AMBASSADOR SMITH: Good morning, everyone, and welcome. It is my honor and privilege today to welcome back to the Department of State our new Secretary of State Tony Blinken. Secretary Blinken is a familiar face in these halls having served previously first in the Bureau of European and Canadian Affairs and most recently as Deputy Secretary of State. He is, as we say in the department, well and favorably known to the Department of State and to our career professionals, and we are excited to have him as our new Secretary of State.
This is an unusual event today. Normally this room would be packed with thousands of cheering State Department employees. I assure you, we had to take extraordinary measures in order to keep them away at this time, but don’t let that deceive you in any way. There is enormous enthusiasm on the part of the career professionals who have known and worked with Secretary Blinken over the course of his career. He is a man of honor and integrity, vision, and character. And he will lead this department and advance the interests of the American people with great vigor and great passion.
So on behalf of the career professionals of the Department of State, Foreign Service, Civil Service, our locally employed staff around the world, it is my great honor and privilege to present to you the 71st Secretary of State, Antony J. Blinken.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. Dan, thank you so much for that incredibly warm welcome – and more importantly, for serving as Acting Secretary of State, for leading the transition here at the State Department. The Department’s been in excellent hands with you, and I thank you very, very much for that.
I am honored to begin work as our nation’s 71st Secretary of State. I’m excited about all that lies ahead. It’s a new day for America. It’s a new day for the world.
And today does feel a little bit like a homecoming.
Twenty-eight years ago I walked through those doors for the first time to start my job as a special assistant in the EUR front office, a little awed, a little bit intimidated by a legendary institution and a new culture.
It didn’t take me long to figure out one thing, and that’s how much the talent and expertise that resides in this building is so important, and it’s so important to listen to the men and women of the State Department when thinking about America’s place in the world and our foreign policy.
Your knowledge, your experience, your generosity was the springboard that brought me and landed me here today.
Two decades later, as a proud husband, I watched my wife Evan Ryan lead the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and I gained an even deeper appreciation for how people‑to‑people exchanges bring our world closer together and convey the best of America to the world, especially to its young people.
As Deputy Secretary of State, I learned what it means to help lead an institution as vital as this one – how to safeguard what makes it great, invest in its future, and leave it just a little bit stronger than when you found it. I take that work very seriously. As Secretary, I will not let you down.
To all the State Department personnel worldwide, to the men and women of USAID whose work exemplifies America at its best, I want you to know how proud I am of every single one of you and how proud I am to be on your team.
Whether you’re diplomats or development workers, members of the Foreign Service or the Civil Service, locally employed staff, contractors, you do hard things very, very well.
These jobs demand sacrifice. They can be dangerous. The names engraved on the walls here in our lobby remind us of that every single day. We honor them by coming to work every day and doing our absolute best for the American people and for each other.
I know the State Department that I’m walking into today is not the same one that I left four years ago. A lot has changed. The world has changed. The department has changed, and we need only look around to see that.
I’m speaking, as Dan said, to a nearly empty lobby. The people who are here are all wearing masks. To date, the pandemic has claimed the lives of five State Department American employees and 42 locally employed staff around the world. Many more have gotten sick.
And outside our doors, our government buildings are surrounded by new barricades.
We’ve never been in a moment quite like this before. The President is committed to getting us through it as quickly as possible, so that very soon, we can all gather in person again and have confidence that the foundations of our democracy are strong.
We at State have a role to play in all of this, and I believe it starts with rebuilding morale and trust. This is a priority for me, because we need a strong department for the United States to be strong in the world.
To that end, we have to invest significantly in building a diverse and inclusive State Department. We need the most talented people. We need the most creative workforce. We cannot do our job of advancing America’s interests, values, and commitment to democracy without a State Department that is truly representative of the American people.
Now, I can’t promise that you will support every choice I make as your Secretary. But I can promise an open door and an open mind.
I’ll be forthright with you, because transparency makes us stronger. I’ll seek out dissenting views and listen to the experts, because that’s how the best decisions are made. And I will insist that you speak, and speak up, without fear or favor. And I will have your back.
One of the great attributes of our Foreign and Civil Services throughout history has been your nonpartisanship. You serve Democratic and Republican presidents alike because you put country over party. All we ask is that you serve the United States, the Constitution, and the President to the best of your ability. I know you’ll do that.
The world is watching us intently right now. They want to know if we can heal our nation. They want to see whether we will lead with the power of our example, if we’ll put a premium on diplomacy with our allies and partners to meet the great challenges of our time – like the pandemic, climate change, the economic crisis, threats to democracies, fights for racial justice, and the danger to our security and global stability posed by our rivals and adversaries.
The American people are watching us, too. They want to see that we’re safeguarding their wellbeing, that we care about their interests, that our foreign policy is about them and their lives.
We will do right by them – by pursuing a foreign policy that delivers real benefits to American families, protects their safety, advances their opportunities, honors their values, and leaves their children and grandchildren a healthier and more peaceful world.
So we’ve got our work cut out for us. But I am confident we will succeed.
The United States has enormous sources of strength – we’re going to build upon them.
America’s values are noble and powerful – and we will recommit to them.
And America’s leadership is needed around the world, and we’ll provide it, because the world is far more likely to solve problems and meet challenges when the United States is there. America at its best still has a greater capacity than any other nation on Earth to mobilize others for the better.
The State Department will be central to all of this. I know you’re ready. I am too. We’re in the arena together. We do work that matters. So let’s meet this moment – our moment – with joy.
Thank you all for being part of this great endeavor. I am honored to be your Secretary. Now let’s get to work. Thank you. (Applause.)