Remarks at the Opening Ceremony for the Global Classrooms D.C. Model United Nations ProgramJohn D. Negroponte, Deputy Secretary of State
April 28, 2008
DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: Thank you. Thank you, Ed. What Ed didn’t tell you is that we were classmates at Yale in the class of 1860. (Laughter.) Welcome to this very historic building. And I’m delighted to have you here and I’m very excited about your activities today. As Ed mentioned, I’ve spent most of my adult lifetime in public service. And I suppose, as a result, I would want to start by trying to convince you to seriously consider a life in public service, after you have completed your studies. And particularly, as somebody who has spent his life almost entirely in the field of foreign affairs, I would like to encourage you to think about a potential career in the Foreign Service of the United States of America.
If you like history, if you like economics, if you like social sciences, if you like to travel, if you like to try to understand other languages and cultures, a career in the Foreign Service holds, I think, a great deal of interest for you. If you want to serve the American people abroad, if you want to help Americans overseas, our consular officials assist Americans wherever they travel or work abroad. If you want to promote United States exports to other countries, if you want to administer humanitarian assistance, if you want to help out in post-conflict or even in conflict situations -- Ed mentioned that I had served as the United States Ambassador to Iraq -- we have a lot of Foreign Service officers working in conflict zones like that, whether it’s Iraq or Afghanistan or elsewhere. Or if you want to help analyze diplomatic and political and economic situations in different countries and make recommendations back to Washington about what kinds of policies we ought to carry out towards those countries then, again, the Foreign Service is a career that you might wish to consider.
But now, you are here for the Model United Nations Conference, so let me talk just a little bit about the importance of the United Nations. I had the privilege of representing our President to the United Nations from 2001 to 2004, as was already mentioned. I believe the United Nations is a very important organization. And it is very important that the United States work through the United Nations to address various critical international issues whenever it can.
I particularly enjoyed representing us on the Security Council, and I’m sure some of you have played the role of Security Council members in your run-up to this conference. And I thought that was a particularly exciting thing to do, whether we were debating the situation in Iraq or the International Criminal Court or the situation in one of the many, many different trouble spots that exist around the world, whether it was Sierra Leone in Africa or the situation in Liberia or the evolving situation in the country of Haiti, there was never a dull moment representing the United States on the UN Security Council.
Of course, the UN has a lot of other important organizations as well. There’s the General Assembly. There are the various humanitarian agencies and certainly that’s another area of career work that some of you might want to consider sometime, working for the UN High Commission for Refugees or the World Food Program, which provides food to people in need around the world. There are a number of others, too, UNICEF, for example, that administers and takes care of children in need around the world.
Indeed, I think that there are, literally, hundreds of exciting opportunities working for the UN humanitarian organizations and, of course, Americans are very welcome to work in those institutions. In fact, to mention a personal experience of mine, my eldest daughter had the opportunity to work for two and a half years for the World Food Program. She – as a trainee, and she spent a year in Rome. After graduating from college and then she spent – and that is where the headquarters of the World Food Program is. And then she was sent to India, the country of India, for a year and a half, where she worked in one of their field offices. She’s now back doing graduate studies in New York City, but she certainly found that a very rewarding experience.
Now, one issue I know that comes up with audiences such as yours and that is: What’s the best way I can prepare for a career in public service and particularly a career in Foreign Service? And I don’t think there’s any pat answer to that question. But one suggestion I would make for you to think about is to make an effort to learn as much as you can about foreign cultures and languages. Travel abroad, study abroad. Those are some of the best ways that younger people can prepare for a Foreign Service career. For example, many summers, when I was a teenager, I undertook travel in different parts of the world. And then in my college years, I spent my junior year studying abroad. And more and more colleges today encourage study abroad for at least some part of your time at college, like perhaps a semester or two, studying and learning a foreign language. So, these are some of the ways that I think you can prepare yourself well for a career in foreign affairs, should that be of interest to you.
And then lastly, I would suggest – of course, nowadays, maybe one goes about learning the news in different ways, but in the old days, what we would say to people is, well, read – try to read a good newspaper every day. Now, that’s very hard discipline and my experience with students and my recollection of my own experience as a student was that we didn’t quite get around to reading the newspaper every day. But if you’re interested in foreign affairs, it’s a good idea to try and follow the news in one way or another, whether it’s reading the newspaper or watching television. Or, of course, nowadays, perhaps the easiest way to go about it is just to search and surf the internet, which I do myself up here in my office on the seventh floor, and find it very useful and helpful.
Now, I was told that you would – you might like to ask me some questions about any situation or issue that you’d like to cover. I feel kind of badly if some of you haven’t had breakfast. (Laughter.) But I’d be happy to spend 10 or 15 minutes answering questions if you would like.
MODERATOR: You can feel free to come to one of the microphones. I am here and my colleague, Associate Director of GCDC Mary Evans, is over there. So, you can feel free to come on down. And when you ask your question, please make sure you say your name and the school that you’re representing. Thank you so much.
QUESTION: Good morning, Deputy Secretary.
DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: Good morning.
QUESTION: My name Tim Foreman (ph) and I’m from Luke Seymour Academy in DC Public Schools. And I want to ask you, what is your favorite state?
DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: What is my favorite --
QUESTION: Oh, my bad, favorite country. I’m sorry.
DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: Favorite country? (Laughter.) Favorite state, well, I’d have to say – I grew up in New York City, so I guess I would – I guess New York’s got to be my favorite state. My favorite country; well, you know, people ask me all the time which was my favorite post that I served at. And of course, they all were very interesting, but I have a kind of a soft spot in my heart for the country of Mexico, where I was Ambassador for four years. And there were a couple of reasons for that.
First of all, the Mexicans are extremely nice people. Secondly, I had an opportunity – it’s a big country, so I had an opportunity to travel around all the 32 different states within Mexico. And lastly, during that time that I was in Mexico, we happened to negotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement between Mexico, Canada and the United States. And I feel very proud of that accomplishment.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir.
DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: Well, thank you for your question.
QUESTION: My name is Carla (ph). I go to Benjamin Banneker. My question is: What are your biggest challenges negotiating?
DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: What are our biggest challenges negotiating? Well, I think perhaps today, I might as well talk – let’s talk about the priorities of this Administration. I would say probably the biggest challenge we face at the moment is the ongoing effort to disarm the Korean Peninsula. You may have read about the negotiations, the so-called Six-Party talks between China, Russia, Japan, South Korea, North Korea and ourselves to disarm, to take away the nuclear capability of North Korea and that is an ongoing negotiation and if that is successful, it will be a very, very important development towards ending, finally, the Korean War, which still is technically not ended, and removing a very, very dangerous situation. So I would say that’s probably one of the most challenging negotiations that exist at the moment.
And one other example I would mention as a very difficult international negotiation that’s going on – it’s a global negotiation – and that is the World Trade Organization negotiations that are going on right now, so-called – it’s called the Doha Round of negotiations to come up with a new global trade agreement. And we’re hoping that that might be accomplished by the end of the Administration.
QUESTION: Thank you.
DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. I’m Carla Jamatarea (ph) from Ghana (inaudible) school. I want to know, along the way you had many challenges, but did you ever feel like leaving? Did you find time, like some times very -- some times are very difficult. Did you ever feel like leaving?
DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: You mean, like, giving up the career and --
DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: -- throwing in the towel, huh, as we say? (Laughter.) Yeah, sometimes. Yeah, to be honest with you. You know, I entered the Foreign Service in 1960, so that’s a long time ago. And I did retire at one point in 1997, and then I was called back. But during those first 37 years, every now and then, yeah, like anybody else, I think you have your ups and your downs and your moments of discouragement. And I looked at different opportunities in the private sector and so forth.
But somehow, I always ended up sticking with it. And when I was asked to come back, even though I thought when I retired in 1997 I never thought I’d come back to government service, but when General Powell, Secretary Powell, invited me back to be the Ambassador to the United Nations, I jumped at the opportunity. And I realized that, for me, this kind of work and public service and dealing with foreign affairs was just much more satisfying than any kind of work I could find in the private sector. So I felt very motivated to come back and have no regrets whatsoever.
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
QUESTION: Good morning.
DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: Good morning.
QUESTION: My name is Michelle Rossen (ph). I attend Benjamin Banneker. My question is: What has been your greatest achievement in representing the United States?
DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: What has been my greatest achievement in representing the United States? Well, you know, we always talk about sort of having a passion for anonymity and not trying to take credit. I mean, when good things are accomplished, they really are a collective effort. They represent the work of the whole organization, whether it’s the State Department or the Presidency. So I mean, we try to support, we try to make this a team effort.
But if there was any one of these efforts that I thought was -- I can certainly give you one that I think was very important, and that was the free trade agreement between Canada and Mexico. I would say that was an important one. I worked for -- and some of you might be interested to know this. There’s a bureau in the State Department called the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. And when I ran that bureau for about three years, we did a lot of environmental negotiations. And during the time I ran that bureau, we negotiated an agreement -- you may have heard of it -- the Montreal Protocol, to protect the stratospheric ozone layer against these -- it gets kind of technical -- these chlorofluorocarbon gasses that are emitted and destroy the ozone layer. And we achieved that negotiation in 1987 and, as a result of that treaty, those gasses, those chemicals, are being phased out and the stratospheric ozone layer is being protected, which helps protect people. By restoring that layer, you protect people against skin cancer, among other things. So I thought that was an important accomplishment.
DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: You can pull the mike down there. (Laughter.) There you go.
QUESTION: My name is Eva Monroe (ph). I go to Janney Elementary. And my question is: What is the most exciting part of being on the Security Council?
DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: The most exciting part on being in the Security Council really is the negotiating and trying to bring people to consensus. Very often, you start out with two or three different drafts, you start out with five or ten different points of view, and it can be very exciting to go through the negotiating process, the back and forth, the dialogue, the sending cables back home to each -- the capitals to get instructions to finally narrow it down so you -- you really want to try to get a vote of 15-0 if you possibly can. And sometimes, those turn out to be a little bit like all-night poker games. You’ll get to 10, 11 o'clock at night, then there’s one or two countries that are holding out. And I remember a particularly exciting negotiation about affirming the right of a Palestinian state to exist. It’s Resolution 1397. And we finally -- we had to work till about 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning, and we were all standing around and calling our capitals and getting guidance and everything else until, finally, we succeeded in getting that resolution negotiated and adopted. And that was a very satisfying feeling once we got that accomplished.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Hi, my name is Sierra Tony (ph) and I attend Benjamin Banneker Academic High School. And my question is I’m really -- when you were talking about a lot of the jobs that you can acquire in the international -- in the field of international affairs, I noticed that you said there were some for economics and some for, you know, like, languages and things like that. I’m not really that interested in economics, but were there any other jobs you could suggest for students that, you know, are passionate about languages, like outside of translating and transcribing?
DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: Yeah. Well, I mean, economics is just one of the many different areas that we work on. As I mentioned, consular work -- what we mean by consular work is people who issue visas and passports to foreigners who want to come to the United States or -- passports to Americans -- who worry about Americans who get in distress elsewhere in the world.
I started out my career as a Vice Consul in Hong Kong and I worked on consular matters, and it included things like attending to American seamen who had gotten put in jail, and we had to defend their interests in Hong Kong. It was very much of a people-related kind of work. So that’s one area of work. There’s cultural diplomacy. We’ve got cultural events that we promote around the world, and people help set those kinds of things up. We arrange for scholarships for foreign students to come and study in the United States, so that’s another example of the kind of work we do.
I think there’s -- I’ve always been struck by the tremendous variety of work that exists in our business working abroad for the United States. It’s not just one thing; it’s a whole variety of different areas of activity.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MODERATOR: And our last question.
QUESTION: I’m Katie Kirk (ph) and I represent the (inaudible) School.
QUESTION: And I’m Volina (ph) from (inaudible) in Mexico City.
DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: Oh, how are you?
QUESTION: And we were wondering what kind of colleges and graduate schools might be appropriate if we’re going to enter this kind of, like, job and social services?
DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: Well, you’d be amazed at the variety of educations that people have had coming into the diplomatic service. They come from any and all manner of schools and from all parts of our country. So there’s no one answer to that question, but there’s certainly the majority of people who join our business have studied international relations, they’ve studied the subjects I mentioned -- history, economics, developmental economics, those kinds of things, languages and -- but the most important thing is to study and to get those academic credentials.
And the other I would say is to open your eyes to the rest of the world. Don’t hole yourself up here in the United States, but think about foreign travel as part of your own personal development and your own personal education. And believe me, for those of you who already speak more than one language, you know what I’m talking about. Once you’ve got past the concept of understanding and speaking and knowing another language, then the concept of learning additional languages becomes really rather easy; you’ve sort of broken the code. But that’s the most important thing, I think, is to urge you to get out of an American shell, if you will, and take a look at how the other 95 percent of the world lives. It could be good for you. (Laughter.)
Well, thank you very much for this opportunity. I appreciate it. (Applause.)
MODERATOR: Thank you, Ambassador.
Released on April 28, 2008