Thank you, Strobe, for that kind introduction. I’m delighted to be back at Brookings for this important conference. And I’m especially delighted to be here with India’s new Ambassador to the United States, Nirupama Rao, an extraordinary diplomat and a wonderful friend. As Foreign Secretary, Ambassador Rao helped shape every advance we made in U.S.-Indian relations in recent years, and both India and the United States are lucky to have her here.
It is also a genuine pleasure, and a genuine honor, to be introduced by Strobe Talbott, who set the standard both for Deputy Secretaries of State and for U.S.-Indian diplomacy over a decade ago. Strobe’s vision helped put U.S.-India relations on their current productive path, culminating in President Bill Clinton’s visit to India in 2000, the first trip to India by a sitting President in 22 years. Ten years later, it took President Obama only 22 months to become the first President to visit India in his first term.
During that visit, President Obama offered the clearest possible answer to the question posed by this conference — he made emphatically clear that the U.S.-India partnership has a future, a very bright and consequential future. During that visit, the President told India’s parliament, “the United States not only supports India as a rising power; we fervently support it, and we have worked to help make it a reality.” Just as a strong India is in America’s interest, a strong America is in India’s interest, and a strong U.S-India partnership benefits not only our two countries, but the entire world.
And yet, a strong U.S.-India partnership is neither automatic nor self-implementing. We each carry baggage of different kinds, and we each have our own world views, our own domestic preoccupations, and our own sense of our interests. Problems and disagreements will inevitably arise. But no one should mistake the inevitable differences between two close, opinionated friends for loss of momentum — or worse, the lack of a future. Our track record is clear and our commitment is firm. President Obama’s resoundingly successful visit last year made history with our endorsement of a permanent Indian seat on a reformed UN Security Council and our clear expression of support for India’s future membership in the major non-proliferation regimes. These are momentous steps.
So there is, it seems obvious to me, a bright future for the U.S.-India strategic partnership. That future will bear no resemblance to the distant past of mutual estrangement, but it is also unlikely to always resemble the recent past — when it seemed every 18 months brought new breakthroughs like the civil-nuclear deal, or support for permanent UNSC membership, or export controls reform. Our challenge today is to broaden and deepen our bilateral, regional, and global cooperation. Given India’s emergence as a global power and the breadth of our common challenges, no single issue and no single breakthrough can or should define our partnership. What matters is its overall health, its steady progress, and the long-term investment required to sustain both.
Let me talk briefly about three especially important dimensions of our growing partnership: boosting our mutual prosperity; deepening cooperation in India’s immediate neighborhood and east across Asia and the Pacific; and efforts to solve global problems together.
I. Meeting the Economic Needs of Our People
Our bilateral economic relationship is anchored in the realization that our long-term interests are essentially congruent and mutually reinforcing. Each of us has a large stake in the others’ success. The tangible economic benefits of our relations — for businesses big and small, for people in the middle class and those rising towards it, are irrefutable. The old narrative of outsourcing and zero-sum competition has given way to the reality of balanced, mutually-beneficial, and rapidly growing commerce between our nations. From USAID programs to eradicate polio and promote maternal and child health to cutting-edge cooperation in clean energy technology, agriculture, science and space, we are committed to being a partner in helping build a new India.
The modernization of India and the lifting up of hundreds of millions of Indians out of poverty necessarily remains the focus of the Indian government. This extraordinary — and so far extraordinarily successful — effort requires India to sustain its high rate of economic growth, open markets for its goods and services, and attract the investment needed to realize its vision of inclusive development. There is no more important partner for India in this endeavor than the United States. Over the past decade, our bilateral trade has doubled and then almost doubled again. Our total direct investment in India rose tenfold, from $2.4 billion in 2000 to $27.1 billion in 2010.
The economic needs of the American people are central to our own diplomacy around the world, as we work to find new markets for American products and exports. The United States therefore has an enormous stake in India’s economic rise. India has grown on average seven-and-a-half percent each year for the past decade, and American companies want to compete in India’s growing markets and take advantage of investment opportunities — not least the $1 trillion India expects to invest in building infrastructure by 2017. India is now the Export-Import Bank’s second largest portfolio, after Mexico.
Together, we are drawing the best from both of our societies to make better products that compete and win in the global economy. Tata Steel has a plant in Ohio; Boeing uses engineers in Bangalore to design 787s whose parts are manufactured across America. India’s direct investment in the United States has grown by an average of 33 percent each year since 2005 and, in the decade between 2000 and 2010, increased from a negligible $96 million to over $3.3 billion, with Indian companies now employing tens of thousands of Americans.
Completing our civil nuclear partnership is central to both our nations’ long-term prosperity and India’s future energy security. For international and Indian firms to participate in India’s civil nuclear sector, India needs a nuclear liability regime consistent with international standards. To this end, we welcome India’s commitment to ratify the Convention on Supplemental Compensation later this year, and we encourage India to engage with the International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure that India’s liability regime fully conforms with the international requirements under the Convention.
The next step in the pursuit of mutual prosperity is a U.S.-India bilateral investment treaty, which would enhance transparency, boost innovation, and create jobs. Technical negotiations are about to get underway, and we must continue to make progress. Just as the United States will be integral to India’s sustained economic growth and its efforts to lift hundreds of millions out of poverty, India’s emergence will be integral to long-term U.S. economic prosperity.
II. India’s Rise as an Asian Power
We are counting on India’s rise not just as an economic partner but as a global power — one that engages everywhere from Latin America to the Middle East to East Asia. India’s leadership in promoting a more stable South Asia — its multibillion dollar assistance commitment to Afghanistan, its determination to re-engage and normalize trade with Pakistan, and its joint projects to boost infrastructure and capacity in Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives — offer the hope of a more peaceful future for the region and the world. Ambassador Rao’s personal efforts as Foreign Secretary to revive dialogue between India and Pakistan and consider mutually-beneficial steps in trade and other areas are particularly commendable.
For U.S. and Indian policymakers, a successful transition in Afghanistan is a shared imperative and an area of increasing cooperation. As the United States draws down our forces and transfers responsibility for security to the Afghan people, we are ever mindful of Afghanistan’s recent history and the terrible cost of neglect. None of us can afford to make that mistake again. We are making headway in negotiating a new Strategic Partnership Agreement with the Afghans to extend beyond 2014. As Secretary Clinton emphatically noted in Chennai with regard to our long-term commitment to Afghanistan’s stability, “we will be there.”
Success in Afghanistan depends on ensuring that others are there, too. That certainly includes India. With coalition forces drawing down, Afghanistan will need extensive private investment and economic linkages with its neighbors. And yet today, the countries of South and Central Asia trade less with each other than nearly any region in the world. Goods are shipped thousands of miles out of the way simply to avoid hostile territory.
Even with no direct access to India’s rising middle class market, Afghanistan already sends one-quarter of its exports to India. Imagine what will be possible when transit and trade agreements extend outward to India and Central Asia, and Afghan traders are able to shift goods directly to the markets of Mysore and Mumbai, and Indian innovation and capital can play the same role lifting Afghan prosperity that it has at home. The “New Silk Road,” as we envision it, is not a single path — it is a vision of economic, transit, infrastructure and human links between South and Central Asia. India can be its economic engine.
Just as the United States and India have a mutual stake in supporting a stable and more integrated South Asia, we must also work together as the strategic center of gravity for world affairs shifts toward the Asia-Pacific region, where India has a vital role to play. It is precisely for this reason that the U.S. and India decided to launch a strategic dialogue on the Asia-Pacific in 2010. Since then, this mechanism has emerged as a model for the type of engagement and dialogue that we need to identify new areas of cooperation and to pursue complementary strategies.
We are keenly aware that “talk is talk,” and that action is key. That is why we are transforming our engagement with India on the Asia-Pacific from dialogue to real action and concrete outcomes in areas such as maritime and port security, counter-piracy, disaster preparedness and humanitarian relief.
India is already a powerful economic and cultural presence in the East — from the temples of Bali to the dynamic expatriate communities who connect India with the export-driven economies of Southeast Asia. India has built a vast network of bilateral economic cooperation agreements and security arrangements in the Asia-Pacific with traditional American allies like Japan, South Korea, and Australia, and with our other partners, like Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam. We are launching a new U.S.-India-Japan trilateral consultation on regional issues. India’s outreach is growing, moving toward a comprehensive vision for the East Asia region — a “Look East” policy that is becoming an “Act East” policy.
We also hope that India will join us in working to strengthen Asia’s many regional institutions. Prime Minister Singh’s appearance alongside President Obama at the East Asia Summit in November will help that grouping become the premier forum for our leaders to discuss political and security issues in Asia. Secretary Clinton has underscored our commitment to work closely with India as we deepen our engagement with ASEAN. As Ambassador Rao once commented to me, Southeast Asia begins in Northeast India. India already trades nearly as much in goods with the ASEAN region as it does with the United States. An architecture of free trade and investment that connects India to all of Southeast and East Asia will have a profound impact on global trade and economic growth.
Finally, the 21st century Asia-Pacific we seek is one in which India, the United States and China all enjoy good relations. Whatever our differences, we know that, as this century advances, fewer and fewer global problems will be solvable without constructive cooperation amongst our three great countries. To paraphrase India’s National Security Advisor, I have no doubt that Asia and the world are big enough for the three of us — if we want them to be. We will all benefit from enhanced collaboration in the years ahead.
III. India and Global Challenges
Across the world, I believe that India and America — two leaderships and two peoples with so many converging interests, shared values and common concerns — can help shape a more secure, stable, democratic and just global system. India can make a decisive contribution to building what Secretary Clinton has called “the global architecture of cooperation” to solve problems that no one country can solve on its own.
That’s why President Obama said that the United States looks forward, in the years ahead, to a reformed United Nations Security Council, with India as a permanent member. It is why we are working together through the G-20 to rebalance the global economy in what has become the world’s leading forum for international economic cooperation. It is why we have worked together in Copenhagen and Cancun and will work together in Durban to combat changes to our climate that threaten the Himalayan plateaus and the American heartland alike. It is why we are helping India spread its agricultural expertise to other developing nations. It is why we have dramatically deepened our cooperation on counter-terrorism and homeland security. And it is why President Obama and Prime Minister Singh have each committed their country to the long-term vision of a world free of nuclear weapons.
Across the board, we hope India recognizes that with increased power comes increased responsibility — including the recognition, in the spirit of Gandhi, that an assault on human rights and freedom in one place is an assault on human rights and freedom everywhere. Recent weeks have seen encouraging signs from Burma, including a new embrace of the language of reform. Then-Foreign Secretary Rao’s meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi earlier this year was an important step, and we hope that the Indian government will use its close ties in Burma to encourage concrete action on political and economic reform and national reconciliation.
We also hope we can look together at the profound changes sweeping across the Middle East, and see our common stake in successful transitions in a part of the world that matters enormously to both of us. The singular feature of the revolutions that make up the new Arab Awakening is that they are driven from within, animated by a thirst for dignity and participation in societies which for far too long have produced far too little of either. That is also the great enduring strength of those revolutions, and it is the ultimate repudiation of the al-Qaida narrative that change can only come through violent extremism.
While all of us should be careful not to obscure the home-grown strength of the Arab Spring, none of us can afford to neglect its historic sweep or fail to address the brutalities of regimes bent on denying their citizens their dignity and their universal rights. The simple truth is that there is no going back to the way things were. There is only a path forward — a hard and difficult path, filled with troubles and backsliding and detours — but a path forward nonetheless.
India has a great deal to offer people and societies starting down that path. We applaud India’s offer to send election experts to Egypt, and hope India can expand its support for the new Libya, and stand with the Syrian people as they peacefully demand their universal rights. While no country should seek to impose its own political system on others, India remains a stirring example of a successful, multi-party democracy that offers hope to societies wracked by political turmoil and sectarian or tribal divides. We hope India will recognize the value of helping others match that achievement.
If we want a truly global strategic partnership, America and India must seek out opportunities to act as partners at the UN and other international fora. The collective action we have endorsed together through the G-20, the Nuclear Security Summit and the Global Counterterrorism Forum we launched last week in New York are excellent examples of our capacity to work constructively together to solve the problems no one nation can solve alone. The United States and India have no fundamental conflicts of interest, so there is no reason why we should not strive to be closer partners in the UN system and beyond. That will take time, and we will have our share of frictions along the way, but it is in both our interests to try.
For our part, accepting India as a global power means learning to agree to disagree sometimes. It means recognizing that profound mutual interests and shared values do not add up to unanimity of opinion. And, with cooperation moving forward on so many issues, a few differences need not cause us to lose momentum or ask whether there is a future for our partnership.
The greatest risk is not disagreement — it is inattention. It is the possibility, through domestic political distractions or failure of imagination or simple complacency, that America and India might leave the full potential of our partnership unmet.
The truth is that we have crossed a threshold in our relations where — for both of us, for the first time — our success at home and abroad depends on our cooperation. America’s vision of a secure, stable, prosperous 21st century world has at its heart a strong partnership with a rising India. The question is not whether we have a future, or whether we will have a strategic partnership. The question is whether we are doing as much as we can to ensure that we realize its full promise. Few questions will matter more — for both of us — in the new century unfolding before us.
As prepared for delivery
President Josipovic, Prime Minister Kosor, honored guests, thank you for inviting me to speak in the wonderful city of Dubrovnik. I am very pleased to be here, with Senator Begich, to participate in this important event.
I know that a number of my colleagues, including former Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg and Assistant Secretary Phil Gordon, have found this forum a unique opportunity to engage with regional leaders and I look forward to discussions with colleagues throughout the next two days. Even as we face so many challenges elsewhere in the world, the Obama Administration has a particular and enduring attachment to the Balkans, and the United States remains deeply committed to helping this region achieve our common goals.
I am especially glad to have the opportunity to celebrate with you 20 years of Croatian independence and your tremendous June 30th success in meeting the requirements to accede to the European Union. You, the leadership and people of Croatia, deserve enormous credit for meeting the exacting criteria of the European Union. The United States has supported you through every step of this process and I hope you will not mind if we take some pride in your accomplishment.
I’d also like to congratulate the European Commission for its vision, patience and persistence in opening the doors of the EU to the countries of the Western Balkans and assisting them through the process. Croatia will soon be the newest member of the EU, but we eagerly await the day when the remaining countries of the region are able to join as well and we stand ready to assist them. Drawing on its successful experience, Croatia can and I am sure will play a special role in supporting the efforts of neighboring countries to join the EU and NATO.
All of the countries of the Western Balkans have committed themselves to the European project. All are agreed that European and Euro-Atlantic integration represent the best path forward for the region. In our view, until the process of European integration has brought all of the countries of the region into the fold, the vision of a Europe whole, free, democratic and at peace will remain unrealized. Whether you are a NATO member, a NATO candidate, or a member of Partnership for Peace, we look forward to partnering with you in addressing the full range of security challenges that the twenty-first century presents. On that note, we thank Croatia for your contributions to our common struggle in the world’s most challenging battlefield, Afghanistan.
Croatia’s success demonstrates that progress that can be made, albeit with hard work and sacrifice, to advance the interests of the region’s citizens. The momentum that comes with this transition for Croatia should be encouraged and cultivated throughout the region. It will be important for Croatia to continue working with neighbors to resolve outstanding regional issues such as missing persons, refugees and disputed boundaries. In Croatia’s current success, I think we can all see future opportunities for this region.
Another important lesson is that this success was reached only after Croatia and Slovenia found a way to address a contentious bilateral issue through negotiation and compromise. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Pahor and Prime Minister Kosor, they resolved their differences the European and the modern way, which we hope will be a model for the entire region as it moves along the path of Euro-Atlantic integration.
We also admire and support the efforts of President Josipovic and Prime Minister Kosor to reach out to former adversaries. You and your Serbian colleague President Tadic have shown great courage in making a firm commitment to resolve the issues resulting from a war that wrought terrible destruction and caused the displacement of a quarter million people. I am even more encouraged by the bold approach you have taken in the battles against corruption and organized crime. You have created a legislative and political framework that enables prosecutors to do their jobs without fear or favor, and to go after corruption at the highest levels of government. This, too, has sent a message throughout the region that the days of impunity are numbered and the balance of power is shifting in favor of the rule of law. As we know from our own experience in the United States, the fight against corruption is a never ending battle and the safeguarding of democracy requires constant vigilance. Thus we count on Croatia to maintain an undiminished commitment to the cause of reform in the years to come.
We also recognize your efforts in helping your neighbor, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Because we are deeply invested in peace and justice in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the United States strongly stands by the Dayton Agreement and we remain committed to helping Bosnia and Herzegovina succeed.
Nine months after its national elections, there is still no state government in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We are deeply disappointed, like all of you, that elected leaders continue to put personal, political, and sectarian interests above the national interest and the best interests of their citizens. The international community is prepared to help, but this effort cannot succeed unless the leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s parties display the courage to put the interests of the people ahead of their pride and their fears.
We will strongly oppose challenges to the Dayton Agreement and rhetoric that advocates Republika Srpska independence or secession for the Republika Srpska. Republika Srpska is a constituent part of Bosnia and Herzegovina and secession or independence is inconsistent with the Dayton Agreement. We support robust entities in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the decentralized government structure established in the Dayton Agreement, but moves toward or even threats of secession set back prospects for European integration and destabilize the neighborhood. We welcome efforts by the EU and Croatia to focus Bosnia and Herzegovina’s leaders on the steps needed to realize their country’s European future.
I applaud President Tadic for the impressive strides Serbia has made toward EU accession and for his efforts to reform its judiciary and combat organized crime. The recent arrest of Ratko Mladic speaks volumes about Serbia’s commitment to justice. It was individuals – not nations – who committed the horrible crimes of the 1990s, and it is individuals – not nations – who must be held accountable. We await the arrest of the last remaining at-large Yugoslav war crimes indictee, Goran Hadzic; with him facing justice in The Hague, Serbia will have met its remaining obligations to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Continued cooperation with the Tribunal, when coupled with further progress on internal reforms, will make Serbia a strong candidate for the European Union. In this regard, we applaud President Tadic’s attendance last year at the 15th anniversary ceremonies for the victims of the genocide at Srebrenica and his visit this week to Sarajevo to promote regional cooperation.
But Serbia also faces unique challenges in joining the European Union. Serbia needs to find a way to come to terms with the reality of Kosovo. It is inconsistent with EU standards for Belgrade to maintain a force of security officials within Kosovo, in violation of the UN Security Council’s resolution 1244. It is inconsistent with EU standards, and with the Central European Free Trade Agreement signed by Serbia, to prevent the export of goods from Kosovo.
The United States strongly supports the EU-facilitated dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, and welcomes the first agreements reached. Both sides have indicated a willingness to discuss practical solutions that can improve the lives of everyone in Kosovo, a goal that brings benefits to the people of both Serbia and Kosovo. We applaud the recent agreements reached by Serbian and Kosovar negotiators on resolving freedom of movement and civil registry issues. The United States Government supports the view taken by a number of EU member states, that if Serbia is to advance on EU candidacy this year, the dialogue should first produce positive results – not only in the technical issues under discussion but also on issues pertaining to the north of Kosovo. Northern Kosovo cannot be allowed to develop into a frozen conflict. The people of northern Kosovo deserve to live in a place where government provides services, where their rights and property are respected and where they can build a future for their children—no matter what their ethnicity.
In order to join Croatia in its European future, Serbia should continue to join with the region in reconciling itself with its past and adapting to the present. For centuries, Serbs have lived in every corner of this Balkan Peninsula. And for centuries, dozens of other ethnic groups have lived within Serbia. Like every other state in the region, Serbia is capable of functioning as a multi-ethnic democracy, respecting the democratic and cultural rights of every ethnic group in its territory. And like every other ethnic group in the region, Serbs must be able to enjoy their democratic and cultural rights in whatever state they live, while respecting the sovereignty of that state. This is the reality of twenty-first century Europe — it is one of the founding principles of the European Union and a core element of the European zone of peace. Assertions that Serbs cannot live a free and normal life in independent Kosovo call into question the capability of the entire region, including Serbia, to function as multi-ethnic democracies.
Let’s be clear: there is simply no possible way for borders in this region to be re-drawn along ethnically clean lines. If such a process is set in motion, there is no way that it can be confined to a single boundary line in the Balkans, and there is no way that it can end peacefully. Any rhetoric calling for the partition of Kosovo and questioning the ability of people of different ethnicities to live together is harmful to regional reconciliation and will not advance Serbia’s strategic goal of European integration. Let us be equally clear that the United States stands strongly behind a commitment to multi-ethnic societies and respect for cultural rights.
This principle applies to Kosovo as well. It has a considerable way to go to realize its aspiration of EU membership, but its social and democratic progress in three years since independence has been dramatic. Kosovo’s sad recent history does not, of course, grant it automatic admission to Europe, but with our continuing support. It needs to do the hard work of nation-building. Kosovo has strengthened its democratic credentials during the past year, weathering a series of constitutional crises and emerging a stronger democracy as a result. Kosovo is tackling its economic reform agenda, but like other post-socialist societies, is struggling to wean its people off of a strong central government. Kosovo should of course match its spending to its means and we look to its leadership to continue to take the hard decisions necessary to secure the country’s economic future.
But although the hardest task falls to regional actors, outside actors, including the United States, also have important responsibilities in integrating the Western Balkans into Europe. I cannot think of a time in our diplomatic history when the United States worked so effectively with our European Union colleagues, both with the Commission and bilaterally. This is a demonstration of our commitment to a joint effort in attending to Europe’s “unfinished business” in the Balkans. As we support Europe’s post-Lisbon structures, we will continue to forge a constructive U.S.-EU partnership on the Western Balkans. Our mutual commitment to the same goal is unwavering – full participation of all the countries of the Western Balkans in European institutions.
The United States is committed to working with the region and our EU partners to develop the enormous potential and promise of the Balkans. Across the region, the United States invests politically and financially in supporting this challenging work — from events such as the Brown Forum, held here in Dubrovnik in April, that addressed ways to build economic partnerships and increase the attractiveness of the region as an investment destination, to working with political parties and civil society across Bosnia and Herzegovina as they seek to overcome debilitating differences and build consensus in their country. We will continue to do so. We believe strongly in the power that comes with regional cooperation on issues of importance to all, whether that is combating organized crime, attracting foreign investment, or improving the region’s transportation and infrastructure. We all need to do more to promote regional cooperation and integration as the cornerstones of a stronger and more prosperous future for the region.
To this end, we, as international partners with keen interests in the region, must continue our strong engagement with the region, and must be committed to maintaining our assistance to the countries of the region. So, again, I applaud Croatia on the aptly chosen topic of this summit, “Finalizing the Transition.” I look forward to the discussions that will explore how we can all work together to enhance the political, economic and civil reforms started in the region to bring all the countries of the region to their European future and much-deserved peace and prosperity. And I look forward very much to working with all of you in the months and years ahead.
Thank you. On behalf of the State Department, I am delighted to be here this evening for the National Endowment for Democracy’s “Democracy Award.” Thank you to the Members of Congress, the representatives from human rights organizations and especially NED Chairman Gephardt.
To our two honorees, Zahraa Said and Jamel Bettaieb, let me say what a privilege it is to join NED in honoring you this evening.
What you and countless other citizens of Tunisia and Egypt set into motion over the past few months changed history. You broke through a barrier of fear and brought long-sought freedoms to your countries, capturing the imagination of the region and the world. Many in this room can take pride in the support offered to civil society over many years—and rightly so. But these revolutions are not about us. They are by, for, and about the brave and determined citizens who created them.
Tonight’s honorees are each accomplished activists in their own right. They are also symbols of the struggle, the sacrifices and the hopes of millions of people around the world for universal rights and universal freedoms.
Zahraa Said lost her brother, Khaled, in June of 2010. And before I talk about what your brother’s death meant for Egypt, let me first say once again how sorry we are for your loss.
Pulled by police from an Internet café, photographed at a morgue, Khaled’s story came to crystallize a nation’s outrage. Instead of allowing grief to overcome her, Zahraa used the skills she had at her disposal to honor her brother’s memory. She joined her fellow citizens in a struggle for justice. And she helped to launch an online network of individuals who shared her hopes for Egypt’s future.
The Facebook page “We Are All Khaled Said” inspired thousands of Egyptians, and people across the region, to lay claim to their rights. And in the process, as Egypt was transformed, so was the memory of Khaled Said: from a victim of brutal oppression, he became a rallying cry for a new and better Egypt.
Today we honor your brother’s memory and we celebrate you and your work.
Last December, a desperate Tunisian street vendor—tired of too many indignities and too many lost hopes—set himself on fire. That single act, at once tragic and noble, sparked revolutions which are still sweeping an entire region and inspired an entire generation. One of the first to act on that inspiration was Jamel Bettaieb.
He was active in organizing the protests that launched the Tunisian revolution and the Arab spring. He is an activist, a blogger, a trade unionist and a teacher. And he remains a strong voice in promoting Tunisia’s democratic transition.
Mohammed Bouazizi and Khaled Said were not the first people in their countries to experience injustice—but we cannot deny the profound, historic shifts that they set in motion.
We knew, as Secretary Clinton warned in Doha, that demographic, economic and technological forces would eventually unleash change in the Middle East. What we did not know was how or when.
It was the courage of young people—harnessing the tools of twenty-first-century technology—that ultimately tipped the balance. Egypt and Tunisia needed young people like Khalid Said and Mohammed Bouazizi to begin their revolutions, and today they need young people like Zahraa Said and Jamel Bettaieb to keep them on track.
Our own American revolution, over 230 years old, remains a work in progress—and certainly the same can be said of Egypt and Tunisia.
The Arab spring is a story that is still being written. It is not over in Egypt and Tunisia, where the hard work of building democratic institutions and building economic hope remains ahead. It is not over in Syria and Libya, where leaders may be able to delay the changes underway with violence, but where there is no going back to the way things were. And it is not over in Bahrain, Morocco, and Jordan, where broad and peaceful dialogue is still the only path for meaningful progress.
Before the Arab spring began, I once heard the story of a young Egyptian girl who told her father that, when she grew up, she would devote her life to bringing democracy to Egypt. Her father replied a little cynically: “good, at least this way you will always have a job to do.” The young activists of the Arab spring didn’t wait to grow up to bring democracy to their countries. They accomplished in months what their elders struggled to do for decades. But the father had a point: there remains a job to do—in Egypt, in Tunisia and everywhere—to help people claim their rights, consolidate their freedoms and realize their aspirations.
Zahraa, Jamel, we honor you for doing just that. We are inspired by your progress, grateful for your presence tonight, and determined to support your efforts to build a just and hopeful future. Thank you.
Let me begin by thanking Secretary General Insulza, President Funes, and Foreign Minister Martinez for their superb efforts in organizing and hosting this 41st General Assembly of the Organization of American States.
It is fitting to the spirit of the OAS Charter and the Inter American Democratic Charter that the General Assembly is meeting in El Salvador. The hard-won achievements of Salvadorans are widely recognized. I would like to reemphasize President Obama’s words during his March visit here, when he commended El Salvador for its courageous work to overcome old divisions, and for showing that progress comes through pragmatism and building consensus.
The theme our hosts have selected for this General Assembly, “Citizen Security in the Americas,” is profoundly important for all of us, and we applaud the Salvadoran decision to highlight citizen security as the theme of our Assembly this year.
Threats to the security of our citizens often come from transnational crime. No individual government can hope to deal with international criminals alone. Indeed, the criminals use our international boundaries to their own advantage, and to the disadvantage of law enforcement. But working together, we can reinforce national efforts and create new collaborative efforts to fight crime in all its forms.
Throughout the Americas, our governments understand the critical importance of building effective, democratic institutions that can deliver concrete results, provide economic and social opportunity, and safeguard citizen security. Civil society across the Americas is a vibrant and engaged partner, helping to strengthen political will, and to amplify the voices of the governed. This critical partnership, within our countries and here within the OAS, is essential for building stronger institutions, reinforced by dialogue and mutual respect.
Regionally, there is renewed impetus for security cooperation and coordination between democratic societies—cooperation that transcends traditional state-to-state formulas, and that draws from the experience, knowledge, and resources of multiple players. In Central America, regional governments and other partners throughout the Americas – the European Union, and institutions like SICA, the Inter American Development Bank, and the World Bank – are collaborating in unprecedented ways to develop and implement national and regional strategies to bolster citizen security.
Let me recall that the first sentence of the first article of the OAS Charter calls the Organization to a high purpose—which includes promoting solidarity, strengthening collaboration, and defending sovereignty.
The strong partnerships growing across the Americas embody that purpose. It would be hard to imagine this common cause without the democratic growth and development that are transforming most countries in the Americas.
The OAS has played a very important role in getting us to this point. I think of the critical role the OAS has played in brokering the peaceful settlement of border disputes involving member states, or the ever-increasing number of electoral observation missions the OAS has undertaken.
The OAS also leads the way in developing peer review processes, such as that established by the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption. The Inter-American Human Rights Commission continues to seek redress for the victims of abuse throughout the region—and has not hesitated to criticize and make recommendations for every country of the hemisphere, including my own. We should be proud of this record, and continue to build upon it.
With these milestones in mind, we recognize that the central pillars of the OAS—strengthening democratic institutions, safeguarding human rights, promoting development, and enhancing multidimensional security—are important goals that deserve our focused energy. At the same time, a renewed effort to better align these pillars with available funding guides the efforts of the United States to ensure that the OAS remains focused and clear in its purpose. Strengthening of the OAS can be achieved, even in difficult budget environments, by directing attention and resources toward its core strengths.
The OAS enjoys a unique status in the Americas. It embodies much of what makes the Americas a remarkable community of shared interests and values. And the Organization has a vast capacity to nurture the impetus toward integration that exists in every sub-region in the Americas. That integration will be critical to the success and competitiveness of my country, and each of yours, in an ever more interconnected world.
The reality of the Americas is that our citizens have an increasingly sophisticated understanding of their global interests, and are increasingly linking up with each other and the rest of the world. We see this in civil society through the use of social media and modern technology. We see this in the private sector. And we see this in governments, across all agencies and at all levels.
And so, as we work in solidarity to strengthen our institutions to fight transnational crime and build resilient communities, we know that our common cause does not compromise sovereignty, but rather safeguards it. This is why we must work even harder to strengthen the underpinnings of our democratic societies—good governance, responsive institutions, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law—which are essential elements of democracy and founding principles of this Organization.
As members of the OAS, we have pledged to support and uphold democratic principles and practices, and that standard must continue to guide us. We share a fundamental belief in the dignity and worth of the individual, and that those who govern must have the consent of the governed. Democracy requires the ability of citizens to openly enjoy their political and civil liberties without fear of reprisal; a free and unfettered press; and a vibrant civil society.
During this year, there is a growing momentum in the region to reflect on the implementation of the Democratic Charter—and how it can be used more effectively and proactively.
The Democratic Charter served as our guide in dealing with recent events in Honduras, and assisted in shaping our region’s discussions regarding its successful return to our Organization. We should take stock of the lessons learned from this experience. Following the suspension of Honduras, the international community worked through the OAS to help Honduras restore its democracy. The free and fair election of President Lobo, and the formation of a government of national reconciliation and a Truth Commission, fulfilled the obligations in the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord. Honduras continues to exhibit an unwavering commitment to democratic governance. For Honduras, the recent vote on reintegration marked a historic milestone and represents a significant moment for the OAS, which demonstrated its capacity to safeguard democracy in the hemisphere.
By working together to integrate our steadfast commitment to democracy with real and sustained efforts to help citizens, we can make tremendous progress in advancing Inter-American cooperation in support of a safe and secure region. Our futures and our fortunes are closely linked. Our common challenge is to ensure that our common efforts support the vital role of the OAS.
Let me conclude simply by reaffirming the United States’ commitment to working with all of you and this Organization in a spirit of genuine and equal partnership.
From left: Christian Marchant of U.S. Embassy Hanoi, Ambassador Steve Beecroft of U.S. Embassy Amman, Under Secretary William Burns, Assistant Secretary Michael H. Posner, Julia Nunez on behalf of Damas de Blanco, and Holly Lindquist Thomas of U.S. Embassy Tashkent.
Thank you for joining us today to celebrate the accomplishments of four human rights champions. This Administration, and particularly Secretary Clinton, have made advancing human rights one of our top national security priorities. The events unfolding across the Middle East and North Africa remind us of the universal aspirations of women and men across the globe to live in dignity, to find freedom and opportunity, and to shape their own destinies. They remind us that stability is not a static phenomenon, that political systems and leaderships that fail to respond to the legitimate aspirations of their people become more brittle, not more stable. And they remind us of the enduring significance of fundamental human rights for American interests around the world, and for what we stand for as a people and as a country.
The leaders we honor today have shown by example how to uphold the basic freedoms that are under threat in so many parts the world.
First, the “Damas de Blanco” or the “Ladies in White” of Cuba. Damas de Blanco distinguishes itself not only by the depth of its commitment to the release of political prisoners, but by the full measure of its bravery in defense of human rights in Cuba. The Damas helped create the conditions that led to the release of the political prisoners arrested during the “Black Spring” crackdown of 2003. With much of the battle for human rights in Cuba forced underground, the Damas de Blanco kept marching. And they keep on providing a poignant weekly reminder of the day-to-day repression that Cubans face. We stand alongside the Damas de Blanco in calling for the release of all remaining political prisoners; we are pleased to have Julia Nunez with us today to accept the Human Rights Defenders Award on behalf of Damas de Blanco.
In her remarks two weeks ago on the release of the 2010 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, Secretary Clinton noted, “Here at the State Department, human rights is a priority 365 days a year.” State Department Civil Service and Foreign Service Officers as well as Foreign Service Nationals tirelessly work to support the freedoms we all cherish.
Today, I am honored to highlight the work of colleagues who have made a real difference around the globe in promoting human rights issues. Ambassador Steve Beecroft’s advocacy for human rights in Jordan, including for women and children, persons with disabilities, and ethnic and religious minorities, is a superb example of the determination and commitment of our colleagues in diplomatic missions around the world.
As his nomination by the Bureau of Near East Affairs makes clear: “Ambassador Beecroft’s clear vision, brilliant strategy, and tireless advocacy have resulted in the country re-engaging across the board on a broad range of human rights issues, with progress on both individual cases and systemic reform. He saw opportunities for progress even when the environment seemed barren, and nurtured them patiently to fruition using personal diplomacy, public engagement, and targeted assistance programs for government and civil society. ”
It is not only our Ambassadors who promote human rights. We honor today two officers serving in two different parts of the world who have demonstrated integrity and innovation in their work to protect and defend universal freedoms of expression, assembly, association, and freedom of religion. They are Holly Lindquist Thomas of the U.S. Embassy in Uzbekistan and Christian Marchant of U.S. Embassy Hanoi.
Holly has made a critical difference in the lives of individuals and their families in Uzbekistan. She made key contributions in persistent approaches to the Government of Uzbekistan that led to the release of businessman and opposition leader Sanjar Umarov. Holly’s surveys around the country, on the issue of child labor during the cotton harvest, provided first-hand information on the underlying causes of this phenomenon and the true conditions of children.
In Vietnam, Christian has been a persuasive advocate for Vietnam’s beleaguered dissident community, serving as a conduit for imprisoned dissidents, their families and the outside world, and working to ensure that the bilateral Human Rights dialogue produces concrete results. In one case, literally on the courthouse steps, Christian’s intercession prevented a political activist from being beaten.
We congratulate all four of you. You richly deserve these awards. In recognizing your service, we also honor the human rights defenders and civil society activists who are doing hard work every day in every part of the world to turn the ideals of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights into reality. Thank you.
Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns will present the Diplomacy for Human Rights Award, the Human Rights and Democracy Achievement Award, and the Human Rights Defenders Award in the Department of State’s Treaty Room, Thursday, April 21 at 11:30 a.m.
The Human Rights Defenders Award recognizes individuals or non-governmental organizations who show exceptional valor and leadership in advocating the protection of human rights and democracy in the face of government repression. The Department will honor the Cuban NGO Damas de Blanco – “Ladies in White”. Damas de Blanco’s visible, consistently observed vigils focused international attention not only on political prisoners, but the overall human rights situation in Cuba.
Ambassador Stephen Beecroft of U.S. Embassy Amman will receive the Diplomacy for Human Rights Award for his extraordinary commitment to defending human rights and advancing democratic principles in Jordan. His advocacy has created new opportunities to engage the government on a broad range of human rights issues, with progress on both individual cases and systematic reform.
The Human Rights and Democracy Achievement Award will be presented to Christian Marchant of U.S. Embassy Hanoi for outstanding work to prevent torture and defend the rights of Vietnam’s dissidents, and Holly Lindquist Thomas of U.S. Embassy Tashkent for superb reporting underscoring issues of child labor during the cotton harvest and key contributions to diplomatic engagement in support of civil society and human rights activists in Uzbekistan.
This event will be open to credentialed members of the media.
Under Secretary for Political Affairs
Remarks to the 30th Annual Appeal of Conscience Foundation’s Religious Seminar at FSI
Good morning. Thank you very much for that kind introduction. I’m honored to be here today to recognize this important milestone — the thirty-year collaboration between two great institutions — Rabbi Schneier’s Appeal of Conscience Foundation and our own National Foreign Affairs Training Center.
As I’m sure an audience of 600 diplomats can attest, our profession has a well-deserved reputation for long-windedness. But I’ll do my best to break that stereotype this morning.
I would like to begin today by recognizing Rabbi Schneier — for whom I have the greatest personal admiration — a man of tremendous compassion and intellect. For nearly half a century, Rabbi Schneier has appealed to our conscience — to our sense of humanity — by promoting tolerance and respect among all people — inspiring us to help perfect an imperfect world — and advancing the noble cause of peace across the globe.
As a young man, Rabbi Schneier fled his homeland in Austria and survived the Holocaust as a refugee. As President Clinton said when he presented him the Presidential Citizens Medal in 2001, Arthur Schneier “knows … firsthand the consequences of hatred and intolerance, and has devoted his life to fighting them.”
Rabbi Schneier — on behalf of Secretary Clinton, I am proud to recognize our thirty-year collaboration with you, and it’s an honor to join you today in advancing the work of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, whose importance grows as each year passes.
The evolution of this annual seminar is a reflection of how much the world has changed over the last 30 years. In 1980, the world was defined largely by the Cold War and an international order organized largely around Soviet-American rivalry. Accordingly, the theme of the inaugural seminar was “Religious Life in Communist Countries.”
Three decades later, the world is a much different place — increasingly multipolar and profoundly interdependent. The interconnectedness of human society can fuel economic, social and political change across the globe ever more quickly — with dramatic political tremors in Tunisia helping to produce a political earthquake in Egypt within only a few historic weeks.
Yet it’s a world where far too many countries suffer from closed systems, produce too little diversification, too few jobs, and too few outlets for political expression, generating far too much intolerance and extremism, distorting and undermining the fundamental values that we share.
Among the most fundamental of those universal values is religious freedom. Our own Founding Fathers made religious freedom the first freedom of the Constitution — giving it pride of place among those liberties enumerated in the Bill of Rights. Our constitutional guarantee of religious freedom has fostered a culture in which all faith communities — from the largest denominations to the smallest local congregations — can openly practice their respective religions alongside their neighbors. And we take pride and draw inspiration from the fact that America today is among the world’s most religiously diverse nations.
Both President Obama and Secretary Clinton are deeply committed to promoting all aspects of freedom of religious belief and expression. Commenting on the profound and deeply moving journey made by the people of Egypt in recent weeks, President Obama pointed to the peoples of faith praying together in Tahrir Square and chanting “Muslims, Christians, we are one,” as an example that we need not be defined by our differences, but rather defined by the common humanity we share.
That includes the right to share one’s faith peacefully with others, to publish religious materials without censorship, to raise one’s children in one’s faith, to change one’s religion — by choice, not coercion, or to practice no religion at all. And it includes the rights of faith communities to come together in social service and public engagement in the broader society.
These are not only American rights — they are the rights of nations and people around the world — enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and guaranteed by the laws and constitutions of many nations, including our own.
It is profoundly in the strategic interest of the United States to promote religious freedom. As Secretary Clinton recently stated, “Societies in which freedom of religion and speech flourish are more resilient, more stable, more peaceful, and more productive.”
Advancing religious freedom is both an age-old goal and a modern challenge. According to a Pew Forum study, approximately 70 percent of the world’s population lives in areas where religious freedom is severely restricted. Most of these people live under threat from authoritarian regimes that abuse their own citizens, from violent extremist groups that exploit and inflame sectarian tensions, and from the quiet but persistent threat caused by intolerance and mistrust that can leave minority religious groups vulnerable and marginalized. As Rabbi Schneier himself has observed, “Religion is like fire — it can warm but it can also destroy.”
From the oppression that groups like the Baha’i face in Iran or the growing legal pressure that conservative Muslim women in France now confront over covering their faces publicly, to attacks on the Sufi, Shia, and Ahmadiyya holy sites in Pakistan and against Christians in Iraq, Egypt and Burma, to the harsh restrictions placed on Tibetan Buddhists in China, the global advance of religious freedom faces many obstacles.
As diplomats posted overseas, you both personify our nations’ commitment to religious freedom, as well as advocate for its achievement,
· by contributing to the annual “International Religious Freedom Report;
· by engaging faith-based groups, as powerful catalysts for development and social action;
· by combating violent extremism through helping moderate voices to compete in the marketplace of ideas;
· by employing your linguistic skills to participate in vigorous public diplomacy that promotes religious freedom and ecumenical dialogue; and
· by embedding respect for religious freedom in multilateral institutions. At the UN Human Rights Council, for instance, we continue to take aim at the historically divisive “Combating Defamation of Religions” resolution that proposes to protect religious freedom by banning speech that is critical or offensive about religion. As Secretary Clinton said, “freedom of speech and freedom of religion emanate from the same fundamental belief that communities and individuals are enriched and strengthened by a diversity of ideas.”
I know that I’ve just scratched the surface of the opportunities and challenges in advancing religious freedom in the world today.
Of course, we recognize that much more needs to be done. But we can be heartened when we hear that in Syria and Turkey, the Grand Muftis have spoken out publically, urging tolerance towards Christians and Jews; or that in Spain, special prosecutors have been appointed to focus on hate crimes; or that in Brazil, the government has created an office and published a guide to combat racism and religious intolerance.
For our part, the United States will continue to build bridges to promote international religious freedom, recognizing the unmistakable truth in what the President said in Tucson last month, “the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.” I hope that each of you will find, throughout your own careers, a way to advance this great endeavor.
In closing, I again want to offer my profound appreciation to you, Rabbi Schneier, for an extraordinary thirty-year collaboration, and for all that we will do together in the years to come.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Thank you very much and good afternoon. I am very happy to be back in Cairo. I first visited Egypt In 1974 when I was an 18 year old student, and over the many years since then I’ve developed enormous admiration and respect for Egypt and Egyptians. This is obviously a moment of extraordinary promise and also extraordinary challenge for Egypt. The courage and the tremendous peaceful determination that were so clear in Tahrir square really have captured the imagination of the rest of the world.
The U.S. admires what Egyptians have already achieved. We know that the road ahead will not be easy and that this is just the beginning of a complicated democratic transition. We know also that it’s a transition that can only be navigated by Egyptians themselves. But we have great faith in the capacity of Egypt to make a successful transition and to set an example for the rest of the region, which I think is especially important at a time of such profound change across the Arab world. The truth is that Egypt is uniquely equipped and positioned to play that kind of leadership role.
The United States will do everything that we can to help. We continue to believe, as President Obama has said, that Egypt’s transition needs to be open and inclusive. It should lead to real political change, and to realizing the aspirations for freedom, dignity and opportunity that were so clearly on display in Tahrir Square. We want to listen to the priorities of Egyptians inside government and outside government, listen to their priorities for political transition, for economic recovery and modernization and try as best we can to connect our resources and our support to those priorities. We will continue to encourage, as President Obama has emphasized publicly, concrete steps that will help to build on the momentum of transition that’s already grown, steps like the constitutional changes which are currently being drafted, careful preparations for elections, the release of political detainees and the lifting of the emergency-law.
We are committed, the United States is committed, to long-term partnership with Egypt, a partnership that is partly about relations between governments but also about relations between our two societies. We are convinced that we have a great deal to gain by working together, especially as I said before, at this moment of profound transition across the Arab world. With those opening comments, I would be delighted to try to respond to your questions. And thank you again for making the time to meet this afternoon.
QUESTION: Please brief me on the future of cooperation between Egypt and the U.S.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I would say several things. First, the U.S.-Egyptian partnership is a long-standing one. We are proud of the record of cooperation in increasing economic opportunities for Egyptians and our cooperation on a range of shared regional and global challenges. I’ve met with a wide range of Egyptians inside and outside government, civil society activists, representatives of many different parts of Egyptian society, and we aim to continue those kind of contacts. And we will continue to do everything we can in the spirit of our partnership to support Egypt’s economic recovery and continued modernization and to support Egypt’s open and inclusive political transition and to work with Egypt in dealing with a growing number of regional challenges. I don’t think the partnership between our two countries and between our two peoples has ever been more important than it is today.
QUESTION: Could you please tell us how you perceive the Egyptian priorities?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: It is for Egyptians to set their priorities, but it seems to me, as President Obama has said, that following through in a rapid, orderly and open way in a transition that will realize the aspirations of Egyptians for freedom, for opportunity and for dignity is an extraordinary priority. That’s a road that Egyptians are going to have to chart for themselves, but there’s a lot that can be learned from the experience of other transitions around the world. That includes careful preparations for elections, for example, and the importance of recruiting as wide a range as possible of people and leaders in society so that there is feeling of full participation. That, it seems to me, is at the top of the list of priorities. Connected to that, obviously, is the question of economic recovery. Egypt has a strong economic foundation despite the disruption that has been caused recently to tourism and to other sources of income. It seems to us that the essential economic priority is to build toward long-term economic modernization so that the benefits of economic growth, the benefits of economic opportunity can be felt by people across society not just a small section of society. That’s a challenge for any society, but that’s also an important priority.
QUESTION: Has the U.S. received any requests from the Egyptian Government to freeze the assets of former President Mubarak and his family?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: We have a number of law enforcement channels through which we cooperate with the Egyptian Government. We have received in the past, in the recent past, several requests of the sort that you mentioned. I’m not aware of any yet with regard to former President Mubarak. Certainly, we remain committed to the rule of law and will use those law enforcement channels to deal with any requests we get.
QUESTION: You talked about with the government and the civil society, do you have discussions with the Moslem Brotherhood, who are part of the Egyptian society, and how much does the U.S. government fear that the MB would become in the majority?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I haven’t sought a meeting with representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood. As a general principle, as you know, the United States is committed to meeting with a wide variety of leaders and activist groups in Egypt–individuals and groups who are committed to the rule of law, committed to a democratic process, and committed to peaceful, political competition and equal rights. And we will continue to look forward to dialogue of course with a wide range of people.
Now, in regards to Egypt’s political future, and the question is when Parliamentary elections are held and who might benefit, those are decisions that Egyptians have to make. As I said before, I have considerable faith in the capacity of Egyptians to make good choices about their future and, most importantly, to create a political system that is going to be fair, and allow for, not only equal rights across society, but also a fair and open competition.
QUESTION: I’ll be curious to hear your account of what the Egyptian government officials that you have been meeting with have been telling of what you perceived as a message they have been sending you and or what are their priorities right now in terms of ending this transition? What do you think on that?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I think, in my experience, Egyptians inside and outside government are pretty good in speaking for themselves and so I’ll let them describe their priorities. All I would say is that my strong impression is that there is an understanding across Egyptian society, including on the part of officials with whom I have met, of the importance of moving ahead on the political transition in a way which reassures people that this is going to produce real political change and that is going to lead over time to the sort of democratic system that Egyptians in Tahrir Square and outside of it clearly aspire to. There was also an appreciation in my conversations of the importance of addressing economic concerns as well along the way.
Recognizing as I said before that Egypt has a solid foundation in which to build infrastructure which is reasonably well developed, and the possibility of attracting foreign investment, I think the surest way to attract foreign investment, the surest way to have tourists return to Egypt is to demonstrate progress in a successful political transition. If that process continues, it seems to me that Egypt is not going to have difficulty over time in attracting that kind of interest from foreign businesses as well as from tourists.
QUESTION: You said that you will commit to have a dialogue between the American government and those who are the legitimate parties or movements. If the Muslim Brotherhood had a chance and became in power in Egypt, will you have accept that or how will you deal with them?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I am a big believer in taking things one step at a time. I think the challenge before Egypt right now is how to create a democratic framework, to create a framework for an electoral process that is going to allow for a free and fair competition. And then we’ll see what comes out of that process.
But I think the focus right now, certainly for Egyptians but for all of the rest of us who want to be supportive of Egypt’s political transition, is trying to establish the kind of rules of the road and the respect for rule of law which will make for long term democratic success in Egypt.
QUESTION: How does the U.S. perceive the shift in terms of the Egyptian relations with Israel and with Iran as well? Also how does the U.S. explain the backing, financial and otherwise to the Egyptian regime?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: That is a collection of very good questions. Let me start with a few comments about the region, then on Egypt, and then the question on corruption. On the region in general, I think that we are obviously witnessing a period of profound changes. I don’t think any society in the Arab world is going to be immune, or across the region for that matter—I’m not limiting it to the Arab world, is immune from the aspirations for freedom and dignity and opportunity that we have seen so clearly here in Egypt. We can only hope that the peaceful determination that we saw in Tahrir Square is matched elsewhere because, certainly, we are troubled, as I know many Egyptians are, by the images that we have seen in Libya in recent days and by the violence which has occurred elsewhere in the region.
It’s very important for Americans to understand that stability is not a static phenomenon in the Middle East or any place else. Societies and leaderships that don’t address the aspirations of their people for participation politically, for opportunity economically, are going to have a very hard time remaining stable. So we need to understand that, maybe we need to understand that more clearly in the future. So that’s my general point.
Secondly, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has reaffirmed its commitment to Egypt’s international agreements and treaties, including the Egypt-Israel peace treaty. It seems to me that as Egypt looks at its relations around the region and its approach to the Arab-Israeli peace process, it’s going to be driven by its own self interest, but I think Egypt will continue to play a crucial role in any hopes for reviving the Israeli-Arab peace process. There are lots of reasons to be concerned about Iranian behavior in the region, whether its nuclear ambitions or its support for violent extremist groups. Those are concerns that we and others in the region share.
On the issue of corruption, is a significant problem in Egypt. No society is immune from that. The US has its own challenges with corruption sometimes. Those have to be addressed, applying the rule of law. They have to be addressed fairly, so that it’s clear that nobody is above the law or can get around the law. But what’s important, I think, is to create modern economic institutions that create a fair playing field and offer opportunity for everybody in society and don’t allow particular individuals to benefit unfairly. It takes time to build that, but I think it’s going to be very important in the years ahead for Egypt to do that, just as it has been important for the US to continue to try to do that.
QUESTION: I know that your visit is devoted to Egypt, but since most of my colleagues have asked questions about Egypt, I’d like to ask about Libya and what is going on there. I could be wrong, but I haven’t seen the US standing as squarely behind the Libyan people as they were behind the Egyptian people, while the Libyans are being butchered. What will the US do?
QUESTION: Are they talking about a UNSC resolution?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I don’t know. I can’t predict what the outcome of that emergency session will be today, but all I can tell you is that there is a deep, deep sense of concern shared by members of the Security Council, and I know also by our friends in Egypt and around the world. Egypt has hundreds of thousands of workers in Libya right now. All of us are horrified by the images that we’ve seen.
QUESTION: There will be a referendum on the constitution and parliamentary elections and then Presidential elections. Will the US government plan to ask for monitoring of those votes?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: The issue of monitoring, both domestic and international monitoring of elections, is a well-established practice around the world and I think it is a very useful way of ensuring that the rules of the game are applied. This is obviously something that we’ve strongly encouraged in the past, not just in Egypt, but in other societies around the world, and we will continue to strongly encourage it as a matter of the self interest of Egypt, because I think it helps, as it does in any society in the world, to ensure a fair and transparent process.
QUESTION: People are saying that Amr Moussa, the Secretary General of the Arab League, intends to run for the presidency. I heard that the US and Israel object, could you please comment?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: We don’t get a vote in Egypt’s elections. We don’t get a vote in who runs in Egypt’s elections, and I think that Amr Moussa is entirely capable of making that choice himself.
QUESTION: There’s a perception in Egypt that the US relationship with Egypt has always been built on what Egypt’s stance toward Israel would be, and that the backing of the Egyptian leadership went through decades of infringements of the basic human rights of the Egyptian people. Will there be any guarantees to the Egyptian people that the US will start correlating the aid package to Egyptian leadership to their performance domestically?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: All I can stress to you, as I said before, is that I think the US-Egyptian partnership is important for a number of reasons. Certainly, our shared experience in trying to promote a truly just and lasting comprehensive settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict is one of those issues, but there are a number of others. Particularly, as I said, to look at a region that’s gone through such a profound period of transition now, it is equally in our interests, as it is in Egypt’s, for Egypt’s transition to be successful and for us to work together in dealing with lots of shared challenges around the region. Certainly, we have an important stake in supporting human rights around the region, and I think we need to be consistent in doing that. It’s a concern, not just of the US administration, but of the US Congress and American society in general. I think this is an area in which we have not always been as clear as we should be. As I said before, stability is not a static phenomenon in the world. Societies have to adapt and have leaderships have to address the very legitimate concerns of people. We have to take that into account in our relationships around the world, as well. We’ve tried to do so in the past, but I can assure you, we are focused on that even more clearly as we look to the future.
Thank you very much. I wish you good luck. It’s certainly a fascinating moment to be working as journalists in Egypt. So, good luck.
Thank you very much. I’m delighted to be back in Cairo. I have just finished a very interesting and comprehensive conversation with Secretary General Amr Moussa about developments in Egypt and around the region. As always I learned a lot.
This is a moment of extraordinary promise for Egypt and for Egyptians. It’s a moment when Egypt has only just begun its historic transition to democracy. It’s a moment when the voices, the courage and sacrifice, and the remarkable peaceful determination of Tahrir Square have been heard around the region and around the world.
Americans deeply respect and admire what Egypt has already achieved, but we know that the road ahead is not going to be easy. We also know that it’s a road that can only be navigated by Egyptians themselves. The United States has great faith in the capacity of Egypt to navigate that path successfully and to set an example for the rest of the region. We want to do everything we can to help as Egypt builds an open, inclusive process aimed at producing real political change, economic recovery, and long-term economic modernization.
I look forward with my colleague David Lipton over the next couple of days to listening to the priorities of Egyptians inside and outside government, to understand better how we can connect our resources to Egypt’s priorities and to be as helpful as we can in this process. Along the way, we’ll continue to encourage concrete steps to build confidence and to sustain the momentum of the transition, ranging from the constitutional amendments that are being considered, through careful preparations for elections, to the further release of political detainees, to the lifting of the Emergency Law.
In this process of democratic transition, as in the process of tackling many other regional and global challenges, the United States looks forward to remaining a very strong partner of Egypt and Egyptians. Thank you very much once again.