Press Conference
Washington, DC
November 25, 2013

MODERATOR: Hi. Good evening, everyone, and thanks for joining us on such relatively short notice. As many of you have seen or participated in, there’s been a number of stories, blog postings over the last few days about the State Department relocating the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See. So we thought it would be worthwhile to invite all of you to talk to a senior State Department official, [Senior State Department Official]. He will henceforth be known as Senior State Department Official – this is an on-background call – but just to talk a little bit about that move and then answer some of your questions.

So without further ado, I will hand it over to our Senior State Department Official.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Good evening. To give you a little context, let me start with this – I think there are a series of myths that are running around out there.

I mean, the first myth is that embassies from any country to the Vatican are actually in Vatican City. That’s not true. There are no embassies from any country to the Holy See that are actually located within the Vatican City city-state. All embassies of any country are located in the city of Rome. So that’s kind of the first myth out there.

The second myth is that we are changing the residence of the Ambassador to the Holy See. I have seen that as well. The Ambassador’s residence is not part of this at all.

The third is that this represents a downsizing of our presence when this happens. That is not true as well. Our diplomatic presence will remain one of the largest missions accredited to the Holy See, and that there is no reduction in our diplomatic staff in this process.

The last myth is that the United States will be the – is – will be the only diplomatic mission in Rome which is somehow co-located. That’s also not true. The UK and The Netherlands are also co-located, as is the Israeli mission to the Holy See.

But having said that, let me go to a second series of points, give you a little background. Currently, the – our Mission to the Holy See is located in Rome, and it’s about 1.9 miles between our Embassy to the Holy See and the Vatican. It is a converted residential property. And if you were here, I’d show you pictures of it, and it is a decidedly ugly, slab-sided, unprepossessing building in Rome.

Over the course of a number of years, we’ve been doing analysis, and there is a – there was purchased a few years ago land to expand an existing U.S. Government compound in Rome. And so the plan is to have the U.S. Mission to the Holy See relocate to a building on this compound. The building on the compound is not the Embassy to Italy. It is also not the U.S. Mission to the United Nations offices in Rome. So you will essentially have three buildings. One is the Embassy to the Holy See, which is on Via Sallustiana. That’s S-a-l-l-u-s-t-i-a-n-a. Then there is, in another building on the same compound, but is the U.S. Embassy to the Republic of Italy, which is – and has its own separate entrance, its own separate building on another street, Via Vittorio Veneto, V-i-t-t-o-r-i-o V-e-n-e-t-o. There’s a third building on the compound, which is the U.S. Mission to the United Nations offices in Rome, which is, again, another building, another separate entrance, and on another street, Via Boncompagni – B-o-n-c-o-m-p-a-g-n-i.

So in this operation, you will have the Holy See Mission/Embassy moving to this other building that – yes, it’s on the same compound, but again, separate building, separate entrances. The whole picture is such that the separateness is maintained. They are – they get – they’re separate entrances. Anyone visiting one mission or the other would enter in through a separate building. And so whether you’re going to see any one of the three different ambassadors, you go to a separate street address and you go into a separate building.

Now, your next question is: Why are we doing this? Well, we’re doing this for two reasons. One is cost savings. We have this space, as I said, in this other building that we bought a few years ago on the Embassy – well, it was adjacent to the Embassy compound. We bought it and rolled it into the larger compound. We figure that we will save about $1.4 million a year in lease and operating costs in moving them. And as I said earlier, there is no reduction in diplomatic staff, there’s no reduction in ambassadors, there’s no reduction in mission. There is simply a reduction in overhead.

So security – then the second issue is obviously security. The Mission to the Holy See is not in a building that has the kind of physical security protection that we would like it to have. It doesn’t have the setback from the street that is available in its new compound, and there are – it does not have the level of other security protections, including Marine security guards that are available at the combined U.S. Government compound.

And so with that, let me stop for a second and ask what questions that you might have, please.

OPERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to ask a question, please press * then 1 on your touchtone phone. You’ll hear a tone indicating that you’ve been placed in queue. You may remove yourself from queue at any time by pressing the # key. If you’re using a speakerphone, please pick up the handset before pressing the numbers. Once again, if you have a question or a comment, please press *1 at this time.

And we have a question from Patricia Zapor with the Catholic News Service. Please go ahead. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, a pretty simple question. You talk about merging all these – the three functions into the same general compound, albeit separate entrances and so on. Does that provide any other advantages for functioning among the embassy functions? Do they have to interact with each other much? Does this make that easier?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, to the extent they need to interact, it makes the interaction easier. But I would say that they all have separate functions to perform, and so that is not one of the major drivers here. The major driver is that we are going to achieve cost savings and increased security at no – at no loss in – of independence or functionality.

QUESTION: Can you – one follow-up question.


QUESTION: Could you give me a little bit of background on what other types of moves the State Department has had to make with embassies in other places for these similar kinds of reasons? I know that there’s been a lot of security upgrading going on for years. Could you just give me some examples of the types of things that have gone on?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, it is – it’s only in four places in the world that we have had more than one mission in the same country --


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- and same city. I mean for example, in Brussels, we rented a street from the city of Brussels, closed the street, turned it into a pedestrian mall, and then moved the U.S. mission to the European Union into a building that we bought which is now on a closed street facing the U.S. mission to the Kingdom of Belgium. So that’s one example.

In Vienna, we are moving the U.S. Mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, into the same building as the U.S. Mission to the United Nations offices in Vienna so that they can also share security activity. They will be stacked one on top of each other.

Other places we have relocated our facilities around the world to achieve greater security, meaning that when we were in locations which had inadequate setback from the street or inadequate ability to control pedestrian access to our building. For example, we’re constructing a new embassy in The Hague, and that’s because you can walk down the street in The Hague and you can touch the side of our building, so we are moving that. We are moving our Embassy in London from one location to another because we were unable, even with the great cooperation we get in both The Hague and in London – and I am not saying that we don’t get superb cooperation from the security and the police forces of Rome. But a little bit of setback, a little bit of distance, the ability to have some distance from the street to the side of our building, and then the ability to have our own security penumbra around it to a greater extent, is something that’s very important.

QUESTION: Thank you.

OPERATOR: Thank you. And our next question is from Sarah Pulliam with the Religious News Service. Please go ahead. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks for taking our – talking with us today. I was wondering if you could tell us how many personnel you do have in the Embassy from the Vatican Embassy and then in the one for Rome. And then also you mentioned the cost savings, 1.4 million. I wondered what the total cost of operating the Embassy is at the moment.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t have those – I didn’t bring those figures with me. We’ll see if we can get them for you.

QUESTION: Great, thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So the numbers and total cost. Yes.

QUESTION: Yeah, thank you.

OPERATOR: And again, ladies and gentlemen, if you have a question or a comment, please press *1 at this time to put yourself in queue. And no one else is queued up at this time, sir.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay. Well, thank you all very much. I think the point that I’d like just to emphasize again in closing is this is not a downsizing, we have not eliminated our ambassador to the Holy See. We are simply taking advantage of the availability of a very, very distinguished building that we own on a separate street. This is not – as I said, this is not a downgrade. We were able to continue to do the support we need. It is actually about a tenth of a mile closer to the Vatican than its current location, and so there’s no change there. And so there are significant advantages and there are no disadvantages.

Thank you all very much.