Thank you. Thank you very much and welcome to the
State Department. Please be seated.
We are delighted to be joined this afternoon by President Obama
and Vice President Biden for this very important announcement. But it
is also absolutely a delight to have the president and the vice
president here with us today.
It is an indication of the president's commitment to a foreign
policy that protects our national security and advances our interests
and is in keeping with our values.
So we, Mr. President, take great heart from the confidence that
you have placed in us. Today, we start the hard work, to restore our
standing and enable our country to meet the vexing new challenges of
the 21st century but also to seize the opportunities that await us.
The president is committed to making diplomacy and development
the partners in our foreign policy along with defense. And we must be
smarter about how we exercise our power. But as I said this morning,
upon entering the building, the heart of smart power are smart people.
And Mr. President, we have them in abundance here in the State
Department, USAID and our related agencies.
Today, you will see an example of the kind of robust diplomacy
that the president intends to pursue and that I'm honored to help him
fulfill. Nowhere is there a need for a vigorous diplomatic approach
more apparent than in the two regions that epitomize the nuance and
complexity of our interconnected world.
Many of you in this building, many of your Foreign Service and
Civil Service and foreign national colleagues, have been engaged on
behalf of issues related to the Middle East and to Afghanistan and
Pakistan for years; sometimes, as we know, at great peril and personal
That work has been invaluable and it will continue to be the
underpinning of everything our government does to achieve peace and
stability in these regions.
At the same time, we know that anything short of relentless
diplomatic efforts will fail to produce a lasting, sustainable peace
in either place. That is why the president and I have decided to name
a special envoy for Middle East peace and a special representative for
Afghanistan and Pakistan. Given the magnitude of the issues
confronting us, we will bolster the excellent work that is done daily
here as well as in our embassies and outposts around the world and
particularly in these two regions by an intensive push undertaken
through the efforts of these two seasoned diplomats.
Mr. President, by coming here to the State Department and through
your announcement today of these two positions, you are, through word
and deed, sending a loud and clear signal that diplomacy is a top
priority of your presidency and that our nation is once again capable
of demonstrating global leadership in pursuit of progress and peace.
We are honored to have you join us on only the second day in office.
We are grateful to you for highlighting these urgent issues and the
collaboration needed to address two of the biggest foreign policy
challenges of our time.
I know that everyone here at State and in our various embassies
and consulates and other outposts throughout the world look forward to
working closely with these two exceptional public servants as we
strive to protect and advance America's interests and find a path to
peace and greater harmony in these vital areas of the world.
I am pleased now to introduce someone who is no stranger to this
department, who has been a friend and partner as a senator, as the
chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and now as our vice
There are few people who have been so devoted to promoting diplomacy
and development as our guest, Vice President Joe Biden. (Applause.)
Thank you very much.
Madame Secretary, let me begin by saying congratulations. It was
a bright day for the whole department and the Foreign Service when you
walked through that door. And so, congratulations to you.
Mr. President, your choice of our colleague, Senator Clinton
(sic), is absolutely the right person, in my view, at the right moment
in American history.
We've come here today to the State Department to send a very
clear message, a clear message at home as well as abroad, that we are
going to reinvigorate America's commitment to diplomacy. This effort
will be led by Secretary Clinton. I believe -- as I know you do, Mr.
President, because you chose her -- that she has the knowledge, the
skill, the experience, as well as that sort of intangible commodity of
having personal relationships with many of these world leaders, which
makes her uniquely -- in my view, uniquely qualified to put diplomacy
back in the forefront of America's foreign policy.
For too long we put the bulk of the burden, in my view, on our
military. That's a view not only shared by me, but by your secretary
of Defense, as well. And our military is absolutely -- to state the
obvious -- absolutely necessary, but not sufficient -- not sufficient
to secure the interests of this great nation.
In a moment, Mr. President, you're going to announce two new
powerful weapons in our -- I guess the secretary is going to announce
two very powerful weapons in our diplomatic arsenal. They've faced
and helped resolve equally challenging issues to the ones they face
today in their -- throughout their careers, from the Balkans to
Northern Ireland. Both -- both -- are outstanding public servants.
And both are very -- with all full disclosure, Mr. President -- very
old and close friends.
Mr. President, if you'll permit me, I'd like to thank them. I'd
like to thank them for their willingness to come back into government
to take on two of the most vexing international dilemmas that we face.
And it requires their incredible capacity.
And so I compliment the secretary on her recommendations, and
your choices. And I look forward to -- with following you, Mr.
President, to reinvigorate diplomacy in the world.
It is the key, ultimately, to our security.
I thank you. (Applause.)
The president and I feel very grateful for the
willingness of both of these extraordinary Americans to serve. And it
is also fitting to thank their families. Both Mrs. Mitchell --
Heather is here, and Katia (ph), Richard Holbrooke's wife, is here,
along with other family members. These are very difficult
assignments. They are disruptive of settled and successful lives.
And we thank them for taking on these responsibilities.
It's my great honor to introduce the man who the president and I
have asked to be the special envoy for Middle East peace. He will
lead our efforts to reinvigorate the process for achieving peace
between Israel and its neighbors. He will help us to develop an
integrated strategy that defends the security of Israel, works to
bring an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that will result in
two states living side by side in peace and security, and to achieve
further agreements to promote peace and security between Israel and
its Arab neighbors.
Senator Mitchell will also work to support the objectives that
the president and I believe are critical and pressing in Gaza, to
develop a program for humanitarian aid and eventual reconstruction,
working with the Palestinian Authority and Israel on behalf of those
It is a great personal pleasure to introduce George Mitchell, a
man who is well-known inside this department and across Washington and
America, who has been willing to accept this important assignment.
Mr. President, Madame Secretary, I'm grateful to
you for your kind words and for the confidence that you show in me and
in Ambassador Holbrooke. It's a great honor for me to be able to
serve our country again, and especially to do so with my friend and
distinguished colleague Richard Holbrooke.
I don't underestimate the difficulty of this assignment. The
situation in the Middle East is volatile, complex and dangerous. But
the president and the secretary of State have made it clear that
danger and difficulty cannot cause the United States to turn away. To
the contrary: They recognize and have said that peace and stability
in the Middle East are in our national interest. They are, of course,
also in the interest of Israelis and Palestinians, of others in the
region and people throughout the world.
The secretary mentioned Northern Ireland.
There, recently, long-
time enemies came together to form a power-sharing government to bring
to an end the ancient conflict known as The Troubles. This was almost
800 years after Britain began its domination of Ireland, 86 years
after the partition of Ireland, 38 years after the British Army
formally began its most recent mission in Ireland, 11 years after the
peace talks began and nine years after a peace agreement was signed.
In the negotiations which led to that agreement, we had 700 days
of failure and one day of success. For most of the time, progress was
nonexistent or very slow. So I understand the feelings of those who
may be discouraged about the Middle East.
As an aside, just recently I spoke in Jerusalem and I mentioned
the 800 years.
And afterward, an elderly gentleman came up to me and he said, "Did
you say 800 years?" I said, "Yes, 800." He repeated the number
again. I repeated it again. He said, "Ah, such a recent argument.
No wonder you settled it." (Laughter.)
But 800 years may be recent, but from my experience there, I
formed a conviction that there is no such thing as a conflict that
can't be ended. Conflicts are created, conducted and sustained by
human beings. They can be ended by human beings. I saw it happen in
Northern Ireland, although admittedly it took a very long time. I
believe deeply that with committed, persevering and patient diplomacy
it can happen in the Middle East.
There are, of course, many, many reasons to be skeptical about
the prospect for success. The conflict has gone on for so long and
has had such destructive effects that many have come to regard it as
unchangeable and inevitable.
But the president and the secretary of State don't believe that.
They believe, as I do, that the pursuit of peace is so important that
it demands our maximum effort no matter the difficulties, no matter
the setbacks. The key is the mutual commitment of the parties and the
active participation of the United States government, led by the
president and the secretary of State, with the support and assistance
of the many other governments and institutions who want to help.
The secretary of State has just talked about our long-term
objective and the president himself has said that his administration,
and I quote, "will make a sustained push, working with Israelis and
Palestinians, to achieve the goal of two states, a Jewish state in
Israel and a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and
security." This effort must be determined, persevering and patient.
It must be backed up by political capital, economic resources and
focused attention at the highest levels of our government.
And it must be firmly rooted in a shared vision of a peaceful future
by the people who live in the region.
At the direction of the president and the secretary of State, and
in pursuit of the president's policies, I pledge my full effort in the
search for peace and stability in the Middle East.
Thank you. (Applause.)
Thank you very much, Senator Mitchell.
I next have the great personal pleasure of introducing the
special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Ambassador
Holbrooke will coordinate across the entire government an effort to
achieve United States strategic goals in the region. This effort will
be closely coordinated not only within the State Department and of
course with USAID, but also with the Defense Department and under the
coordination of the National Security Council.
It has become clear that dealing with the situation in
Afghanistan requires an integrated strategy that works with both
Afghanistan and Pakistan as a whole, as well as engaging NATO and
other key friends, allies and those around the world who are
interested in supporting these efforts.
It is such a great decision on the part of the ambassador to
respond to the call that the president and I sent out asking that he
again enter public service and take on this very challenging
assignment. And we are grateful that he has.
Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, Madame
Secretary, Senator, Special Envoy Mitchell, I thank you so much.
It's an extraordinarily moving thing for me to return to this
building again, having entered it so many years ago as a junior
Foreign Service officer.
As somebody whose career was determined in that initial decade of my
life in the Foreign Service, I want to tell you, Mr. President, that I
know that the Foreign Service and the Civil Service and the Foreign
Service officers serving around the world will appreciate and remember
the fact that you chose to come to the department on your second day
to demonstrate what you have with this fantastic team. And, if I may,
on behalf of all Foreign Service officers, active and retired, I want
to thank you so much. (Applause.)
I'm also honored by the presence of two good and close friends,
Vice President Biden and, of course, my boss -- immediate boss,
Secretary Clinton, and to share the podium with a colleague from the
Irish days and many Senate events, Senator George Mitchell.
I thank you for your confidence in offering me this daunting
assignment. And all I can do is pledge my best to undertake it. I
see -- thinking of my early years in the Foreign Service, I see my
former roommate in Saigon, John Negroponte here. We remember those
days well, and I hope we will produce a better outcome this time.
I also have to thank Kati (ph), my two sons, David and Anthony,
my stepdaughter -- my beloved stepdaughter Lizzie and her fiance
David, especially, for coming down here today. And I hope that I'll
be able to see you some time in the next few years. (Laughter.)
Mr. President, Madame Secretary, Mr. Vice President, you've asked
me to deal with Afghanistan and Pakistan, two very distinct countries
with extraordinarily different histories, and yet intertwined by
geography, ethnicity and the current drama. This is a very difficult
assignment, as we all know. Nobody can say the war in Afghanistan has
gone well, and yet, as we speak here today, American men and women and
their coalition partners are fighting a very difficult struggle
against a ruthless and determined enemy without any scruples at all,
an enemy that is willing to behead women who dare to teach in a school
to young girls, an enemy that has done some of the most odious things
And across the border lurks the greater enemy still, the people who
committed the atrocities of September 11th, 2001.
We know what our long-term objective is. I hope I will be able
to fill out the mandate which Secretary Clinton has mentioned, to help
coordinate a clearly chaotic foreign assistance program, which must be
pulled together, to work closely with General Petraeus, CENTCOM,
Admiral Mullen and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General McKiernan and
the command in Afghanistan, to create a more coherent program. If our
resources are mobilized and coordinated and pulled together, we can
quadruple, quintuple, multiply by 10-fold the effectiveness of our
In Pakistan, the situation is infinitely complex, and I don't
think I would advance our goals if I tried to discuss it today. I
wish to get out to the region and report back to the secretary, the
vice president and the president.
But I will say that in putting Afghanistan and Pakistan together
under one envoy, we should underscore that we fully respect the fact
that Pakistan has its own history, its own traditions, and it is far
more than the turbulent, dangerous tribal areas on its western border.
And we will respect that as we seek to follow suggestions that have
been made by all three of the men stand -- and women standing behind
me in the last few years on having a more comprehensive policy.
So I thank you again for your confidence in me. I look forward
to working for you, with you, closely, and following a joint effort to
do better than we have in the past.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
Well, we are not only honored and delighted, but
challenged, by the president coming here on the second day.
(Laughter.) This puts the pressure on everybody.
(Laughter.) And yet, Mr. President, we feel up to that challenge. We
want to do our very best work in furtherance of your goals.
You set a high standard in your inaugural address as to what we
are aiming toward. And I pledge to you, on behalf of the thousands
and thousands of dedicated public servants who serve you on behalf of
diplomacy and development, that we will give you our very best
efforts. It is an honor to be working to fulfill the goals that you
have set for our country.
Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. (Applause
continues.) Thank you. Thank you so much. Please, everybody, thank
you. Be seated.
Thank you so much. It is my privilege to come here and to pay
tribute to all of you, the talented men and women of the State
Department. I've given you an early gift: Hillary Clinton.
(Laughter, applause.) You -- in her, you will have a secretary of
State who has my full confidence. And I want to thank Chairman Kerry
in the Senate for acting swiftly to confirm her, because we have no
time to lose.
My appearance today, as has been noted, underscores my commitment
to the importance of diplomacy in renewing American leadership and it
gives me an opportunity to thank you for the services that you perform
every single day. You know, sometimes I think the American public
doesn't fully understand the sacrifices that you and your families
make, the dedication that is involved in you carrying on your tasks
day in, day out.
And I know I speak for Joe Biden as well as everybody else on
this stage when we tell you that we are proud of you. You are
carrying on a vital task in the safety and security of the American
people. And part of what we want to do is to make sure that everybody
understands that the State Department is going to be absolutely
critical to our success in the years to come and you, individually,
are going to be critical to our success in the years to come.
And we want to send a signal to all kinds of young people, who may be
thinking about the Foreign Service, that they are going to be critical
in terms of projecting not just America's power but also America's
values and America's ideals.
The inheritance of our young century demands a new era of
American leadership. We must recognize that America's strength comes
not just from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth but
from our enduring values. And for the sake of our national security
and the common aspirations of people around the globe, this era has to
This morning, I signed three executive orders. First, I can say
without exception or equivocation that the United States will not
torture. (Applause.) Second, we will close the Guantanamo Bay
detention camp and determine how to deal with those who have been held
there. And third, we will immediately undertake a comprehensive
review, to determine how to hold and try terrorism suspects to best
protect our nation and the rule of law.
The world needs to understand that America will be unyielding in
its defense of its security and relentless in its pursuit of those who
would carry out terrorism or threaten the United States. And that's
why in this twilight struggle, we need a durable framework.
The orders that I signed today should send an unmistakable signal
that our actions, in defense of liberty, will be just as our costs and
that we the people will uphold our fundamental values as vigilantly as
we protect our security.
Once again America's moral example must be the bedrock and the
beacon of our global leadership. We are confronted by extraordinary,
complex and interconnected global challenges: war on terror, sectarian
division and the spread of deadly technology. We did not ask for the
burden that history has asked us to bear, but Americans will bear it.
We must bear it.
Progress will not come quickly or easily, nor can we promise to
right every single wrong around the world. But we can pledge to use
all elements of American power to protect our people and to promote
our interests and ideals, starting with principled, focused and
sustained American diplomacy.
To carry forward that effort, we are going to be calling on your
hard work and perseverance in the months and years to come.
Given the urgency and complexity of the challenges we face and to
convey our seriousness of purpose, Secretary Clinton and I are also
calling upon the two distinguished Americans standing with us today.
It will be the policy of my administration to actively and
aggressively seek a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians,
as well as Israel and its Arab neighbors. To help us pursue these
goals, Secretary Clinton and I have asked George Mitchell to serve as
special envoy for Middle East peace.
George is renowned in this country and around the world for his
negotiating skill. He brings international stature and a lifetime of
service. His years in the Senate were marked by strong leadership and
bipartisan achievement. His efforts on behalf of peace in Northern
Ireland were indispensable in reconciling a painful and protracted
conflict. Time and again, in public service and private life, he has
acted with skill and acted with integrity. He will be fully empowered
at the negotiating table and he will sustain our focus on the goal of
No one doubts the difficulty of the road ahead. And George
outlined some of those difficulties. The tragic violence in Gaza and
southern Israel offers a sobering reminder of the challenges at hand
and the setbacks that will inevitably come. It must also instill in
us, though, a sense of urgency, as history shows us that strong and
sustained American engagement can bridge divides and build the
capacity that supports progress. And that is why we will be sending
George to the region as soon as possible to help the parties ensure
that the cease-fire that has been achieved is made durable and
Let me be clear: America is committed to Israel's security. And
we will always support Israel's right to defend itself against
legitimate threats. For years, Hamas has launched thousands of
rockets at innocent Israeli citizens. No democracy can tolerate such
danger to its people, nor should the international community, and
neither should the Palestinian people themselves, whose interests are
only set back by acts of terror.
To be a genuine party to peace, the Quartet has made it clear that
Hamas must meet clear conditions: recognize Israel's right to exist,
renounce violence and abide by past agreements.
Going forward, the outline for a durable cease-fire is clear.
Hamas must end its rocket fire. Israel will complete the withdrawal
of its forces from Gaza.
The United States and our partners will support a credible anti-
smuggling and interdiction regime, so that Hamas cannot rearm.
Yesterday I spoke to President Mubarak and expressed my appreciation
for the important role that Egypt played in achieving a cease-fire.
And we look forward to Egypt's continued leadership and partnership in
laying a foundation for a broader peace through a commitment to end
smuggling from within its borders.
Now, just as the terror of rocket fire aimed at innocent Israelis
is intolerable, so too is a future without hope for the Palestinians.
I was deeply concerned by the loss of Palestinian and Israeli life in
recent days, and by the substantial suffering and humanitarian needs
in Gaza. Our hearts go out to Palestinian civilians who are in need
of immediate food, clean water and basic medical care, and who've
faced suffocating poverty for far too long.
Now we must extend a hand of opportunity to those who seek peace.
As part of a lasting cease-fire, Gaza's border crossings should be
open to allow the flow of aid and commerce, with an appropriate
monitoring regime with the international and Palestinian Authority
participating. Relief efforts must be able to reach innocent
Palestinians who depend on them.
The United States will fully support an international donors
conference to seek short-term humanitarian assistance and long-term
reconstruction for the Palestinian economy. This assistance will be
provided to, and guided by, the Palestinian Authority.
Lasting peace requires more than a long cease-fire. And that's
why I will sustain an active commitment to seek two states living
side-by-side in peace and security. Senator Mitchell will carry
forward this commitment, as well as the effort to help Israel reach a
broader peace with the Arab world that recognizes its rightful place
in the community of nations.
I should add that the Arab Peace Initiative contains constructive
elements that could help advance these efforts. Now -- now is the
time for Arab states to act on the initiative's promise, by supporting
the Palestinian government under President Abbas and Prime Minister
Fayyad, taking steps towards normalizing relations with Israel and by
standing up to extremism that threatens us all.
Jordan's constructive role in training Palestinian security forces and
nurturing its relations with Israel provide a model for these efforts.
In going forward, we must make it clear to all countries in the
region that external support for terrorist organizations must stop.
Another urgent threat to global security is the deteriorating
situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is the central front in
our enduring struggle against terrorism and extremism. There, as in
the Middle East, we must understand that we cannot deal with our
problem in isolation. There is no answer in Afghanistan that does not
confront the al Qaeda and Taliban bases along the border. And there
will be no lasting peace unless we expand spheres of opportunity for
the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
This is truly an international challenge of the highest order.
And that's why Secretary Clinton and I are naming Ambassador Richard
Holbrooke to be special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Ambassador Holbrooke is one of the most talented diplomats of his
generation. Over several decades, he's served on different continents
and as an outstanding ambassador to the United Nations. He has
strengthened ties with our allies, tackled the toughest negotiations
and helped deliver a hard-earned peace as an architect of the Dayton
Accords. He will help lead our effort to forge and implement a
strategic and a sustainable approach to this critical region.
The American people and the international community must
understand that the situation is perilous and progress will take time.
Violence is up dramatically in Afghanistan. A deadly insurgency has
taken deep root. The opium trade is far and away the largest in the
world. The Afghan government has been unable to deliver basic
services. Al Qaeda and the Taliban strike from bases embedded in
rugged tribal terrain along the Pakistani border. And while we have
yet to see another attack on our soil since 9/11, al Qaeda terrorists
remain at large and remain plotting.
Going forward, we must set clear priorities in pursuit of
achievable goals that contribute to our collective security. My
administration is committed to refocusing attention and resources on
Afghanistan and Pakistan and to spending those resources wisely. And
that's why we are pursuing a careful review of our policy. We will
seek stronger partnerships with the governments of the region,
sustained cooperation with our NATO allies, deeper engagement with the
Afghan and Pakistani people and a comprehensive strategy to combat
terror and extremism.
We will provide the strategic guidance to meet our objectives.
And we pledge to support the extraordinary Americans serving in
Afghanistan, both military and civilian, with the resources that they
Now, these appointments add to a team that will work with energy
and purpose to meet the challenges of our time and to define a future
of expanding security and opportunity.
Difficult days lie ahead. As we ask more of ourselves, we will
seek new partnerships and ask more of our friends and more of people
around the globe, because security in the 21st century is shared. But
let there be no doubt about America's commitment to lead. We can no
longer afford drift, and we can no longer afford delay, nor can we
cede ground to those who seek destruction.
A new era of American leadership is at hand, and the hard work
has just begun. You are going to be at the front lines of engaging in
that important work. And I'm absolutely confident that with the
leadership of Secretary Clinton, with wonderful envoys like Richard
Holbrooke and George Mitchell, with the dedicated team that is before
me today, that we are going to be able to accomplish our objectives,
keep America safe, and bring better days not just to our own country
but all around the world.
Thank you very much, everybody. (Applause.)