PARTICIPANT: When we first learned of the possibility of your visiting Chennai, I promised Ambassador Burleigh and Assistant Secretary Blake that we would put together a nice program and that we had a superb team. And it’s a great honor for me to introduce most of this superb team, of whom I’m very proud. Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so much. Well, good evening, everyone.
AUDIENCE: Good evening.
SECRETARY CLINTON: And I thank you for gathering this evening together and I am delighted to be able to come before Consul General Simkin and his wife, Bess, leave. I want to thank them for their tireless leadership here in Chennai. And as you know, they are officially retiring from the State Department next month. So I know you’ve already had a going away party. I know that the consul general likes to dance to ’80s music, so – (laughter) – there is nothing I can do that will in any way match that, other than to express a deep sense of appreciation for your service to our country, for the excellent expert work that you’ve done for furthering relations here and the other places that you have worked, and to wish you well in the years ahead. Thank you all very much. (Applause.)
This is a first time a secretary of state has made it to Chennai, so I am pleased it could be me, because I’ve had a wonderful day. It has been absolutely superb. Thanks to each and every one of you for what you’ve done to make it so. And it’s one more way that we want to emphasize the importance of the relationship between the United States and India. You see that every day, whether it’s automobile manufacturing plants or IT businesses or processing visas at a backbreaking rate – I’m told over a thousand a day, which seems a lot. You’ve handled more visa applications for skilled temporary workers than any other consulate in the world, and I think each of you could tell me a lot of stories about what it was like before the new system we just implemented began to reduce waiting times. And I hope that it will really help your efficiency in dealing with the great desire that this post has to meet.
I also thank you for your innovation, using Facebook events and malls, live streaming programs that connect audiences throughout South India. And thanks, too, for what you do in your so-called off hours, because it’s not only what you are doing during your day job but the weekends and evenings you spend engaging with schools, NGOs, and other groups. Last year, I’m told, you reached 37,000 people through these events, and that’s 37,000 chances to have an exchange and talk about our country and our relationships.
I know, too, that this is not always easy. It’s done sometimes in tough circumstances. I know the pay freeze is especially painful because of the inflation here. I know that you’ve got to deal with heat, droughts, floods, and – probably worst of all – traffic. But it’s also the case that your commitment means so much to all of us.
I want to say a special word about the locally engaged staff. Nineteen of you have served here for more than twenty years. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you. I know – where’s Stephen George? Is Stephen George here? Well, I know Stephen George has served as a driver for 32 years with a perfect safety record. (Applause.) I know that K.R. Mahesh has been in consular affairs for nineteen years, and his family altogether has 57 years of service, so where’s K.R.? (Applause.) K.R. here? These are two people who are probably still out working somewhere. (Laughter.) But I think the children are understandably ready, and so what I want to do is go and take a picture with the kids and then shake your hands, but mostly I came to say thank you. I want to make sure you say hello to Peter Burleigh. Ambassador Burleigh is back as chargé in New Delhi. Bob Blake, who served as ambassador to Sri Lanka, loves South India, is serving as assistant secretary for South and Central Asia.
So again, thank you all very much, and thank you for the warm welcome to Chennai. (Applause.)
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