service, and we are trying very hard to make sure that transition follows through and honors your service and the sacrifice that was made there. But I’ll tell you, when I was up in Kunar province a couple years ago, a few years ago, before I became Secretary, I met a young Navy commander who was the head of the FOB up there, forward operating base, and I was briefed by him. And it was really one of the best briefings I’ve ever had in all of my public life. This guy knew every tribe. He knew every leader. He knew what the rivalries were between them – how long and when. He knew the governor. He knew the mayor. He was a mayor himself fundamentally, but he was also a psychologist, a teacher, a planner, a city planner. It’s the most incredible demand on skill set.

And Bob Gates, our former Secretary of Defense, said many times that he thought a whole bunch of what used to happen in the State Department had been shifted over to the Department of Defense. And now it’s sort of seamless. There’s a kind of integration. So we’re all in the same business, folks. We’re trying to get people to understand that life can offer better alternatives than a lot of folks opt for. And we believe in peace and stability and freedom and democracy. I just came from talking about the internet and the freedom it brings to people. And Korea is a great partner in all of that.

But we are privileged, alongside you, to have a group of diplomats made up of local staff – I want all the local staff to raise your hands, everybody who’s a local hire here in South Korea, in Seoul. We have any number of them? Yeah, we’ve got a few here. There we are. Thank you very much, because we can’t do our work without you and we very much appreciate what you do. But I also thank the 200-plus direct hires, all the family members who are part of this effort. Regrettably, as we learned recently with the vicious assault on our ambassador, everybody has a risk and we’re all bearing those risks wherever we are in the world. It’s a dangerous place.

So I’m very, very grateful to every member of the Foreign Service, whether you’re local hire or a civil servant or FSO or TDY or a political appointee or you’re here with another department of our government. A profound thank you to all of you who make our embassy work. We’re very, very grateful to you.

And what we are doing is connected to what every other embassy and every other person in military is doing anywhere else in the world. These are not a series of ink blots somewhere spread around. It’s all connected. It’s all about the security of our country, it’s about protecting our interests and projecting our values, and helping to bring peace and stability because everywhere today, the world is so interconnected, nobody has a way to just isolate themselves and pretend you can get by without being connected to what’s happening in some other part of the world. That’s the world we live in today and that’s the world our kids are going to grow up in and manage, and we need to leave this place in better shape for them than we found it. That’s our obligation.

So to every single one – first of all, to Mark Lippert I want to say, and to Robyn, what a great job they are doing here. Mark showed indomitable spirit in the attack that he suffered and in just showing up for work and never meeting a beat. I talked to him in the hospital a couple of times. I was amazed by how calm and ready to get back to work and understanding he was. And I think every one of us here is grateful for his leadership and respects his courage and determination. And Mark, thank you for the job you’re doing. (Applause.)

I knew Mark when he worked in the Senate. He worked for a couple of other senator colleagues of mine. But I really like him, not just because he’s a Navy guy, but he brought a dog over here. He brought his Basset Hound here called Grigsby, and I’m told Grigsby – I have a dog; it’s called the State Department “DiploMutt” – (laughter) – and I’m really appreciative that he’s following in that tradition. Though I understand his dog speaks Korean, mine is still learning “sit, stay, come,” basics. (Laughter.) But we’ll get there one day.

Anyway, I don’t want to tell you all up. I want to have a chance to shake some hands and say hello to everybody. But believe me, in a complicated world, at a difficult time with a lot on everybody’s plate, it just could not be more reassuring, it could not be more heartwarming to know we got folks like all of you doing the job to carry the banner for the United States of America. A lot of people do not get to get up in the morning and go to work and be able to get the reward that everybody here gets for helping to make your country safer and helping to bring a better life to a lot of other people.

So God bless you all. Thank you. Love you and what you do and everything else, and stay at it. Your country is so grateful, and President Obama sends his very, very best to everybody. Thank you all very, very much. (Applause.)