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Remarks at Unveiling of Portrait of Madeleine K. Albright, 64th Secretary of State

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Ben Franklin Room
Washington, DC
April 14, 2008

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MS. BRINKER: Secretary Rice, Secretary Albright, Your Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. My name is Nancy Brinker and I am the Chief of Protocol of the United States. It’s a pleasure to welcome you to the Department of State’s Benjamin Franklin Room for the unveiling of the portrait of the Honorable Madeleine K. Albright, 64th Secretary of State. (Applause and cheers.)

We are privileged to have the Honorable Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State, with us this afternoon. We’re also pleased to have a number of Secretary Albright’s family members joining us on this very special occasion. I would also like to welcome Justice Stephen Breyer, chiefs of mission, members of Congress and former cabinet members. Please join me in extending a warm welcome to all of Secretary Albright’s friends and special guests. (Applause.)

We will begin this special occasion with remarks by the Honorable Secretary Rice, and this will be followed by remarks by the Honorable Secretary Albright, concluding with the portrait unveiling. Now, it’s my pleasure to present Secretary Rice. (Applause.)

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the State Department and thank you all for coming. Madeleine, it looks like you have a few friends -- (laughter) -- and they’ve all come to bid you welcome and congratulations on this wonderful day.

I’m really looking forward to the unveiling of this official portrait of my friend, Secretary Madeleine Albright. I see many distinguished guests here today including Justice Breyer, members of Congress, representatives from the Diplomatic Corps, and I see many Deputy Secretaries, former Deputy Secretaries, Under Secretaries, former Under Secretaries -- and so welcome back to all of you who have walked these halls of the State Department and helped in America’s diplomacy. And it’s a great delight to have Secretary Albright’s family with us -- her 3 daughters, her brother and sister, both of whom I know from many years ago, as well as her grandchildren and her nephews.

I always tell Secretary Albright that it has been an honor to follow her in service here at the State Department. Our tenures, along with that of Secretary Colin Powell, show just how far the United States of America has come since the founding fathers, one of whom, of course, this room is named for, Benjamin Franklin, conceived of a young country along the eastern seaboard in which all men would be created equal. (Laughter.) If I serve my full term, it will have been 12 years since the United States of America had a white male Secretary of State. (Laughter and applause.) That a Czech immigrant and a daughter of an Alabama sharecropper -- granddaughter of an Alabama sharecropper could one day occupy the same office truly illustrates the greatness of this country.

Today is a memorable day, and it’s a memorable day for me personally on two fronts. First, we are honoring someone who served admirably during her time as Secretary of State. But secondly, I think all of you know that Madeleine and I share a certain kinship, because I was in college at the University of Denver trying to figure out my way in life and coming to the realization that if I stayed a music major I would end up playing at Nordstrom or perhaps at a piano bar -- (laughter) -- and I tried courses in English literature, and State and local government. And I hated them all. And then one day, I walked into a course in international politics taught by a Soviet specialist, a Czech émigré, a man named Josef Korbel, Secretary Albright’s father.

Josef Korbel opened up a world to me that I would never have known. And with that one class, I was hooked. And suddenly, I knew what I wanted to do. And so I owe a great deal to Dr. Josef Korbel, Madeleine’s father. And, Madeleine, he would have been very, very proud to be here today. (Applause.)

Madeleine and I may have come from two different administrations, but we share a belief that democratic values are at the heart of peace and stability in the world. Secretary Albright’s tenure was marked by an unshakable faith in those values. She oversaw the expansion and modernization of NATO, and she was a trailblazer in the effort to keep America engaged in the world, at a time at the end of the Cold War when many wondered whether America’s leadership was still needed at the end of history.

One of her crowning moments came during NATO’s successful campaign to reverse ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. That action put Kosovo on the path to independence, actions that we’ve had the privilege to encourage and promote as Kosovo has now become an independent state.

About three years ago, Secretary Albright was able to return to Kosovo and to speak to the Central Assembly, and she spoke of the effort during her tenure to end the repression there. She said, “Together we pledged that never again in Kosovo would people come with guns in the night; never again would houses and villages be burned; never again would there be terror and mass graves. The time had come to begin a new era in this storied land as part of a new start for the entire region.”

I could not agree more, Madame Secretary. And because of your vision at the time, and because of your toughness at the time, freedom and democracy for that region are on the march -- not without troubles, not without winding roads, but most certainly and most assuredly on the march.

Secretary Albright has a robust respect for the United States, a love for this country, and therefore a respect for our nation’s role in the global community. She believes deeply that all people deserve an opportunity to live their lives in dignity and free of fear.

Madeleine, Secretary Albright, we honor you for your unyielding commitment to improving our world. This portrait will hang at the State Department and remind us not only of the nation we’ve become but of the global world that we aspire to be. And now, it is with great honor that I introduce Madeleine Albright, 64th Secretary of State of the United States. (Applause.)

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you. Thank you very, very much. Thank you. Thank you so much, Madame Secretary, Condi, my sister. When I was first nominated to be Secretary of State, I wondered aloud whether my heels could ever fill Warren Christopher’s shoes. I never even considered the option of boots. (Laughter.)

Secretary Rice, you are doing a remarkable job in a difficult era. And I truly appreciate your kindness today and your very wonderful words. And I know that my father would be so incredibly proud that we were here together. There is no way to express what that means. We did have the same intellectual father.

Justice Breyer and Speaker Pelosi, excellencies from the Diplomatic Corps, Senators Mikulski and Sarbanes and Representatives Harman and Skelton, and colleagues and former colleagues and members of the media and members of my family, my grandchildren and special guests, thank you all so much for being here. It really is wonderful to see so many friends here on this afternoon.

I have sometimes thought that my two most momentous accomplishments while in office were first to persuade the Department to move Canada from the European Bureau, where it had been since Queen Victoria, to the Western Hemisphere, where it actually is. (Applause.) And second, to work with Ike Skelton, to name this building after Missouri’s greatest son. It was Harry Truman, of course, who said that if you can’t stand the heat, keep out of the kitchen. And when it comes to world affairs, the United States Department of State is the kitchen.

Those of you who are here with Secretary Rice still in the business of making foreign policy, I’ve told many of you how much I envy you. As daunting as the problems are, the challenge of representing our nation, defending its interests, working with friends, coping with adversaries, asking questions and making decisions is the best job I could ever imagine. For me, public service was an incredible privilege for which I will always be grateful to President Clinton for his trust, to the American people for having welcomed my family to these shores, and to the men and women of this Department for doing their utmost every day to advance our nation’s goals.

Looking now at the portrait, I have several reactions. The first is, thanks to the artist, Steven Polson, for producing such a brilliant work with limited material at hand. (Laughter.) When I was in office, I was called everything from a snake to a witch, to elderly but dangerous. (Laughter.) Steven did a marvelous job of concealing each of those qualities. (Laughter.) So to Steven, who is right there, I say thank you. (Applause.)

And also to Ann Fader and Laurie Lushack for helping to guide me through this unbelievable process. I must say, though, that I found it a little strange posing for a portrait. It's hard enough to fill a job once held by Thomas Jefferson. It's even harder to make like Mona Lisa or, for that matter, Whistler's Mother. (Laughter.)

But I couldn't help but be conscious of history. On my first day as Secretary, after being sworn in, I walked down the corridor to my new office. And in so doing, I had to pass by the paintings of all those men with whiskers and suits, and I was worried that somebody would call out Diplomatic Security. (Laughter.) In the future, my portrait and that of Secretary Rice, and who knows which of our sisters, will compete for space with the men. And I don't know, Condi, when this portrait goes up maybe the walls will shake. (Laughter.) It may have taken more than 200 years, but as Secretary Rice says, since the millennium began, fully two-thirds of American Secretaries of State have been women. (Laughter and applause.)

My second reaction to the portrait concerns the nature of the job that it celebrates. The artist's assignment is to create something permanent, an image that will live on and not fade. The Secretary of State's responsibility is to give fresh life to permanent principles. Each of us may have our own style, using brushstrokes that are different, but our calling is the same. More than creators, we are trustees, charged with upholding a tradition that began at Valley Forge and remains the world's most powerful source of positive change. That does not mean that we can be passive, for our beliefs are continually tested by our adversaries and by our own limitations of wisdom and foresight. It does mean that we have a duty to do our best to reinforce ideals that provide the foundation for American leadership, a commitment to freedom, respect for human rights, credibility and support for the rule of law. Every Secretary of State must be able to look at George Marshall and Dean Acheson and the rest of our historic predecessors in the eye, although hopefully without actually having a conversation with them. (Laughter.)

My third reaction to the portrait, and I hope this will not be misunderstood, is to say, wait a minute, for me it is still a thrill to see this work as it will be unveiled, but I myself am a work of flesh and blood and not ready to be hung on a wall. (Laughter.) At the moment, I’m teaching, writing, running a business, chairing the Truman Scholarship Foundation and the National Democratic Institute, and simultaneously co-chairing an international commission on poverty, a task force on genocide and an inter-faith alliance on women and development. When all those challenges are conquered, I will rest. (Laughter.) Until then, I still have miles to go and work to do.

From the Secretary of State’s office, one can see the National Mall, with its glorious history and many majestic memorials. When I left that office, I moved to a new one overlooking Loeb’s delicatessen. (Laughter.) Life is all about change. (Laughter.) But America reminds us of what must never change: our commitment to freedom and to one another; our belief that the future can be made better than the past; and our conviction in the words of Secretary Rice’s mentor and my father that, and I quote, “Whether we are conservatives or progressives, socializing democrats or democratic socialists, white, black or yellow, we can all, if we are good democrats,” small d, “accept that human dignity and respect for the individual should be the focus of everything.” (Applause.)

The focus of everything is saying quite a bit. But respect for every life is the kind of principle that, like a picture or a portrait, is worth a thousand words. Thank you all very, very much. (Applause.)

(The portrait was unveiled.) (Applause.)

MS. BRINKER: Thank you for joining us. Secretary Albright would like to greet all of you, and we will form a receiving line here in the front for that purpose. Thank you.


Released on April 15, 2008

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