Departing Santiago, Chile, after attending the ‘Our Ocean’ conference in Valparaiso, Chile, on October 6, 2015. [State Department photo]
As this extraordinary year comes to a close, I wanted to share with you some of the moments in 2015 that I found most memorable. Because of the breadth of our national interests, the values we stand for, and the accelerating pace of change, the United States today is more deeply engaged, in more places, with more partners, on more important issues than ever before in our history. Every day, the people of the State Department work to make our nation strong and secure, build shared prosperity, strengthen democratic institutions, promote human rights, expand energy security, combat hunger, care for refugees, tell America’s story through public diplomacy, and pursue the universal aspiration of peace on Earth. These are just snapshots of that hard work.
1. The Most Ambitious Climate Agreement Ever Negotiated
December 2015 — I’ve been at almost every major climate conference since Rio in 1992. Time and again, leaders gathered but failed to find a common path forward. President Obama made it clear that the 2015 U.N. climate conference in Paris needed to be different. To help reach that goal, we launched an unprecedented collaboration on climate issues with China and urged every nation to announce its own targets for reducing carbon emissions. Earlier this month, 195 countries came together to negotiate the most ambitious climate agreement ever — an agreement that will help the world prepare for the impacts of climate change that are already here and provide a foundation for addressing those we know are headed our way. This deal will, when fully implemented, help us transition to a global clean energy economy and ultimately prevent the worst, most devastating consequences of climate change from ever happening.
2. Advancing a Political Solution to the Syrian Conflict
December 2015 — The conflict in Syria, the refugee crisis it has spawned, and the violent extremism to which it has contributed, remain a foremost challenge to us all. Over the last few months, we launched a renewed diplomatic initiative to de-escalate the conflict in Syria, encourage a political transition, and isolate the terrorists. The initiative has, for the first time, brought all the major international players together — including at the United Nations Security Council — to seek a political solution. The obstacles to peace in Syria remain daunting, but the need for a settlement — and our commitment to reaching one — has never been greater.
3. Celebrating the Holidays with Children of Parents Serving in Unaccompanied Posts
December 2015 — I marvel at the courage of our diplomats overseas, and particularly those who serve in places like Baghdad or Kabul or Islamabad — where, for security reasons, they are unable to bring their loved ones along. Each year in Washington, we host a holiday reception for the children of these brave men and women. It is a moving event for all who attend — and a chance to reflect on the enormous sacrifices that our diplomats make on behalf of our country.
4. Standing in Solidarity with the French People
November 2015 — Days after the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris, I traveled to the City of Light to express my condolences on behalf of the American people. U.S. Ambassador Jane Hartley and I joined embassy staff in lighting the U.S. Embassy in the bleu, blanc, et rouge colors of the French Republic — a reminder to the brave people of France that the American people continue to stand with them, shoulder-to-shoulder, as we have stood together throughout history.
5. Welcoming Pope Francis to the United States
September 2015 — As an altar boy six decades ago, I never imagined that I would find myself greeting the Bishop of Rome during his first-ever visit to the United States. It’s been a privilege to work with the Holy See on some of our greatest global challenges — from opening a new chapter in our relationship with Cuba to confronting climate change to standing up for the human dignity of refugees. I am inspired by Pope Francis, who has been a moral leader on every critical global issue we face.
6. Normalizing Diplomatic Relations with Cuba
August 2015 — In early January 1961, after the U.S. ambassador had left Havana, a few Americans stayed behind for a final, fateful mission. Three U.S. Marine guards — Larry Morris, Mike East, and Jim Tracy — made their way to the flagpole, lowered Old Glory, folded it, and returned to the building.
They promised that one day they would return to Havana and raise the flag again. At the time, no one could have imagined how distant that day would be. In August, I became the first Secretary of State to travel to Cuba since 1945. Fifty-four years after Larry, Mike, and Jim lowered the flag, it was a privilege to be with them in Havana as the American flag was raised once more.
I am convinced — as is President Obama — that normalized diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba will benefit all of our citizens. And we are committed to advancing the ties between our nations in the year ahead.
7. Engaging with Young Southeast Asian Leaders in Malaysia
August 2015 — Perhaps the most exhilarating and inspiring aspect of my job is the opportunity to interact with young people around the world. One of my favorite events this year was with participants in the Young South East Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Malaysia is one of many countries around the world where over 40 percent of the population is under 25. In the 21st century, diplomacy cannot just mean engaging with the leaders of today — it must also mean engaging with the leaders of tomorrow.
8. The Iran Deal
July 2015 — In July, the United States, together with China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and Iran, and supported by the European Union, negotiated a landmark agreement to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. The deal is already making the United States, our allies and partners in the region, and the world safer — today, for the first time in a decade, Iran does not possess enough enriched uranium to produce a single nuclear weapon. We will remain vigilant to ensure that the implementation of this deal achieves exactly what we set out to do from the very beginning of these negotiations, to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is and always remains exclusively for peaceful purposes.
9. Concluding the Trans-Pacific Partnership Negotiations
May 2015 — Earlier this year, I visited a Boeing plant in Renton, Washington, to discuss the importance of concluding the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). A few months later, in October, the United States and 11 other countries — together representing nearly 40 percent of global GDP — did just that. This historic trade agreement will spur economic growth and prosperity, enhance competitiveness, and bring jobs to American shores. And by setting high standards on labor, the environment, intellectual property, and a free and open Internet, this agreement will level the playing field for American businesses and workers. I am proud of the support that our Department, and particularly our embassies, provided to our outstanding Trade Representative, Ambassador Mike Froman and his team. In 2016, we look forward to working with Congress to ratify TPP.
10. Consulting with Former Secretaries of State and National Security Advisors
January 2015 — All of us in positions of responsibility in our government are following in the footsteps of distinguished predecessors. I have been grateful to rely on the wisdom and advice of so many of former officials, who know better than anyone the challenges our country faces, and the privilege it is to try to tackle them. On a flight to Saudi Arabia to pay respects over the death of King Abdullah, I was fortunate to have at my disposal one of the most accomplished, captive audiences imaginable. As you might expect, we didn’t agree on everything, but I am forever grateful for their counsel, and their service.
In addition to advancing American values and interests abroad, diplomacy is also about cultural exchange and meeting people around the world. Here are a few cultural highlights from my travels in 2015: