Clinton returns to State Department for first time since leaving

September 3

Hillary Clinton, making her first return to the State Department since stepping down as secretary of state early last year, was among five of the seven living former secretaries of state gathered Wednesday to break ground for a new Diplomacy Center.

Loop fans may have thought that the State Department already was the Diplomacy Center, but apparently no — that title is reserved for a long-delayed museum that will sit just outside the hulking Foggy Bottom headquarters and will, unlike the main building, be open to tourists.

The museum, described by State as “an extraordinary glass jewel box that will be pleasing to the eye by day and softly illuminated through the evening,” is still a work in progress. The $50 million or more in private sector donations to build it aren’t all in yet, and the speakers at Wednesday’s fete avoided being too precise about when the center might actually open. (In May, the Loop shared some cool artifacts that will be displayed.)

While Clinton’s every move is always a news event these days (maybe she’ll drop another 2016 hint!), it was 91-year-old Henry Kissinger who pretty much stole the show as he hoisted his shovel into the dirt and hammed it up for the crowd.

“We want people who come to this center to understand what diplomacy is all about,” Clinton said, including how the art form has evolved “from Benjamin Franklin to John Kerry and beyond.”

Madeleine Albright, who hatched the idea for the center in 1999, beamed. Colin Powell and James Baker were also there to help shovel.

“Humbling company,” Kerry tweeted as the program began.

“This day has been a long time in the making,” Albright said, a delicate reference to the project’s early years, when the Bush administration largely ignored it.

After the museum plan languished during the Bush years, Albright pressed Clinton to jump-start the project, and Clinton assigned staff to spearhead the fundraising.

Former secretaries George P. Shultz and Condoleezza Rice did not attend on Wednesday. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said they were invited but could not make the event.

(Correction: An earlier version of this post misspelled former secretary George P. Shultz’s last name.)

Anne Gearan is The Washington Post's diplomatic correspondent.
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