The Cable

The Kerry era begins

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.


The Cable

Hillary has left the building

More than 1,000 State Department employees gathered in the main lobby of the department's Truman Building headquarters Friday afternoon to hear Hillary Clinton deliver her last remarks as secretary of state before she walked out the front door and left Foggy Bottom -- perhaps -- forever.

Deputy Secretary of State William Burns introduced Clinton as she stood along with Deputy Secretary of State Tom Nides and Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy on the mezzanine overlooking the building's C Street Entrance.

"Madam Secretary, four years ago I stood on the same spot and had the honor of introducing you to the men and women of the Department of State. From that first day on, you've touched the lives of millions of people around the world, you've left a profoundly positive mark on foreign policy, and you've done enormous good for all of us and for the country we serve," Burns said. "We will miss you deeply."

"I cannot fully express how grateful I am to those with whom I've spent many hours here in Washington, around the world, and in airplanes," Clinton said. "But I'm proud of the work we've done to elevate diplomacy and development, to serve the nation we all love, to understand the challenges, threats, and opportunities the United States faces, and to work with all our heart and all of our might to make sure American is secure, that our interests are promoted, and our values are respected."

Clinton also mentioned Friday's terrorist attack on the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, where a suicide bomber detonated a vest laden with explosives at an outer barrier checkpoint, killing himself and one Turkish national who was guarding the embassy. Another embassy guard was seriously wounded.

Clinton said she spoke with U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Frank Ricciardone and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davotoglu today.

"I told them how much we valued their commitment and their sacrifice," Clinton said. "I know the world we are trying to help bring into being in the 21st century will have many difficult days, but I am more optimistic today than when I stood here four years ago."

Clinton promised to be an advocate from the outside promoting diplomacy and development and said her last week of saying goodbye had been bittersweet.

"I am very proud to have been secretary of state. I will miss you. I will probably be dialing [the State Department operations center] just to talk," she said. "Next week, I would expect that all of you would be as focused and dedicated to Secretary Kerry as you were for me."

In a goodbye e-mail to State Department employees, Clinton said she would miss several things about the State Department, including State's penchant for using acronyms for everything.

"In fact, I created a few of my own," she wrote. "NY/WJC and NY/CVC - who I used to simply call Bill and Chelsea - are my newest advisors.  Instead of S, now I'll just be HRC.  I'm also thinking of turning my Chappaqua house into a SCIF, but I will not/not check my new iPad at the door."

In the crowd, State Department employees cheered for Clinton and snapped as many final photos of her as they could. They also discussed what the new regime at State would bring and exchanged speculation about which senior State Department officials would be staying or leaving, and who might replace them.

Most of the seventh-floor senior staff could stay put, so go the rumors, but several of the mid-level positions, especially at the assistant secretary or deputy assistant secretary level, are expected to change hands.

"It's a good day but a sad day," one State Department official in the crowd told The Cable. "I think it reflects the enthusiasm and support that Secretary Clinton has garnered over the last four years that so many people came here to wish her well and show her support -- not just Hillary Clinton the secretary but also Hillary Clinton the person."

Meanwhile, Kerry was sworn in as the new secretary Friday afternoon in a private ceremony; the State Department refused to disclose the location. Kerry's first day at State will be Monday, and there will be a public swearing-in as well.

There's a lot of enthusiasm at the State Department about Kerry's arrival, but also much uncertainty about how much change he will bring.

"People are hopeful that he can carry on a lot of the strategic direction that Secretary Clinton set forth and that he can bring in his own brand of leadership but also not deviate from the path that Secretary Clinton has put us on," the State Department official said.