Thank you so much. I thank the Secretary-General for organizing this meeting and offer my respects to Special Envoy Prodi and the many other officials who are participating today.
The United States welcomes the UN’s Integrated Strategy for the Sahel, and we agree that a comprehensive approach is needed to cope with the many difficult issues that confront the region – including the lack of good governance, chronic under-development, and human insecurity of all kinds.
The United Nations is an organization of states, but it is necessary and overdue that we develop tools to manage regional challenges. We are all aware that problems can arise when national governments are too strong, but across the Sahel – including in Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Niger and Chad – governments have too often been too weak. For example, Niger, one of our closest allies in the region, has experienced two armed rebellions and four coups since achieving independence. Democratic institutions have started to take root there but they need reinforcement. The Sahel has also long faced chronic and systemic economic and humanitarian challenges. More than ten million people in the region are still in need of food assistance and more than 1.4 million children across the region are at severe risk of malnutrition. These challenges only exacerbate the underlying vulnerabilities in the region and recent events, including the coup and insurgency in Mali, the emergence of a security vacuum following the revolution in Libya, and terrorist attacks in Algeria and Niger, among other places, underscore the particular threat posed by violent extremism, especially al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb.
The UN Integrated Strategy is designed to work with regional leaders to enhance civilian institutions and build the national and regional capacity required to strengthen and consolidate democratic institutions, to promote economic development, to ensure security and to eliminate illicit trafficking flows. As is the case everywhere, civil society will be an essential partner for governments and regional organizations in building strong and accountable states.
While the Sahel remains vulnerable, we are also seeing signs of progress throughout the region. Leaders in the Sahel deserve special credit for their role in brokering a political resolution to the crisis in Mali, where the threat from violent extremists has been met and a return to stability is at hand. Mali recently conducted credible and transparent elections, and I am very pleased that the newly elected president, Ibrahim Keita, is here with us today. The dramatic progress in Mali is a testament to what concerted international action and regional leadership can achieve.
To foster progress, the United States has – over the past two years – provided more than $620 million in assistance to the Sahel; this is in addition to $93 million in 2013 to support the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership. With the return of democracy to Mali, the United States has unblocked $97 million in development aid to assist the people and the government of that pivotal country. We will continue contributing as much assistance as we can, we encourage other donors to do the same, and we will work cooperatively with the governments of the region and our international partners to ensure we address the region’s challenges. The United States will also continue to work through the Global Counterterrorism Forum to identify capacity-building needs in the region and mobilize the necessary support and expertise needed to meet these challenges.
In closing, I want to reiterate my government’s support for both the UN’s comprehensive approach to the problems of the Sahel region and further initiatives by regional states to achieve economic and political gains. I also want to thank you once again, Mr. Secretary General, for hosting this high-level meeting and for your continued leadership on issues related to the Sahel and elsewhere across the globe.