William J. Burns
Deputy Secretary
The Ben Franklin Room
Washington, DC
November 29, 2011

Thank you Avis. Welcome everyone. It’s a pleasure to once again host the American Academy of Diplomacy at the State Department. It’s a pleasure to see so many people who have done so much to advance America’s interests around the world, and whose professional achievements inspire those of us who follow in your footsteps. And it’s a pleasure to join you today in honoring a few singularly outstanding men and women for their enduring contributions to American diplomacy.

The year since we last met in this room has not exactly been dull for U.S. diplomacy. Millions of people around the Middle East have risen up to demand the freedom and opportunity and dignity that for too long has been denied to too many in that very complicated part of the world. The United States and Russia concluded and entered into force the most comprehensive arms control agreement in decades. As wars wind down and we begin to shift to civilian-led operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, we face the challenge of anchoring security gains in political progress and greater economic opportunity. There are important new opportunities to refocus American strategic priorities in Asia and the Pacific, where the rise of China and India is reshaping the face of the international system. Our work is constantly evolving, frequently unpredictable, and always demanding. But it is also deeply rewarding.

In the new century unfolding before us, diplomacy, development, and defense are more inter-connected than ever before. Today we recognize them as part of a single, integrated set of tools that bring the full weight of America’s strength to bear on our foreign policy.

That’s why it is so fitting that this year’s winner of the Annenberg Award for Excellence in Diplomacy goes to a man who has never held an ambassadorship or worked in this building. Yet, he has been one of the most effective advocates for diplomacy in the 21st century, and one of the finest public servants I have ever known: former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates.

Secretary Gates has been a model of judgment, patriotism, decency, integrity and straight talk throughout his career.

I have enormous personal admiration for him as a leader, as a thinker, and as a strategist. In a town where big egos have never lacked for company, and pretension is often the norm, Bob Gates has always been a rare combination of skill and humility. Earlier this year President Obama awarded Secretary Gates our nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, for his work reshaping our national security policy. And today he joins some true State Department icons -- including Richard Holbrooke, Thomas Pickering, and George Kennan -- for his commitment and contributions to American diplomacy.

Unfortunately, Secretary Gates could not join us today, but we are very fortunate that Ambassador Eric Edelman is accepting on his behalf. Eric is a wonderful friend and colleague, and a deeply accomplished diplomat in his own right, and it’s great to see you back in the Department to which you have contributed so much.

Let me also offer my personal congratulations to our other honorees --

My colleague and friend in the Bureau of Near East Affairs for many years, Ambassador Edmund Hull was at the forefront of U.S. efforts to reverse Al Qaeda’s reach in the Arabian Peninsula in the aftermath of September 11 and remains an influential voice on U.S. policy toward Yemen at an historic juncture. Thank you, Edmund, for demonstrating how effective embassy leadership is vital to protecting America’s interests overseas and American lives at home.

David A. Nichols’ depiction of President Eisenhower’s remarkable leadership at home and abroad is itself a remarkable contribution to the field of American diplomatic history.

NPR’s Sylvia Poggioli and the Financial Times’ Borzou Daragahi are recognized today for exceptional coverage of foreign affairs, helping American audiences understand world events, and why our presence around the world matters more than ever.

And finally I’d like to recognize Shelly Ranii for her very promising work on international financial markets and cyber policy at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

In this year like few others, and in a fast changing-world, your work in the American Academy of Diplomacy is more important than ever – from facilitating fellowships and discussions to all the outreach you do to promote the role of diplomacy. So on behalf of Secretary Clinton and the entire State Department, on behalf of all of us who try to carry on the lifetime of service each of you has contributed, thank you for your support. And congratulations once again to all our honorees. Thank you.