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August 5, 2022

Austria and the United States: Enduring Partners

Remarks of

 Ambassador Victoria Reggie Kennedy

“Austria and the United States: Enduring Partners”

March 14, 2022

The Diplomatic Academy

Thank you, Ambassador Brix, for that very kind and generous introduction.  You are a valued partner for the US Embassy.  We always appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with you and the Diplomatic Academy, and I’m very much looking forward to our conversation this evening.

Secretary General Launsky-Tieffenthal, it’s a pleasure to be with you.  The Secretary General was not only the first member of the Austrian Government I met when I arrived to be Ambassador in Austria, he was basically the first person I met. Peter greeted me at the Vienna airport, and we’ve worked closely together ever since, most recently on the Strategic Dialogue between the US and Austria, which I’ll address in a bit more detail later.

Ambassador Brix, Secretary General Launsky-Tieffenthal, My fellow Ambassadors and other members of the Diplomatic Corps, Representatives from the Austrian Government and Ministries; Students, faculty, and staff of the Diplomatic Academy, Esteemed colleagues and friends:

Ambassador Kennedy at the Diplomatic Academy
© Diplomatische Akademie/Peter Lechner

Thank you all for being here at the Diplomatic Academy, either in person or virtually, for my first official foreign policy speech as U.S. Ambassador to Austria.

For almost 270 years, the Diplomatic Academy has been educating Austrian and international diplomats and students who go on to define their country’s role on the international stage, as leaders in diplomacy, public service, and business.  The discussions that happen here, and the relationships that are formed here, shape our world order and directly impact Austria’s leadership in it.  And as some of you know, the American Embassy in Vienna has a special connection to the Diplomatic Academy, as our chancery on Bolzmanngasse is the building of a precursor of the Diplomatic Academy, the former Austrian Consular Academy.

I’m honored to be here with all of you.

We come together this evening at a time of great consequence.  Though the topic of my remarks — “Austria and the United States: Enduring Partners” — was planned long ago, its relevance is more evident now than ever, with war raging in Europe, closer to where we sit tonight than the western part of Austria is to Vienna.  Indeed, this crisis highlights the importance of the enduring partnership between Austria and the United States.

And this partnership goes back a long way.  Austria recognized the sovereignty of the United States of America in 1797, and we established formal diplomatic relations in 1838.  So, as I often say, we’ve been partners and friends for a long time.  And as has been clear in so many ways over the years and as is evident in our unified response to the horrific conflict we are currently witnessing in Ukraine, Austria and the United States have common interests and shared democratic values.

It was just 19 days ago that Vladimir Putin launched his unprovoked, deliberate, unjustified attack on Ukraine and the Ukrainian people.  It was just 19 days ago that the Kremlin gave up the pretense of diplomacy – and the hand of diplomacy certainly was offered over and over again – to deny the statehood of Ukraine and to violate its territorial integrity by force, ignoring 30 years of international recognition – including Russia’s own recognition – of Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence.

By this historic violation of the international legal order, Putin attempts to rewrite history and redraw international borders according to his own vision of what he wants Russia to be.  And in the process, he indiscriminately attacks civilian areas, bombing hospitals that are tending to sick children or women giving birth.

But, in the wake of this carnage and in response to his bringing war to Europe, Putin not only has galvanized Ukraine, which inspires the world with its bravery and self-defense, but also has brought unity to the free world, as all 27 countries of the EU, the United States, Great Britain, NATO, the G-7 countries, and more, have come forward in solidarity to condemn his unprovoked and unjustified aggression in Ukraine.

Austria, in its individual capacity, also has strongly condemned Russia’s unjustified, premeditated war in Ukraine.  It has made clear that it cannot remain politically neutral in the face of such gross violations of international law, human rights and the most basic principles of the rules-based international order.  Additionally, both individually and as a member state of the EU, Austria has reaffirmed the importance of our shared Transatlantic commitment to democracy and human rights.

Without question, relationships matter. It matters that President Biden put diplomacy at the forefront of his foreign policy agenda from Day 1 of his Administration.  It matters that the United States consulted with our partners and allies in Europe and NATO and the G-7 in advance of Putin’s aggression against Ukraine.  It matters that we consulted with President Zelenskyy of Ukraine.  And it matters that we worked closely with our partners in Government in Austria, consulting and sharing information at the highest levels. And it matters that we continue to share and talk and listen as issues relating to Ukraine, including the humanitarian crisis and pressures from the unprecedented economic sanctions, continue to develop.

That’s why the already strong connections between the United States and Austria were so important in forging the unity, consensus and relationship of trust we’re experiencing now. Relationships are not built overnight; they’re built brick-by-brick, year-by-year, person-to-person.

That’s also why, even in the midst of this war, the United States and Austria still made necessary time for high-level government-to-government meetings as part of an ongoing US-Austria Strategic Dialogue.  As part of that Dialogue, we affirm that both the United States and Austria are dedicated to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and support its freedom for political association and economic integration with Europe.  We know these things take time.  But the United States and Austria acknowledge and recognize Ukraine’s European choice and aspirations. Russia and Vladimir Putin do not have the right to take away Ukraine’s independence and self-determination.

We also reaffirm the importance of the bilateral US-Austria relationship in addressing Transatlantic issues and jointly commit to enhance our cooperation by increasing civil society dialogue and fostering educational and people-to-people exchanges.

This audience knows – many first-hand – the difference that this kind of cooperation and dialogue can make – the difference it has made.

Just think of the strong relationship built between our countries because of US investment under the Marshall Plan after World War II. It laid the foundation of European and Transatlantic cooperation with the United States.  To this day, it continues to promote the Austrian economy.

Also think of the strength of our enduring partnership because of our powerful bilateral trade and investment relationships.  U.S. and Austrian companies have deep trade and investment connections that generate economic prosperity on both sides of the Atlantic.

     Think of how our shared values are reflected in the strong contribution by Austria to international peacekeeping missions in Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Lebanon, and elsewhere.  Or how our bilateral bonds are further strengthened by the exchange program between US and Austrian military academies. Or by the upcoming State Partnership Program between the Austrian Bundesheer and the Vermont National Guard.    

Think of people-to-people educational exchanges, like the Fulbright Program, one of our premier academic exchanges that just celebrated its 70th anniversary here in Austria.  Fulbright Austria and the Diplomatic Academy have been cooperating for 20 years through a Distinguished Visiting Professorship here in Vienna.

Ambassador Brix is himself an alumnus of one of the State Department most prestigious people-to-people exchanges, the International Visitor Program. These are the kind of programs that form the bases of long-lasting relationships between our countries.

     In closing, before I sit down for a conversation with Ambassador Brix and Secretary General Launsky-Tieffenthal, I want to reaffirm the importance of the enduring relationship between Austria and the United States, particularly at this pivotal moment in history.  This time when critical choices must be made. This time of war…or peace. This time of democracy…or autocracy. This time of cooperation based on common values and shared interests…or forced alliances built on brute force, threats and unspeakable acts of inhumanity.

Because of that importance, and so that Austria and the United States can truly be enduring partners, I believe we must invest in the future.  We must redouble our efforts to connect with younger generations through educational programs, people-to-people exchanges, and dialogue.  We must counter disinformation and assure that new generations of Austrians and Americans are as firmly committed to Transatlantic values and to our bilateral relationship as we are.

Thank you very much. I look forward to what I hope will be a lively discussion tonight.