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 You are in: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice > Former Secretaries of State > Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell > Speeches and Remarks > 2001 > March

Diplomatic Reception Rooms: Capturing Our History

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Remarks at annual reception for donors to the Diplomatic Reception Rooms
Washington, DC
March 30, 2001

Well, thank you very much, Gail, for that very kind introduction. It is a great pleasure for Alma and for me to welcome you here to the diplomatic rooms. I am especially pleased to be joined by a few of my fellow Cabinet officers. Secretary and Mrs. Mineta, I believe are here, and Secretary Ann Veneman is also here, and I thank you for coming over and joining us this evening.

It is a pleasure for this to be the first event that Alma and I have hosted together. And it has been two months, and I cannot think of a better way to start the social season for the new Secretary and his lady than to invite in those who have made this such a very, very beautiful place.

These rooms have become my favorite rooms in the whole building. And I have I think caused the people who are in charge of the Eighth Floor to view the new Secretary with a bit of a crooked eye and a little bit of confusion because I am forever showing up up here unexpectedly, without any warning, wondering why the doors are locked and why people didn't know I was coming in the first place. (Laughter.)

And the reason I do that is because, one, I love this whole floor, but I love showing off this whole floor. And I show it off in many different ways. Not too long ago, I was escorting the Dutch Foreign Minister out after a very productive series of conversations and a lunch.

And I was taking him out the front door, and there were a bunch of youngsters there. And I said, "Hi, how are you, kids?" "Ooh, hi, how are you?" And they were from the Senate Youth Group, and they were all wearing nametags showing that they were from different states around the United States. And I started introducing them to the Dutch Foreign Minister, who was taken aback by suddenly being in a crowd of youngsters. (Laughter.)

And they were all lined up waiting to come through security, and I said, "Where are you going?" And they said, "Well, we're here to hear a speech." And I said, "From who?" "We don't know." (Laughter.) And I said, "Well, it isn't me." (Laughter.) And so I said, "Forget the speech. I've got a better idea. I'll take you up to the diplomatic rooms." "What are they?" "Come on, I'll show you."  And so I told the security folks, much to their great distress, "Get out of the way." (Laughter.) And so I brought these 40 kids or so -- and the Dutch Foreign Minister is standing there, a little bewildered, and I said, "Come on." (Laughter.)

And so we all came trooping up here and came into this magnificent room, and the youngsters' eyes just opened wide. And I gave them a brief tour. There were lots of things going on up here at the time. We ignored all the activity, and I forgot what meeting we broke up, but I just took them through the room and then took them into the next room, and then to the room at the far end. And I showed them Thomas Jefferson's desk, and I showed them the desk that has the Treaty of Paris. And their eyes just opened up, and they were so amazed and so privileged at the beauty of this floor and at the significance of this place.

Out of the corner of my eye, I watched the Dutch Foreign Minister. And he was moved and he was touched to see these young Americans enjoying the beauty of this place. And I think he left moved by these rooms, as well as those youngsters did.

So every opportunity I get, I will find somebody hanging around downstairs. (Laughter.) "Come on." I had a Democratic Congresswoman come to see me not too long ago. I will not give you her name, except to say she is one of the most liberal members of Congress. And she was here to say hello, but not to wish me particularly good will in this new Republican Administration, and she had some quite unpleasant things to say about our policies. And I was trying to explain to her the wisdom of our policies, but she was not buying it. And I said, "Well, come on, let's go up to the diplomatic rooms." (Laughter.)

So I brought her up here and I walked her through these rooms, and her eyes just opened wide. And she said to me at the end of the tour, "You know, I never came up here under the old administration." And I said, "Voilą."  (Applause.)

And there are other stories I can tell, but I will not take you through all of that. The diplomatic rooms have also served a particularly useful function for me as a Secretary of State. Not all of my meetings with foreign visitors are as invigorating, stimulating, as one might like them to be. So when I smell a lull in the conversation coming, or when I think I have heard enough for the day or for the moment, I said, "Wouldn't you like to see the diplomatic rooms?" (Laughter.) And the meeting is over and we come up here.

But these rooms are in fact the setting for diplomacy at the high levels that we conducted here. These rooms serve the advancement of our national interests and our ideals. They capture our history, they capture our culture, they capture the spirit of America. In these rooms, in conversations and meetings and press conferences, we try to further our interests and uphold the ideals that our nation stands for.

The other day I had the Foreign Minister of Australia here, and before the Jefferson desk we paused. And he looked at it, and he examined it, and I could see how it was having an impact on him. In these rooms therefore, exhibits such as the Jefferson desk and all the other wonderful things here, each and every one of these pieces that you have helped put here serve as silent ambassadors of American history and American art, silent ambassadors to visiting dignitaries from around the world. They showcase the unique culture that has nurtured the great American experiment in human freedom and self-expression.

The rooms are entirely furnished, as you well know, without a penny of United States Government funds. And I make that point to all of my guests. They'll look around, and they'll examine this and wonder about this great country of ours. I said, "Not a penny of taxpayer funds is associated with this." And they are amazed at that, but it also is a perfect reflection of America and of the generous spirit that makes us who we are and what we are. And none of this would be possible without the generous help of all of you.

So I want to particularly thank the members of the Fine Arts Committee, and especially its new chairman, Susan Klein for all that they will be doing and have done for us in the past. Their work for the past 30 years has made everything you see here tonight a reality and has made this building more than just offices and bureaus. And it is your continuing efforts, the efforts of the committee and the efforts of everybody in this room who has been so generous, that will ensure that these rooms will remain a source of enjoyment and an inspiration, an inspiration for all of us who work within this building, and for all who come to visit America.

That is what the diplomatic reception rooms are: more than a tribute to the historical roots of our nation, more than a stunning collection of museum Americana; these rooms are ultimately a testament to all of you here tonight and to your devotion to the public good, a devotion that is itself one of the greatest treasures of our nation. And for that devotion, Alma and I thank you from the bottom of our heart.

Thank you very much, and enjoy the evening. (Applause.)


Released on April 2, 2001

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