Swearing-in of Stephen M. Schwartz as Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Somalia

RemarksAntony J. Blinken
Deputy Secretary of StateWashington, DC
June 27, 2016Share

MR WALSH: Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. My name is Mark Walsh. I’m the deputy chief of protocol. It’s my pleasure to welcome you to the Department of State’s Benjamin Franklin Room for the – excuse me – for the swearing-in of Stephen Schwartz as the next United States ambassador to the Federal Republic of Somalia. We’re privileged to have the Honorable Antony Blinken, Deputy Secretary of State, officiating at our ceremony today.

I would like to first welcome the many members of the ambassador’s family, including his wife, Kristy Cook, and his children Hannah and Jonas. I’d also like to acknowledge His Excellency Ahmed Awad, the ambassador of the Federal Republic of Somalia to the United States, and his lovely wife. Please join me in extending a warm welcome to all our special guests. (Applause.)

We’ll begin this afternoon with remarks by the Deputy Secretary of State followed by the administration of the oath of office, the signing of the appointment papers, and then concluding with remarks by Ambassador Schwartz. Now it’s my honor to present the Deputy Secretary of State. (Applause.)

DEPUTY SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, thank you all very, very much. Good afternoon and welcome to the State Department. This is a special honor. It’s a special honor to welcome you here to the Ben Franklin Room for what is genuinely a historic day as we swear in the first U.S. ambassador to Somalia in a quarter century. (Applause.)

I have to start today on a little bit of a somber note by expressing our profound sorrow over this weekend’s attack in Mogadishu that took more than a dozen lives, including that of a minister in the government, Minister Hamza. Our thoughts and prayers, Mr. Ambassador, are with their loved ones and all of the Somali people. We strongly condemn this heinous act of violence that seeks simply to deny the nation the possibilities of peace.

The attack only underscores the importance of the step forward that we’re taking today – the result of relentless efforts by Somali leaders, their African neighbors, the United Nations, and the United States – to support a functioning central government, defeat a deadly terrorist threat, rebuild a shattered economy, and pave the way for Somalis to claim an inclusive and democratic future.

I have to tell you that no room is more suited than this one to this singular occasion. I think as most of you know, Ben Franklin was our nation’s first and in some ways most eccentric diplomat. (Laughter.) He charted the Gulf Stream, he pioneered the study of electricity, he authored our very first diplomatic treaty, he helped forge a new ethos of self-government – virtually none of which he did sober. (Laughter.) Which is to say that while he was one of our most brilliant diplomatic, scientific, and literary minds, he probably never would have achieved what Steve Schwartz has so easily done, and that is get confirmed by the U.S. Senate. So, congratulations. (Laughter and applauase.)

We’re very pleased indeed, Mr. Ambassador, that you’re here – Ambassador Awad from Somalia. We’re very pleased that you’re joining us for this occasion, as well as many other distinguished representatives from across the diplomatic community. And we’re also honored to have with us today our last U.S. ambassador to Somalia, Jim Bishop, to help mark this occasion. Jim, where are you? (Applause.)

I especially want to welcome members of Steve’s family, especially his wife Kristy, his children Hannah and Jonas, his father Robert and stepmother Jean. The Foreign Service, as I think Steve and Kristy know so well, is at its best a family affair, and we all know the service and sacrifice that family members make to support their father, their mother, their loved one in diplomatic service. So we’re grateful to have you here today, but we’re grateful for what you do every day to support Steve in his work.

A little over one year ago, when Secretary Kerry arrived in Mogadishu – the first secretary of state to visit Somalia – he reaffirmed our commitment to the nation’s promising transformation. We have a stake in what happens in Somalia, he said, announcing the beginning of a process to restore formal diplomatic presence for the United States. There was a time not so very long ago when this future was difficult to imagine, much less actually realize. But hard work, hope, determination on the part of so many have made a difference diplomatically, politically, militarily, economically.

Since the United States formally recognized the government three years ago, Somalia has made significant strides in rebuilding its state under a new federal framework. Al-Shabaab has been pushed out of the major population centers with the support of African Union partners, and a determined international effort has virtually put an end to Somali pirating. Businesses have reopened. Opportunity has regained a foothold.

None of us have any illusions about the challenges that lie ahead: challenges to Somalia’s political process, its stabilization efforts, its economic recovery, its fight against terrorists. But Somalis have progressed this far because they see the importance of moving forward as one nation with the institutions that growth, peace, and stability require – institutions that are broadly representative, that include women, that resolve the tension between national and regional interests in a spirit of cooperation and of mutual respect.

That’s why the upcoming elections are so essential. Somalia needs leaders who believe in this future and whose legitimacy to realize it is beyond question. The hope of political stability is ultimately not possible without the assurance of security. We have to continue to degrade al-Shabaab and deny them safe haven in Somalia. As the date of elections approaches, the United States will remain a strong partner to the Somali national security forces and to AMISOM.

It’s precisely because this moment represents so much possibility, so much potential, that President Obama has chosen as his representative a diplomat of unmatched caliber and a public servant of unrivaled heart. Sober and idealistic – (laughter) – is how one of his cousins, who happens to be a good friend of mine, described Steve to me. It was very good to hear that he has at least half the attributes necessary – (laughter) – to be an effective Foreign Service officer and ambassador.

From his first days as a Peace Corps volunteer advising a cooperative in Cameroon through decades of distinguished service in the Foreign Service, Steve has proven that true leadership is equal parts confidence and humility. I know this because we actually dug up a document that he once wrote for his team. It’s called “How to Be a Foreign Service Star.” (Laughter.) Now, to my colleagues who are Foreign Service officers, there’s a lot of very valuable advice here and I commend this to you. Let me just give you a few of the highlights – (laughter) – some of which I’m going to try to take to heart.

The first one is read books. (Laughter.) I have to admit this is something I have not managed to do for more than seven years now – (laughter) – but I’m going to take you up on this, Steve, because this is good advice.

Enjoy yourself at whatever you’re doing. Now, that may sound obvious, but I think so many of us actually don’t manage to take that advice to heart, and it is very, very good advice.

And then finally, another piece of advice I’m having trouble following: Get out of your office. (Laughter.) This too is very, very wise, and I think no one would have appreciated this more than Ben Franklin.

But my favorite insight of Steve’s is this: Sometimes, good judgment means going against the grain. It’s important to do things right, but it’s even more important to do right things. That is so powerfully on point and very good counsel for all of us.

So I can’t imagine a more appropriate place to capture the spirit of Steve’s own leadership from the streets of Havana to the corridors of power here in Washington. And it’s especially apparent when you ask colleagues, as we did, to describe the moment they felt the greatest pride in working with Steve. And it turns out that no one can actually agree on one singular moment because there’s so many of them.

There was the time when he served as DCM in Mauritius, foreseeing the strategic value of a strong U.S. relationship with the Indian Ocean island nation; or the time he stood up the Nigeria Policy and Operations Group and forged a mighty, if somewhat eclectic, team of unlikely colleagues to ensure that U.S. foreign policy effectively navigated a pivotal moment for Africa’s most popular country and that continues to stand us in good stead today; the time he served as DCM in Zambia, when he helped to make it possible for the nation to host the AGOA Forum and facilitated the first visit of a secretary of state to Zambia in 25 years.

But even if his colleagues disagree on what the career highlights were, there’s one thing that they easily seem to agree on: Regardless of how tough the circumstances, how scarce the resources, how difficult the conditions, Steve makes people feel listened to, looked at, and lifted up. So we’re very pleased to be sending truly one of our very best, one of our very brightest, to fulfill this historic responsibility to Somalia and the relationship between our countries.

Today we have with us the flag that flew and the seal that adorned the U.S. Embassy Mogadishu in 1991. While we work to transition or mission from Kenya back to Somalia, it is our sincere hope, Steve, that you will have the opportunity to raise this flag in Mogadishu once again. (Applause.)

Steve, you embark on this assignment with the full trust and confidence of the President of the United States and the Secretary of State and, as important, with the enormous respect and admiration of your colleagues here today and those who have worked with you over so many years. Congratulations. We’re very, very pleased that you’re taking this on. (Applause.)