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Europe and Eurasia: Meeting With Staff and Families of Embassy Kyiv

AMBASSADOR PYATT: I’ll just say, Mr. Secretary, let me present to you the team of Embassy Kyiv, the hardest working embassy in the U.S. Foreign Service today. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Wow. I’ll tell you, I go to some places and the ambassador says that and I say, “Okay.” (Laughter.) But here, you are the hardest working embassy in the world right now. Thank you very, very much for all that you are doing. Geoff, thanks so much for your leadership.

I think character is sometimes shown when the whole world is watching and people see character, but more often than not, real character is shown when people aren’t watching or when you don’t think they’re listening – and they’ve been listening to him. We all know that. But this guy is attentive to all of you, to staff, to family, to everybody’s concerns, and I hope you will join me in just saying thank you because I think we have a terrific ambassador here and a great leader here. Thank you. (Applause.)

Thank you very much. And I see – you guys know we got a bunch of Marines here who help protect us. Thank you. Semper Fi and thank you for your service to our country, all of you in uniform, and some of you I know are not in uniform but you serve in the military or as attaches or otherwise. Thank you very much for your service, all of you. (Applause.) Thank you.

I guess we have, somewhere in the vicinity, about 100 Americans assigned here and several hundred, 300 or more, foreign nationals who work for us. And I just want to say a word to all of you, but let me speak first to the foreign nationals. How many of you are foreign nationals? How many of you are – thank you. We can’t do this without you. And so I want to say, profoundly, thank you to you, because you facilitate our ability to really understand what’s happening, to understand the country, and you are great ambassadors for us in the country because you can explain what we’re really all about and what we try to accomplish, so I thank you very, very much. I know sometimes somebody may criticize you or say, “What are you doing working with them,” and you put yourselves on the line, and we admire you enormously and everybody here thanks you for your service to us. We appreciate it. (Applause.)

And then – now I know we’re living right now under a sort of – one of those tricky moments where we have an authorized departure and some folks who are in Warsaw. And it’s hard. It’s hard even if you’re unaccompanied here. It’s hard to have family and loved ones separated. This is a difficult time. We are witnessing transformation globally. I cannot tell you how many embassies I go to that are sharing a level of tension today that makes being in the Foreign Service or Civil Service – civil servants but also working in tense situations, and our Marines all around the world know, given the experience of Benghazi, what we see in the attempted plots on many places in the world.

There are bad guys out there. There are bad folks out there who incidentally don’t have a program for educating people. They don’t have a program or complaint with the government about its healthcare system. They don’t have anything whatsoever to say about macroeconomic policy or how you develop jobs, how you’re going to take care of growing populations of young people who need opportunity. They don’t say anything about that. All they do is say, “You got to believe what I believe, and if you don’t, we’re going to kill you.” It’s the antithesis of everything that we have fought for since the days of the founding of our country. It’s an anachronism that runs against everything that we thought we had resolved in the course of the 20th century in two great World Wars and several other wars where we learned about how we can best help people live a fuller life and have the right to fulfill their aspirations.

But we got some people out there who are ready to throw over whole governments or take over governments simply to say no – no to modernity, no to opportunity, no particularly to women in so many parts of the world, no to education for children. So this challenge is much bigger, folks, than a lot of people have really kind of focused on. And here, particularly, we are witnessing a real throwback to 19th century behavior – imperialism. At the butt of a gun we’re going to impose our will and we’re going to deny you the right to be free. And particularly, some of those people I met today on Institutska Street when I was walking down there and I went over to talk to a few people, these women came up to me and pleaded and said, “Don’t let us go back to have to live under a man like Yanukovych who steals our future, who steals from us.” Met a man who said, “I went to Australia last year,” said, “I came back here, but I want to live like I saw people be able to live in Australia.”

People want respect, they want opportunity. That Tunisian fruit vendor who burned himself, burned himself because he was exhausted by the corruption of his government and the denial of his opportunity to be able to live his life, sell his fruit. We take a lot of things for granted unfortunately in America. We’re privileged to be able to, as much as I think we shouldn’t. You don’t. None of you do. Every one of you has chosen to be here because you’ve joined the Foreign Service or the Civil Service or you’re representing one of the other agencies that are represented in the Embassy because you want to make a difference and you believe you can make a difference. And I’m here tonight to tell you, you are making a difference – tough as it is sometimes, as small as the gesture may seem sometimes. Here in the consulate division and somebody walks in to get their visa – how they’re treated, how they’re greeted, how fast we react, how much we respect them may be their only contact with America or our values, particularly if they’re denied the opportunity to get the visa.

So everybody here is an ambassador, and I just want to thank you tonight for being willing to be on the front lines. Thank you on behalf of President Obama and our country for representing us on the front lines of a struggle now that could define a lot of things going forward. Whether or not we can peacefully make the institutions of rule of law work when a country is in violation of the UN Charter, the Final Act of Helsinki, its own basing agreement with Ukraine, as well as the 1994 Budapest agreement where we all agreed we would protect Ukraine from external attack, and here they are externally taking over and trying to annex Crimea.

So we got a lot of work to do, but rest assured there aren’t a lot of jobs around where you can get up in the morning and go to work and know that you’re doing something that’s bigger than yourself, that’s exciting, that may change day by day where you get as much intellectual input, as much information, as much opportunity to know people in other parts of the world, learn other languages, learn other cultures, and carry the values of the United States of America with you every single day.

So I say God bless you, thank you, we’re proud of you, keep up the good work, and we will ultimately achieve many of the goals if not all of the goals we’re chasing. Thank you. God bless. (Applause.)