John Kerry
Secretary of State
Chief of Mission Residence
Paris, France
February 27, 2013

Merci beaucoup, Monsieur l’Ambassadeur (Laughter), je suis tres content d’etre ici. Merci a tout le monde. Bonjour! I’m really happy to be here. And though the Foreign Service is in my blood, I have no intention of bleeding while I’m here. (Laughter.)

Let me introduce to all of you – I’m going to say a few words about Charlie in a minute, but we have the Ambassador from UNESCO here, David Killion and his wife Krissy. We all welcome them and say hello. Where are you? Right here. (Applause.) And the Ambassador of OECD – the Charge I should say, Jeri Guthrie-Corn and her husband, Tony. And thank you very much for being here. We want to thank you. (Applause.)

This is a great, great privilege for me. First of all, I am now officially a recovering politician. (Laughter.) And I’ll tell you, it feels great. I don’t have to get – go out and raise money and do all those things. And most importantly, I really now get to focus. You’re a jack of all trades when you’re a senator, and it’s wonderful to get this potpourri of issues and everything is coming at you, and so you’re a little bit of an expert on healthcare and a little bit of an expert on immigration policy, and so forth and so on. But now I get to really just bear down and focus on all of our relationships and foreign policy challenges in the world. And that’s really wonderful. I love that.

And secondly, there are obviously no dearth of crises to start to focus on – North Korea, the problems in the Maghreb - Mali all the way to Egypt - the challenges of Iran, the potential of a nuclear Iran and what we’re going to have to do in these next months to try to avoid that, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, South Asia. Your breath gets taken away. But I like the challenge, and I feel confident about our ability to find the path through these things. I think we can do more. I think we can do some things as a nation that can help to resolve some of these differences.

And you all – you are the frontlines of that. I gave a speech the other day at the University of Virginia, and I purposefully wanted to go and give a first speech in America, because what we do over here is about America and it’s about the American people that we represent. And so I first wanted to talk to our fellow Americans. But I know there are many people who are local employees. I’ll say a word about that in a minute. But for those of you who are the Americans here, working in one capacity or another as a civil servant, or as a Foreign Service Officer, as a political appointee, whatever your role and wherever you come from, we have the privilege of representing our nation, and we have the privilege of giving people the real face of America on a daily basis.

It’s a great tradition. The stories of Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin right here in Paris are legion, correct? And it was Thomas Jefferson, our first Secretary of State, who famously said, Chaque homme a deux pays – le sien et la France.” And it may not be quite the same context as it was then, but we are connected. France helped America be America and win our independence. France was our first ally. France was our first diplomatic relationship.

And so what we do here, with a France that was prepared to go engage in Mali, a France that stands with us as a member of NATO, a France that stood up on Libya, a France that cares about Syria and cares about Iran and proliferation, is a critical partner in everything that we are undertaking in the world today. But also it’s a crossroads, because people come from all over here. There’s a Muslim population here. There’s a broad, diverse set of different religions, different races, different nationalities, all of whom come together here.

And you – all of you individually – may not have the title ambassador, but you are ambassadors, each and every one of you, in whatever you do, in whatever interaction you have on a daily basis, whether you’re in the environment enterprise or the greening that Charlie is engaged in and we’re engaged in with all the electric cars and setting a good example, or whether you’re an intern here as part of a growing intern program – I see some interns. Yay. (Laughter.) And whether you’re part of the French interns who are coming to this or Americas vise versa going over, it’s part of this deal of getting to know people, getting to know culture, getting to be able to share with people a common vision about our commonality as citizens of the planet as well as citizens of each of the countries that we come from.

I will tell you, it is wonderful for me to have a friend here as ambassador. I know he’s coming to the end of his tour. And I’ve had the privilege of staying here a few times. I stayed here a long time ago when Pamela Harriman was the ambassador. And I came in one night late from somewhere in the Middle East or somewhere, I was exhausted, and she said, “Well, you’re going to sleep in the Lindbergh bed, in the Lindbergh room.” And I said, “Oh, wow, Lindbergh,” – (laughter) – because I’m a pilot and I love everything about Lindbergh, and my mother used to tell me about Lindbergh all the time, because she was one of that generation. She was in love – they were all in love with Lindbergh, my mother was one of them.

And my mother actually was an American. And my grandfather, American also, from Boston, happened to be here in the 1920s, where he was doing business. He was a businessman, international business. And so my mother was born in Paris as a result. And she lived here for a year. She didn’t come back to America for a long time. She was raised between here and England and became very active during the early part of the war, World War II. And literally she worked over in Montparnasse as a nurse aid caring for the wounded who were coming back from the front as the Germans were approaching Paris. And literally on the last day as the Germans were marching into Paris, my mother got on a bicycle with her sister and a couple of friends and biked out of Paris and forged her way across France, got to Portugal, where she got help to get on a ship to come back to America. So we have a lot of connections to this place.

I spent – misspent a night or two of my youth here in this city. (Laughter.) I will not tell you about wandering around Paris all night long, just to live it and feel it and to go to the old Les Halles which moved – many of you may not know that – but used to go at the early hours of the morning and watch all the meat come in and the place would come alive, and it’s just a special, special city. And you’re lucky to be here, though I know a whole bunch of you came here via Iraq and Kabul and a bunch of other tough places.

So I just want to say a profound thank you to you on behalf of the country. Can I just ask how many of you here are French, local citizens who are working in the Embassy here? Raise your hands. Well, thank you very much for what you – merci beaucoup pour votre travail. Thank you very, very much. (Applause.) Secretaries of state come and go, ambassadors come and go, but there are a group of you who are always here to make sure that we know or pretend we know what we’re doing – (laughter) – and I want to thank you for that.

I’ll tell you a story about why – one of the reasons why – I’m so happy to be doing this and not what I was doing before. I was walking through an airport after I had – it was a couple of years ago. And I had run for president, and so a lot of people would recognize me. And I was walking through the airport, and when you’re in public life you can see when people recognize you or don’t. You kind of wonder instantly well, is that person friendly or is that person coming after me for some vote I’d cast. (Laughter.) And this person sort of looked at me, and I could tell here comes the recognition. But it was different from anything. It was a shout, “Hey you. Hey. Hey.” It was in the airport. “Anybody ever tell you you look like that Kerry guy we sent down to Washington?” (Laughter.) And I said, “Yeah. They tell me that all the time.” He looks at me and says, “Makes you kind of mad, don’t it?” (Laughter.)

So I hope now that’s in the past and we’re going to work constructively to make good things happen. Great breakfast this morning with President Hollande. He couldn’t have been more gracious. We talked about all the issues, the economy, Eurozone, trade, Syria, everything. We had a very, very good discussion, compacted into about 45 minutes, an hour. It was wonderful. And we’re going to work. We’re going to work hard. These next four years are a huge challenge.

President Obama has great vision for where we need to go as a country and as a world. With climate change, with challenges of our economies, with challenges of national security, I promise every single one of you that I will fight for our budget. I’ll fight for you. I’ll fight for what you’re doing over here. And we are going to make America prouder yet.

I think Hillary Clinton did an outstanding job. We got a great team in there. We’re going to continue. We’re going to build. And we’re going to make people even more aware of the hard work you do and how it connects to their lives, how it creates jobs at home, how it provides a future for our kids. Most importantly, we all contribute, commensurate with our values as Americans, to making the world a stronger, better, and safer place. Thank you for what you do. Thank you. (Applause.)

PRN: 2013/T01-09