Remarks by Hometown Diplomat

November 2, 2018

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear
  • Chemical
  • Biological

Yleem D.S. Poblete
South Miami Senior High
Miami, FL
November 2, 2018

As Prepared for Delivery

Good morning, fellow Cobras!

It’s great to be back at South Miami Senior High and during Homecoming Week of all times.

As I approached the school today, I couldn’t help but look up at the Cobra atop the building facing Miller Drive and reminisce about my own Senior year.

Many of you may not be aware, but it was the Class of 1985 which procured the transfer of the Cobra from the serpenterium to our beloved school. As the flatbed truck exited the old ramp onto Miller, the Cobra moved and cracked. Repairs were made.

Years later, a hurricane damaged it again. And it was my sister’s graduating class which secured the return of the Cobra in a sustainable way.

In short, South Miami Cobras are resilient and determined.

Thank you, Principal Bonce, faculty and staff, particularly, Mr. Brandsetter (one of my former teachers), the Junior ROTC student escorts, and School Board member Mari Tere Rojas, for your warm welcome and for the opportunity to be here today to share some reflections about public service and my experiences with you, the class of 2019, the future leaders of this great country.

I’m humbled to be added to the “Wall of Fame,” alongside my dear friend and fellow member of the Class of ’85 – Derrick Thomas.

From Cobra, to an all-star with the ‘Bama football team, first round draft pick for the Kansas City Chiefs and member of the NFL Hall of Fame; Derrick was a truly kind human being – we lost him too young.

I’m also so deeply grateful to Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Chairman Emeritus of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, for being here today.

She was my boss but, more importantly, she has been a mentor and friend.

Ily, as we refer to her, is retiring from Congress at the end of this year. Words cannot accurately explain how much she will be missed.

Dear fellow Cobras, we are fortunate to live in a country, where any individual regardless of background, is afforded the opportunity to fulfill their aspirations and succeed.

This was magnified for me a year ago when President Trump nominated me for the position I currently hold-- Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance.

Months later, I was confirmed to the post and became the first American of Hispanic heritage, to serve in that role.

It has been a thrilling and challenging ride ever since.

How many of you have seen or know about the movie “Miss Congeniality” and the pageant contestants saying they want world peace?

The FBI agent undercover as a contestant and played by Sandra Bullock, at first, mocks but, ultimately, admits she truly does want world peace.

Well, when I was at South Miami Senior High, I was both Miss Teen of Florida and then Miss Miami in the Miss America pageant system.

I never imagined that, decades later, I would be directly contributing to global peace and security.

As Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance, I am honored to be a part of Secretary Pompeo’s team at the State Department in advancing U.S. national security interests and contributing to the success of our foreign policy through rigorous verification and enforcement of arms control, nonproliferation and disarmament agreement or commitments.

This not only involves conventional, nuclear, radiological, chemical, biological weapons, as well as delivery systems, but also emerging threats in the space, cyber, and undersea domains.

So at this point you might be thinking, how does a South Miami Senior High grad end up working on these diverse and wide ranging issues? And how does she do it?

Well, by a show of hands:

Where are student government members?
Where are the cheerleaders? Cobra Charmers?
Where are our athletes?
The honor students?
The writers, artists, performers?
Those who are developing technical skills, who work in addition to your school responsibilities?
We saw our Junior ROTC earlier.

My job requires a combination of many of these skills and the Bureau personnel reflects the diversity of interests, experiences, and backgrounds we find among you, the Class of 2019.

In my job, I use diplomacy as a tool to promote and protect U.S. security and America’s interests—in particular, through the monitoring of the development and uses of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and verifying compliance with international agreements and commitments to reduce or eliminate their use.

Put simply, my job is to keep Americans and our friends around the world safe from Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs).

To do so, I have travelled to the Middle East, Europe, NATO headquarters, and to the United Nations in just the last month.

Every week on your tablet, phone or if there are any students who enjoy the days of dinosaurs – television or even newspapers, you see the news and hear of countries like Russia, North Korea, Iran, Syria, and China.

You see images of the Syrian military dropping barrels of chlorine gas from helicopters onto Syrian civilians or using other deadly chemical weapons that are prohibited by international norms and a major Treaty – the Chemical Weapons Convention—to kill innocent men, women, and children.

You may have heard of terrorists using chemical weapons in Iraq and Syria;

You may hear of the Russian Federation:

using a military grade nerve agent against a family in Salisbury, England as part of an assassination attempt;
or developing intermediate-range nuclear missiles aimed at our allies in Europe;
or seeking the means to be able to destroy U.S. satellites while also announcing plans to develop combat laser systems for space.

You may hear of a North Korean or Iranian regime that have pursued nuclear weapons that have no purpose but to threaten and potentially destroy their adversaries.

The Iranian regime sponsors terrorism globally; has publicly stated “Death to Israel”, our ally and friend; and represses the freedoms of the Iranian people.

We are also concerned about its chemical weapons program.

As we seek verifiable arms control, nonproliferation and disarmament, we must also develop and implement the necessary policies to deter the use of these deadly weapons, while assuring allies and partners via missile defense, for example.

Each one of these issues relates to the work of the Bureau I lead.

The challenges are more complex when we discuss space policy, cyber security, and increasingly, artificial intelligence.

How do we stop other countries from placing weapons in space?
How do we stop a country or a terrorist organization operating in their country from using cyber weapons to take control of a nuclear arsenal and using it against another country?
How do we even begin to understand the ways artificial intelligence will impact us in the near future, and what that means for our security?

This is why for those who are interested in public service, international affairs, and diplomatic peace and security, I urge you to find your way into the Department of State doorway and advance the work of your predecessors to make this a safer and prosperous world.

I grew up in a world where the fear of nuclear war was greater than it is today.

There were two ideologies fighting for space in many theatres.

Liberty won.

But in many ways, that struggle will always be there even if the threats have evolved and the battlefield has changed or expanded.

It is a distinct honor and privilege to serve our nation as part of the Trump Administration.

I am the proud daughter and granddaughter of refugees from a dictatorial repressive regime just 90 miles from U.S. shores which continues to threaten and undermine U.S. security interests and regional stability.

My grandparents’ and parents’ sacrifices have informed my journey in public service.

I stand on their shoulders and on others before me.

So, to the senior class of 2019, I ask you today… what will inform your journey?

I invite you to reflect upon what you will contribute to improve the world around you for the generation that follows.

Whatever it is you do decide to do with your life, embrace it and do it well.

Be exceptional.

Be agile.

Be selfless.

Thank you.

Go Cobras!