President Obama compared Secretary of State John Kerry to President Kennedy at a meeting of top diplomats at the State Department this morning.
Speaking to the Chief of Missions Conference, Obama told the officials that “because of you, we are safer and more secure and America’s reputation around the world is extraordinarily strong.”
“Now, that starts with our Secretary of State, John Kerry,” he said. “We all know that John is tireless. We don’t know exactly what he takes.”
“But 82 foreign trips so far, 80 counties. In one case, five countries in two days, more than one million miles. After a long day of negotiations with foreign capitals, he’s been known to explore the finer restaurants after midnight. One staffer, who I think is more than half his age, says its inhuman.”
Obama said Kerry “is relentless because he knows, as I do, that there’s no substitute for American leadership.”
“There are those who criticize our commitment to diplomacy, for investing so much effort in trying to resolve conflicts that seem intractable,” he said.
“But here’s the truth. conflict and wars do not end on their own. Breakthroughs do not just happen. Agreements don’t write themselves. It takes diplomacy, being willing to sit down with others, sometimes with adversaries, sometimes with people who’s values are completely contradictory to our own.”
Obama stressed that “this secretary of State from Massachusetts follows on the heels of the original JFK from Massachusetts, who said, let’s never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.”
“And we’ve seen the results, thanks to John, but also, more importantly, thanks to so many of you. The historic democratic transition in Afghanistan, chemical weapons removed from Syria,” he said. “The Iran nuclear deal, detained Americans coming home, the Paris Climate Agreement, the cessation of hostilities in the Syrian civil war. That’s strong, principled diplomacy at work.”
Obama paid tribute to diplomats killed in the line of duty, including the U.S. ambassador murdered during the 2012 Benghazi attack.
“Dedicated personnel have made, in some cases, the ultimate sacrifice, because the world can be dangerous, including Chris Stevens,” he said.
The president also lauded his rapprochement with the Castro brothers. “And diplomacy, including having the courage to turn a page on the failed policies of the past is how we have begun a new chapter of engagement with the people of Cuba. What a historic day it was when John reopened our embassy in Havana,” he said. “And next week, I look forward to being the first U.S. president to visit Cuba in nearly 90 years — without a battleship accompanying me.”
“…I plan to do everything that I can, with every minute that I have left in this office to keep making progress and make the world safer, more prosperous and to deal with the enormous challenges that so many people are burdened with around the world.”