Clinton to ambassadors: We are all in uncharted territory

Clinton to ambassadors: We are all in uncharted territory

In the midst of the Egypt crisis, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with almost every U.S. ambassador Wednesday at the State Department and told them their jobs will be getting more difficult as the events in the Arab world unfold.

"It goes without saying — but I will say it anyway — that this is a critical time for America’s global leadership," Clinton told the ambassadors. "From the theft of confidential cables to 21st-century protest movements to development breakthroughs that have the potential to change millions of lives, we are all in uncharted territory, and that requires us to be more nimble, more innovative, and more accountable than ever before."

Over 200 ambassadors are in Washington this week for the first-ever global chiefs of mission conference, which was scheduled long before the recent string of revolts in the Arab world.

"We figured early February would be quiet, not much going on. What better time to pull you from your posts and responsibilities?" Clinton joked.

She spoke about the difficult budget environment for diplomacy and development this year, the role of civilian personnel in the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the State Department’s Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review.

But the political crisis in the Arab world, which has consequences for America’s relationships with so many countries, was a repeated focus of Clinton’s remarks.

"And as we see with what’s going on today, recent events in Egypt and certainly in that broader region remind us all how crucial it is to have top-notch leadership on the ground and how quickly that ground can shift under our feet," Clinton said, noting that U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Margaret Scobey could not attend.

State Department Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills also addressed the ambassadors, who were scheduled on Wednesday to also hear from Joints Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, Ambassador at Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer, and Special Representative for Global Partnerships Kris Balderston. Special Advisor Alec Ross and Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy Judith McHale will meet with the group later this week.

Clinton said the State Department will release a fiscal 2012 budget request next month that represents "a lean budget for lean times." State doesn’t even know yet what its fiscal 2011 funding will be and the House is looking to cut diplomacy and development funding just as the civilian missions in Afghanistan and Iraq are expanding, she said.

Clinton asked all the ambassadors to find ways to save money and to use their meetings with lawmakers to advocate for robust funding for diplomacy and development next year.

"We know that there are those in the Congress who have even advocated eliminating all foreign aid, eliminating AID, and it’s going to take some outreach and education to discuss with them and lead them through our rationale," Clinton told the ambassadors. "But I and we need to be in a position where we can say, ‘Look, we hear you.’"