Remarks by Ambassador Kathleen Stephens, U.S. Embassy Chargé D’affaires, Independence Day Celebration

(As prepared for delivery)

Namaste.  Salaam Alekum. Welcome to Roosevelt House. Thank you all for joining us to celebrate America’s National Day. Our Independence Day.  The 238th birthday of the United States of America. The Third of July. OK, we’re a day early. But even that is an American tradition. We like getting a jumpstart on a long weekend of really traditional Fourth of July activities like picnics and sports.

I am honored to welcome you all. I want to extend a particular welcome to our Chief Guest, Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh. Madame Foreign Secretary, thank you for joining us today. And thank you for all you do every day to deepen and strengthen India’s engagement with the world, and in particular, my country. I know we keep you busy.

Madam Foreign Secretary, ambassadors and colleagues from the diplomatic corps, friends and colleagues here today, I’ve celebrated the Fourth of July in many different countries –sometimes even my own – and I know many of you have too. We love bringing out the red, white, and blue on this day, and having fun.  And I hope we’ll do that today.

But as a new arrival to New Delhi, and the newest resident of Roosevelt House, I’ve been reflecting a bit (jet lag helps that) on my country, of course, and even more on all that I am learning and witnessing here in India. As I watched the decorations go up, and as I accompanied Senator McCain earlier today in calling on Prime Minister Modi, I have been thinking: There is no better place to be on this Fourth of July than right here in India.

Our Declaration of Independence, signed on an unseasonably cool summer day in Philadelphia 238 years ago, is not much more than 1,000 words long. Many of those words are devoted to explaining why we no longer accepted the rule of the British king. Mostly we’ve gotten over all that.

And then there are the words that over the centuries – up until this day — resonate, inspire, and challenge not just Americans but people throughout the globe:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.  That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”  That is the American dream we have been pursuing for 238 years, and the journey continues.

This year we mark the 50th anniversary of an important watershed on that journey:  the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.   We recall President Johnson’s words in insisting that, finally, it was time to get serious about our ideals, telling the Congress, “We have talked long enough in this country about equal rights. We have talked for 100 years or more. It is time now to write the next chapter, and to write it in the books of law.”  And the law passed in time for the Fourth of July, 1964.

In 2014, what a privilege it is to celebrate American Independence Day in India.  Like America and Americans, this country and its great people have been shaped by the struggle for independence and an insistence on democracy.

This house – named for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt because of his commitment to Indian independence – is a reminder of our shared journey, our shared values. Designed to blend Western and Indian architectural styles, built by Indians and Americans together, much of it by hand, when it was completed in 1959, then-Ambassador Bunker said, “This building is symbolic of what can be achieved through the cooperation of our two countries. From beginning to end, it has always been a joint venture.”

Fifty-five years later, that joint venture is more important – and more promising – than ever. The foundation on which we build is stronger than ever, epitomized by the almost 3 million-strong Indian-American community and the 100,000-strong and ever-growing number of Indians studying in the United States.

I have been in India only days, but each day I am reminded of this extraordinary human underpinning of our relationship.  Yesterday while in a government office, two journalists introduced themselves – they had questions to ask – but first they wanted to tell me about their children studying in the U.S.  Earlier today, as I saw off Senator McCain at the airport, we were approached by an Afghan man who introduced himself as a former Fulbright scholar now working in India on regional health issues.  I could go on.  This is the fabric of our relationship.

A few weeks ago I joined many of my colleagues here in the diplomatic corps in attending President Mukherjee’s address to the joint houses of parliament.  It was an exciting and inspiring moment to see democracy in action – a new government laying out its plans.  I was glad to hear what the President had to say about Indo-U.S. relations.  It was this:   “India and the U.S. have made significant progress in developing strategic partnership over the years. My government will bring a renewed vigor to our engagement and intensify it in all areas, including trade, investment, science and technology, energy and education.”

Madam Foreign Secretary, Ladies and Gentlemen:

The United States – and its Mission here in India – is eager and ready to match that renewed vigor with energy and enthusiasm.  We too are committed to the vision of an intensified engagement, one with enormous potential to improve the lives not only of the citizens of our own two great countries, but of the world.

Happy Independence Day!

Madam Foreign Secretary, may I invite you to speak?