Secretary Antony J. Blinken at Virtual Meet and Greet with Mission Republic of Korea Staff and Family Members

REMARKS
ANTONY J. BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE
AMERICAN CENTER KOREA
SEOUL, REPUBLIC OF KOREA
MARCH 17, 2021

MR RAPSON:  Hello, everyone.  Mission Seoul Colleagues, family members, thank you for being with us – or, I should say, Zooming in with us – for this afternoon’s very special occasion.  As our time is limited, though, let me get right to the point:  I’m absolutely delighted to introduce to you our Secretary of State Tony Blinken, who arrived in Korea just a couple of hours ago.  While no stranger to Korea, this is the Secretary’s first overseas visit in his new job, and for that we’re deeply honored and appreciative, as I know his Korean hosts are as well.  So with no further ado, Mr. Secretary, thank you for coming to Korea and thank you for engaging in this virtual conversation with our terrific and ever resilient community.  Our only wish is that we could have done this in person, but that’s for another time, perhaps your next visit to Korea.  So thank you, Mr. Secretary.  The Zoom is yours.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Thank you very, very much.  It’s really wonderful to be back here, and in fact, in this very spot I think I spent some quality time on my last tour of duty.  And it’s very good to be back.  It’s particularly nice, Rob, to be with you, as well as the whole mission.  We’ve done some good work together in the past.  I’m looking forward to doing more going forward, and to the entire team, hello.  Happy Saint Patrick’s Day.

I want to say as well that I wish we were all together in person, but we’ll take advantage of the technology and at least have this virtual gathering.  And I can tell you this is not goodbye, it’s hello, and I suspect I’ll be back.  And so I hope the next time we will be able to get together in person.  But I do want to start by thanking the entire embassy team for helping to put this together under these rather different circumstances.  I know what goes into these visits, and of course, we tried to give you twice the fun, because Secretary of Defense Austin is also here.  I know you’re going to have a heck of a wheels up party when we get out of town.

But as the Chargé said, this is my first in-person travel overseas as Secretary, and it was important to come here first because Korea’s such an indispensable ally to the United States, and the work that you all are doing every single day is what makes our relationship with South Korea so strong.  You’ve heard President Biden talk a lot about leading by the power of our example, and I think what you’ve done as a mission in this unprecedented time is just that.  And I want to highlight a couple of examples that I know are well known to you, but it’s good for everyone to hear them.

First, your response to this pandemic.  Dr. Haas I know has led the mission in implementing measures to keep staff and loved ones safe and informed.  You put an innovative public clearance system in place to test new arrivals.  JT Tracy I’m told organized numerous COVID-safe community events that helped lift morale during the lockdown.  And Claire and Tanis Koscina who are just, I think, 16 and 14 years old set up soccer camps for kids on base.  CLO team helped families adapt to teleworking and remote schooling; Joseph Hwang organized his high school classmates to deliver groceries to families in quarantine. 

And even as you were doing all these things, most important, you kept the critical work of the embassy going, helping 150,000 U.S. citizens in this country navigate testing in quarantine, processing immigrant visa petitions from priority groups like U.S. service members and Korean orphan adoption visas; all the work of the political and economic sections, including marshaling a robust condemnation of the coup in Burma and helping secure a new special measures agreement, not to mention a lot of terrific reporting, some of which I’ve already benefited from.  So it really has been a remarkable all-hands-on-deck effort, and I just want to commend you for coming together, and not just coming together, coming together with ingenuity and coming together with heart.

Your dedication is all the more reason we owe it to you and your families to get you vaccinated as soon as possible, and we’ll probably have an opportunity to talk about that, but I just want to assure you that the administration is working as fast as possible to deliver vaccines to you.  There is nothing that we take more seriously, there is nothing that I take more seriously than your health and well-being, and we also want to make sure that we’re keeping you posted at every step along the way.  And that’s critically important.  The answers may not always be the ones that you’d like to hear, but we’ll always tell you what’s going on and what you need to hear.

A second example that I wanted to cite today is your leadership on diversity, inclusion, equity.  As a community, I know that you stood up against violence against black people in the United States.  You’ve stood with LGBTQI people here and around the world.  Some of your actions took real courage, and I want to commend you for them.  It’s deeply important to me that the State Department be a place where everyone is welcome, everyone is respected, everyone is treated with dignity.  That’s one reason we’ve made diversity and inclusion a major priority for this administration.  I strongly believe that America’s diversity is one of our core strengths as a nation and also a competitive advantage, and so we’ve got to have a diplomatic workforce that looks like the country it represents.  Otherwise, we will be conducting our diplomacy with one hand tied behind our back.

And I know you get that.  You’ve done work here to break down barriers, from the children’s book club you set up on D&I issues to the tough conversations that I know you’ve had on unconscious bias and white privilege.  Your council for diversity and inclusion even sent up a set of recommendations on how the State Department can foster a more inclusive workplace.  And this is really important because we need to learn from each other.  Across the entire State Department family, we’re finding that embassies, different bureaus are doing things that the whole community needs to know about, and so I really appreciate sharing from your own experience.

As I see it, from what I’ve learned about this mission and the work you’re doing, you really are a model for how our teams around the world can actually turn our values into concrete action and go the extra mile on behalf of the American people and each other.  So thank you.  Thank you for your service to our country.  Thank you for the way you’ve performed that service.  I’m very, very proud to be your Secretary, and now I’d really like to have a conversation and I’m anxious to hear from you.  So thank you.  It’s great to be here.  Thank you, Rob.  (Applause.)