SECRETARY BLINKEN: First of all, it’s so wonderful to see all of you. Thank you for being here. And to all of the – all of the wonderful singers – now, I assume they’re Foreign Service officers. (Laughter.)
STAFF: Yes, absolutely.
STAFF: One and all.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: One and all. (Laughter.) We have so much talent in this department, it’s great to hear. But it really is wonderful to be here. It’s wonderful to be in this extraordinary home – it really feels that way – and there is something about the fire, the singing, the candles, and the warmth in this place that is very warming and reaffirming.
I remember well the late Senator John McCain used to say sometimes it’s always darkest before it goes completely black. (Laughter.) But happily, the candle lights that we’re seeing are, in fact, illuminating some of that darkness, and it’s wonderful to be part of that.
And I’m so pleased to be closing out this trip to Sweden with all of you. It’s wonderful to be here. Pam, again, thank you for – not just for this evening but for your extraordinary leadership of this mission. Very challenging times in many ways for all of us, something I’ll talk about in a minute, but I also just want to start by thanking everyone here at the embassy for making this visit, short as it’s been, so successful. We have packed a lot in to the 24 hours, and I know that for all of you who have worked on it a tremendous amount of effort goes in. And I don’t get to see all the churning that’s happening, but I know how much work goes in, and I really want to mostly wish you a very happy wheels-up party. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yeah, that’s exactly – yes, I’ll be well – well joined by that.
I know, again, that you’ve all been under the challenge of COVID-19 for the past two years. And as I understand it, and Pam and I were talking about this, you’ve had just a small number of construction challenges the past few years, renovations. The sound of jackhammers, steel being sawed, almost inevitably I’m sure timed perfectly to a critical meeting or phone call. I understand you’ve had to play musical chairs in your workspaces as they underwent renovations. That’s disruptive.
And I know I probably shouldn’t say this, but you’ve all lived with it. I am told there was even a period during the bathroom renovations when the embassy toilets were removed and placed in the yard space between us and the German embassy. (Laughter.) Which I’m sure did wonders for our relationship with our friends, or at least moving them back probably considerably improved the relationship.
But in all seriousness, I really do want to thank the many members of the management team and the security team for supporting the mission during this time of change. And I know you’re also seeing signs of normalcy returning to the embassy. You now have a functional courtyard.
Now, I was told you have a new heating system. Maybe I shouldn’t have said that, because I understand there may be a few remaining challenges with that, but hopefully that gets fixed.
A new Marine Post One. And I do want to share with you – I had an opportunity to just meet briefly our extraordinary Marine detachment. And I know you feel this very strongly, but it’s something I see around the world. There’s a special bond between the State Department and the Marine Corps because, as you all know, any American embassy that you go to in the world, the very first person you’re likely to see is a U.S. Marine. And we can’t do our jobs without our colleagues doing theirs, and I’m always grateful for that, and grateful to see them at our embassy.
This has been obviously a challenging time, especially because of COVID-19, and I’m so grateful to all of you for the way you’ve worked through that, staying together as a team, as a community. I know you recently had a successful booster clinic. I’ve heard the great work that’s been done in getting people vaccinated. To nurses Martina and Jennifer – I’m not sure if you’re here.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Oh, right here, thank you. (Laughter.) Thank you for taking care of everyone, doing it so well. It’s made a huge difference. And to any of you who have been affected by COVID-19, maybe a family member, a friend, a work colleague, I know this made times even more challenging. And of course, telecommuting, which has its benefits, and some of those benefits I hope we’ll see carry on past COVID-19, also has a lot of challenges that come with it. But all of you powered through that and you’re now resuming the critical work of the embassy in person.
And again, I just want to recognize folks who have done terrific work hosting the U.S. delegation to the Malmö Forum back in October. I was talking to Deputy Secretary McKeon who told me about how so many of you went above and beyond – coordinating multiple bilateral meetings, shuttling attendees back and forth, the seven-hour drive to Malmö – and all of us are very, very grateful for those efforts.
So we’ve had, as I said, a very, very busy 24 hours. Of course, we had the OSCE meetings that went very well, starting with the dinner last night and working through today. We had a number of very good meetings with our host, particularly with a wonderful colleague, Foreign Minister Ann Linde, and now with the new prime minister who I was very honored to meet. She told me this was day – I guess day two and a half of her second tenure. (Laughter.) So I was really honored to be received, and we had a great conversation to just reinforce the work that each of you is doing every single day in building an even stronger relationship and partnership between our countries, between the United States and Sweden.
And there are so many things that we are powerfully aligned on, particularly when it comes to the challenges that citizens of both of our countries are facing every day and where we’re going to be so much more effective working together, whether it is COVID-19, whether it is climate change and the terrific leadership that Sweden is showing, whether it’s dealing with the emerging technologies that are shaping our lives in so many ways. We are grateful to have a partner like Sweden, and the reason that partnership works and produces results is because of the work that each and every one of you is doing every day. And I know that doesn’t necessarily get seen or recognized sometimes by our fellow citizens back home, but I know it, we know it, and I just want to tell you how grateful I am for it.
One of the special responsibilities I think I have during my tenure is to make sure that as all of you are working so hard to deliver for the department, to deliver for our diplomacy, to deliver for our country, that we’re doing whatever we can to make sure that you have the support you need, you have the tools you need, you have the backing you need. And a few weeks ago, we put out a modernization agenda for the department, and I spoke about that when we launched it, and I know that, as I like to say, as secretaries come and go, so do modernization agendas. We’ve really tried to be inspired by a couple of things. One, a lot of very good work has been done in recent years, and we’re looking at how we can make this department stronger, more effective, more adapted to the challenges of the day. We took a lot of inspiration from that. We didn’t try and reinvent the wheel while looking at things. We actually went and looked at a lot of the good work that’d been done. But mostly, mostly, we talked across the department to all of you, to your colleagues, and we listened. And that produced a modernization agenda that we’re moving forward on. I just want to very briefly touch on a couple pieces because I think they’re particularly relevant to this mission.
One, we are, we will modernize our technology, our communications, our analytical capabilities so that, again, you actually have the tools to operate in the century that we’re living in, not centuries past. And we’ve learned, again, through the COVID experience, how important that is. And I hope that we can even adapt some of the things that we learned to how we go and do business going forward.
Second – and this is something I’m very focused on – we are building and working to retain a diverse workforce that actually reflects the country we represent. We need to draw on the backgrounds, the experiences, the extraordinary talents that we have and are blessed with in the United States. And I know that this embassy knows the importance of that. You have over 25 nationalities represented, as I understand it. But we want to make sure that we have a culture at the department that welcomes that diversity, that welcomes these different perspectives, and that keeps people at the department so that they make their careers there and make us so stronger along the way. A lot more to be said about this in the days and weeks ahead, a lot more detail coming forward, but I just wanted to flag a couple of those things for you.
Quickly, a few things in closing. You’re already doing the work of building a better State Department every day. But I particularly heard about some individuals and the care that you’ve shown, that they’ve shown, to one another over the past two years. And I know you’ve had your Swedish coffee breaks, the fikas, as I’m told they’re called – crayfish parties, ultimate frisbee hangouts – I hope there’s video of that – and even something called bark in the park. And I’ve also heard about the care that you’ve shown to those beyond Sweden’s borders. And I want to recognize a couple of people who went to Bahrain, who went to Italy to volunteer for our efforts in Afghanistan.
Cyndee Crook, if you’re here? Cyndee.
Steve Mraz, if you’re here?
Thank you, thank you, thank you. One of the things that moved me so much as we were working on the evacuation from Afghanistan was people from missions around the world standing up, stepping up, volunteering, and working on something that made a huge difference in so many people’s lives, and I’m grateful to the three of you for doing that too.
But let me just say in conclusion, whatever your role here, whether you are Foreign Service, Civil Service, Locally Employed Staff – to you, by the way, thank you, thank you, thank you. The lifeblood of this embassy, every embassy, our Locally Employed Staff. We couldn’t be more grateful to you.
Whether you’re a family member – and we know not only the special responsibilities that you have, but also the great work as family members that you do for our diplomacy – whether you’re a contractor, whether you work for the State Department or any one of the other agencies or departments that are here, really the main purpose of me coming by tonight was to say those two words that don’t get said often enough: thank you. Thank you for everything you’re doing for our country, for this partnership. And in ways big and small, you are making this world our world, our world a little bit better every single day. Thank you, all. (Applause.)