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Diplomacy in Action

Remarks at a Solo Press Availability

John Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Embassy Tunis
Tunis, Tunisia
February 18, 2014


SECRETARY KERRY: I’m very pleased to be here in Tunis at what is obviously a very important time for the country. On behalf of the United States of America and President Obama, I want to extend our congratulations to Prime Minister Jomaa and to the country, to the citizens who have all invested in the future of this country. And we congratulate them on the very difficult transition but vital transition to democratic rule.

The transition that has taken place here and, in fact, the series of uprisings that became known as the Arab Spring began, as many of you know better than me even, 200 miles – less than 200 miles from here with an act of courage and an act of desperation by a Tunisian man who refused to live one day longer in a country that was plagued by corruption and absent opportunity. Three years later, the Tunisian people have ratified a new constitution, a constitution that is rooted in democratic principles – equality, freedom, security, economic opportunity, and the rule of law. It is a constitution that underscores Tunisia’s long tradition of respect for the rights of women and minorities. It is a constitution that will allow the people of Tunisia to realize the aspirations of Mohamed Bouazizi and millions of others. And it is a constitution that can serve as a model for others in the region and around the world.

Getting to this moment has not been easy. There have been countless debates, discussions, and disagreements. But these things are exactly what is central to democracy. That is true of a democracy that is young or old. The fact is that the road to a full democracy is long and difficult, and it is a road that in many ways never really ends, as we see even in old democracies like ours: we’re always working and we’re always working to perfect it.

As I told the president and the prime minister in our meetings earlier today, President Obama and the United States will continue to stand beside Tunisia throughout its democratic transition. And we intend to do everything that is possible to help in the electoral process to make certain that Tunisians have an opportunity to be able to exercise the rights they had fought for hard and be able to vote for their future government soon. Our support is not just words. Since the revolution began, the United States has committed more than 400 million in foreign assistance for the transition. That includes more than 24 million for equipment and training for Tunisia’s ministry of interior security forces. It includes 100 million in direct budget support and debt relief. It includes more than 20 million in a USAID competitiveness program to create jobs in the information technology sector, and a $30 million loan guarantee supporting $485 million in new financing for the Tunisian Government. In the time ahead, we will continue to support Tunisia’s security, stability, economic growth, and political reform as we strengthen our bilateral engagement. And I will be going back to Washington with additional ideas about ways in which the United States may able to help. President Obama has invited Prime Minister Jomaa to Washington, and we look forward to fixing the date for that visit soon.

Today, Prime Minister Jomaa and I agreed that during his visit to our capital, we will hold the inaugural meeting, the first meeting of the U.S.-Tunisia Strategic Dialogue, and this dialogue is aimed at strengthening our bilateral relations. The joint strategic dialogue will focus on cooperation in security matters and on promoting closer economic ties between our two nations.

And let me emphasize that I also look forward soon to meeting nearby in Algeria and Morocco for our important strategic dialogue discussions as well, and that will happen in the coming months.

I’m pleased to say that the United States and Tunisia are also taking steps to strengthen our people-to-people programs. Educational exchanges are a very important way of promoting understanding and friendship between the peoples of different nations, and we’ve seen that work effectively all around the globe. That’s why I’m pleased to announce today to confirm that pending congressional approval, the United States plans to provide an additional $10 million to the Thomas Jefferson Scholarship program. This program gives Tunisian students the opportunity to spend a year studying at a college or university in the United States. There are currently 65 Tunisian Jefferson Scholars who are studying on our campuses, and we really hope to welcome many more in the years to come.

I’m also pleased to announce another indicator of our commitment to Tunisia’s future. Tomorrow, as part of our joint security cooperation – and there are many other things we are doing besides this – but tomorrow United States will turn over the keys to both a state-of-the-art mobile command post vehicle for conducting terrorism investigations and a mobile crime lab for use by forensic police in order to gather evidence effectively for prosecution.

Both the President and the prime minister emphasized to me the importance of security at this moment in time. No democracy can survive or prosper in the absence of security, and we hope with this new equipment, but also with other initiatives that we are prepared to engage in, that Tunisians will be better prepared to address the violence and terrorism that threatens everybody in many parts of the world.

Let me just say that I know this is a quick visit, and I wish it was longer. But I thought it was important, even though it was brief, to come here in order to make clear to the people of Tunisia that there are many, many countries and many people in the world who admire what people have been engaged in here, and I wanted to come here on behalf of President Obama to express our support for this courageous path that Tunisia is on.

The work of building democracy is hard work. The work of making sure people have rule of law and security and protections for everybody – all minorities, all religions, all walks of life – this is vital to the definition of any modern country.

I know that Tunisia is an educated, thoughtful country that respects rule of law and respects the rights of others, and I know this is a path that Tunisia wants to go down and wants to be successful at. So I wanted to come here today to confirm on behalf of the American people and President Obama our commitment to stand with Tunisia, with the people of Tunisia, and to help move down this road to democracy with hopes that this constitution that you have achieved will become a model for other countries in other places.

We look forward to working with you in this critical year ahead as you come to elections and hopefully to the goal that you want to achieve.


MS. PSAKI: The first question – I’ll be calling on the questions. I wish we had more time, but we just have limited time. The first question is going to be from Adam Entous of The Wall Street Journal.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Mr. Secretary --

QUESTION: (In French.)

QUESTION: Yeah, sure.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Adam.

QUESTION: Yeah, sure. You mentioned that you would be returning to Washington to explore ideas to help Tunisia in its counterterrorism efforts. Do you think the government today is up to this challenge? What specific steps do you envisage down the road in terms of maybe training and equipment? And separately, what lessons do you think General Sisi in Egypt should take away from Tunisia’s approach?

SECRETARY KERRY: Most of the requests were focused on equipment, although there is some thought about training and assistance in other ways. But that has to be discussed thoroughly in Washington and elsewhere.

But, as you know, I announced today the beginning of our strategic dialogue, and we will be holding that strategic dialogue very soon to follow up on a broader strategy for success. And with respect to the question of our – of can the government manage this, I believe yes, absolutely. And the evidence of that is the very significant arrests that were made and breakup of Ansar al-Sharia’s several cells recently, in the last weeks, which was well carried out, well planned and executed. And I think it’s an indicator that with more capacity, they have a great ability to do what is necessary.

And on the second question, I’m not going to – I’m not going to advise General al-Sisi or President Mansour or Foreign Minister Fahmy or others at a press conference. I’m going to talk to them personally and be engaged, as we have been, and I think that’s the appropriate way to deal with lessons or differences between how countries may approach a particular issue. My hope is to be able to meet with General al-Sisi somewhere in the next days or weeks to be able to talk about Egypt, as I have in the past. I’ve met with him. I’ve met with President Mansour and others. That’s a continuing dialogue and I look forward to continuing that dialogue.

MS. PSAKI: The next question – oh. The next question is from Tayib Busidi (ph) from Al Wataniya TV.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: Wataniya.

QUESTION: He never asked --

QUESTION: (In French.)

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Al Wataniya is not here? Okay.

QUESTION: (In French.)

MS. PSAKI: All right. I’ll call on you right there. Go ahead.

QUESTION: So first, I’ll ask in English and then translate. You come in critical time here in Tunisia. We fight terrorism. When you talk about 25 millions, there are (inaudible) of (inaudible). Do you – include – will be include weapons? So will help us with weapons? And my second part, when you talk about your tour, which will be in Algeria and Morocco, why don’t mention Libya? And what is your position what happened – about what happened there right now? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: On the issue of – okay.

QUESTION: I don’t understand you have released the – please.

MS. PSAKI: They’re going to translate.

QUESTION: (In French.)

MS. PSAKI: They’re going to translate it.

QUESTION: (In French.)


MS. PSAKI: Can you translate?


QUESTION: (In French.)

QUESTION: (In Arabic.)

SECRETARY KERRY: (In French.) So, and your question regarding the terrorism assistance --


SECRETARY KERRY: -- is specifically what?

QUESTION: Yes. Should they include weapons? Your help.

SECRETARY KERRY: Again, no decision has been made with respect to what they will be. I think you need to ask the government officials what it is that they’ve asked for. It’s not for me to be announcing that here. I will tell you they’ve given us a list, and we need to go back and evaluate it, and we will evaluate it thoroughly with respect to effectiveness and capacity and appropriateness. So those decisions will be made in the way they ought to be made – not the day that it’s asked for, but over the course of the next weeks.

QUESTION: Okay. And as far as Libya, please?

SECRETARY KERRY: Libya – yeah. With respect to Libya, we are deeply concerned about Libya and deeply involved in helping Libya in its transition. I have talked with Prime Minister Zeidan several times, many times. I’ve met with him personally. And we are frequently engaged not only in conversations with him and his government, but with our Embassy and our personnel and other countries about how we can do more to help Libya.

We are also very well aware that there are a large number of Libyans living in Tunisia, and we are very aware that what happens in Libya has a profound impact on Tunisia. And I think it’s fair to say that we have been, we are increasing our efforts in Libya and we’ll continue to do so over the course of these next months.

MS. PSAKI: Thank you, everyone. Unfortunately, we need to --

SECRETARY KERRY: No, no, no, I’m going to take – I want to --

QUESTION: We’ve been waiting for more than an hour, so we deserve more time, please.

SECRETARY KERRY: Guys, let’s not use the time complaining. Let’s ask a question, s’il vous plait. Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) So, thank you very much, Secretary Kerry. (Inaudible) so the first question is concerning the Rand --

QUESTION: Corporation.

QUESTION: -- Corporation, which made a study 10 years ago, a report 10 years ago, speaking about a political Islam, which should go back to the eastern countries and must be eradicated from those same countries. And this is the case for Egypt and Tunisia. So my question is: What’s the second phase of this plan or strategy? And what do you want exactly from the region – this means Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt? And what do you expect – and Syria – and what do you expect from these countries?

And also the second part of my first question is about the military bases which is located in the southern part of Spain. So what can you say about this military bases? An explanation – and its relationship with Spain?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, yeah, look – in fairness, folks, if everybody asks two questions, we’re not going to have a very fair afternoon here. And I’m being informed I have to leave shortly because I have to get to other meetings in yet another country, and I apologize for that. But I want to try to be fair in this process.

I haven’t read the Rand Corporation study. I don’t know what it says, and I can guarantee you it doesn’t – it’s not a policy of the United States of America.

So with respect to the countries in the region, what do we want? We want something that radical extreme Islam – not Islam as a whole, but radical extreme Islam – doesn’t tolerate. And it’s called tolerance. It’s called acceptance, pluralism, of all people, not just one form of thinking which people get killed for or punished for if they don’t adhere to it. We want a democratic process by which people’s rights are protected – human rights, the rights of worship, the rights of assembly, the rights of speech, and we believe that the right to petition your government without going to prison. There are a whole host of rights, and that’s what the United States wants, and we admire those countries like Tunisia that are trying to embrace those rights.

I have time for one more and then I have to go. So I’m going to leave it up to translation. Let the translation finish.

All right, this has to be the last question.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SECRETARY KERRY: I’m sorry. It has to be the last question.

QUESTION: Thank you. I’d like to mention that we have been waiting more than an hour now, so we deserve (inaudible). My question is that you did not mention anything about your meetings with (inaudible) this country. What’s behind this visit that comes after (inaudible) in Tunisia? What message do you bring to the Tunisian people, to (inaudible), and to this government? The last one is: Do you consider that the failure of the --


QUESTION: (In French.)

QUESTION: Do you think that the failure of the Geneva talks are considered a failure for the U.S. policy?

SECRETARY KERRY: I don’t know if I understood your first question. I think you asked me what was my message?

QUESTION: Yes, your message. Will you continue meeting with the civil society to support them?

SECRETARY KERRY: Yes, let me – all right. I understand. As I explained to you, I had an opening in my schedule between my meetings, and we thought it was important to come to this country which is struggling with this transition, in order to lend our support – the support of President Obama and the American people to the people of Tunisia. And I think that’s valuable. I would rather come here and share that we are bringing an invitation for your prime minister to come to Washington to help build this cooperation. We are providing additional assistance, and we are engaging in a strategic dialogue, and those are important announcements. And we thought it was important to come and make those and to congratulate the people of Tunisia for this constitution that has been created.

QUESTION: Secretary --

SECRETARY KERRY: And finally, let me just end – and I apologize. I really do have to go because I have to still fly and get somewhere. But let me just say on Geneva talks – this is very important: The Geneva talks are an ongoing process. Nobody expected in two meetings or three meetings that this was going to be resolved. What we’re doing is sharpening what the differences are. And in the recess that is now being taken, it is important for people to come to a resolution of what strategy they can pursue to come back to the table in order to be more effective.

I talked this morning to Foreign Minister Lavrov. We talked about the ways that we can try to move the process. We talked about the UN where we are currently negotiating a resolution, and my hope is that we will try to find common ground still as to how we can bring this tragedy to a close.

And let me emphasize, there is no military solution. We all agree on that. So you have to continue to pursue a political path if you’re going to find a way to solve the problem. We’re going to continue to do that, tough as it is.

I’m sure I will be back. I apologize. Thank you very, very much.

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