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Announcement of Departure of Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Washington, DC
January 18, 2008

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SECRETARY RICE: Good morning. Well, I knew nothing good would come of the Red Sox winning again and of the Patriots’ near-perfect season, though it’s not over yet, Nick.

Obviously, this is a very bittersweet time for us because Nick Burns has decided that it is time for him to retire from the Foreign Service after 26 years of service to his country in that capacity. He’s decided that it’s the right moment to go back to family concerns. And while it is a sad thing for us, it is certainly something that I understand and respect. After all, I’ve known Libby and Nick’s girls since the girls were tiny and I understand very well that this job has been difficult for the family because Nick has done it with a commitment and with a gusto that has meant that he’s had to spend a lot of time away from his family.

He’s been somebody who has given, obviously, wise counsel to me and to the President. He is deeply respected and admired here in Washington, but also deeply respected and admired abroad, where he has been the consummate diplomat serving on behalf of the United States in some of our most difficult circumstances, working on some of our most difficult issues. He, of course, also has served twice as Ambassador to Greece and to NATO. He simply had a stellar career as a diplomat.

He’s going to continue to sprint until he leaves in March. We’ve got a lot of work to do starting next week when we will go together to Berlin to have a little meeting on the way forward on Iran with the P-5+1. And so we have a lot of work to do and I’ve asked Nick also that after he retires, that he will spend some time continuing to work on the India file, particularly because we would like to push the U.S. Civil Nuclear Agreement to conclusion if possible and Nick has agreed to continue that work and thank you, Nick, for that.

Obviously, when someone of Nick’s caliber and quality decides to step down, you think mostly of what is going to be lost for the government, for someone who is such a committed person in carrying out the President’s policies. But I want to say just a word also about Nick Burns as a friend. We’ve known each other for 18 years when we served together first in the administration of George H.W. Bush. It was a heady time, a time of the end of the Cold War, when Eastern Europe was being liberated, when Germany was being unified, and when the Soviet Union was well on its way to peaceful collapse. And they were great times for two people in their 30s who thought they had the world by the tail. It was a great time to be there and a great time to be friends working together on those issues.

But it’s also been terrific to have a friend working alongside me in what have been more trying times for our country than those times at the end of the Cold War and somebody who recognizes that it is only when America is strong in its values, committed to those values, and determined to do the hard things that one can look forward to outcomes like we had at the end of the Cold War for some future administration in the future concerning the Middle East.

And so whether we’ve worked together in times that seemed always to be going our way or in times when life has been a little hard, it’s been great to be doing it with my friend, Nick Burns. And Nick, while you will be stepping down as P, you’ll never be stepping down as my friend. Thank you.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, Madame Secretary, thank you so much for those very generous remarks. It’s obviously a bittersweet day for me, but I’m very grateful to the President and to you for the opportunity to have served as Under Secretary of State these past three years and I’ll tell you I’ve loved every day in this job. It has been a remarkable privilege for me to work for you and I think you’re an extraordinary public servant. You are someone who has a singular commitment to our country and to its success and as you said, to its security in a very dangerous and different time for our foreign policy.

And I've admired also, because we work together every day and we see each other a lot, I admire the way you've acquitted yourself in this job, such extraordinary intellect, such energy, the leadership and the grace in which you work with all of us who are your colleagues here at the State Department. So I'm very proud to have been a member of your team and to have had the rare opportunity to have played a modest role at the heart of our foreign policy.

I'm also going to be very grateful -- I'm forever grateful for the friendship that we've had, and as you said, we worked together 20 years ago. We were much younger then. But they were heady days when communism collapsed in Eastern Europe and when the Cold War ended and when Germany was liberated and united in NATO and we can be very proud of that.

I'm going to continue to support your efforts to secure an Israeli-Palestinian peace, to finish this very promising strategic opening with India which will do so much good for our country and our global foreign policy, and to help and to support as you contend with these extraordinary challenges at this difficult time. You can count on that.

And I'd also like to say it's a difficult to leave the Foreign Service. The men and women with whom I've served on three continents over 26 years are extraordinary people. They are patriotic people. They have served our country and continue to serve in the most difficult places. The Foreign Service has answered Secretary Rice's call to serve in Iraq and in Afghanistan. And they're just about the best people that our country has to offer. And as I leave this job, as I will leave in a few months and leave the Foreign Service, I'm really going to miss all of my colleagues with whom I've worked. And I have the greatest respect for my colleagues as they serve overseas and serve here in Washington.

Deciding to leave the Foreign Service has been just about the most difficult decision I've ever had to make. But I do so with the conviction that after 26 years in government service it's time for me to meet my obligations to my wife and three daughters and it's time to pursue other ventures outside the government. But as I do, my heart and loyalties are going to remain in this building with the Foreign Service, with my colleagues, and I'm certainly leaving with a very deep sense that the country and our State Department is in the best possible hands with Secretary Rice. And I thank you for your friendship, I thank you for this wonderful opportunity to say goodbye and wish you all the best in the future.

Thank you very much.


Released on January 18, 2008

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