Remarks at Embassy Astana Meet and Greet

John Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Embassy
Astana, Kazakhstan
November 2, 2015

AMBASSADOR KROL: Mr. Secretary, on behalf of Mission Kazakhstan, which includes those – all of us here in Astana and, as you can see on the screen, this is our consulate general in Almaty.

SECRETARY KERRY: Yay, Almaty. How are you?

AMBASSADOR KROL: Half of them are up here supporting the visit, but again, we want to welcome you, or as we say in Kazakh, (speaks in Kazakh). And we really appreciate you taking all the time out of your very busy schedule to support our diplomatic efforts here, right in the heart of Eurasia. And you brought the good weather with you, too. (Laughter.)

So one thing, though, I would just say is we really do appreciate all the support and your leadership for our diplomatic efforts in the region. And you’re someone who is not only a leader, but is someone who – you never give up on diplomacy, regardless of what – everything everybody may say, “it’s not worth it” or whatever, you don’t give up and you don’t give up on us. Thanks very much.

I give you the Secretary of State. (Applause.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Wow, what a great gathering, and I can’t believe how orderly you all are. This line is absolutely perfect. (Laughter.) Can I invite you just to move in a little bit? It’s much too scary (inaudible). Come on, come in a little bit – a little bit more, please. Be more inclusive. There you go. All right.

(Speaks in Kazakh.) I’m happy to be here. It’s very nice of you – hey, guys, did you do some trick-or-treating last night? Did you dress up?


SECRETARY KERRY: Did you have a great costume?


SECRETARY KERRY: What’d you go as?

PARTICIPANT: (Off-mike.)

SECRETARY KERRY: A witch? You don’t look like a witch. (Laughter.) I don’t know why you went as a witch. Who else had an exciting costume? Anybody? What’d you do?

PARTICIPANT: I was a witch.

SECRETARY KERRY: Another witch. (Laughter.)


SECRETARY KERRY: Ah, a princess. That’s really great. And what about you?

PARTICIPANT: A huntress.

SECRETARY KERRY: A huntress? That’s cool.

PARTICIPANT: I was a prisoner and she was a cop.

SECRETARY KERRY: (Laughter.) So she was a cop and she was a prisoner? (Inaudible.) I don’t know why you’d want to be a cop and a prisoner, but anyway – did you get some good candy? Good. You have fun? Great.

Well, let me just say what a great privilege it is for me to be here with you all of you. Thank you. Thank you, Almaty, for everything that you do. Thank you Almaty who are here. How many Almatyites are here? You? Someone – thank you. Thanks for coming to help out. We really appreciate it.

Let me begin by saying that you have a spectacular ambassador who is really one of our best diplomatic hands in this region, speaks Russian, speaks Kazakh – I think you have another language. What else --


SECRETARY KERRY: No, no, no. (Laughter.) No, I was (inaudible) --


SECRETARY KERRY: Uzbek. He speaks Uzbek, all of which gives lie to the fact that he’s from New Jersey, folks. (Laughter.) There’s no way a guy from New Jersey can normally do that, but he’s the exception. I’m really glad – I understand that before he came out here, he called you guys to find out whether or not you knew how to make plov, is that right? And he wanted to check that you had the right cooking utensils, everything else, and the lambs to go with it. Very special order for an ambassador. I hope it’s been delivered. Is it (inaudible)?

PARTICIPANT: It has been.

SECRETARY KERRY: All right. But thank you, George, for the great job that you’re doing, and thank you, all of you. There are a few people, if I can, I just want to call out here, and a couple of the names are such that I’m referring to this. But is Larissa Bezukhova here? Larissa, where are you? Are you somewhere? (Applause.) I want to just single her out because Larissa started as a driver at the embassy in July of 1994, and today she keeps the entire public affairs section organized. Thank you (inaudible). (Applause) Don’t go away. It’s all right. You can stay, Larissa.

And then Nina Kovetskaya – is Nina here? Not here? Where’s Nina? Nina’s there. There she is, hanging out in Almaty. Everybody cheer for Nina. She – Nina works on environmental issues for us in Almaty and she’s worked there since 1993. Thank you very, very much for being part of the team. (Applause.)

And Sino Bimakhan Betuf is also Almaty. Also Almaty. Sino has been a key member of the maintenance team since – (applause) – since 1993 and doing a spectacular job.

And I want to just pay a special tribute to all of the folks who left their homes and stayed with us when the embassy moved along with the capital in 2006, so a profound thank you to all of you for doing that.

Also want to thank our DCM, John Mark Pommersheim, and his wife Natalia. Where – over here? Thank you so much for your (inaudible) service. (Applause.)

And Principal Officer Mark Moody down in Almaty, thank you. Mark, where are you? (Inaudible.) (Applause.) Thank you.

So just a quick word to everybody. I am very privileged to be here. I’ve wanted to come to Astana for a long time, and very happy to be in Kazakhstan, because things are really happening here. I just left the president. We had a good lunch and a good conversation.

The road to transformation from a totalitarian system – from the former Soviet Union – is quite an extraordinary journey. And when you think about it – and we talked about it today. He said in 1991, all the roads went to Moscow, went to Russia. Nothing went to the other countries. There was no way to communicate the deal and it was all motivated towards this central entity in Moscow. And while things even still need to change, while the democracy still needs to grow and flourish, while there is still work to be done with respect to the full panoply of rights and ability of people to participate, it is changing. Here’s this capital that came out of just raw land only a few years ago – entire city created out of nothing – that’s now one of the lights of the region, teeming with energy and ability. And all of you are defining this incredible journey. And it is an incredible journey. The hundred steps that the president and his administration want to take, the five principal areas that they want to reform, will take time. But it’s changing.

The prime minister sat with me today with the American Chamber of Commerce. This prime minister meets once every month with American businesses to listen to their complaints; to work with them, to hear how they can move faster, how they can do more – huge infrastructure vision and projects, train being built. I’m about to go to General Electric, where they’re building green, clean locomotives – GE, American company. This is the new future. And it’s exciting to be on the frontier of defining where a whole nation and region are going to go.

So I just want to say to everybody a profound thank you to you on behalf of President Obama and myself. I know how hard you work. I know that there are difficulties always, being away from home and traveling and uprooting your families and dealing with schools and all of the things that go along with being a part of the Foreign Service. But there are not many jobs that people can wake up to every day where you know you’re helping to shape history; where you know you’re building a relationship with another country; where you know you are carrying, whether you are American or not, a set of values that we believe can help to shape the world for the future and for the better.

So whether you are local staff – local; whether you are Foreign Service or civil service or special appointees or one of the 12 agencies that has decided to work within this embassy or United States Marine Corps, who help to defend and preserve the safety of everybody; you’re all part of a tremendous team that has the ability to get up every day and feel good about changing the lives of other people. And each and every one of you, though you don’t get to have your private pilaf preparation set up for you as ambassador, though you are not paid at the level of ambassador – and believe me, underpaid for the job – but you are all ambassadors, and I really mean that. When somebody comes into the consul section and they’re trying to get a visa, and it may be their first encounter with an American, you’re the face of America. And for some people sometimes, it’s the only face they ever see. So carry yourselves with the pride that I know you do. Remember that you represent your country in one of the greatest endeavors in the world, and you are on the frontier of a very exciting region, with China and Russia and India, the new Silk Road, and all of this unbelievable growth that is going to take place in the years ahead.

So I say thank you to you. God bless you for being here, for being part of this great family, and thank you for a wonderful, warm, and generous welcome here to Astana and to Kazakhstan. Thank you very much. (Applause.)