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Ambassador John F. Tefft Awarded the 2012 Diplomacy in Human Rights Award

U.S. Department of State



Foreign Service Acting Director General and Ambassador John F. Tefft - 09/04/2013 Ambassador John F. Tefft receiving the Diplomacy in Human Rights Award - 09/04/2013 Ambassador John F. Tefft receiving the Diplomacy in Human Rights Award - 09/04/2013
Ambassador John F. Tefft receiving the Diplomacy in Human Rights Award - 09/04/2013 Ambassador John F. Tefft receiving the Diplomacy in Human Rights Award - 09/04/2013 Ambassador John F. Tefft receiving the Diplomacy in Human Rights Award - 09/04/2013
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Thank you, Ambassador Klemm.

I am honored to join Deputy Secretary Burns and to represent my colleagues in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor in today’s program celebrating the diplomatic career of Ambassador John Tefft.

Wow; the ratio of ambassadors to us mere mortals is extremely high in this room.  The air is rarefied indeed.

I first and most importantly want to say Thank You to John, and Mariella, for teaching this novice Deputy Assistant Secretary the tricks of the trade in the diplomacy business.

Virtually from the day I arrived here three years ago, John was drawing me in to the Ukraine discourse, and he has always been a model of inclusiveness in information-sharing and participatory policy formation.  As a result, I have made six visits to Ukraine in three years, and engaged frequently with Ukrainian civic activists, politicians of various persuasions, journalists and especially and frequently with government officials, at the cabinet and sub-cabinet level and in the presidential administration.

This has always been with in close coordination with John, and often literally side-by-side with him, as we sought to persuade, educate, cajole, plead, threaten, embarrass, and otherwise leverage our counterparts to take decisions that we believed would move Ukraine forward on its path to democratic consolidation — which means political pluralism, elections with integrity, judicial administration where justice is prized as the highest value — all of which are requisites for Ukraine’s prosperity, stability, sovereignty and its continuing integration with Europe and the world.

I have seen him at work in the Bankova, the offices of state power in Kyiv, in a hospital room in Kharkiv, meeting with the families of people unjustly imprisoned, presenting to journalists and civil society leaders, and working the glamor/power crowd at the annual mini-Davos Y.E.S. gathering at Yalta where everybody who is anybody was rubbing elbows and puttin’ on airs.

In every one of these settings, I saw the same John Tefft at work –

bouyant and upbeat (even when delivering bad news or a serious complaint from our government);

energetic and smart, with a steel trap mind.

Almost every time, no matter with whom we were meeting (and especially with government officials) he was always double-tracking.  Most meetings end like a scene in the old TV series “Colombo” — just as we are about to depart, doing his impersonation of Peter Falk, John turns back and says “oh, there is just one more thing.”

And then he leans in and in lowered voice tells the uncooperative government official that he personally is working on his daughter’s visa for study in the U.S. next fall, or he mentions to the presidential aide that unless some things are fixed in the non-transparent way licenses to export wheat are unfairly excluding U.S. companies, there would necessarily be adverse consequences.

Yet even when he is delivering the toughest and least-welcome messages, his counterparts are always genuinely pleased to see him as a person, and always, at the conclusion, invite him back.

For John Tefft demonstrated in every way that it is possible to be a strong advocate for democratic values and better governing practices, working with sometimes under-enthusiastic counterparts trying to get them to do the right thing; being personally vested simultaneously in relationships and issues, while not letting policy disagreements get personal or disagreeable.

I wish we could say today that we accomplished all our goals in respect of democracy and rule-of-law in Ukraine during these past three years.  But one of the things I have learned from John – and this won’t be a surprise to many others here in the Department, is that other governments don’t always take our advice, even when it is good advice.

Nevertheless, under John’s leadership we in the USG and in embassy Kiev have made important contributions, which has worked because so many Ukrainians are working every day to move their country toward its democratic future, and working with us and others to develop sound legislation and improve democratic performance.

I have seen no embassy better at facilitating inter-agency harmonization – with USAID, DOJ/RLA advisors; and others.

Now to award number one.

With regard to the ongoing saga of the politically selective prosecution of officials of a certain previous administration in Ukraine, something that may well block Ukraine from taking the definitive step toward European economic integration that would secure its people’s prosperity, John was tireless in his efforts to get Ukraine to do the right thing.  As Ukraine watchers know, John would often sum up his conversations with the most senior of officials by reporting how we had reminded  them of “Tefft’s first law of governance”, which is to say,

“When you are deep in a hole of your own creation, the first thing to do is to stop digging.”

So for a couple of years now, I have been attributing this wise and pithy saying to John Tefft.

Then a couple of weekends ago, my son and I went into the Barnes and Noble book store in Bethesda, looking for comic books.  On the exterior wall around the store there are plaques with famous sayings attributed to the great writers of history – among which there is a  plaque by the entrance that reads:  ‘when you are in a hole, stop digging.‘   But the plaque on the wall attributed this wisdom not to John Tefft, but to someone named “Anonymous”.  At first I thought that John had appropriated someone else’s work, but then I realized that he was ghost writing for this guy, “Anonymous”, or that “Anonymous” is John’s pen name. And therefore that he is also responsible for other famous sayings attributed to “Anonymous”, which the more I thought about them the more I realized they are exactly the kinds of things John Tefft would say, like –

“A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.”

“Hindsight is an exact science.”

“Never be afraid to try something new. Remember, amateurs built the ark. Professionals built the Titanic.”

“When all is said and done, more is said than done.”

These all sound like quintessential John Tefft sayings.  So I think we have finally uncovered who “Anonymous” really is.

John, in retirement I think you should start doing more writing under your own name. Maybe for Hallmark cards.  But as a reminder of this most famous John Tefft saying, I took a photo of it and framed it for John to take home as a souvenir of his time in Ukraine.

Prize Number Two:

On behalf of the Secretary of State, and my colleagues in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, having been selected from a very competitive field of nominees from all over the world, I am pleased to announce that the 2012 Diplomacy in Human Rights Award has been awarded to Ambassador John Tefft,

“For his sustained and effective leadership of the U.S. embassy in Kyiv in providing well-coordinated inter-agency support for the aspirations of the Ukrainian people to enjoy strengthened democratic institutions and practices, the fair administration of justice, and respect for the fundamental freedoms set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

Congratulations, John.

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