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Diplomacy in Action

Remarks at the CRDF Global George Brown Award Reception


Remarks
William J. Burns
Deputy Secretary
Washington, DC
November 4, 2011

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Thank you for the kind introduction, Cathy. I am so pleased to be here this evening. First of all, the work of CRDF Global is truly commendable. You are bridging divides and fostering new relationships among nations through science and technology. This is a longtime U.S. priority, but one made newly relevant by our shared stake in fostering innovation and solving twenty-first century challenges, from climate change to pandemic disease. The State Department is working to do this every day, so I would like to personally thank you all for your efforts.

But what brings me here tonight is my great respect and admiration for Ambassador Tom Pickering. There can be no greater honor in American diplomacy -- and no more daunting task – than to follow in the footsteps of Ambassador Pickering. Like Tom, I have served as the Ambassador to the Russian Federation and Jordan and as the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. Tom Pickering is quite simply the best diplomat I have ever known, and I owe an enormous debt to him as a mentor, role model and friend.

Let me also take this opportunity to extend my congratulations to the other honorees, Dr. Craig Barrett and Dr. Rita Colwell. Ambassador Pickering is in fine company tonight.

Ambassador Pickering’s career in the Foreign Service is without parallel. With seven ambassadorships under his belt, he led many of our most strategically important missions around the globe. Ambassador Pickering also represented the United States with distinction at the United Nations, most notably during the first Gulf War. He is a master diplomat, and as versatile a Foreign Service officer as the Department of State has ever produced. And that includes a lifetime of exemplary work on science diplomacy.

International cooperation on science and technology has helped to thaw even the frostiest international relationships over the years. Things as seemingly simple as joint scientific experiments helped sow the seeds for the end of the Cold War. During Ambassador Pickering’s many missions abroad, he incorporated environmental, scientific and technological issues into the overall work of the post. He constantly found ways to further diplomatic relations by establishing bilateral science and technology programs and agreements.

When he was serving as Ambassador to Russia, he was probably running the only embassy in the world with a staff member listed in the phone directory who was actually in outer space. A NASA crew member visiting the MIR space station had been assigned to Embassy Moscow for pre-launch training and still remained on the books after they blasted off into space. I never knew if Ambassador Pickering actually had an embassy extension installed on the space station.

Ambassador Pickering was always seeking out opportunities big and small. I remember a visit he made to a radio factory in Ryazan, Russia in 1995, when I was serving as his Political Counselor at our embassy in Moscow. It was a factory just starting to make the transition from Soviet defense industry to consumer goods. Their new product was a solar powered radio that could be used for two-way communication and for receiving commercial radio. The gizmo was enormous, with a big dish and a giant box that had little chance of becoming the next iPod. Nevertheless, Ambassador Pickering listened with his characteristic amazing curiosity and attention, asking countless questions and making the local management feel appreciated.

With patience, persistence and expertise on issues ranging from nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation to climate issues and environmental stewardship, Pickering always made sure science and technology were part of an overarching foreign policy strategy.

And retirement couldn’t stop him. Ambassador Pickering is still actively engaged in crafting foreign policy. His advice is sought after and respected. He remains a force to be reckoned with in this town and around the globe. He continues work on the promotion of science diplomacy, Track II dialogues and creating the conditions for a world free of nuclear weapons. I sometimes wonder if there is anything he cannot do.

If science diplomacy is an art--and, ironically, not a science--then Tom Pickering is one of its great masters. It is my pleasure to pay tribute to one of the best there ever was.

Thank you, Tom, and congratulations.



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