4 February 2013

Africa: Secretary of State John Kerry Welcome Remarks

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Washington, DC — Following are the remarks delivered by the new United States Secretary of State John Kerry on his first day in office.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much. (Applause.) Thank you very much, Susan. Thank you very much for that welcome. Secretary Nides, who's an old friend, I'm grateful to him. I told him that's probably the first and only time he's ever bowed to me and - (laughter) - I know I'll never, ever get that again.

But anyway, thank God I had a couple of photo IDs so I could get in.

(Laughter.) It was - happy for that. Secretary Kennedy, thank you very much for your leadership. Ambassador Marshall, I'm really looking forward to working with you, and with all of you.

I have to tell you, I liked my cubicle over there in transition corner.

(Laughter.) But I cannot tell you how great it feels to sort of be liberated to know that I actually get to explore the whole building now.

(Laughter.) So I've been freed. I'm the first person you guys freed today. This is pretty good. (Laughter.) And if I'm wandering around the building later, and I sort of wind up in your office, it's not because I'm there for a meeting, it's because I'm lost and I need directions. (Laughter.) So just tell me who you are, tell me what you do, and tell me where I am - (laughter) - and we'll rely on that.

So here's the big question before the country and the world and the State Department after the last eight years: Can a man actually run the State Department? (Laughter.) I don't know. (Applause.) As the saying goes, I have big heels to fill. (Laughter.) But this is beyond a pleasure. I'm going to utter five words that certainly no sitting senator, and probably a former senator, have ever uttered, and that is: These remarks will be brief. (Laughter.) And I promise you that, because I don't know what we're doing for the productivity of the building right now. (Laughter.) If this goes on too long, I may get a phone call from the President on a recall. (Laughter.)

I want to begin by thanking my predecessor, Secretary Clinton, and I want to thank her entire team. They tirelessly advocated the values of our country and pushed for the accomplishment of any number of things to advance the interests of our nation. I know from my conversations with Hillary how passionate she was about this undertaking and how much confidence and gratitude she had for the work that every single one of you do, and I just want to join with all of you today in saying to her: Job well done, the nation is grateful, the world is grateful. Thank you, Hillary Clinton, and thank you to her team. Thank you. (Applause.)

Also, I want to thank President Obama for his trust in me to take on this awesome task, and for his trust in you, every single one of you, and what you do every single day. I think it is beyond fair to say that this President's vision and what he has implemented through your efforts over the course of the last years, without any question, has restored America's reputation and place in the world, and we thank you for what you have done to do that. (Applause.)

Now, I said the other day at the hearings, if any of you had a chance to see any of it, that - I said that the Senate was in my blood, and it is after 28-plus years. But it is also true that the Foreign Service is in my genes, and everything that we do here is. I have a sister who worked for most of her career in New York at the UN, and most recently at the UN Mission. My wife, who was born in Mozambique, and you will see here on Wednesday, speaks five languages; at some occasion did some translating, but mostly worked with the then-UN Trusteeship Council, and has powerful beliefs in the mission of this great Department and of USAID. And my father, as was mentioned, spent a number of years as a Foreign Service Officer, and I come here with these 28 years of stewardship of the Foreign Relations Committee and oversight of the foreign - of the Department, oversight of the budget, oversight of everything we do. And so I'm glad to represent your favorite committee among many favorite committees on the Hill. (Laughter.)

But I will tell you that I have things to learn, for sure, and I know that, and as much as I have to learn, I have learned some things. And some of what I've learned is how difficult life can be for people in the Foreign Service who have to uproot kids and uproot families and move from school to school and struggle with those difficulties. It's not hard - not easy. It's particularly not easy in this much more complicated and dangerous world. So I understand that. I also understand how critical it is that you have somebody there advocating for you. The dangers could not be more clear. We're reminded by the stars and names on the wall, and we are particularly reminded by Chris Stevens and Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods and Sean Smith. And I know everybody here still mourns that loss, and we will.

So I pledge to you this: I will not let their patriotism and their bravery be obscured by politics, number one. Number two, I guarantee you - (applause) - and I guarantee you that, beginning this morning when I report for duty upstairs, everything I do will be focused on the security and safety of our people. We have tough decisions to make, but I guarantee I'll do everything I can to live up to the high standards that Secretary Clinton and her team put in place.

Now I mentioned earlier the sort of earlier part of my life. I will tell you, I was back in Boston two weeks ago and I was rummaging through some old stuff and I found the first evidence of my connection to this great diplomatic enterprise - my first diplomatic passport. (Applause.) There it is. Number 2927 - there weren't a lot of people then.

(Laughter.) And if you open it up, there's a picture of a little 11-year-old John Kerry and no, you will not get to see it. (Laughter.) And then in the description it says, "Height: 4-foot-3." (Laughter.) "Hair: Brown." So as you can see, the only thing that's changed is the height. (Laughter.)

And the first stamp in it, the first arrival, was 1954 in Le Havre. And back then the State Department, we went over - we spent six days at sea on the S.S. America and the State Department and the United States Government sent us over, the entire family, first class. Don't get any ideas. (Laughter.) Anyway, I - we went to Berlin, and this was not too long after the war, and I used to ride my bicycle around Berlin, it was my pastime, my passion, and rode everywhere, the Grunewald, around the lakes, up and down the Kurfurstendamm, the church where the steeple burned down, past the Reichstag, burned out, past Brandenburg Gate, past Hitler's tomb with these amazing, huge concrete slabs blown up. And I just roamed around. It was stunning how little control there was.

And one day - in my sense of 12-year-old adventure, I think it was then - I used this very passport to pass through into the East Sector, the Russian sector, and I bicycled around, and I'll tell you, as a 12-year-old kid, I really did notice the starkness, the desolation. In fact, I was thinking about it the other day. If the tabloids today knew I had done that, I can see the headlines that say, "Kerry's Early Communist Connections," something like that. (Laughter.) That's the world we live in, folks.

But I would reassure them by saying I really noticed the difference between the east and west. There were very few people. They were dressed in dark clothing. They kind of held their heads down. I noticed all this. There was no joy in those streets. And when I came back, I felt this remarkable sense of relief and a great lesson about the virtue of freedom and the virtue of the principles and ideals that we live by and that drive us. I was enthralled.

Now when my dad learned what I'd done, he was not enthralled.

(Laughter.) And I got a tongue-lashing, I was told I could've been an international incident. He could've lost his job. And my passport, this very passport, was promptly yanked - (laughter) - and I was summarily grounded. Anyway, lessons learned.

But that was a great adventure and I will tell you: 57 years later today, this is another great adventure. I am so proud to enter into the Harry Truman building - the mothership, as I think you call it - and I'll tell you. Harry Truman, whose office was just down the hall from mine in the United States Senate, within about a year of being president came and said the principles of American foreign policy are firmly the or the foundation is firmly rooted in righteousness and justice. We get to do great things here. This is a remarkable place. And I'm here today to ask you, on behalf of the country, I need your help. President Obama needs your help, to help us to do everything we can to strengthen our nation and to carry those ideals out into the world.

Here, we can do the best of things that you can do in government.

That's what excites me. We get to try to make our nation safer. We get to try to make peace in the world, a world where there is far too much conflict and far too much killing. There are alternatives. We get to lift people out of poverty. We get to try to cure disease. We get to try to empower people with human rights. We get to speak to those who have no voice. We get to talk about empowering people through our ideals, and through those ideals hopefully they can change their lives.

That's what's happening in the world today. We get to live the ideals of our nation and in doing so I think we can make our country stronger and we can actually make the world more peaceful.

So I look forward to joining with you as we march down this road together living the ideals of our country, which is the best - imagine: What other job can you have where you get up every day and advance the cause of nation and also keep faith with the ideals of your country on which it is founded and most critically, meet our obligations to our fellow travelers on this planet? That's as good as it gets. And I'm proud to be part of it with you. So now let's get to work. Thank you very, very much. (Applause.)

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