Remarks by Secretary of State John Kerry at a Meet and Greet with Staff and Families of U.S. Embassy Phnom Penh

January 26, 2016

AMBASSADOR HEIDT: Hi you guys, are you ready to hear from the Secretary of State? (Applause.)

Mr. Secretary, this is a very enthusiastic crowd. Standing before you is a good chunk of Embassy Phnom Penh’s 786 employees.


AMBASSADOR HEIDT: That’s hard-working and talented employees. That’s 132 American staff, 653 Cambodians, and 1 third-country national. And we’re a diverse group, as well, sir. We hail from 32 American states and 21 of Cambodia’s 27 provinces. And we’re loyal. Dozens of our Cambodian employees have worked for the embassy since before I was here the first time in the 1990s. And in one way or another, every one of us every day is working to strengthen our relationship with Cambodia and give this extraordinary country to help it find its way to a more prosperous, democratic, and just future.

Mr. Secretary, you have been a friend of Cambodia, a friend of the people of Cambodia, for more than 30 years as a Senator, as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and as our 68th Secretary of State. We are delighted to have you here on your first, but hopefully not last, trip to Cambodia.

And so, everybody (speaks in Khmer) Secretary of State, John Kerry. (Applause.)

SECRETARY KERRY: All right, all right, all right. Not to be outdone, “Sok sabaay?” (Applause.) I don’t get to practice every day. (Laughter.) What?

PARTICIPANT: Say the other one.

SECRETARY KERRY: Say the other one? (Speaks in Khmer.) (Laughter.) Now you’re really surprised, right? That’s not bad for a beginner. (Laughter.)

I – look at these crazy little rectangle things all staring at me. (Laughter.) Everybody has a camera now, because you have a telephone. If you have a telephone, you have a camera. It’s really hard – you can’t go anywhere, because everybody says, “Can I get a photo?” It never used to happen. It used to be – because you didn’t have a phone in your camera, right? A camera on your phone, vice versa.

Anyway, I can’t tell you how happy I am to be – I really am pleased in this – what a beautiful building we have built here in downtown Phnom Penh. And where is Julie Chung? I don’t know – is Julie here? She’s right here, in front of me. (Laughter.)

Julie, thank you for your – thank you for all you do as DCM. We really appreciate it. (Applause.) And I want to thank your family, thank you to Jose and to Mateo, I guess. Thank you, Jose – he is here. And so thank you very much for all you do. You are a great addition to Bill, and you help him.

And our ambassador, ladies and gentlemen, is doing a spectacular job. (Applause.) Spectacular job. Thank you.

Now, I have been told that there is – there are a few special people I want to try to just recognize here, if I can. Is Maly Tov here? Maly Tov? (Applause.) Maly Tov. And Sokha Chea? Right here? (Applause.) I am going to tell you why I’m calling – he’s a political assistant. And then we have Chanly Mai? Chanly Mai? Chanly Mai not here right now. Chantra Nhim, a mechanic, Chantra Nim. Chantra is not here. (Applause.) And Sarin Suon? And, finally, Roeun Preap. Roeun? Yes, okay. (Applause.)

Why did I call their names? Because every single one of them has worked here since 1992. Amazing. (Applause.) We want to say thank you, a special, special thank you. Thank you.

Now, this is not helping the productivity of the embassy. Let me just say to all of you this is a special visit, a special visit because I first came to know Cambodia back during the war-torn years. And then I was privileged to come over here when I was a young Senator – youngish, anyway – and work with Kofi Annan in the UN to try to get a solution to how we would hold the Khmer Rouge accountable for the terrible crimes of that period. And we worked with Prime Minister Hun Sen and the government. We were able to get a compromise. And then we actually had a court set up that held people accountable.

I was privileged to come here and work with Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has been here the whole time I’ve been involved, 31 years. And he worked with us to help allow our teams to go out and complete the task of finding the remains or finding out what might have happened to missing-in-action from the war in Vietnam.

So, your work now has helped us get answers for about 50 of 90 cases that are outstanding here in Cambodia. And we have been able to work in Laos, we’ve been able to work in Vietnam. It’s been an extraordinary effort, the most significant commitment of any government in human history to accounting for its missing during a war. Never before has that happened to such a great degree, literally. Crash site by crash site, fight by fight, we have been going back to try to see if we can learn what happened.

And so you all should be very, very proud. But there is a lot more to be proud of because you’ve worked to help develop healthcare for people. We have cut the incidents of HIV AIDS here in Cambodia because of PEPFAR. We’ve been able to bring the Peace Corps. A whole group of Peace Corps volunteers are now out in the Cambodian countryside working with people. We’ve worked to undo the unexploded ordnance that has been a threat, that continues to kill and to maim people and we’ve reduced the number. It’s still too many a year but we’re moving in the right direction and we understand the commitment and we’re determined to try to live up to our responsibility.

We’ve been able to work on the Mekong River and climate change and the problem of sustainability in the Lower Mekong Initiative, and many, many other things that all of you have been involved in, in education, in health, in development.

So, we are helping a country to pull itself back from almost failed-state status and be able to rebuild and build a future for its people. And now Cambodia is growing at one of the fastest rates of any of the countries in the region and is just about to see that it is going to be reclassified from extreme poverty into lower middle class status as it moves up and more and more people are gaining good livelihood, good salary, good income. There is a lot of work yet to do. But I have to tell you there are few places as exciting in what is being built on a day-to-day basis as right here in Cambodia. And all of you are leading that effort.

So, I just want to say on behalf of President Obama, on behalf of the American people, I want to say thank you to each and every one of you. To the local employees – will all the local employees please raise your hands, every one of you? We thank you. We couldn’t do this without you. Thank you. Thank you very, very much. (Applause.)

And for everybody else, whether you are civil service or foreign service or a political appointee or an agency detailee for a period of time, whatever status you are in you are part of an extraordinary team that can get up every single morning and go to work and know you’re going to make the life of somebody else better and you are going to help two countries get to know each other better and understand each other better and you are going to help build a future of stability and peace.

You are the answer to these radical extremists who just want to blow people up and destroy things. This is the answer, this kind of work that each and every one of you engages in. And I talked to the Prime Minister Hun Sen about this this morning because he asked what is our strategy to deal with Daesh and how are we going to deal with violent extremism. And we’re going to send a team over here to work with him in order to help make sure that every country is contributing its part to this fight.

But the real answer is the way you’re going to make a difference to the future and fight back against extremism is to provide education and opportunity and a stake in a democratic, pluralistic society, where people feel they don’t want the other thing, they’re happy with what they have and they’ll fight to preserve it.

So thank you, every single one of you for what you do. I’m very proud to be the Secretary of State at this moment in history when we’re able to do so much. And the reason we can do so much is all of you. Thank you and God bless. Thank you. (Applause.)