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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Remarks at American Academy of Diplomacy Awards Luncheon

William J. Burns
Under Secretary for Political Affairs 
Ben Franklin Room
Washington, DC
November 30, 2010


Thank you, Tom. There is no greater honor than being introduced by Tom Pickering, from whom I have learned a great deal over the years, and for whom I have enormous admiration.

I’m delighted to welcome all of you back home to the Department of State. I just wish you could be returning under better circumstances. The simple truth is that this is a rough week for American diplomacy. The Wikileaks disclosures, a truly despicable breach of security and confidentiality, have done considerable damage. Diplomats are not unique in their reliance on confidential communications; doctors, lawyers, journalists, among many others, rely on them too. But trust and discretion are at the heart of what we do. Undermining them leaves American interests overseas worse off, and it recklessly endangers the people who depend upon our trust, from human rights activists to religious leaders. It leaves us all worse off.

As Secretary Clinton made clear yesterday, we have no illusions about the challenges before us. It’s going to take time and hard work to navigate these troubles, and to rebuild trust. I can only promise you that we will keep doing what diplomats do around the world every day, to build relationships, negotiate, advance our interests, and work to find common solutions to complicated problems. We will try our best to do it with the same integrity and skill and dedication that all of you brought to this profession.

It’s easy sometimes for those of us on active diplomatic service to think that no generation has ever faced greater challenges, but the fact is – as all of you know better than me – that every generation of American diplomats has had its share of intractable problems and dilemmas, its piece of dangerous foreign policy terrain to cover, and its share of genuine opportunities.

This era is no different. From Wikileaks to the dangers of weapons of mass destruction, from climate change to economic insecurity, from failed and failing states to the challenges of emergent and resurgent Great Powers, we have no shortage of difficult issues before us. The one thing has hasn’t changed is that effective, creative, well-resourced diplomacy will remain at a premium. I’m glad that Anne-Marie Slaughter will have a chance to discuss with you briefly the Secretary’s new Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review initiative a little later in the program, and we look forward, as always, to benefitting from your insights and example.

Let me also offer my personal congratulations to the award winners whom you will honor today … to Hal Saunders, as fine a model of decency and diplomacy as I know … to Trudy Rubin and Walter Pincus, whose extraordinary reporting has advanced understanding of American foreign policy and kept us honest along the way … and to Lynne Joiner, whose brilliant work has deepened understanding of our profession, its history, and its fundamental integrity.

So welcome once again. I hope Wikileaks has neither ruined your appetite nor cured your nostalgia for this wonderful institution. Thank you so much for all that you have done for American diplomacy, and for all that you will continue to do in the months and years ahead.

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