ARLINGTON, Va. — Secretary of State John Kerry gave new Foreign Service officers a final pep talk today before they are deployed overseas, many to what are termed “high-threat” posts, like Afghanistan and Libya, where there have been recent fatal attacks on U.S. diplomatic missions.
Kerry, in his annual remarks at the Foreign Service Institute, reflected on the diplomatic tragedies that have occurred over the last year, including the killing of Mustafa, a guard outside of the embassy in Ankara, Turkey; the terrorist attack that killed 25-year-old Anne Smedinghoff in Afghanistan; and the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
“In the shadows of the attack in Afghanistan and Ankara and of course last year’s terrorist attack in Benghazi which killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans we all understand it is indelibly imprinted on us how important it is to protect our people in our facilities,” Kerry told the new officers, who had just finished their security training.
“That is why as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in the Senate I held both classified and unclassified briefings to make sure we understood what went wrong and to ensure that it will never happen again,” he said. “That is why as secretary of state I am committed to implementing every single one of the recommendations of the report Accountability Review Board, and doing more.”
He said the report made it clear that the risks can never be eliminated, but that actions could be taken to mitigate the risks. Kerry went through a list of what steps are already being taken, some of which involve more cooperation with the Pentagon, and rethinking the long-standing policy that Marines at posts are there solely to protect classified documents.
“We are working to upgrade our capacities. We’re bringing on more security personnel, we’re enhancing our training, we’re putting more Marines at our high threat diplomatic posts, and we’re making sure that their first responsibility is protecting our people, not just classified materials,” Kerry said.
“We’re working more closely with the Defense Department, with our partners, linking our embassies with various military commands to make emergency extradition more central to our military mission,” he said. “We’re upgrading our facilities and we’re building new embassies and consulates, and we’re making sure the safety and security always gets the attention that it needs and deserves.”
He told the officers that despite the risks, their job is to continue to practice “foreign policy outdoors,” to continue reaching out and being representatives of America. Kerry pointed to Stevens as an example.
“Chris Stevens … enjoyed and he respected the people that he met, whether it was in this country or abroad. Wherever he went he made lasting friendships built on mutual respect,” Kerry said. ”When Chris Stevens strolled down the street he greeted strangers with a friendly American smile, Libyans got a glimpse of the best of the United States: decency and a respect for others regardless of religion, race or cultural beliefs.
Kerry reminded the officers that despite the risks, there is a privilege to being able to live around the world representing the United States.
“Chris was fortunate for the chance to live around the world, as I consider myself to have been and as you are,” Kerry said. “Most people don’t have the opportunity to do what you do.”