Remarks at a Meet and Greet With the Staff and Families of Embassy Paris

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Embassy Paris
Paris, France
December 9, 2016

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you very, very much, and I trust this does not have to be scanned by security so I can actually – (laughter).

Jane, thank you. This is tremendously meaningful. I’ve been going to the beaches of Normandy since I was a kid. I can actually remember seeing the burned-out hulks of some of the tanks and landing craft, et cetera. I was that young. It was not too long after the war. It was two or three years. I was about three or four years old, so I have a memory of it. And I’ve been there, visited, revisited – it’s really sacred ground and an inspiration to anybody who serves or has served in the military. And it’s a symbol of what we’re all working for, so this is super, super meaningful. Thank you.

It’s great to be – I want to thank Ambassador Yohannes for being here. And Ambassador Nix-Hines is not here but well represented, and we’re grateful to UNESCO and OECD and everything they do and for the mission obviously here at our embassy. And I’m unbelievably grateful for what Jane Hartley, Uzra –where are you, somewhere – thank you so much. You’re fabulous. And  this is your third tour, I think, in Paris. How do you keep going to Paris? What’s the deal? (Laughter.) Do you know something none of us do? (Laughter.) You’ve got connections over here, folks. Anyway, really, you’ve been marvelous in shepherding through these things.

And to every one of you who have helped to manage these 32-plus trips, I particularly want to say a thank you to your – to the executive and security and consular wings of our great family here, because you had to deal with the Paris terrorist attacks and you had to deal with Americans who were injured, hurt, lost lives, and also the families, and the same thing with Nice. So you’ve been through the mill, and France has been through the mill. It’s been a tough, tough period for everybody. And I was so honored to be here at that night and be able to see the embassy lit up in the bleu blanc rouge. It was moving, stirring, and I think a great tribute by our country and affirmation of this very special relationship that we have. It’s meaningful. We have the oldest relationship – this is the oldest relationship, longest relationship, with the United States. And even now on Broadway in the play Hamilton, the relationship with Lafayette, France is being greatly singled out and in some ways spoofed but in other ways completely honored. Anybody here seen Hamilton? Was anybody lucky enough to get to it? We’ve got a few folks who’ve been to it. Well, at least download the soundtrack, folks, and listen to it. (Laughter.) Enjoy it. It’s absolutely spectacular.

But the relationship with France – this is the place where the rights of man evolved and developed. And not so far away from here, as you know, right over there in the Place de la Concorde a few hundred yards from here diagonally is the place where the guillotine was set up and where the Revolution carried out its most bloody period. And there were several revolutions, as you all know, because there was a counter-revolution, and a counter-counter-revolution, and so forth, as people began to try to figure out how to manage affairs. We’re still trying to figure out how to make the way we’ve chosen to manage them work better.

And I just want to remind you that there aren’t a lot of alternatives. We’re human beings; we’ve been given certain faculties – arms, legs, brain, eyes, nose, ears. We listen, we hear, we speak, we think. We’re the one entity that, according to the scriptures, was given the power to reason and the power and dominion over everything else. So it’s up to us. And in some places, it’s not doing so well. Everybody knows that. That is part of what is being reflected in this politics of turmoil, chaos in some places.

But what I want to remind you all is that if you read through the course of history – and I urge you to do it, because you can’t tell where you want to go if you don’t understand where we’ve been – read about the evolution – I mean, we’ve been through dictatorships of all kinds. We’ve been to the extreme of the left and we’ve been to the extreme of the right. We’ve seen what communism in its various incarnations is like. We’ve seen what Stalin did as millions of people lost their lives. We’ve seen what happens when people’s lives are closed in on and they live in a gulag like North Korea. And we’ve seen what happens in monarchies and we’ve seen what happens in democracies and we’ve seen what happens in bastardized monarchies and democracies where you have parliamentary this and constitutional that.

We’ve been through it. And I don’t know anybody who’s come up with a better way to do it than to make democracy work, where you fulfill the full rights of people, and you protect human rights, and you stand up for freedom of speech, and you don’t put people in jail because of what they say. It’s hard; it’s not easy. But we need to be very, very wary of this movement of authoritarian populism that is exploiting fear and exploiting a difficult economy, where people don’t feel like they’re doing well economically. And when you combine fear and bad economics and nationalism, you get what we got throughout the 20th century. You better think about that.

It’s not – it’s really not hard for somebody to stand up and exploit the will of a broad group of people with slogans and with demagoguery, but are they really going to take you to a place that makes your life better? Are they really going to do the things that are necessary to fulfil the full blossoming of democracy? That began here and in England – the Magna Carta – and we’ve all been working at this ever since. That’s the journey we’re on. And I want you all just to think about that journey. You are blessed to get up every single morning and go to work with a real sense of purpose and a capacity to make a difference. It doesn’t matter what you do – whether you’re behind the consular window and you’re the face of our nation and you’re working somebody through a visa or a problem, or whether you are in the ambassador’s office and meeting over the Quai d’Orsay and working, so everybody is contributing to this effort to build out our system of government, to fulfil it – and in doing so, to protect our interests and to protect our values. That’s what this is all about.

So I cannot thank Embassy Paris and the consulates here enough for the incredible work you have done under difficult circumstances to help us work through this transitional moment. And I assure you I believe deeply this is a transitional moment. We’re going to move through this. But I want to leave you with a thought that – don’t feel like it’s the glass half empty; it’s a glass half full. And I say that because we’re making – in the midst of all this craziness, the world is transforming itself and making progress. More people are free. More democracies have come into existence since the Berlin Wall than anything else at any time in history. More people are able to get up in the morning and have food and go to work. It may not be the best work in the world yet, it may not pay as much as we think it ought to. But 400 million people have come out of poverty in China, about the same in India. Run around the world and you will see that we, for the first in history of humankind, have driven extreme poverty below the 10 percent mark in the entire world. We’re curing diseases that we haven’t thought we could cure. Technology is providing advanced quality of life for many, many – yeah, it’s a challenge for jobs. Eighty-five percent of the job loss in America comes from the loss from technology advances, not from trade.

But the bottom line is no matter where you look – we stopped Ebola in its tracks in West Africa. People predicted a million people were going to die. And it’s not nation-states that are going to war with each other and killing people – at least not now – it’s nation-states that have to defend themselves against non-state actors, particularly those who stand for a kind of nihilism, for an assault on civilization itself. And boy, if we can’t stand up to that, we’re not following in the footsteps properly of those who stormed Normandy, those beaches, and those who delivered France and Europe from tyranny. And we owe it to everybody to make sure we live up to that high standard.

So you’re doing that here – I know you are – and I want to thank you immeasurably. Thirty-two trips is a lot of trips for the Secretary of State, but every one of them has had the purpose – because Paris is so central, and so people come from North Africa, people come from the Middle East, people come from Russia, from the eastern part of Europe, people come from America, and so we meet here, or in London, or Rome or somewhere, because it works.

Tomorrow – the reason I’m here now is because today I’ve been working on and continue to work on: How do we save the city of Aleppo from being absolutely, completely destroyed, and how do we get an arrangement where we can end the threat – hopefully for a longer period of time rather than shorter – to the to the civilians in the country? What is happening in Aleppo is the worst catastrophe – what’s happening in Syria is the worst catastrophe since World War II itself. It’s unacceptable. It’s horrible. It pains me to see children, women, some old lady being carried in a chair out of the city of Aleppo, and people worried about bombs right and bombs left and machine guns – even the people who are supposed to be on their side shooting at them to prevent them from leaving so they stay there as human shields.

So we’re arguing with a lot of people at this moment, and it’s hard, but I will say it and I’ll say this on the record – we have some press friends here and on the record I’ll say it: We are working hard with people that we even have disagreements with in order to see if we can find a way in the name of humanity and decency to be able to protect those lives and try to separate combatants and move the process forward.

We are close – we’re not there yet – but tomorrow, I will have a team from America with President Obama’s direction be in Geneva together with Russians and we will, I hope, come to some kind of an arrangement where we can see how civilians might be able to get tapped into what can happen with the armed opposition. My hope is – my goal in all of this – is not just to have a temporary thing, but to get both sides, all the parties, to the table in Geneva. And that’s what we’re working on here.

So that’s why I’m here and that’s why you’re supporting this effort. We’re going to try as hard as we can tomorrow. We’ll see if we can advance this process. I know people are tired of these meetings. I’m tired of these meetings. And people are sort of, “Oh, another meeting. Okay. This one will end the same way the other one did.” I get it, folks. I’m not born yesterday. But what am I supposed to do? Go home and have a nice weekend in Massachusetts while people are dying? Sit there in Washington and do nothing? That’s not the way you do business. That’s not what the United States does, it’s not what people of decency do, and that’s not what we do if we keep faith where those before us have always proved that you’ve got to keep. Whether it’s keeping fighting or keeping talking, you’ve got to keep on keeping in order to keep faith. That’s what diplomacy is about. It’s about trying. And I hope that in the next days, as I said, we can find some way to get to the table. The most important thing to me was to get to the table. Whether they’re fighting or not fighting or anything else, let’s have a serious discussion about how to end this war.

So that’s the effort. You’re all a part of it. I want to think John Natter who brought this flag out to me. John is very special and he worked for me every day since the day that I was announced as Secretary who came in with the transition. One of the first two people I met in the State Department was John Natter. He is a treasure for all of us and I want to thank John for being such a good friend and everything he’s done. Thank you, my friend. Appreciate it. (Applause.)

So God bless you all. Joyeux Noel*. Have a happy holiday. Enjoy these days, be with family, be safe, and keep on doing what you’re doing. Godspeed. (Applause.)