Meeting With Staff and Families at U.S. Embassy Kabul

By:  John Kerry
Date: March 26, 2013
Location: Kabul, Afghanistan

AMBASSADOR CUNNINGHAM: Well, Secretary Kerry, welcome to the atrium at the U.S. Embassy. You spoke to us here a couple weeks ago on a big screen that was right here, and you said then that you'd be here in person soon to see us, and we're glad that you are, so very welcomed.

This is your team, 15 U.S. Government agencies and Afghans, working for the same bright future for this country that we've been discussing the last few days with our Afghan hosts. So without further ado, please.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you, Mr. Ambassador. Thank you very much. Thank you. Wow, how much cord have I got here? (Laughter.) Great, all right. I'll get out from the back of that crazy thing here.

Hello, Embassy Kabul. How are you? Everybody good? (Applause.) I want you to know, and I just want to remind you of this, that for the days preceding my getting here, it was rainy and it was cold, it was horrible. I got here yesterday -- sunny, warm, incredible, warm and sunny today. (Applause.) And even better, President Karzai and I stood up and it was like the sun had been shining forever between us. (Laughter.) It was wonderful.

We had a great visit, a great visit, and the President was unbelievably generous and welcoming. And I think we accomplished a lot and have gotten some things sort of laid out going forward. But I just want to, in person, have a chance to be able to talk to you all and particularly say thank you, but also just chat a little bit about where we are. First of all, I did have a chance to talk to you when you were all standing here graciously when we were doing the video. And I must say, from the video shot, it looked like it was cavernous, just waiting forever. (Laughter.) Now, I get to see you in person and see your faces and have a chance to really talk to you, and I appreciate that.

First of all, I want to begin by saying a huge thank you to the Ambassador and to Leslie. They have, together, carved out an extraordinary diplomatic career. He's been in so many places -- Rome and Brussels and Washington and New York and, of course, Hong Kong and Israel, which is where I got to meet him and get to know him, where he was in a challenging place and he decided it wasn't challenging enough, so he came here. (Laughter.) What can I say? But I think you'll all agree with me that they're a great team and they're doing a great job and we're grateful to both of them for everything they're doing. (Applause.) And I want to thank his teammate in that effort, Tina Kaidanow. Thank you very much for your leadership also in a tough spot here for all of you. We appreciate the hard work every single one of you are doing here. This is one of those posts where you don't get to go out to restaurants at night and party and do a whole bunch of -- I know you party a little bit, I've been told. (Laughter.) But it's kind of confined and there are obviously risks and challenges. So we are particularly grateful to you for what you're trying to achieve here.

I have to tell you, I met this morning with 10 extraordinary women who are so courageous and inspirational that it really tells the story of all of you and of everything else we're trying to do here. I told President Karzai there is nothing we want more -- we don't have grand designs. We don't want permanent bases. We're not here to play in some modern-day 21st century great game between India and Pakistan and the "Stans and Russia. That's not what it's about. This is about the people of Afghanistan having the ability to make their choice about their future without oppression and without violence and coercion, and choose their leadership and define their future.

And every single one of you here are in one of the most exciting places in the whole world. There's no greater diplomatic challenge than trying to fight through a cultural historical barrier that is standing in the way of the 21st century and of modernity. Those young women I talked to today, one of whom said, "I've always dreamed since I was a young girl of being a businesswoman," but she couldn't even begin to think about doing that until 2002, 2003, '04 -- young women who are in schools and being educated.

When this process started back in 2002, there were almost no women in school. You had to hide to learn. And there were some boys. Now, you all know the figures. You know the numbers. Nearly 10 million, not yet there, and almost evenly divided between men and women. It's an extraordinary story. Not to mention that there is a government that was elected, and there's going to be another election. That's the target. It's not the end. It's not the end goal. It's a big way station on the way to the rest of these dreams being realized. But it's a very important way station, and we need to do everything in our power to stay focused on it, to work with the Government of Afghanistan, to work with President Karzai, who I think is in the position to be a statesman and have a great legacy as he turns over leadership through a duly elected process to a new president, and we transition.

We have a bigger -- a big milestone in a couple of months, and you marked a huge milestone just yesterday with the transfer of the detention facility. So you are succeeding, and no matter what you do here, whether you are a Foreign Service officer or a civil servant, a contractor, one of the other agencies that Jim mentioned, the many agencies that converge here to be operating together, or whether you're a political appointee temporarily in some position, or temporarily duty assigned from somewhere else, or, most importantly, whether you're one of those 1,000 Afghans locally hired and working here, we couldn't do this without you. We really couldn't do this without you. (Applause.)

So I just wanted to take a couple of minutes -- I want to shake a few hands and say hello to everybody -- but this is a great journey you all are on. And I've been here to Afghanistan quite a few times now. I have one -- some of you may remember, I had one very eventful time. I was here with Vice President Biden, then a senator, and Secretary of Defense Hagel, then a senator, and myself. And we were up in Kunar, and we were flying back from Kunar and we got caught in a snow squall, a snowstorm up in the mountains near Bagram back, and the pilot literally couldn't see a thing. And we made a forced landing up in the mountains, and it was winter and there were a lot of snow around and everything, and as we were going down in this forced landing and everybody's kind of holding on, wondering what's going on, the general just continues to talk away and brief us as if nothing's happening. And we look at each other and we figure, "Well, maybe if one of us gives a speech, we can keep the aircraft up in the air flying, keep going." (Laughter.)

So we land on the ground and we're looking out there and we see a couple of lonely figures in a couple of mountain over or something, wandering around. We wonder if they're Taliban. We figure we'll fight them with snowballs. (Laughter.) But eventually, the guys out of Bagram had to come up in through the mountains up the road in humvees, and a bunch of people came and rescued us and drove us back down, and the helicopters stayed up there until they were able to fly up. So I've had some fun here. I've had some really good adventures. That's just the beginning. I won't go into all of them.

What I want to say to you, from your country and those of you who are Afghans, from the United States of America, your friends, we want to say thank you to you for the enormously important work that you are invested in here. It's an example to people all over the world. And just to listen to those women this morning and hear about how possibilities have changed for them, how proud they are of what they're doing, most importantly, how their individual person is now fully blossoming and respected, and they're not somebody's property or not shut away and hidden from life, that's a brilliant transformation to be engaged in. Not easy, but it's really important.

So I think you should be very, very proud of what you're doing here. Obviously, we're in a period of transition. And as we transition, the duties of the embassy, the size of the embassy, what everybody's involved in also changes with it. And don't be frightened about that. It's a good thing. It's what we want to have happen, and it's how, in the end, we're going to measure our success here.

So from the President of the United States and the Administration and from the American people, I come here to thank you for the work that you are doing, a year-long duty for a lot you here without families under difficult circumstances. I know what you're going through, because I was the son of a Foreign Service officer and I spent some time packing up bags and leaving school and moving and leaving some of your family and so on and so forth. So in all my past visits, I came here as a Senator. This time, I get to come here as one of you. And just like you have our backs every single day in what you're doing here, I promise you I will have your back with the Congress and in Washington in our effort to make sure you have the tools you need.

So, thank you, and God bless you all. (Applause.)