Remarks at the U.S.-Iraq Business and Investment Conference
Secretary of State
SECRETARY CLINTON: Good morning. I am delighted to be with you this morning, and I thank Dr. Sami for those very important introductory comments about the planning and the achievements that have already gone into this conference. I’m very grateful that Prime Minister Maliki could be here leading the Iraqi delegation. We are sold out. There were hundreds of people turned away, and more people are still coming in and standing in the back, which I think is a great tribute to the importance of this conference and the understanding of the significant opportunities that exist for business and investment in Iraq.
We are excited in the Obama Administration to be part of this transition that is occurring in Iraq. The plans for withdrawing troops are well underway. Our combat troops have left Iraq’s major cities, Iraqi security forces have replaced them, and what we see is a new sense of commitment to the future. And although the months ahead will be a time of change in Iraq, we have a great deal of confidence that rests in the ability and the commitment of the Iraqi people. A strong, free, prosperous Iraq is not only important for Iraqis, but also is key to a strong and stable region.
Iraq sits at a global crossroads, and it is a country that, because of its religious and ethnic diversity, has a great potential for connecting up far beyond its own borders in terms of investments and other kinds of opportunities. We believe strongly that Iraq is a land where generations of scientists, doctors, astronomers, engineers built a tradition of scholarship and inquiry that lives on in the Iraqi people today. And now is the time for both Iraq and its friends, like the United States, to demonstrate how there can be a new, more prosperous, peaceful future for Iraq.
Now we know there is a ways to go, but the potential is so palpable, and so is the desire of the Iraqi people. And our overall engagement will deepen and broaden. We are guided by a blueprint called the Strategic Framework Agreement, which identifies several areas in which the United States and Iraq will collaborate, including good governance, rule of law, environmental protection, science, health, education, and especially economic development and the promotion of trade. Prime Minister Maliki will coordinate his government’s efforts from Baghdad, and here in Washington, I will do the same.
The State Department takes the lead on our relationship and we will pursue several key goals. First, working to aid the Iraqi Government in its efforts to promote national unity and resolve political conflicts, such as disputes over Kirkuk. Second, we will support Iraq’s efforts to build strong relationships with its neighbors in the region. Third, we will promote the return and resettlement of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people, a critical step for healing society. And fourth, we will support Iraq’s economic development and full integration into the global economy.
Our Ambassador Chris Hill is working hard on the ground in Baghdad. And we here in Washington in a whole-of-government approach – Commerce, Defense, other critical agencies –are committed to be as helpful as we can.
For decades, Iraq has been disconnected from the global economy because of war and sanctions. Now we see the potential. And it is one that is based in broad economic growth, fueled by but not limited to oil production. And we believe strongly that economic development will go hand-in-hand with an increasing and very clear commitment to democracy.
But in order for both democracy and economic development to succeed, the people of Iraq have to see results. They’ve got to see the new jobs, the new houses that Dr. Sami referenced. They’ve got to see a rise in their standard of living. And there are so many ways that all of you here today can help us achieve that goal. Business can play a vital role in supporting Iraq’s economy, while also expanding your own profits and markets. We need to develop new industries for infrastructure and launch new ventures. And I think there is more potential than many people – not you, but many people outside this room – may realize.
This April, the State Department sponsored a trip to Iraq for representatives from several U.S. tech companies, including Google, AT&T, Twitter and Howcast. They came back buzzing about the possibilities for delivering new technologies to Iraq. Before the last several years, cell phone use was barely existent in Iraq. But foreign companies working with local partners providing cell phone coverage has translated into more than 60 percent of Iraqis using cell phones, and many have used their cell phones to start small businesses, renting their phones or selling phone cards.
Cellular technology has not only networked the country, it has also pointed the way to other industries, such as mobile banking, which has already begun in Afghanistan; mobile microfinance; distance learning; telemedicine; mobile support for small farmers, who can use their phones to check commodity prices or receive weather alerts, as farmers in our own country already do.
The American high-tech leaders who came saw for themselves the potential. And their trip has already sparked some new ideas. We’ve established an Iraq technology task force that brings together people from across Iraqi society, from the public and private sectors, students, women and others, to identify the technology needs of their own communities. And we’re finalizing a digital platform where U.S. tech companies will be able to receive requests directly from the Iraqi people. But we don’t want to provide only American support. We want to help develop the Iraqi capacity to devise their own solutions.
To that end, I’m delighted to announce that the State Department is launching a U.S.-Iraqi internship program starting this January. Through this program, interns from Iraq will be placed in technology start-ups in the United States to expose them to an entrepreneurial spirit, as well as the acquisition of skills that they will be able to take home with them. This represents a new approach to diplomacy that targets a group that will have a major impact on Iraq’s future— namely, the young people of Iraq.
Collaborations like these highlight some of the important assets that American business can bring to Iraq: your expertise, your ingenuity, your capacity to innovate. So even as we encourage financial investment in Iraq, we also seek to leverage these core strengths of American business. Now, we have some obstacles; we understand that. And we know that Iraq has made some important steps in recent months, which I’d like to mention a few of.
In April, the Iraqi Stock Exchange launched its first electronic trading platform. In September, international flights began service to a new airport in Najaf – a city once wracked by violence, now a popular destination for religious tourism. Electronic banking is on the rise, and several Iraqi and foreign private banks have emerged as capable and competitive providers of financial services. The United States is working with ministries in the Iraqi Government to provide training and technical assistance on key practices, including contracting, licensing, the tender process, dispute mitigation, and program management.
And as Dr. Sami said just last week, the Iraqi parliament passed amendments to the National Investment Law that will allow foreigners to purchase land in Iraq for the purpose of commercial housing developments. And I congratulate Prime Minister Maliki and the parliament for taking this important step.
Now, international business is still looking to the Iraqi Government to do more to create safe and attractive conditions. And I know that Prime Minister Maliki and all the Iraqi legislators will be doing more to make the business environment in Iraq secure, accountable, and increasingly attractive. That of course begins with holding national elections in January that are safe, free, and fair. That’s essential for convening a new national unity government. The Iraqi legislators should be passing a national elections law any day. Several deadlines have gone and passed, but I know that the people of Iraq want to be sure that this law is passed and that elections are held as scheduled.
Additionally, a comprehensive hydrocarbon law is vital for regulating the oil sector. Parliament has delayed this vote until after January, but steps can be taken in the interim; for example, by holding transparent, credible auctions on oil and gas fields as we are seeing, and by making progress on the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, so the Iraqi people will know what is being done with their nation’s valuable resources.
But as the Iraqi Government continues to make its reforms, I urge U.S. businesses to really see all of the progress that has been made. The security situation has improved. The conditions for investment are stronger. And in the words of an Arab proverb, “Dawn does not come twice to awaken a man or a woman.” The world is watching for every opportunity to invest in Iraq, and companies that wait too long may discover they are too late.
I asked an Iraqi friend of mine, “What does Iraq need to really develop the way that the Iraqi people deserve?” And he said two things: patriots and investors. Patriots, people who put Iraq first, who overcome the lines that are sometimes used to divide in order to unify, and investors not only from within Iraq, but from without as well, who make a bet on a future of a country that has every potential for success.
Now, Iraq has its work cut out for it. But we believe strongly in Iraq’s future. And the United States will use every tool of diplomacy to assist, from negotiations at the highest levels of government to technical and educational exchanges, to diplomatic efforts to resolve some of the lingering problems left by the prior regime. And in particular, we will encourage business partnerships that we think are in the best interest of both Iraq and the American people.
The American people have already invested a great deal in Iraq. Many families have paid the ultimate price for Iraq’s freedom and stability. Now, as we end our military involvement in Iraq, we pledge to secure the gains that the American and Iraqi people have achieved, by affirming our commitment to work with our Iraqi partners to help them realize their own ambitions and aspirations.
It is a great honor for me to have the privilege of introducing our next speaker. Under his leadership, Iraq has taken important steps in the right direction, not only in terms of economic development, but in working toward a government that is truly national, rather than sectarian, a government that focuses on results for all of the Iraqi people. He has been our partner, and through the Strategic Framework Agreement that he signed, we trust that this partnership will flourish and produce results for the people of Iraq and people everywhere who believe that Iraq’s future is unlimited.
So please, ladies and gentlemen, join me in welcoming Prime Minister Maliki. (Applause.)