Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Remarks at Holiday Reception for the Chiefs of Diplomatic Missions to the United States
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This is from last night and it’s particularly sad because both Secretary Clinton and President Obama pay tribute to Ambassador Holbrooke prior to his death which occurred later that evening. In addition to the video above, I have the transcripts of both Secretary Clinton’s statement and also President Obama’s remarks at the holiday reception. They are both very touching with respect to Ambassador Holbrooke but it was also nice to see President Obama give Secretary Clinton much-deserved credit for her work as Secretary of State:
SECRETARY CLINTON: Good evening, everyone and a very happy holiday season to you. It is wonderful to welcome so many distinguished guests here to the State Department, where we have some festive cheer, holiday traditions that are made special by the people who gather together. And I’m delighted that so many of you could come and be with us.
But one very dear friend in particular is not with us, and our thoughts are with him tonight. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke has been a giant of the diplomatic corps for almost 50 years. He is practically synonymous with American foreign policy of that time period. He’s taken on the hardest assignments, from Vietnam to the Balkans to Afghanistan and Pakistan. And this week, his doctors are learning what diplomats and dictators around the world have long known: There’s nobody tougher than Richard Holbrooke. He’s a fierce negotiator. I’m sure there are some shoulders here tonight that are still a little bit sore from his arm-twisting.
But he is a fiercer friend and a beloved mentor and an invaluable counselor. He has been a friend of mine for many years and I am deeply grateful for his presence and support. When I came to the State Department, I was delighted to be able to bring Richard in and give him one of the most difficult challenges that any diplomat can face. And he immediately put together an absolutely world class staff. It represents what we believe should be the organizational model for the future – people not only from throughout our own government, but even representatives from other governments all working together. And we know that with Richard, loyalty runs deep and it runs both ways. So tonight, our thoughts and prayers are with Ambassador Holbrooke, his wife Kati, their family, who are here with us as well.
We’re going to have a couple of surprises tonight, and one I will save, but I’m going to thank some of the Cabinet members who are here – Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Transportation LaHood, Ambassador Rice, as well as, I’m told, the outgoing mayor, Mayor Fenty, who has interacted with so many of you over his time in service here. We, of course, welcome all of our diplomats who are with us, and the dean of the diplomatic corps, His Excellency Roble Olhaye and his wife, Amina. Where are they? There you are. Thank you very much once again. (Applause.)
Now, in a moment, you will be treated to another holiday delight, a musical performance from the incomparable Marvin Hamlisch and J. Mark McVey. You’ve already heard the World Children’s Choir and the Air Force, Army, and Navy musicians from the Military District of Washington. But I want to also thank you. Thank you for the great cooperation that we’ve had, the partnerships we’ve built, the commitments that we have undertaken together. And I look forward to extending and deepening those relationships as we move into 2011.
Now, many of you have had a chance to travel this year and see the opportunities for cooperation that exist beyond Washington. The Experience America trips, including one to Chicago and one to Atlanta, have helped connect you, ambassadors from around the world, with entrepreneurs, educators, artists, and others who are outside the beltway. And I know the “State of the Administration” briefings have also been of particular interest. And USAID Administrator Raj Shah will be participating in our next briefing for you later this week.
So there will be a lot of activity and many more events in the new year. But what I’d like to do now is ask to come to the stage someone who, if you don’t know his face, you know his work. He has provided the soundtrack to so much of our modern era. He’s one of the few artists ever to win the grand slam of entertainment honors in the United States – an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony. And his groundbreaking Broadway show, A Chorus Line, also received the Pulitzer Prize. So we are in the presence of one amazing musical genius tonight, someone who captures and conveys universal human emotions with his irresistible melodies. He’s described his own job as helping widen communication through the international language of music.
So please join me in welcoming Marvin Hamlisch and Broadway vocalist J. Mark McVey. (Applause.)
(Performance was given.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, ladies and gentlemen, it’s a special treat for us this year to have the President join all of us for the diplomatic reception. He is, as you know, deeply committed to extending our engagement around the world, supporting the efforts that we’ve undertaken over the last two years to find ways that we can reach out and communicate not just with governments, but with people, and to convey the importance of all of us working toward common ends that reflect our common aspirations.
So it is a particular honor and delight for me to introduce to you the President of the United States. (Applause.)
President Obama’s remarks:
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much. Thank you. (Applause.) I have to say, just first of all, looking out at the audience, I’m reminded of, Hillary, how hard we’ve been working because I recognize everybody. (Laughter.) I’ve seen all of you here. I’ve seen you in your home countries. And we are grateful to you.
First of all, thanks not only to Hillary for her gracious introduction, but I think there’s a consensus building that this may be one of the best Secretaries of State we’ve ever had in this country’s history. (Applause.) One of my better decisions. (Laughter.) It is a bipartisan view, by the way — (laughter.) That doesn’t happen very often.
Before I say anything else, I want to echo what I know Hillary addressed earlier — just say a few words about our friend and partner, Richard Holbrooke. We’re honored to be joined by Richard’s wife Kati and their family -— David, Anthony, Lizzie, Christopher. I just had a chance to take a few moments with them before we came out to talk about their husband, dad, friend.
Richard Holbrooke has been serving this nation with distinction for nearly 50 years — from a young foreign service officer in Vietnam to the architect of the accords that ended the slaughter in the Balkans, to advancing our regional efforts as our Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and countless crises and hot spots in between. He is simply one of the giants of American foreign policy.
And as anyone who has ever worked with him knows —- or had the clear disadvantage of negotiating across the table from him -— Richard is relentless. He never stops. He never quits. Because he’s always believed that if we stay focused, if we act on our mutual interests, that progress is possible. Wars can end. Peace can be forged.
This is the conviction that animates his work in Afghanistan and Pakistan —- and that of his SRAP team, many of whom join us tonight. Where are they? There they are back there. (Applause.) Richard recruited them. He mentored them. And I want you to know that in our meetings he consistently gave you guys unbelievable credit. He was so proud — and is so proud — of the work that you do. And I thank you for all the progress that we’re making in that region, which is so vital to our national security.
So tonight, we’re all praying for Richard’s recovery. To Kati and the family, our thoughts are with you. And I know that everyone here joins me when I say that America is more secure —- and the world is a safer place -— because of the work of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. So Michelle and I, to the entire family, just know we are thinking and praying for you and for Richard every single day. And he is a tough son of a gun, so we are confident that, as hard as this is, that he is going to be putting up a tremendous fight.
Now, part of the reason that Hillary Clinton wanted Richard as part of her team is because she, too, is relentless. She, too, is tough. She, too, does not quit. She recently pulled off what one journalist called “a Central Asian hat trick” —- she went to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan — and then she threw in as a bonus, Bahrain. (Laughter.) And because of the time differences, she was able to accomplish this all in one day. (Laughter.)
Despite the jet lag, she has not lost her sense of humor. She recently cautioned foreign publics against watching too much American TV, because, she said, you’d think that we Americans spend all our time “wrestling and wearing bikinis.” (Laughter.)
So, thank you, Secretary Clinton, for your leadership, for your sense of humor, for your incredible dedication to our national security — more broadly, your incredible dedication to a world that’s more peaceful and secure and provides opportunity for all. (Applause.)
Now, I wanted to be here tonight, I’m grateful for the invitation, despite the fact that, as I said, I’ve met most of you. I’ve had a chance to work with many of you. We recently hosted a reception over at the White House and I’ve had the opportunity to receive some of you —- the newest ambassadors to the United States —- in the Oval Office. But I wanted to be here today for two reasons.
First, I want to thank our extraordinary State Department employees for the tireless work that you do. You are the backbone of American foreign policy — especially those of you who are serving far away from home during the holidays.
Day in, day out, you strengthen our alliances. You forge new partnerships. You prevent conflicts and the spread of deadly weapons. You promote global prosperity and global health. You stand up for human rights and you stand up for universal values. In other words, you — you show the world the very best of America. And on behalf of the American people, I want to say thank you. You are doing an extraordinary job. (Applause.)
The other reason I wanted to be here was to say how much the United States values the partnerships and friendships of the nations that are represented here. As you know, my administration has pursued a new era of engagement around the world —- an engagement that’s grounded in mutual interest and mutual respect. It depends on trust. It depends on candor. That’s the essence of our diplomacy and the essence of our partnerships.
And our commitment to diplomacy —- to building partnerships of mutual interest and mutual respect —- is going to remain a fundamental cornerstone of our foreign policy. It will not change because not only is it right for America but it’s right for the world.
And let me say that our engagement includes building partnerships between our peoples. That’s what Michelle and I worked to do during our recent visit to India, for example, which occurred during Diwali. As many of you have seen, during a Diwali celebration with some of the schoolchildren, Michelle joined in the dancing. So did I. The difference was she was good. (Laughter.) The headlines were a little bruising to my ego. (Laughter.) They said, “President Obama Visits India.” “Michelle Obama Rocks India.” (Laughter.)
It was just one small example, but it spoke to a larger truth, one that’s at the heart of this holiday season. When we reach out to one another, when we see beyond the differences that supposedly divide us, when we come together — even if it’s for some dance or some song, or a shared story, a shared memory — we’re reminded that fundamentally we are the same. There’s a commonality between us. There is an essential human experience that we all share.
And it gets lost in politics and it gets lost in rivalries. And there are barriers of ethnicity and religion and language. And yet, scratch the surface, take the time to get to know somebody else from a different culture, a different race, a different ethnicity, and it turns out that there are hopes and dreams that bind us together.
And our jobs, both as political leaders and as diplomats, is to make sure that those bonds are strengthened and broadened; that they penetrate into our respective nations; that each of us is able to stand in the other person’s shoes and see through the other person’s eyes; that people are no longer simply “the other,” or simply foreigners, but are in fact our brothers and sisters.
And if we’re insistent enough about the capacity to understand each other, then that translates concretely into some war that doesn’t happen, some village that isn’t destroyed, some child that gets something to eat, some disaster that is averted.
That’s what all of you do. That’s your essential task. And you do it very, very well.
And so, to Secretary Clinton, to the State Department, thank you for doing so much extraordinary work over the past year — much of it to little notice and little acclaim. I know what you do and I know how important you are.
And to the diplomats and dignitaries from our friends and partners around the world, let me say to you that we are absolutely confident that in the new year we will have more opportunities to work together, and that if we stay focused on our task, then the world is going to be a better place for our children and our grandchildren.
So, merry Christmas and happy holidays, everybody. God bless you. (Applause.)