Secretary Antony J. Blinken At a Virtual Town Hall Meeting with U.S. Mission to the United Nations Staff

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Linda, thank you, thank you, thank you.  It is wonderful to be with everyone this morning.  I can’t think of a better way to start the week than with all of you here in New York. 

But Linda, to you, thank you for that incredible introduction, but mostly for your extraordinary leadership.  You talked about hitting the ground running – you’ve been going at a full sprint, and I suspect you’re going to go at a full sprint every single day.  But it’s been wonderful to see, it’s been wonderful to see how all of our efforts – the mission, the month – have been totally energized by what you’ve done. 

And Rick, I just want to thank you as well, for your leadership, for being our moderator today, and for everything you’ve done.  And to Rachel Smith-Levy, to Calvert Boateng for serving as my control officers on this virtual journey.  I can’t wait to actually get there in person, hopefully soon.  But in the meantime, it’s great to be with everyone via technology. 

And thanks to the whole staff at the U.S. Mission to the UN.  You have had a busy five weeks.  Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield was confirmed, sworn in, arrived in New York.  A few days later we started the presidency, as Linda said, at the Security Council, for the first time in this administration.  And a few weeks after that, Vice President Harris became the highest-level U.S. official ever to speak to the Commission on the Status of Women. 

And that’s just a fraction of all that you do to represent the interests and values of our country on the global stage every single day.

There are a few things I just want to cover briefly before turning to your questions. 

First, as you know, President Biden believes that U.S. Foreign Policy must include cooperating with other countries and working through multilateral institutions whenever we can.  That’s how we solve global problems that are simply too big for any country – including us – to solve on our own.  Our work at the UN is a vital component, maybe the central component, of that strategy.

At its best, I know the United Nations to be a place where countries coordinate a global response to crises like COVID-19 and climate change, stand together to defend universal human rights, and uphold the rules-based order that maintains stability and security around the world.  And at our best, American leadership at the UN helps make all these things happen.

When I was much, much younger, there was a movie that some of you old enough to remember will recall, called The Year of Living Dangerously.  And I think we’re now in a period where we’re going to be in the years of living multilaterally.  Because we need to be doing that for our own interests. 

So your work every day is directly connected to what we’re trying to achieve at the highest levels of our foreign policy and national security.  I’m counting on you to keep fighting for the interests and well-being of the American people.  That means mastering the issues under discussion at the UN, actively participating in debates, arguing persuasively to make our case, building coalitions of likeminded countries, and out-competing countries that seek to hold the UN back from being the most effective and ambitious organization that it can be.

Now, I know the past year has been challenging.  New York has been one of the pandemic’s biggest hot spots.  Many of you heard sirens all day every day for weeks.  Many of you also cheered out your windows at 7 p.m. every night for front-line workers.  Some of you got sick, had friends and family get sick.  Some of you lost loved ones.  Through it all, you sustained critical operations of the mission, and most important, you supported each other. 

You’ve been responsible for communicating official health information to the other 192 member states and several observer delegations.  You’re still playing a key role connecting the UN to public health officials, and you’ve pushed to create a hybrid format for some of the UN’s biggest meetings this year, including the UNGA 75 high-level week last September.  You made sure that UN meetings wouldn’t become vectors to spread the virus.  I’m grateful and impressed by your commitment and your ingenuity. 

There’s nothing more important to me and to Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield than your safety and the safety of your families.  Given your city’s experience with COVID-19, it was a priority to ensure that all USUN staff get access to vaccines.  Now, I’ve got to tell you, this has been an exercise in challenge and frustration for some time.  I was talking to colleagues from the outgoing administration – I know we were – the State Department was initially expecting more than 300,000 vaccines back in December.  We got 13,000, and it’s been playing catch-up ever since.  But we are.  And now we’re making very good progress.  We’re working to provide vaccines to your colleagues around the world as fast as we can.  About 80 percent of our vaccine allotment over these months has been pushed out to our missions overseas.  Stopping this pandemic, protecting your health is my number-one priority. 

In my first remarks as Secretary back in January, I said that we have to – we have work to do as a department to rebuild trust and morale.  We’ve been doing that work.  We’re investing in diversity and inclusion.  We’re taking real steps to bring career employees into the work of formulating policy and managing the work of the department.  And we’re working hard to build a workplace culture of collegiality, teamwork, respect.

This doesn’t only apply to Main State.  It applies to you and all your colleagues in embassies and consulates around the world.  We’re all a part of this community, and I’m deeply committed to doing everything I can to support you, your work, your families. 

So thank you, thank you, thank you for your service to the American people.  There is no higher calling, and I’m so grateful to be engaged in it with you. 

And mostly now I’m eager to hear from you.  So Linda, Rick, I think we have some questions, and I’m happy to take them. 

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