The video below is available with closed captioning on YouTube
As President Obama made clear yesterday in his address to the General Assembly, the United States rejects the false choice between democracy and stability. Democracies make the strongest, most capable partners. And we know that it takes a lot of hard work and oftentimes struggle.
But the fact of new, emerging democracies here in the 21st century should be a cause for great satisfaction and hope. But these emerging democracies need champions, not fair-weather friends. And during this past week, as I met with leaders from Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and Yemen, I expressed to each of them America’s unwavering support for their country’s continued journey along the democratic path.
But making good on the promise of these transitions will take many hands working on many fronts. And of course, there are political and economic dimensions to the work that must be done, but today I’d like to focus on the security concerns, because that has to be the starting line on the road to true democracy.
Of course, the Arab revolutions come from within, and the greatest responsibility for their success or failure lies with the people living them each day. But the nations gathered in this room also have a powerful stake in seeing that these democracies succeed, and it is our shared responsibility to help countries in transition find the right path forward.
International support is critical. Consider what happened when the Arab League and the Security Council came together to protect civilians in Libya. That show of solidarity helped produce a strong Security Council resolution that saved Benghazi from destruction at the hands of a tyrant. And thanks to the support of this broad coalition, the people of Libya now have the chance to write their own future.
We saw earlier this year, Libyans turning out in droves to cast their ballots – most for the first time in their lives. Then last Friday, we saw thousands of Libyans pour into the streets to condemn the attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. They made it clear that those who would promote violence and division do not speak for the new Libya, and that armed bands who would sever Libya’s ties with the world are not welcome. And the new Government of Libya is working closely with us to find the murderers and bring them to justice.
Now each country in transition has its own security challenges, and therefore each needs our support in different ways. In Tunisia, where the Arab Awakening began, extremists seek to hijack its progress. But Tunisians are working steadily to dismantle a long legacy of dictatorship and lay the foundation for sustainable democracy.
The riots underscored the challenges of building security forces focused on protecting people, not regimes. These nations are not the first to struggle with the challenge of policing a new democracy. And the international community has stumbled in the past, failing to offer needed support or offering the wrong kind of support.
So we should heed the lessons we have learned from our success and our failure, including this most basic understanding: Training, funding, and equipment will only go so far. It takes the political will to make hard choices and tough changes that will build strong institutions and lasting security. So I’m pleased Tunisia has agreed to host a new international training center that will help security and criminal justice officials pursue policies grounded in the rule of law and human rights.
Now Egyptians chose their leadership for the first time in history, and we are committed to helping that transition succeed. The Egyptian people, proud of the freedoms they have claimed, must decide what kind of a country they want to build. And the choices of the largest Arab nation will echo far beyond its borders. And like all nations, Egypt knows it too has responsibilities not only to its own citizens but to its neighbors and the international community, responsibilities to honor international commitments, to share power broadly, to keep faith with all the Egyptian people, men and women, Muslim and Christian. And we want to help Egypt and all new democracies live up to these vital responsibilities.
In Yemen, we are working through the GCC-led transition process, but providing basic security for the Yemeni people is a great challenge that is heightened by Yemen’s unique needs. Yemen has a fast-growing population of young people and not enough jobs – a familiar story not only through the region but the world. But in addition, Yemen is facing the depletion of their oil and water supplies. And al-Qaida in the Arab Peninsula remains a serious threat. The urgency of these threats must be matched by the urgency of our response. In the Friends of Yemen meeting later this week, countries are coming together to address Yemen’s challenges, both in the immediate and the long term.
Unfortunately, in Syria, Bashar al-Assad clings to power, and his campaign of brutality has sparked a humanitarian crisis. The United States has committed more than $100 million to help the Syrian people. And we continue to insist that the violence must end and a political transition without Assad must move forward.
The Arab League suspended Syria from its activities and has strongly condemned the Assad regime’s brutal violence against its own people. And the Arab League created a plan for peaceful political transition that was endorsed by an overwhelming majority in the General Assembly resolution that launched Arab League-UN mediation efforts, led first by Kofi Annan and now by Lakhdar Brahimi.
Yet the atrocities mount while the Security Council remains paralyzed. And I would urge that we try, once again, to find a path forward that can bring the Security Council together on the urgent business of both ending the violence in Syria and preventing the consequences that all of us around this table fear.
And although this forum was not primarily intended to discuss the peace process, I certainly would like to reiterate the President’s message from yesterday. The future of Israel and Palestine must belong to those who embrace the hard work of peace – not those who thrive on conflict or reject the right of Israel to exist. And the United States stands ready and prepared to work toward a just agreement to finally accomplish our clear goal – a secure, Jewish state of Israel, an independent, secure, prosperous Palestine, fulfilling the aspirations of the Palestinian people.
No discussion of the Middle East would be complete without a mention of Iran and the profound threat its activities pose to the region and beyond. Despite numerous demands by this Council, Iran still has not taken the necessary steps to cooperate fully with the IAEA and to resolve doubts about its nuclear program. In addition, Iran continues to sponsor terrorist groups and smuggle weapons for the Assad regime’s use against the Syrian people. Meanwhile, the Iranian people themselves suffer gross violation of their rights at the hand of their own government.
Serious challenges like these call for leadership and partnership. Yesterday, I was privileged to sign an agreement with the Arab League through its Secretary General and I was delighted that Secretary General Elaraby and I could build on the unprecedented cooperation of the last two years. We support Germany’s call to make Security Council-Arab League cooperation more systematic and sustainable. The United States is also one of 28 countries and international organizations working through the Deauville Partnership to support democratic transitions in the Middle East and North Africa.
When violence came to our doorstep at embassies around the globe, this body joined the Arab League, the OIC, the AU, and the EU to give voice to the world’s condemnation of the attacks and call for restraint. You stood with us, and now we must stand together in support of the common aspirations of the people, of all people, for security and safety for our families, the freedom to live lives according to our own conscience, the dignity that comes only through self-determination. And as President Obama said yesterday, the United States will never shrink from defending these values. And we will not walk away from these new democracies.
We are not alone in this commitment. This is the work of all responsible nations. And we look forward to working closely with anyone who speaks out on behalf of our shared values. Thank you.