Good afternoon everyone. It’s really great to be back at the State Department and to be among so many good friends and colleagues, so thank you for welcoming me. And I want to begin, not to start by calling you a liar Mr. Secretary—I was never an all-star basketball player, and it’s an oxymoron, at the National Cathedral School. But I appreciate the sentiment behind it, and I thank you. And I thank you for your friendship, thank you for those incredibly warm words, and it’s my great pleasure and honor to get to work together with you every day. And I wanted in fact to begin by saluting Secretary Kerry for his extraordinary leadership of this Department. As John said, we’ve been privileged to work together for over a decade in different capacities, and I can tell you that he only gets more energetic and more determined with time. Serving as Secretary has truly highlighted the depth and the range of John’s expertise, and we are all fortunate to have such a tireless, world-class envoy leading American diplomacy. And I know how much President Obama values John and relies on him to guide our foreign policy. We see it every day and so I want to say Mr. Secretary, on behalf of all of us, thank you for all you are doing.
Of course, it goes without saying that Secretary Kerry has a top-notch team supporting him, and among the great privileges I have is to have worked closely over many years now with Bill Burns, Wendy Sherman, Pat Kennedy and many others on just about every major issue area on our plate, and I’m thrilled to say welcome and congratulations to Heather Higginbottom our new Deputy now in place, and to the full roster of Under Secretaries who are now finally in their jobs. So congratulations to Rose Gottemoeller, Sarah Sewall, Catherine Novelli, Rick Stengel and everyone, all of you who have been recently confirmed. On behalf of President Obama, more importantly, I want to thank each and every one of you, our chiefs of mission, and your teams for the commitment you show and the sacrifices that you make every day.
I’ve spent much of my career working side-by-side with you, our outstanding diplomats and development experts. I know the passion that goes into your work and the desire that you have to serve to the best of your ability. Sadly, I’ve also experienced directly some of this Department’s greatest tragedies, including the bombings of our embassies in Kenya and Tanazania, and like all of you, continue to mourn the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other brave Americans in Benghazi just 18 months ago.
So you know, there will always be dangers. Many of your posts are in conflict zones or in areas where insecurity poses daily risks to your personal safety. The threat of terrorist attacks and extremist violence is often present. And, we here back home have a solemn obligation to keep you safe. At the same time, no one wants you locked behind embassy walls where you can’t do your jobs effectively. We have to balance your security with our diplomatic imperatives. And I know that you all find it frustrating at times, but please know that President Obama and all of us at the White House and the State Department are most concerned both that you stay safe and that the critical work you all do is not the casualty of another horrific attack. So we are committed—even in this difficult budget environment—to making sure you have the resources and the support you need to carry out your mission as safely as possible.
Your mission, our diplomacy, is more vital than ever. You all know better than anyone that, in moments of need, the world turns to the United States of America. Even as we speak, many of our most talented diplomats are working around-the-clock to redress the situation in Ukraine and to de-escalate tensions with Russia. We are working in close coordination with our European partners, offering assistance to the new government in Kyiv and making it clear to President Putin that his flagrant violation of international law comes at a real cost.
Events in Ukraine bear out a fundamental truth about U.S. leadership in the 21st century. And that is that real power is not the ability to intimidate and coerce, but rather the capacity to inspire people through the example of our values and the ability to rally other nations to meet shared challenges. No one should ever doubt President Obama’s determination to protect Americans from threats to our national security. And yet at the same time, he understands that, in his words, “our security and leadership depends on all elements of our power – including strong and principled diplomacy.”
Our conduct on the world stage is what makes other countries want to partner with us. And by that measure, no nation is doing more than the United States of America. No nation can match our enduring strengths: our economic and military might, our resources, our innovation, our network of alliances, and our diverse and resilient people. No nation does more to help people lift themselves out of poverty. No nation does more to defend universal rights and fundamental freedoms. And still, no nation is better positioned to lead in this young century.
So today, I’d like to share with you a few of the areas where the President and his Principals on the national security team are most focused. I’ll start with our commitment to enhance global security. By the end of this year, our combat mission in Afghanistan will be over. The vast majority of our troops will be home, and the United States will continue taking steps to move off a long-term war footing. We are making our fight against al-Qai’da and its affiliates sustainable by developing a comprehensive counter-terrorism policy that is more agile and adapted to meet evolving threats. By necessity, it must draw on every element of our national power and pull together expertise from across our government to design and implement a more effective, long-term counter-terrorism strategy.
With fewer of our resources allocated to counter-insurgency and similar operations, we must seize the opportunities that matter most to our future. That starts with renewing our foundational relationship with Europe. Europe is our partner of first resort on almost every critical global challenge, and that partnership delivers results around the world. It proves the strength of our model of global leadership. As the world’s pre-eminent security alliance, NATO is a bulwark for peace and security – of its members and partners alike. Particularly in light of recent events, the NATO alliance and our summit this September will fortify the unshakable bond between Europe and the United States.
That same commitment to securing our future drives our rebalance to Asia. We’re strengthening our alliances, investing in regional institutions, and building new economic and security partnerships so that we can advance our interests in the dynamic Asia-Pacific region. This is not mere rhetoric. We’re actually dedicating new and additional diplomatic, military, and foreign assistance resources to back up our comprehensive commitment to this region. President Obama plans to make two trips to the Asia-Pacific region this year to keep our relationships moving forward.
And yet, let’s be clear, because some have suggested the contrary: the rebalance to Asia in no way means we are backing away from the Middle East or other areas of our traditional partnership. I just returned from the Gulf. The President will be traveling to Saudi Arabia later this month. And, you all know how frequently Secretary Kerry comes calling. The bottom line is, promoting a stable and secure Middle East is in fact vital to American interests. An enduring political solution in Syria would benefit our own security; that’s why we continue to try to bolster the moderate opposition even as we lead humanitarian efforts and oversee the removal of Assad’s chemical weapons. A lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians would be an anchor of stability in the region and finally end one of the world’s longest conflicts.
And that’s why Secretary Kerry, at President Obama’s behest, is personally leading the effort to spur both sides at the negotiating table. Similarly, through tough diplomacy combined with sanctions, we’ve isolated Iran and forced it to begin addressing international concerns about its nuclear program. With our P5+1 partners, we’re negotiating directly with the Iranians to try to reach a comprehensive solution, which, if successful, will remove one of the greatest global security threats by ensuring that Iran never obtains a nuclear weapon.
So thus, across a spectrum of our highest priority national security issues, we’re leading with diplomacy. You are leading with diplomacy. But, we aren’t just mitigating threats; we’re seizing opportunities, especially when it comes to our international economic agenda: expanding global prosperity, creating jobs, and ensuring a level playing field for all. And that’s the second key area for American leadership.
One of our highest priorities is realizing the game-changing potential of trade agreements that will link the United States more closely to our partners across both oceans. In the Asia-Pacific, we’re working hard to finalize the Trans-Pacific Partnership and to lock in agreement on a high-standard free trade agreement that will govern one-third of global commerce. And, we’ve begun to make progress with our partners in Europe to develop a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership that brings our economic cooperation up to the same level as our security alliance.
As John Podesta emphasized to you yesterday, the Administration is spearheading a government-wide focus on ensuring our clean energy future and addressing climate change, both of which are critical to our security and our prosperity. The same goes for our efforts to promote sustainable development and to take on the growing challenge of cybersecurity. These kinds of global concerns can only be met with a global effort—one that marshals the resources and resolve of both the public and private sectors, and which depends on the sustained, high-level diplomatic engagement that only you can provide.
In Africa—home to six of the world’s ten fastest growing economies—we’re building partnerships that will expand economic and development opportunities. President Obama sees Africa as fertile ground where smart investments can have outsized impacts. And that’s why President Obama is hosting the first-ever U.S. Summit with African heads of state this August, here in Washington. And it’s why he is committed to signature initiatives that will advance shared goals such as Power Africa, to double access to electricity across sub-Saharan Africa; the Young African Leaders Initiative to invest in Africa’s citizens; and our ongoing work to foster peace, food security, health, and democratic progress across the continent.
Closer to home, Latin America and the Caribbean hold enormous potential to become ever stronger drivers of the global economy, if we can expand economic inclusion and remove the barriers that constrain growth. Last month, I joined President Obama at the North American Leaders Summit in Mexico, where we are laying the groundwork, in partnership with Canada and Mexico, to make ours the most prosperous, secure and competitive region in the world. We’re working with partners throughout the hemisphere to make our student exchange program, 100,000 Strong in the Americas, a reality.
We’re cooperating to make progress on practical issues, from lowering energy costs in Central America and the Caribbean to reducing inequality and expanding the middle class by promoting innovative conditional cash transfer programs that help families send their children to school, alleviate hunger, or even purchase their first home. With regard to Cuba, that means pursuing creative new policies that encourage positive change and improve human rights on the island, because ultimately, the Cuban people will benefit from more contact with Americans, not less.
Finally, I want to touch on our bedrock commitment to advancing human rights and human dignity. America stands proudly for the rights of all human beings – including women, the LGBT community, and religious and ethnic minorities. We defend the freedom of all people to live and worship as they choose. We champion open government and civil society and fight corruption. We bolster freedom of assembly and a free press.
And, while it’s neither effective nor desirable to advance human rights through the barrel of a gun, we recognize that there are times, such as when the threat of mass atrocities is imminent, that it is appropriate to join with others in using force to protect the innocent. That is what our values demand. It is also profoundly in our interest to strengthen the union of nations that respect universal rights.
At times, we are compelled to make tough choices when the immediate need to defend our national security requires us to work with governments that do not share our fundamental commitment to human rights. No one knows that better than all of you. We look to you to strike the extremely difficult balance that both preserves critical bilateral relationships and champions the values we most cherish, because our commitment to democracy and human rights roundly reinforces our national security.
So, even when it is politically difficult, we ask you to find new ways to empower those who are most marginalized in their societies. In those almost eighty countries around the world where we find laws and policies that persecute or discriminate against members of the LGBT community, we need you to be a clarion voice— to decry laws that would lock people up because of who they love and to find new ways to protect vulnerable members of the LGBT community. We need you to combat restrictions, also, that close space for civil society. And, we need you to be the early-warning tripwire where an atrocity is looming so we can strive to prevent it.
The majority of the world’s population is still struggling to realize a better future. In developing countries, we seek opportunities to expand our partnerships to improve the well-being of all citizens. We’re particularly keen to partner with communities that are investing in their own people—from improving maternal health and child nutrition to achieving the goal globally of an AIDS-free generation. In fragile states, we are seeking better ways to help manage crises while working to strengthen the state’s foundations over the long term. In countries transitioning to democracy, we must help them navigate the difficult choices they must make without dictating the outcomes.
Think back on those harrowing images just a few weeks ago from Kyiv’s Independence Square—a city on fire, security forces storming the streets, snipers picking off protestors. And yet, the ranks of Ukrainians filling the Square only grew. Today, that Square is a memorial to their bravery. Lamp posts that bear the scars of bullets, ground charred by fire, makeshift barricades made holy by piles of flowers and photographs of the fallen—all are a testament to the indomitable human spirit. I was particularly moved to hear the story Secretary Kerry told after visiting the Square—about the young man who, having traveled to Australia and seeing the rights others enjoy, joined the Maidan protesters because he was determined that Ukrainians should share in them too.
Keep in mind that man in the Square who wants only the same basic security and opportunity that we enjoy as a human being with the same aspirations that we have. Remember the woman who asks only for an equal shot to live up to her potential. Remember the children who are desperate to grow up healthy and assured of their own self-worth. In an age of borderless threats and boundless possibilities, our own future and security are inextricably linked to theirs. So, it’s our job to make sure the United States remains the strongest and most effective global leader – for all of our sakes.
The world looks to the United States. What’s more, the world counts on the United States. They, and we, need you – to guide and represent this unique nation – to ensure we remain the exceptional global leader we have always been. So thank you. Thank you for all you do every day on behalf of the American people.
Thank you for helping us better this great nation that we are all so proud to serve.