AMBASSADOR ROMANOWSKI: Well, good morning, everyone, and welcome. I’m really thrilled that we’re able to welcome Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his team to Kuwait. On behalf of our embassy community, welcome, and thank you very much for making this trip and this time to meet with our embassy and our staff and our families to recognize all the great work that they do and the important work that we do. We very much appreciate it.
Mr. Secretary, we have a really resilient, terrifically resilient team here in Kuwait. On top of the tough challenges from the pandemic, this past week has been really difficult because we’ve had a tragic loss of one of our colleagues, Jagadeesh Appukuttan, who worked with us for 13 years as part of our local guard force. And so it’s been a tough week, but we get to see you, which is terrific.
I’m really proud of how our team has managed COVID and many other things thrown at us during this past year. So all of you, thank you very much for the work and for how you support each other.
You hear from me almost every day and I know you really want to hear from our boss, the Secretary. So Mr. Secretary, the floor is yours along with the Webex. So please, the floor is yours.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you.
AMBASSADOR ROMANOWSKI: Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good morning, everyone. Great to see all of you, and I think great to see everyone via Webex. It’s – we’ve got about 10 or so colleagues here in the room, many more on the screen, represented by this fine-looking piece of equipment right here. So thank you so much for coming out this morning.
Ambassador Romanowski, thank you both for your good words, but thank you especially for your leadership of this mission, and more than that, for 40 years of government service. Truly remarkable and extraordinary. Thank you. (Applause.)
And I just want to thank everyone on the team for making this visit both possible and, so far at least, successful, and we’ll (inaudible) at the end of the day. But I’m very, very pleased to be here. I’ve been to Kuwait many, many times in the past, but I thought it was very important to come here early in my tenure. And of course, it’s an appropriately auspicious time: 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between our countries, 30th anniversary of the liberation of Kuwait.
I do also want to take note of the loss that you’ve had of someone I know was a deeply treasured member of the team, Jagadeesh Appukuttan. I know that he had friends and colleagues throughout the mission, and indeed, in the entire embassy community. And this direct, personal loss comes on top of a year of – on the plus of very challenging times with COVID-19. And I know that COVID-19 has been felt by everyone in this mission professionally and by many of you on a personal level: friends, family members who’ve been affected, the work of course made even more challenging. But I think – I know that when you lose someone like Jagadeesh, who’s been such a strong member of this community, in many ways that just brings everything home in very, very powerful ways. So I did want you to know that we’re thinking of you in this time, and I just ask you to take good care of yourselves, take good care of each other. And if you need to talk, talk. Talk to each other. Talk to colleagues. And the bottom line is we have to be here for each other, especially in difficult moments like this one.
What I’ve seen across our missions around the world – and I’ve had an opportunity now to visit a number of them – is a remarkable story of community and resilience. In mission after mission, we’ve seen our teams come together in remarkable ways to get the job done despite the circumstances, despite the challenges, despite the difficulties; and come together professionally and come together as a community with people supporting one another. Many of you have not been able to leave Kuwait for 18 months now, and you’ve managed to do truly outstanding work under these very difficult circumstances, organizing evacuating flights for Americans, virtually hosting the fourth annual Strategic Dialogue, which is greatly important. And you continue to find ways to engage Kuwaitis across society, including civil society, the business community, as well, of course, as our government counterparts.
I want to point out a couple of individuals who have done truly remarkable work at a mission that, on a whole, has done pretty remarkable work. Staff member of the year, Ola Elhallak. Is Ola here? Ola, thank you. You figured out flights home for so many Americans. You got 15 local staffers back to Kuwait after the borders closed. This is service above and beyond. We’re truly, truly grateful to you. Congratulations. (Applause.)
The med team, led by Anna Heilig-Adams. Again, it’s – I’ve seen this in mission after mission, but I have to tell you the work that you, the med team, have done in caring for more than 100 people in the mission with COVID, organized one of the fastest vaccination drives in the entire region – again, our gratitude is really without adequate words. But thank you for a job very, very well done. (Applause.)
And to the motor pool. You have anyone here from the motor pool? Maybe out on Webex. (Laughter.) Ran shuttles during the curfew for the staff. And again, from what I’ve heard, really went above and beyond.
These are just individual examples of a team and a mission that has been firing on all cylinders, and again, I want to say thank you to each and every one of you.
As I said, this is a particularly auspicious moment given the anniversaries that we have to celebrate, but I think the bilateral relationship with Kuwait is one that has proven itself vital for American interests for many, many years. We have the fifth annual Strategic Dialogue coming up this fall. It’s going to cover a lot of issues on the agenda. I expect to cover a lot today in the various meetings that we have. But I want to express particular appreciation to this mission for making sure that we’re not only maintaining but we’re growing and strengthening the relationship. And each and every one of you is literally on the front lines of doing that, doing it every single day.
We have members of the staff here who have served for as long as we’ve been celebrating the liberation of Kuwait, 30 years, some even longer. An incredibly diverse team. More than 25 nationalities represented among the embassy team. Twenty-five staff have decided to immigrate to the United States after receiving special immigrant visas.
But I just want to say, too, whether you work for the State Department, whether you work for any other U.S. Government agency here at the mission, whether you’re a direct hire, whether you’re locally engaged, whether you’re an eligible family member – your work is making a big difference each and every day. And we really want to give all of you what you need to do your jobs as well as possible. There are a number of things that we’re working on that we’ll have an opportunity to talk about back in Washington to make sure that our workforce has the tools that you need, the technology you need, and the environment you need in which to thrive.
But I really wanted to just stop by and say the two simple words that matter the most: thank you. Thank you for a job very, very well done. We’ve got a lot of work to do. I’m looking forward to joining you in doing it. Thank you. (Applause.)