Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
U.S. Embassy Algiers
AMBASSADOR AUBIN: (In progress) you’ve been here since then as deputy, and we are so thrilled that you could be here today as the Secretary of State.
On February 1st, I met with Secretary Blinken and asked him if he would please come to Algeria. And when this opportunity came up less than two months later I was thrilled because, of course, it continues – his visit drives forward our policy objectives of working with Algeria on regional stability, economic cooperation, and all of our cultural activities, including and especially English-language learning.
So since I gotten here we’ve had OneBeat Sahara. How many of you went to OneBeat? Yeah. A lot of you. Very good. (Applause.) We’ve had the Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman visit. We’ve had a joint military dialogue with an interagency group from Washington. And now you, the absolute kind of cherry on the ice cream sundae. (Laughter.)
So without further ado, Mr. Secretary, I commend this fantastic team to you. Over the last 18 months, before my arrival, they didn’t have an ambassador, but Gautam Rana as chargé led, drove the bilateral objectives forward. There was no kind of holding down the fort; they really moved forward. And I’ve walked into the very best embassy that I’ve ever seen in 32 years in the Foreign Service. So thank you for being with us today. (Applause.)
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first of all, this is the best first row I’ve ever had – (laughter) – at an embassy event anywhere, so thank you guys for being here. Actually, I’d really like – maybe I could sit down there and we can just talk. (Laughter.) We’ll do that afterward.
Elizabeth, it is so wonderful to have you here and to be able to see you early in your tenure. We’re grateful for your leadership, and it’s at such a critical time. So thank you. And Gautam, thank you for your extraordinary leadership during the 19 or so months you were leading the mission. We’re grateful for that. And to each and every one of you, thank you, thank you, thank you.
A few things I want to say before we get to a couple of questions.
You’re at the heart of a place in the world that is vital to our interests – the Middle East and North Africa – and we have in Algeria a partner on so many different security issues, a growing partner I think on economic issues as well, where there’s tremendous opportunity, which I’ll come to it in a minute, and you are the ones who are making that work, growing that, building that every single day, and I’m grateful for that.
As the ambassador said, we’ve had a lot of visits here. I know that puts a little bit of a strain on the embassy. I also know that in two, three hours, you’ll be having a wheels-up party. (Laughter.) So there’s at least that to look forward to.
But I had a very long and good report from Wendy Sherman when she came back to hear about her visit. I’m glad I was able to follow up and pursue some of the things that she and the team have been working on. But we’ve had the fifth strategic dialogue; that is terrific and a strong foundation for the work we’re doing together. We had the military dialogue as well. And to the ambassador’s point, a whole number of practical deliverables that will strengthen the relationship and strengthen us going forward.
I am especially excited about the English-language program. I think as I’ve seen around the world, this is one of the single best things that we export and there’s a real thirst and demand for it. So I really appreciate that. And having Algerian Government leaders take part in that I think is really a wonderful thing. A new research collaboration between the ministry of higher education, the University of Notre Dame, connecting our people at all different levels, not only business to business but university to university, student to student and traveler to traveler, as hopefully that picks up with COVID.
And then there are these growing cultural ties. I am incredibly upset that I missed out on the OneBeat Sahara music festival. (Laughter.) So as I understand it, there were 23 musicians across seven Saharan nations, plus the United States. Everything from experimental hip-hop to nawa to jazz to electronic. So if that happens again, please, let me know in advance. (Laughter.) And let me simply say a special thanks to all of you who worked on it, the folks in Public Affairs. Adam Sigelman, is he here somewhere? All right. (Applause.) Job very well done. Thank you.
And as I mentioned, these growing economic ties that I hope will reach a new moment when we have this international fair in June, for which we are the honored nation. I think that’s an important moment. We’ll have some 30-plus U.S. companies there. In fact, I met with most of them today. And then a lot of work has already gone into this. We actually saw the video showing the pavilion-to-be. Planning for that is a whole-of-embassy effort, and I want to thank you for doing that. Michele Smith – is Michele here anywhere?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: All right. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you for your great efforts.
So much of what you’ve done, though, has been done during a very difficult time for all of us, including folks at this mission, and that is the time of COVID – two-plus difficult years. I know that some of you have experienced this in a very personal way, not just a professional way, the loss of – sickness of family members, of friends. One staff member lost here, Hassan Berriche, and I understand that there’s a fountain that was named in his honor. But I know how deeply felt this is.
But I really want to say to you as well thank you for looking out for each other, thank you for having each other’s backs during this difficult time. So many different parts of this embassy came together to do what was necessary, the health unit in particular keeping people safe. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Human resources keeping people updated, the community liaison office – and is Ikram McRiffey here anywhere? Right there. Thank you. (Applause.) Well done. Just keeping people connected and having that sense of community, especially in a time like that, is so important, whether it’s trivia nights or now going kayaking in some places. That makes a real difference, so thank you for doing that.
And then to the locally employed staff association implementing supplemental health insurance for LES, looking out for each other too, I’m grateful to you. And let me close with this while I’m on the locally employed staff: As I say everywhere I go, you are the lifeblood of this mission. We could not do our work without you. And more than anything else, there’s a powerful connection that you make between us and the country that we’re serving in.
And there are a few folks I just want to mention by name because they’ve been here working side by side for a long, long time, and it’s really extraordinary. Arezki Benzamouche, are you here? You are. Thirty-nine years of service. Thank you. (Applause.) Nabila Hales, 38 years of service. (Applause.) Abdelkader Hadjel, 37 years of service. (Applause.) Abdelkrim Boumazouza, 37 years of service as well. (Applause.) So to each of you, thank you, and to every member of the locally employed staff team, thank you for what you’re doing to bring us closer together, to bring our countries closer together, to help us do the vital work of this mission.
But whether you’re local staff, whether you’re a family member, whether you’re an FSO, whether you’re a civil servant, whether you’re here with the State Department, Defense, Foreign Commercial Service, Foreign Agricultural Service, any of the other agencies that we have, mostly I wanted to come by, as I said at the start, with two words: Thank you, thank you, thank you. (Applause.)