MR PARKER: Thank you also to Andrea Kalan for moderating today’s session. Today it is my great honor to introduce our Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Antony Blinken has deep diplomatic ties. His father, Donald Blinken, was ambassador to Hungary. A special interest to tri-mission – the Secretary started his career as advisor for relations with countries of Europe, the European Union, and NATO. Today he’s a leading voice for diplomacy, not just in Europe, but the entire world.
That is why we’re deeply honored and appreciative to have him here. I know his Belgian hosts are as well. So with no further ado, Mr. Secretary, thank you for coming to Belgium. Thank you for engaging in this virtual conversation with our terrific and ever resilient community. Our only wish is that we could’ve done this in person. That’s for another time, perhaps your next visit to Belgium. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. The conference is yours.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, thank you so much. And I share exactly that wish. I hope next time we get to do this in person. But I’m so glad that we’re at least able to use the technology that we have on hand to get together virtually. And greetings to the entire tri-mission community. It is wonderful to be with all of you today.
I just want to start by thanking the three terrific charges we have here in Brussels, Nicholas Berliner from Embassy Brussels, Doug Jones from USNATO, Mark Libby from USEU. Thank you for not just your hospitality and great counsel this week but thank you for your leadership in what I know is for everyone a tough, but nonetheless crucial, time.
And thank you as well to your teams for the remarkable support you’ve provided to this visit. You all know that travel in this particular moment brings its own special set of challenges. I’m deeply appreciative of the work that the teams at all three missions have done to make this trip go as smoothly as it’s gone. And I know how much work goes into this. I also know that it’ll be an unusual wheels-up party, since people will probably be celebrating mostly from their own homes, but please have a good one anyway.
I do want to thank some individuals too, Matt Jones, Chris Szymanski for seamlessly guiding our team through two full days of meetings at NATO. Thank you to Anood Taqui also for helping us navigate the labyrinth of the European Union and to Doug Ostertag as well for coordinating the bilateral meeting that we just had, which was terrific, with our Belgian hosts, and also this virtual meet and greet.
Some of you may have heard yesterday I had an opportunity to speak at a little bit more length about how the United States is recommitting to our alliances and partnerships and revitalizing them to meet the challenges of our time. I don’t think this is a group that needs to be persuaded of the importance of that mission, why America needs to meet this goal. But few people outside of the department understand what it actually takes to do that on a day-in, day-out basis, the very work that you’re all doing – the hard, roll-up-your-sleeves, sometimes less than glorious but vitally important work of diplomacy. The deep knowledge that each of you bring in different ways to the task, the experience, the relationships that you’ve been building, even during COVID, are actually what makes this work. And I’m very grateful to you for doing that.
It’s complicated enough to do it with one country, and in the case of our missions to NATO and the EU, you’re doing it and juggling many of them. U.S.-NATO has prepared for and conducted six meetings of defense and foreign ministers since April 2020 on essential and incredibly complex topics like NATO’s approach to China, emerging and disruptive technologies, responding to cyber and hybrid challenges, and the list goes on. U.S.-EU has coordinated with EU partners on sanctions related to both China and Russia, holding accountable perpetrators of human rights atrocities, while also showing how we can be more effective when we work together. You will all continue to be a pivot point in our effort to revitalize and reimagine our alliances and partnerships.
And really what we’re about is not just mending some of these relationships and alliances and partnerships but modernizing them so that they are addressing the challenges that we face in this moment, not just the challenges that existed when they were created. Obviously doing this job under any circumstances is challenging, but I think the pandemic has taken that to a whole new level. It’s tough on all of us, especially people with families, single members of the community as well in different ways, and it’s something that we may have an opportunity to talk about, but that I’m very sensitive to and focused on.
But somehow, through all of this, you’ve kept the critical work of our missions going. And here in Brussels, that includes the work of the consular team from the mission in Belgium to assist in repatriations of our citizens, processing passports so Americans could go home, even helping Mission Mexico at one point remotely issue thousands of agricultural worker visas so that literally the food supply of the American people would be secure. And I know that another critical aspect of what we’ve been able to do, what you’ve been able to do, has been the work of very specific parts of our embassy and mission families.
For example, the tri-mission has been able to keep running because of dedicated teams like the health unit, which has given people the information that they need to stay healthy; ISC’s adaptions to enable telework, again something we may want to talk about; GSO’s innovations to maintain operations; CLO’s activities to keep people feeling connected, even when we have to be apart. So it’s really been a remarkable and all-hands effort, and I just want to commend you for doing that, for coming together with ingenuity but also with heart. Ultimately that more than anything else is what keeps us going in this particularly challenging time.
Your dedication is all the more reason that we owe it to you and to your families to get you vaccinated as soon as possible. And I just want you to know, this has been a real focus of our efforts over the last couple of months, and I know it’s been frustrating for many in the State Department family. We started out behind the curve, and I know from conversations with colleagues in the previous administration we expected to get 300,000 vaccines in December. We got 13,000, and we’ve been playing catch-up ever since. But the good news is that we are catching up, and the major effort that’s been underway to produce more and more vaccines is really starting to take hold. And the State Department itself is benefiting from that. You should know that of the vaccines that we’ve been allocated in different tranches over the last couple of months, more than 80 percent have been pushed out to our missions abroad.
And the other thing that I felt very strongly about is to make sure we do the best possible job keeping you informed and making sure you know what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, even if you won’t always like the answer. So we’ve tried to make sure that we’re communicating on a weekly basis with the entire workforce about our COVID efforts. And at the very least I hope you have a better understanding of how we’re thinking about this. But there is simply nothing more important than your health and your well-being, and we’ll keep you posted every step of the way.
Before I wrap up and before we have a chance to have a conversation, there are a few people I want to recognize who happen each to be marking their 41st year as part of this mission team. Marie-Paule De Bell started her career here as a teletype operator at ELSO in Antwerp and has served as a voucher examiner since 1982. And I believe that, Marie-Paule, you’re going to retire on October 31st. Marie-Helene Desomer started working as a data input clerk for the International Communications Agency; she’s now a cultural affairs assistant. And after starting in 1980 as a warehouse driver, Dominique Schellens is currently the print shop supervisor. Let me just say to the three of you, and also to the entire family of locally employed staff as well, we are so in debt for your service, your partnership. And frankly, for those of you who’ve been doing this for 40 years, I’m really humbled by your service.
So thank you. Thank each and every one of you for your service to our country, to our partnerships, to our alliances. I’m very proud to be Secretary in this moment, working with all of you. And with that, let’s open it up to questions.