Kerry: Diplomats need to be ‘outdoors’ to do their jobs

May 20, 2013

Secretary of State John F. Kerry sought Monday to reassure the nation’s diplomats that security concerns surrounding last year’s attack on a temporary U.S. post in Benghazi, Libya, will not translate into new restrictions on their ability to do their jobs.

Diplomats need to be “outdoors,” and sometimes outside security barriers, to perform their duties properly, Kerry said at a diplomatic conference.

“We, as a nation, need to continue our larger conversation about the inherent dangers of diplomacy, ever mindful that we undertake them clear-eyed and for a reason,” he said. “But we must also remember that this conversation is not a new one. The dangers of diplomacy are not unique to our time.”

Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and another diplomat, Sean Smith, were killed in September when militants overran the temporary diplomatic post in the eastern Libyan city. Two CIA employees, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, were killed a few hours later protecting a nearby CIA installation.

An independent review for the State Department raised questions about security measures at the post, and Republicans in Congress have repeatedly challenged the Obama administration’s response to the attack.

Kerry challenged Congress on Monday to help protect U.S. diplomatic outposts by approving the State Department’s request for more money to improve embassy security worldwide. The department is seeking $4 billion in its fiscal 2014 budget, which would help fund more Marine security guards and diplomatic security agents, as well as security upgrades and construction at high-risk posts.

Many longtime diplomats, including former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan C. Crocker, have argued that excessive security is hindering the effectiveness of American diplomacy on the front lines. Such concerns have increased since the Benghazi attack.

Kerry’s remarks appeared intended to assure State Department employees that criticism of security lapses in Libya, and the surrounding debate about how to pay for security upgrades elsewhere, will not mean a retrenchment for diplomacy.

“If you are going to represent our country in the countries to which you’re about to travel, you need to be accessible to the people on the ground,” he told trainees at the Foreign Service Institute in Arlington.

Kerry invoked his father’s career in the Foreign Service after World War II, something he does often when speaking to staffs at embassies worldwide.

“We’re going to keep practicing what my father called ‘foreign policy outdoors,’ ” Kerry said. That means “working directly with men and women around the world, from government officials and local leaders to civil society groups and ordinary people on the street.”

Anne Gearan is a national politics correspondent for The Washington Post.
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