Though our bilateral friendship has existed for over 200 years, the events of December 2010 – January 2011 leading to the Tunisian Revolution have given the relationship between the United States and Tunisia an even greater impetus. The courageous struggle of the Tunisian people that led to the fall of an oppressive regime literally changed the course of the history of the Middle East and North Africa region in an irreversible way, and continues to inspire today. Now more than ever, the United States stands with the people and Government of Tunisia as they chart a course towards greater political inclusiveness, socio-economic development and responsible participation in the international community.
In recognition of our long-standing bilateral relationship, strengthened in recent months by Tunisia’s democratic transition and its commendable effort to undertake critical political and economic reforms, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Tunisian Minister for Foreign Affairs Mohammed Mouldi Kefi met September 22 to inaugurate a new framework for bilateral cooperation, the U.S.-Tunisia Joint Political and Economic Partnership (JPEP). Under this framework, the ministers decided to coordinate on a range of issues of mutual concern and identify areas for future collaboration.
Since January and in immediate response to the Tunisian Revolution, the United States has committed $40 million in support of the Tunisian transition. With these funds, we have supported Tunisia’s efforts to lay the groundwork for responsive, accountable governance and to prepare for elections. The United States has also been helping to build the capacity of Tunisian civil society organizations, political parties, and media to mobilize and effectively advocate for the interests of the Tunisian people. The United States is committed to helping the judicial authorities to ensure accountability, equality and impartiality under the law, and to support a redress of grievances stemming from the former regime.
Upon conclusion of the first exchange under the framework of the U.S.-Tunisia JPEP, the Governments expressed their political commitment to the following additional cooperation.
Democracy, Governance and Civil Society Support
In order to support Tunisia’s transition to democracy, the United States is committed to working in partnership with Tunisia’s government institutions and with Tunisian citizens as they seek to ensure that Tunisia’s elections and political systems are fair, open and transparent and that all its citizens have the opportunity to engage in every aspect of the country’s transition. The governments decided to work in partnership with the people of Tunisia to seize opportunities to strengthen political processes, enhance civil society, advance the rule of law, promote transitional justice and human rights, and encourage the development of an independent, professional and pluralistic media sector.
Defense & Security Sector Cooperation
To demonstrate our mutual commitment to Tunisia’s construction of a new society governed by the rule of law and respect for human rights, the Governments intend to conclude negotiations before the end of the current year for a foreign assistance program to support the development of more transparent, responsive, and accountable criminal justice institutions.
To demonstrate our shared commitment to fighting the terrorist threat, the Governments resolved to cooperate closely through increased training assistance, information-sharing, and work to counter extremist messaging.
To further strengthen bilateral legal cooperation, the Governments intend to begin negotiations this fall on a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty concerning criminal matters.
In continued support for Tunisia’s national security efforts and to advance our broader bilateral military cooperation, the United States is resolved to assist in reinforcing the defense capacities of Tunisia.
Academic and Cultural Cooperation
To demonstrate our mutual commitment to expanding two-way academic, professional and cultural cooperation, the Governments have decided to collaboratively develop a strategy that increases mutual understanding and responds to the Tunisian government’s request for assistance in four specific areas:
1. Provide advisory capacity to Tunisian students pursuing post-secondary degrees, with a specific focus within the areas of science and technology, engineering and computer sciences;
2. Strengthen the research and development capacity of Tunisian higher education institutions;
3. Build institutional and human capacity among Tunisian students and workforce on a technical level through vocational training and other means, and,
4. Develop policies and programs that stimulate innovation and lead to flexible academic programs that meet student needs.
Through this strategy, the Governments aim to increase the quality of education, specifically in the sciences; improve the employability of their citizens; and boost job creation.
The Governments also recognize the importance of language learning, and in particular expanding English language learning and training opportunities among Tunisian educators and youth. The Governments intend to continue their efforts to expand existing English language programming in Tunisia, and continue to look for innovative means to scale up English-language initiatives.
To reinforce our mutual commitment to creating broad-based economic opportunity for Tunisia’s citizens, the Governments resolve to deepen and broaden their cooperation on creating an environment conducive to business and entrepreneurship. That cooperation includes providing regulatory, legal and institutional support to advance transparent governance and combat corruption, and to develop more effective financing for entrepreneurs and small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) in Tunisia.
To demonstrate our mutual commitment to promoting increased travel and trade, enhancing productivity, and spurring high-quality job opportunities and economic growth, the Governments expect to launch negotiations for a bilateral “Open Skies” Air Transport Agreement in 2012.
The Government of the United States and the Government of Tunisia, in recognition of the Tunisian Ministry of Finance’s aim to improve fiscal discipline in tax collection, decided to collaborate on assistance projects. The Governments recognize that the Domestic Finance for Development (DF4D) initiative introduced by President Obama and Secretary Clinton is an excellent vehicle for this effort, as it encompasses improvements in tax administration, reduction of corruption and an increase in fiscal transparency.
To promote entrepreneurship for job creation, the Governments decided to engage in targeted technical assistance to support GOT restructuring of, and innovation in, its microenterprise enabling environment.
To build the capacity of vocational training institutes and increase the employability of their graduates, the Governments decided to increased partnerships between U.S. community colleges and Tunisian vocational-technical training institutes. The United States is also prepared to offer targeted technical assistance in support of GOT efforts to reform aspects of the vocational-technical system in Tunisia.
The Governments decided to partner on technical and agricultural information-sharing and cooperation through Tunisia’s incorporation into the U.S. government’s Middle East and North Africa Network of Water Centers of Excellence and regional Water and Livelihoods Initiative.
To improve the capacity of the Tunisian agricultural sector and to facilitate trade, the Governments intend to pursue training for Tunisian agriculturalists from public and/or private sector institutions through the United States’ Cochran and Borlaug Fellowship Programs next year.
Under the auspices of the 2002 U.S.-Tunisia Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), the Governments intend to meet in Tunis by the end of September to exchange views on
ways and means to re-launch bilateral discussions within this framework, building on the results of the three TIFA Council meetings held in 2003, 2005 and 2008. The two sides intend to develop concrete steps they could take to stimulate trade and investment between the U.S. and Tunisian business communities. The Governments intend to explore the possible expansion of trade in mutually decided sectors.
As the next chair of the Group of Eight, the United States is committed to continuing efforts with all the countries of the Deauville Partnership to advance the goals of democratic transition and economic reform, and providing a platform of ongoing support that focuses on trade and investment promotion, coordinated international and regional financial institutions support for homegrown economic and governance reforms, and enhanced support to private sector development.
To galvanize the interests of potential investors in the Tunisian market, the Governments intend to undertake events that link potential investors to the Tunisian diaspora who are, indeed, among the best and most genuine exemplars of the benefits of doing business in Tunisia. To that end, the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation intends to explore how to catalyze significant new American private sector investment in Tunisia, including expansion of small-to-medium enterprise lending, as well as opportunities in franchising, infrastructure, and renewable resources and clean technology in the country.
Mohammed Mouldi Kefi Hillary Rodham Clinton
Foreign Minister, Tunisia Secretary of State, United States
SECRETARY CLINTON: I wanted to just say a very few words about how important this is to the United States. In the last year, the people of Tunisia have stood up and demanded their universal rights. And by doing so, they have changed the course of history. In just one month, Tunisians will exercise their newly-enshrined democratic rights and vote for a constitutional assembly.
Now when I visited Tunisia, the one thing everyone wanted to know is: What could the United States do to help the young men and women who courageously went into the streets to realize a better economic and political future? Beginning just days after the revolution, the United States began to deliver $40 million in assistance for Tunisia’s democratic transition. We have supported the Tunisian people’s efforts toward responsive, accountable government and helped to prepare for free, fair, and competitive elections.
Today, Tunisians are looking for new investments, increased transparency, greater access to global and regional markets, and new assistance for their entrepreneurs. That is why we are launching the U.S.-Tunisia Joint Political and Economic Partnership, which is a foundation for our relationship that will not only support the short-term needs of the Tunisian people, but also their long-term economic aspirations. Tunisia is open for business, and we want people to know that, and I particularly want American business to know that.
Also, the Millennium Challenge Corporation is examining Tunisia’s eligibility for a threshold program, which would help Tunisia design and undertake a democratic reform program with an aim toward economic reform. Through our Overseas Private Investment Corporation, we are working to boost franchising and lending to small and medium-sized businesses.
Now, the United States and Tunisia have a long history of partnership and collaboration. In fact, only two years after the United States declared our independence, we signed our first agreement of friendship, cooperation, and trade. Since then, we have traded, collaborated, and built bonds of friendship between us. This signing is another step forward in our long relationship, and I’m looking forward to continuing to work with the minister and the government, as we proudly stand with Tunisia at this critical time in your history, and do all we can to assist you in realizing a future of peace, progress, and opportunity.
FOREIGN MINISTER KEFI: Thank you very much. Well, I think I have nothing to add to what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said. True, our relationship goes back 200 years ago, and as you mentioned, Secretary of State, Tunisia was among the first countries to recognize the young, independent state of the United States.
What happened in Tunisia on the 14th of January is almost the same as what the fathers from the independence did to this country, from George Washington, to Jefferson, to Adams, to Benjamin Franklin, when they wrote the Constitution. We the People, our hope, our wish, is that tomorrow the new constitution of Tunisia, a democratic, free, independent country, will be also We the People. And we (inaudible) from the American long democracy.
Our political relations are very good, and I’m glad the Secretary of State mentioned this first partnership – political and economic partnership we are signing, the new Tunisia, the first country is the United States, and we are grateful for that, Secretary of State. We hope we build on this document and we see more American businessmen coming to Tunisia. Tunisia is open and ready for business. And after the number of high officials from the United States, your congressmen who came, and even some major CEOs who already went to Tunisia, we hope that we put more flesh on the bone, and that our bilateral relationship on the economic, cultural, (inaudible) investment, trade will be boosted by this document we signed together.
We are glad we are now sharing the same values of freedom, democracy, and we are glad to be part of this elite like the United States.
Thank you very much.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, if you could update us on your work on the Middle East – how were your meetings last night, was there any progress with your meetings with Abbas and Netanyahu, and also is the Quartet any closer to coming to a statement?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, let me say this. I think it is important to note that regardless of what happens tomorrow in the United Nations, we remain focused on the day after. And I was encouraged to hear from both the leadership of the Palestinians and the Israeli Government their continuing commitment to direct negotiations. They both recognize that there has to be a resolution of the outstanding issues to produce a functioning Palestinian state that fulfills the aspirations of the Palestinian people, and there have to be agreements that provide Israel with the security that it seeks living side-by-side with the new Palestinian state.
So I am – as I have been, I remain committed to working with the parties to obtain the goal that the United States supports; that is, a two-state solution. And as President Obama said yesterday in his speech, we will leave no effort or stone unturned in our commitment to achieving that.
Thank you all very much.
QUESTION: How about on a Quartet statement, Madam Secretary? Is there any progress on that?
SECRETARY CLINTON: We’re continuing to work as hard as we can on everything, Arshad.