Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
London, United Kingdom
MS LEMPERT: Good morning, everybody. And thank you all for tuning in. It is my great honor to introduce Secretary Blinken to this mission, and also to introduce Mission UK to Secretary Blinken.
Mr. Secretary, Embassy London is the largest American embassy in Europe, with 46 U.S. departments and agencies represented. We’ve also got personnel virtually joining us today from our consulates in Belfast, Edinburgh, and Hamilton. Altogether, Mission UK is comprised of almost 1,100 U.S. direct hire and locally employed staff, all working across the many facets of the U.S.-UK partnership to advance and strengthen our relationship with our closest ally. We also have 700 American family members across Mission UK, many of whom are on the line this morning.
Colleagues, I learned yesterday that Secretary Blinken has a special history – dare I say special relationship – with Embassy London. His mother worked here in our cultural affairs section in the 1950s. Secretary Blinken’s storied public service career began at the State Department nearly 30 years ago, and he has served the U.S. Government in various roles since, to include deputy secretary of state and deputy national security advisor during the Obama administration. So he has an insider’s knowledge of the work we do, the importance of that work, and also the importance of the U.S.-UK relationship and all the things our two countries can accomplish together.
He is a master of diplomacy, as well as a master of bad puns. I’m hoping that we might be lucky enough to hear a few this morning.
Mr. Secretary, I know you’ve got a busy few days here, working on some of the most important global issues we face. So thank you for finding the time to come here today to meet your team. We can’t wait to hear from you. Without further ado, the virtual floor is yours.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you so much, and good morning, everyone. It is really wonderful to be here in London, to be with this team, even virtually. It’s a little bit strange that we’re actually all here together and yet not quite, but we’re getting there.
I’m really struck to be – have the honor of speaking in front of this extraordinary work by Mark Bradford. And you should know I feel a particular attachment to it. When my wife, Evan Ryan, was assistant secretary for – at ECA some years ago, she was responsible for ultimately selecting the American artist who would represent us at the Venice Biennale, and Mark Bradford was the artist selected that year. So it’s particularly good to be in this spot with this extraordinary backdrop.
But mostly I really want to thank everyone on the mission team for all the work that you’ve done making this visit already a success. Yesterday, Foreign Secretary Raab and I had a very, very productive session, reaffirming the Special Relationship and covering as many issues as you can imagine. Later today I’ll have a chance to meet with Prime Minister Johnson, and very much look forward to that.
After a series of mostly bilats yesterday, we’re spending today and tomorrow at the G7, where we should get a lot of good work done on everything from COVID to climate to China to Russia to other urgent issues facing our countries and indeed facing the world as a whole.
I’ve got some idea how much effort goes into a visit like this one – to lay the groundwork, to pull everything off, and then do all the follow-up after we’re wheels-up. So I’m especially grateful to this entire team for making my first trip to the United Kingdom as Secretary of State such a productive one already.
I also know you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you during this so-called “year of leadership” for the United Kingdom, including President Biden’s first overseas trip, the G7 summit, the COP26 in Glasgow in November.
As you know, because you’re living it every day, the United States has no closer ally and partner than the United Kingdom. And that’s thanks in large part to the work that you’re doing to keep this relationship strong. This is one of the largest and busiest embassies we have in the world – 46 agencies, more than 1,600 employees and family members.
I also know that it’s been a tough year for a couple of reasons, and they’re no less significant for being obvious: COVID-19 has in many ways turned life upside down. I know folks have been isolated from each other. Some of you have gotten sick; your loved ones have gotten sick. Some of you have suffered losses.
I was saddened to hear of the loss of Mr. Jit Thapa, who was a guard here at our embassy. I understand that his son, Parbin, is also a member of our local guard force. Parbin, we are deeply sorry for your family’s loss, and the United States is very grateful for your father’s service here and to our country.
The UK was initially one of the hardest-hit countries in Europe. You all stepped up. The London Health Unit medevac center provided medical care to Mission UK and to posts throughout Europe, Africa, the Middle East. Your medical team has administered more than 1,400 COVID vaccines to mission personnel in the UK and also clinics in Brussels, Oslo, Reykjavik. I want to commend Dr. Clay Crawford and the entire health unit for extraordinary service during this ordeal.
Meanwhile, the consular team repatriated and supported thousands of Americans during the pandemic. Management, Security, and IRM teams worked together to keep employees as safe as possible and to make it possible for people to telework. Simply put, everyone pulled together. To borrow a phrase from our hosts, you kept calm and carried on.
And you make your country proud. Amid the pandemic, there’s been another challenge facing this mission and that is Brexit. Again, this team did great work to make sure everyone in Washington, including me, understands the full implications of the UK’s exit from the European Union. So whatever section you work in, the embassy or consulates, thank you. You play an indispensable role in advancing America’s interests and telling America’s story to the world.
I think this is an incredibly exciting time to work on what is an extraordinarily important relationship to the United States. So many of the issues you’re dealing with day-in, day-out, whether it’s COVID recovery, sustainable, more equitable economic growth, addressing the challenges posed by Iran, Russia, China – all of these and more are on the cutting edge of our National Security policy. And I just want to tell you that I’m grateful for everything each of you does to make the United States, United Kingdom, and the international community a little bit more secure, a little bit more prosperous. And I’m particularly grateful to Yael Lempert for her extraordinary leadership of this mission. We’ve been colleagues for a long time. I’m grateful to have you here at this time.
And with that, let’s spend a few minutes at least having a chance to talk. I’m eager to hear from you and to take any questions you’ve got.