Secretary of State John Kerry started work Monday morning at the State Department with a few jokes and a call to arms for the State Department employees he now commands.
Susan Johnson, president of the American Foreign Service Association, introduced Kerry on the mezzanine of the C Street entrance to the State Department's Foggy Bottom headquarters, the same spot where former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave her farewell remarks last Friday. Kerry was actually sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan last Friday afternoon in a private ceremony in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing room.
"If I'm wandering around the building later and I sort of wind up in your office, it's not because I'm there for a meeting; it's because I'm lost and I need directions. So just tell me who you are, tell me what you do, and tell me where I am. And we'll rely on that," Kerry said.
"Here's the big question before the country and the world and the State Department after the last eight years: Can a man actually run the State Department? I don't know. As the saying goes, I have big heels to fill."
Standing alongside Kerry was a host of State Department senior officials, some of whom are set to depart the administration in the coming days. Deputy Secretary Tom Nides will step down. Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy, USAID Administrator Raj Shah, and several other top officials could stay on for a while.
Kerry has brought several senior staffers with him to State, such as former Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff director Bill Danvers and his own Staff Director David Wade, but their final positions have not yet been determined.
Kerry promised his opening remarks would be brief, and they were, by Kerry's standards. He thanked Clinton, her team, President Barack Obama, and State Department employees. He spoke about his sister Peggy Kerry, a long time staffer at the U.S. mission to the U.N., and his wife Teresa Heinz Kerry, who will visit the State Department Wednesday, and his father, a former Foreign Service officer.
Kerry then told the story about how as a 12-year-old traveling with his father in Germany, he rode his bicycle into communist-controlled East Berlin and became aware of the stark reality of living behind the Iron Curtain and the value of living in a free democracy.
He also pledged to protect the State Department from the onslaught of political attacks related to the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi.
"I also understand how critical it is that you have somebody there advocating for you. The dangers could not be more clear. We're reminded by the stars and names on the wall, and we are particularly reminded by Chris Stevens and Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods and Sean Smith. And I know everybody here stills mourns that loss, and we will," Kerry said "So I pledge to you this: I will not let their patriotism and their bravery be obscured by politics, number one."
Secretary Kerry's schedule for the remainder of the week has not yet been determined, but he spent the weekend making phone calls to foreign leaders, including: Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung Hwan, Israeli President Shimon Peres, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird, and Mexican Foreign Secretary Antonio Meade.
On Saturday, Kerry had lunch with former Secretary of State George Shultz.
"Secretary Kerry has now met with or spoken by phone with each living secretary of state, Democrat and Republican, since being announced as President Obama's nominee," said State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland.
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John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.