U.S. Embassy & Consulates in India -- Secretary Antony J. Blinken. Thank you. Good morning. It is wonderful to see all of you here. I think we have some colleagues coming with us virtually hooked. And hello, it’s good to see the youngest staff members are here today, too.
Atul, thank you so much not just for the kind words but for taking on the mission, taking on the leadership here at what is – we always say it’s a critical time. This really is. And you all know it; you’re living it every single day. I am grateful for you for coming and taking this on, and I’m especially grateful to everyone on the team who worked to make this visit a success. I know these visits are challenging in any time. It’s especially challenging in this particular time.
And to start with the obvious and COVID-19, I know that of all of our missions around the world, this one has perhaps felt it more than any mission. We’ve lost six employees, four different community members, to COVID. So this is not just a professional challenge. This has been a personal challenge and, in many cases, a personal loss. I know many of you have felt this in your families, among your friends; and somehow, through it all, not only have you kept going, but you’ve kept going with remarkable distinction, remarkable results. And I just want to tell you how grateful I am to each and every one of you for coming together as a team, coming together as a mission, and continuing to get the job done.
I’ve had a chance to stop in on a number of your colleagues and missions around the world. COVID’s had an impact on everyone, but again, here maybe more than most. But you’ve also found something if not positive at least incredibly hopeful to the overall enterprise and the work that you’ve done here developing measures to prevent, to detect, to control and treat COVID here in the mission. Many of these protocols that you’ve come up with here we’ve been able to share across the entire State Department enterprise, and that’s been to the benefit of your colleagues around the world.
You spearheaded efforts to bring medical supplies and assistance here to India, and that’s been a remarkable achievement in and of itself. We all remember well, and I think we’ll never forget, the extent to which India came to our assistance in the United States in the earlier days of COVID when we were being hit particularly hard. And I am proud of the fact that we’ve been able to step up when it’s really mattered to India, but that just doesn’t happen. It takes remarkable organization. It takes remarkable enterprise. And much of that was done right here by all of you actually organizing all of the assistance that was coming forward, assistance that the U.S. Government provided, but also in a very extraordinary way the private sector as well. But that had to be – that had to be organized. It had to be distributed. It had to be coordinated with the Indian Government. And you’ve done all of that.
I think that’s had a very meaningful impact in helping to turn the tide of the second wave here in India, and it’s not every day that you can say that the work you’ve done has quite literally saved lives, but you can say that. You’ve done that. And I am deeply grateful for that and our friends here in India are, too.
I also want to say a special thanks to the management team, who have made sure that critical operations continued under these extremely challenging circumstances. I think it would be possible to look at pretty much every office in the mission and show ways that you’ve stepped up in the midst of COVID and getting your job done. I just want to cite a couple of things because they really do stand out.
Really extraordinary work on visas in the last few months and repatriating some of our fellow citizens. Nearly 6,000 U.S. citizens and legal residents, permanent residents, were repatriated, thanks to your work.
And students who are now going to be able to start classes or take part in summer session, they are on their way, or they are at colleges and universities in the United States, thanks to the remarkable work that you’ve done. You made a major push this summer for visas. As I understand it, by the end of August you will have conducted 68,000 student visa interviews, which is the highest in years. And again, to do that during COVID is extraordinary.
We may end up sending more students to the United States this year than ever before as a result of your work. And that’s important in so many different ways, but it’s particularly important, I think to all of us, because this is where enduring connections are made between the United States and India. These are relationships that are going to be not just established now but will likely endure for years, for decades, for generations. Nothing could be more important.
And let me just say a couple of words about the relationship more broadly, which is what brought me here and what brings you here. It is, simply put, one of the most consequential relationships we have with any country on Earth. We know and we say it’s vital for security, for prosperity, for the future of a free and open Indo-Pacific; but when you think about it, as I like to say, none of the really big challenges that we face as a country, challenges that have a direct impact on the lives of our fellow citizens, whether it’s COVID, whether it’s the climate crisis, whether it’s the impact of emerging technologies on all of our lives, not a single one of these problems can be addressed by any one country acting alone, even the United States. And it’s manifestly true, in my judgment at least, that not a single one of these challenges can be met without the United States and India working closely together. And that’s exactly what we’re trying to do.
One of the things that’s been a very powerful witness in my time in government over the last 25 years is the evolution of this relationship. And it has grown stronger and deeper across successive administrations, Republican and Democrat, because I think there is a recognition that it’s profoundly in the national interest. And you are a big part of continuing that evolution, making it stronger and deeper as we go forward.
So whether you work for the State Department, whether you’re one of the more than 20 other agencies here at this mission, whether you’re a direct hire, whether you’re locally engaged staff, an eligible family member, I really just wanted to say two very simple words: Thank you. Thank you for what you’re doing every single day to strengthen the relationship between our countries. Thank you to the Americans here for what you’re doing for your fellow citizens back home in ways that they will never fully perhaps see or fully understand but that are actually going to have an impact on their lives.
One of the charge’s predecessors here, Ambassador Rich Verma, we were talking the other day. And he reminded me of something you probably already know, but it’s worth citing. When President Eisenhower came here in 1959, he visited the embassy, and he talked about the future that we were trying to build for Indian and American kids. This is 1959. And he said – say these children are nine years old now, maybe a little bit younger, maybe a little bit older. Add 60 years to that. In 2019, what is the world going to be then? If we do our work well, he said, they will do theirs better.
So I think those words have real resonance over these many years. And in thinking about the youngest members of our staff here, I hope that we do our work well so that they will have an even better world to inherit and hopefully to leave even better than we’re doing right now. So again, thank you, thank you, thank you for everything that you’re doing every single day. It’s great to see you. It’s great to be with you. And thanks for having us, and I hope that if nothing else there’s a very good wheels-up party later today.