John Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Embassy
Tunis, Tunisia
February 18, 2014

Let me just say to everybody that I hate the fact that I’m just coming here the one day, I really do. I haven’t done a visit like this, the three hours somewhere, since I’ve been Secretary of State. But I really thought it was important to come here, since I had the opportunity flying from Abu Dhabi and heading to France, to impress on Tunisians and the world how important what has happened is to all of us. And so I just wanted to come and say thank you to you.

This is a monumental struggle we are all engaged in. There is a tectonic shift taking place between people who want to resist and hold on to just one way of thinking, one idea, and force people to accept it no matter what, sometimes at risk of losing their lives, versus the modern world, the world that is changing, where people’s rights need to be respected, where the right that we have enjoyed so much in the United States of America and so many other people have fought for and enjoyed in other parts of the world are shared by everybody who wants them. We’re not forcing this on anybody. But when a Tunisian fruit vendor decided to self-immolate because he was so frustrated by the lack of opportunity and by the corruption, nobody from the outside did anything. The people of Tunisia said we can’t have this anymore, we want something different. And the people of Tunisia rose up and tried to reach for what a lot people take for granted in many parts of the world.

It’s taken three years of this struggle, of this transition, to get where we are today. And because they were struggling sort of in gridlock for a period of time, and they looked over and they saw this abyss on the other side, they came together and compromised and came up with this constitution, a terrific constitution that respects people’s rights, respects the rights of minorities, of women, of people to be able to have their voice heard.

And so Tunisia is this country in the middle of all of this other turmoil going on that has an opportunity to show the path, to point the way. And I thought it was important to come here today to emphasize to people how important all of us investing in that and helping that to come to fruition is. This is the business of diplomacy. This is what America is about. This is why people look to us and look up to us, and why our values have special meaning all over the world and have for a long period of time.

So what we’re defending here is the right of Tunisians to be able to be free from abuse, free from corruption, free from terrorism, and to be able to choose their path and live a decent life in stability and peace. That’s what people want everywhere.

I’m proud that as Americans and all of you who are local staff, who are working with us, who have chosen to be a part of this effort – we admire so much the fact that you are part of this journey with us, and we thank you for that. But we all together have to work to try to complete this journey.

Remember, in America – we just had the French president come and visit America. And it reminded all of us of the incredible period of time when we were fighting for our independence and a country came to our aid, a country called France. And we probably wouldn’t have made it without their help.

And what happened during that period of time was risky. Those guys who went to Philadelphia – read that wonderful book on John Adams and you read about the history of that period of time – if they failed, they were going to hang at the end of a British rope. That’s the risk they took. And today we are a country that can help a lot of other people through those risks to a place where they achieve their goals.

We’re hopeful that Tunisia is going to succeed, and we’re going to help. We’re going to work with Tunisia. We’re going to try to do all we can in this age of constrained budgets and difficult choices. We’re going to do what we can to help Tunisians to be able to finish the job that was begun here three years ago.

So I say thank you to every single one of you. There isn’t one of you here who isn’t an ambassador. He may get the rank and the deal here and the office – (laughter) – but every one of you is an ambassador. And every day that you interact with anybody on behalf of this Embassy, you are bringing our values and our hopes and our aspirations with you. So thank you. (Applause.)