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SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you, thank you.  Thank you all very much.  A lot of familiar faces – I feel like I was just in a photograph with some of you.  It is particularly wonderful to be in this modest house, to be back here and be with all of you.  And I really wanted to have an opportunity to simply say thank you for the great and remarkable work you’ve been doing under incredibly challenging conditions, and I’ll come back to that in a minute.

But let me just start first by thanking Brian for your terrific leadership of this mission over these months.  I’m really grateful for that.  We’ve had an opportunity to spend some time together and get caught up, which I very much appreciate.  And also to Whitney Baird, who is leading our efforts at the OECD, where we had a very good start to the day as well.  So thank you both for your leadership at this particularly important time.

Now, I want to point out a couple of people because one of the things that I like to do every time I have a chance to visit with our missions abroad is spend a moment saying thank you to a particular group.  And that’s our locally employed staff; every single place I go really, as I keep saying, the lifeblood of our missions and the connectivity in so many ways between the missions and the people of the country in which the mission is serving.  There is, I hope with us today either here in person or virtually, the LES of the Year in France, Pedrick Jean Marie Desiree.  Here, right there.  (Applause.)

Working in the Defense Attache office, you’ve facilitated hundreds of DOD movements, ground clearance, as I understand it, for 600 soldiers, 2,000 shipping containers, 110 helicopters.  Thank you, thank you, thank you for your remarkable work and for your partnership with this mission.  We’re grateful to you.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

We also have some colleagues who’ve been working with the mission for just a little while who have decided nonetheless to retire.  Corinne Foltier-Thonnel Financial Management Center, served the U.S. Government for 40 plus years.  Thank you so much.  (Applause.)

Jessica Webster, where are you?  Jessica, Minister Counselor for Economic Affairs, for more than 30 years of service.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.  (Applause.)

And Kate Snipes, where are you?  Kate, Agriculture Counselor, more than 20 years of service.  You’ve each in your individual ways been remarkable public servants, and just on behalf of the State Department, on behalf of the country, I want to express my thanks, my appreciation for everything you’ve done.  We’re grateful for it.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

So you’ve all been dealing, as we all have, with that small problem called COVID-19.  And in all seriousness, I know, especially hearing from so many of your colleagues around the world, hearing already from some of you today, the impact that’s had.  And I know it’s had an impact, a profound impact, on a personal level.  Some of you have lost friends or loved ones.  Many of you know people who got sick.  It’s had an impact on a professional level, because we know how challenging it’s made work, made the mission.

But you have persevered with remarkable resilience, with creativity, with determination, and you’ve kept the mission going, and you’ve kept doing what you’re here to do, which is serve the interests of the American people and serve the relationship between the United States and France.

I really want to thank the Health Unit for the work that you’ve done running vaccine clinics.  I’m so proud of the folks in our Health Units from embassy to embassy around the world and the remarkable job that they have done.

The Information Systems people who have helped people telework, find ways to do their jobs, even while they’ve stayed home.  And Community Liaison, who did virtual programming from wine tastings – okay? – to Toddler Story Hour, to Zumba.  That is a pretty good way of keeping morale going and keeping the mission going.

But I also want to say that one of the things that’s been so important in keeping the mission going – and Brian, thank you again for your leadership on this – is that we’re moving forward in a very demonstrable way on policy, too.  And the Political team, working closely here with our French counterparts in fashioning an even stronger joint approach to the challenges posed by Russia and China – tremendous work done there.  I’ve seen some of the work that the Regional Security Office has done, particularly finding new solutions to deal with visa fraud.  The DAO joint military exercises with U.S., French, UK fighter jets, and then work that was done on data security, fighting disinformation.  It’s just a short way of pointing to a couple of examples where the work of this mission not only has gone on but has been producing real results.

Let me say too, Whitney, for the OECD we’ve had just – the first leadership change there in 15 years, and it was a – both a pleasure and important to connect with the new leader and – Mathias Cormann.  We chair the Ministerial Council of the OECD for the 60th anniversary year.  We’ve got a very important, significant agenda.  We started – or I should say continued work on that today, and if all goes well, I look forward to being back here in the fall to do that.  By the way, it’s the first time in a decide that we’ve been in the position of chairing the council.  So a great start, and I think we’ll continue that in October.

But mostly I just want to emphasize one last thing to all of you, and it’s something I’ve been saying pretty much everywhere.  And our friends who follow us around are probably sick of hearing me say it, but I keep repeating it because it really goes to the heart of what the President is all about and what we’re trying to do.  And that is simply the premium that we all have to place on finding ways, including new ways, to cooperate closely with our partners, starting with France.  As I’ve said – again, repeatedly – if you think about it, not a single one of the challenges that we have to deal with, the things that are actually having an impact on the lives of our fellow citizens back home, whether it’s climate change, whether it’s the pandemic, whether it’s the impact of disruptive technologies, not a single one can be dealt with effectively by any one country acting alone, including the United States, for all the power and resources that we have.

And so there really is a greater need than at least I think ever in my own experience to find ways to work with others.  And that’s exactly what you’re doing.  That is precisely the mission that you’re carrying out every single day.  And so I wanted to share that with you just to underscore the point the work that you’re doing matters.  It’s vitally important.  It really is the difference between whether we’re going to fail or whether we’re going to succeed in meeting the challenges of our time and actually making a difference in the lives of our fellow citizens.

So on behalf of the President, on behalf of everyone back home in Washington, thank you, thank you, thank you for what you’re doing every single day.  (Applause.)

U.S. Department of State

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