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Remarks With Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf After Their Meeting

Press Availability
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Treaty Room
Washington, DC
April 21, 2009


Date: 04/21/2009 Description: Remarks by Secretary Clinton and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf after their meeting.  State Dept Photo  SECRETARY CLINTON: Good afternoon. President Sirleaf is someone whom I admire and have a great deal of admiration and affection for. I think her leadership has been exemplary and extraordinary and she has made an enormous contribution already to her country. The relationship between Liberia and the United States, as you know, goes back to the very founding of Liberia. And President Obama and I are very committed to the future of Liberia and to President Sirleaf’s continuing leadership.

She and I have just concluded a productive meeting in which we discussed a number of matters of mutual importance to the people of both our countries. I reiterated our strong commitment to the partnership and friendship that exists between us.

This is a time of both great challenge and opportunity in Liberia. Fourteen years of civil war ended in 2003, and a democratically elected government has been in place since 2006. Reconstruction and development are underway. President Sirleaf and her administration have worked tirelessly over the past three years to ensure that Liberia’s reforms, reconstruction, and development take root and are lasting successes. She and her team are committed to upholding democracy, combating corruption, and responding to the needs of people who were ravaged by war. And so Liberia has become a shining example of a transition successfully accomplished from conflict to post-conflict and democracy.

I especially congratulate President Sirleaf and her government on its successful conclusion last week of negotiations to eliminate approximately $1.2 billion in outstanding private sector debt. The United States is proud to have contributed to this effort through the World Bank’s Debt Reduction Facility.

Since 2007, the United States has given more than $211 million to clear Liberia’s arrears to the International Monetary Fund and the African Development Bank. And we have canceled more than $390 million in bilateral debt claims. And we intend to go beyond the terms of the Paris Debt relief arrangement and cancel 100 percent of Liberia’s remaining debts to us by the time Liberia reaches its completion point under the Heavily Indebted Poor Country Initiative.

We are proud to have played a key role in the debt elimination, which as the President just told me, will enable the children of Liberia not to be carrying a debt on their backs they had absolutely nothing to do in creating. We continue to offer strong support for the transformation of Liberia and in the last three years, we’ve committed over $1 billion in bilateral assistance to the country.

Our comprehensive assistance program includes helping Liberians reinvigorate their economy, encouraging private sector growth, improving the delivery of basic services such as health and education, rebuilding vital infrastructure, enhancing governance, extending the rule of law using natural resources in a sustainable manner, and ensuring peace and security. The Millennium Challenge Corporation is working with Liberia to develop a threshold program that will eventually lead to Liberia’s eligibility for additional assistance focused on poverty reduction, sustained economic growth and governance.

It is a great honor and personal privilege for me to welcome President Sirleaf to the State Department. I’m grateful for both her leadership and her friendship, and I’m particularly grateful for how she has never lost sight of her primary mission – to enable the people of her country to live their lives in peace and security, to have a chance to develop to the best of their abilities and raise their children to have even brighter futures. She has also continued to care about women and girls, which means a great deal to me. So it is a real pleasure to have her here, and thank you so much, President Sirleaf.

PRESIDENT SIRLEAF: Secretary Clinton, I am privileged to be here. I want to thank you personally for your tireless effort in advocating for the rights of women, advocating the education of girls, for the inspiring leadership that you have provided, as we try to wrestle with African development issues.

As you know, Liberia is recovering from 14 years of conflict, a period before that, in which there was neglect and little effort made to use our country’s resources for the development of the people. As a result, this – when we took over, we faced a collapsed economy, destroyed infrastructure, many young people who only knew war and want.

But we’re glad today that we have the opportunity to rebuild. We formulated our poverty reduction strategy, attempting to get our security sector reformed and functioning one again, rebuilding our economy. We always say Liberia is not a poor country; it’s just a country that’s been poorly managed. And so with our natural resources, we can open the economy, mineral, forestry, fishery, agriculture. We can then put our people back to work. We’re trying to open our – get – fix our infrastructure, get the roads built and the schools rebuilt and the clinics and the hospitals. One of the greatest joy I have is to see our children in their uniforms once again with their book bags on their back, you know, skipping as they go to school – created other problems, not enough schools, not enough teachers, not enough teaching material. But at least that process has started.

I want to thank the United States Government. The bipartisan support that we have received that have provided us the assistance that enable us today to say we’re well on the road from being a failed state, as characterized a couple of years ago, to what we hope will be a transformation into a post-conflict success story. I can just ask that we will continue to get the support from you, from President Obama, from this Administration, and from the Congress to enable us to achieve that objective. We know that we have to have primary responsibility for our development that we have to be accountable to our people in the proper use of our resources that you have to get a return on the investment that you make in our peace, in our development, and that we have to get the results that we all seek.

I can only say to you on behalf of the Liberian people that where we are today, we are well committed to achieving those goals, and want to thank all that you’ve done to get us to this point of progress. Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, Madame President.

MR. WOOD: We have time for a couple questions, first one from Sue Pleming of Reuters.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, two questions. First question: When do you plan to visit Africa and go to Liberia? Then the second question is also on the African continent, on your meeting today with the Liberian national security adviser. What emerged from that meeting and did you raise the – the Libyan – sorry, Libyans – and did you raise the issue of human rights concerns, particularly the case of Fathi El-Jahmi?

SECRETARY CLINTON: As to the first question, that is exactly what President Sirleaf asked me, and I assured her I would get both to Africa and to Liberia as soon as my schedule permits. As to the second question, we did raise human rights issues and specifically the case you referenced with the security adviser today.

MR. WOOD: The next question will be from Viola Gienger of Bloomberg News.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, do you favor a timeline for the Middle East peace process that reportedly has been suggested by King Abdullah?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we had very productive discussions with King Abdullah, both in the Oval Office and then over lunch here at the State Department. And let me say three things.

We are in total agreement that we support a two-state solution; that we have to do more to bring the Israelis and the Palestinians together in a negotiation that will benefit both the Palestinian and the Israeli people; and that we have to enlist the neighbors in the region in support of those efforts. And we are fortunate to have a leader like King Abdullah, who is willing to speak out so forcefully on behalf of the two-state solution and will do what he can to bring the parties together.

MR. WOOD: Thank you all very much.


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PRN: 2009/356

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