Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Benjamin Franklin Room
Washington, DC
February 17, 2011

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SECRETARY CLINTON: Good evening. Oh, thank you very much, Assistant Secretary Ann Stock. And I’d like to welcome all of you as well. This is an exciting time for us because what we have in this room are representatives of the staff, friends, and supporters of the National Council for International Visitors around the world. And it’s not only who is in the room, but who is following us online. So we are connected tonight.

And I would like to extend a special welcome to Dr. Sherry Mueller, president of NCIV, Mark Rebstock, vice president of NCIV, Alan Durtka, chair of the board of directors, and Jim Stockton, who chairs the 2011 National Meeting Planning Committee, who is also a board member of the Arkansas Council for International Visitors.

Now, as Ann said, we are celebrating two big milestones tonight – the 50th anniversary of the National Council, which now has more than 90 chapters connecting leaders from around the world with their American counterparts, and the 70th year of the International Visitor Leadership Program, the State Department’s premier professional exchange program, through which 80,000 American hosts – or we like to call you citizen diplomats – have cultivated relationships. And every year, 200 international visitors, either individually or in a group, come to the United States for programs designed to reflect their professional interests, from business entrepreneurs, aspiring politicians, civil servants, human rights activists, teachers, and so much more.

And you know so well that our visitors are able to learn about American Government at the national, state, and local levels; they visit very representative American institutions from the Library of Congress to Walmart. And while – (laughter) – our visitors are experiencing America firsthand, Americans learn about their countries.

Now, this is all part of our larger effort to broaden the reach of our diplomacy. I believe very strongly that in the 21st century, statecraft cannot just be government-to-government. It has to be government-to-people, and most importantly, people-to-people. So we are always looking for opportunities to engage civil society, women, youth, and everyone else. And that’s why the work of the International Leadership Program and the National Council are so vital.

I really think diplomacy is a conversation, and the conversation needs to go on around the clock. You can tell I’ve been talking a lot. (Laughter.) And joining us tonight are 18 leaders who are alumni of the International Visitors Leadership Program. We have called them our “IVLP Gold Stars,” and we’ve invited them back to celebrate their achievements. I know that Ann recognized them earlier at the Marriott, but their achievements are really worth celebrating. They come from every corner of the globe, from Afghanistan to Nigeria, from Cambodia to Uruguay.

And since completing the exchange program, they’ve helped women get breast cancer treatment in Kosovo, they’ve started a news radio program in Afghanistan, they’ve stood up for LGBT youth in China, they’ve worked in civic education and environmental justice. One is the foreign affairs advisor to the president of the Czech Republic. They have all contributed their experiences, and we congratulate one and all.

Now, I was looking back and getting the statistics, and these are amazing. Nearly 200,000 people have participated in the International Visitors Leadership Program, including – yes, indeed – (applause) – including more than 320 current and former heads of state and heads of government. And as Secretary, I get to meet so many of them and I’m always so proud when they say, “Oh, I was a Visitor,” and then they tell me their experience about where they went and where they lived and who they met. For example, Brazil’s new president – first woman president – right – (applause) – and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan. So we have a very good relationship with people who know something about us and we know something about them.

But I also meet visitors who work beyond the spotlight. Last month, for example, I was at a town hall in Yemen to talk about civil society and human rights. (Applause.) Yay, Yemen. (Laughter.) And one of the alumni there was a young woman named Nadwa. (Applause, laughter.) And she’s an activist who works in conflict resolution and peace-building, and for her program, she had visited Minot, North Dakota. (Applause, laughter.) And she has returned several times since to talk to students of the community – (applause, laughter) – about Islam and about the work of women mediators in resolving tribal disputes in Yemen.

Now, I’m told that on Nadwa’s first visit, she was on the road with a group of other international visitors when they got caught in a classic North Dakota hailstorm. And at the time, they were passing through a small town called Max – maximum population 287 – (laughter) – so they pulled their vans over and knocked on the door of the nearest house. Now, it’s not every day in North Dakota or really anywhere in America that you open your front door and you see a group of young people from Yemen, Uganda, Ecuador, and Kazakhstan. But the couple answering the door were typically goodhearted Americans. They invited them all in out of the rain and they sat down for a chat, and I think it’s safe to say that that couple became instant citizen diplomats.

This is just one story, and there are hundreds and thousands of such stories, and it really illustrates why programs such as this are so important. By helping people engage in people-to-people diplomacy, they help us deepen the fundamental goal of American public diplomacy, which is to promote mutual understanding between Americans and the people of other nations.

So I hope the National Council for the International Visitors Program and the International Visitor Leadership Program continue for many, many more years to come. I will not be around on the 140th anniversary – (laughter) – or the hundredth anniversary, but our successors in all walks of life, including here in the State Department, will. And hopefully, we will see the results of all of this dedicated effort – greater understanding, a greater commitment to peace, an effort to try to give every person in the world a chance to fulfill his or her God-given potential. And we will do it all in the name of a country that believes so strongly in the value of each individual. And that is really at the core of what makes this program successful, because it relies on volunteer help. It relies on individuals across America who are willing to take time out of their busy schedules to invite people into their lives. And we are so grateful to all of you who have done that year after year.

I thank you for what you do not only for the United States of America, but for what you do for the world. Thank you all and God bless you.

PRN: 2011/235