Remarks With Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs Saad-Eddine Al-Othmani After Their Meeting

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Rabat, Morocco
February 26, 2012


SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so much, Minister, for the warm words and the gracious welcome. It is wonderful to be back in Rabat. So much has changed since my last visit to Morocco two years ago, but what has not changed is our commitment to our partnership and friendship, which goes back to 1777 when Morocco became the very first country to recognize our new nation. And the United States and Morocco have been allies and partners ever since. We collaborate on everything from trade and economic development to joint military exercises and counterterrorism efforts. So we had a long agenda today, and I would very much look forward to continuing our conversation in Washington when the minister is able to come.

I want to say a few words about two issues in particular that are of great concern to the American and Moroccan people. First, Syria. I thank the foreign minister for the important role that Morocco has played, first within the Arab League and second within the Security Council. Morocco is in a unique position to help shape the international community’s efforts, and it is imperative that we continue working today. I visited with the minister first in London about Syria. And then in Tunis, we attended together the Friends of Syria meeting.

And I want to reiterate my message to those Syrians who still support Assad, especially members of the Syrian military and business community: The longer you support the regime’s campaign of violence against your brothers and sisters, the more it will stain your honor. If you refuse, however, to prop up the regime or take part in attacks on your fellow citizens, your countrymen and women will hail you as heroes. Assad would have the Syrian people believe that it is only terrorists and extremists standing against the regime, but that is wrong. So many Syrians are suffering under this relentless shelling. All Syrians should be working together to seek a better future. That is what we hope for the Syrian people. That is what Morocco has led us in the international community in trying to achieve.

There are three areas where concrete action is needed: providing immediate humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people, increasing the pressure on the regime to assault its own brutal assault – to stop its brutal assault on its own people, and helping to prepare for a democratic transition. And I look forward to working closely with the foreign minister on all of these issues in the days ahead.

And what’s so exciting about being here in Morocco is that Morocco stands as an example, as a model of what can be achieved. Moroccans are strengthening their own democracy. Young people are having a say in their own future. His Majesty King Mohammed VI has begun the process of reform. We see women’s rights protected and expanded, a more transparent and accountable government, establishing the Arab world’s very first truth commission on human rights.

So Mr. Minister, on behalf of my government, let me congratulate your government and His Majesty on the successful constitutional referendum and parliamentary elections that occurred during this momentous last year. The Moroccan constitution provides for an independent judiciary. It contains new protections for freedom of thought, expression, and other universal rights. I was just briefed by the new speaker of the parliament, who advised me that Morocco now has more women in public office than any other Arab country. And frankly, the percentage is as good as we have in our own country in terms of women’s representation in the parliament.

But Morocco understands, as does the United States, that democratic reform takes constant effort and unending attention. It has to lead to the institutionalizing of democratic habits and practices, and of course to tangible improvements for the Moroccan people. And we stand with the government and people of Morocco as they continue this absolutely historic effort.

Let me close with a word about the Western Sahara. The United States continues to support efforts to find a peaceful, sustainable, mutually agreed upon solution to that conflict. U.S. policy toward the Western Sahara has remained constant for many years. We have made clear that Morocco’s autonomy plan is serious, realistic, and credible, and that it represents a potential approach that could satisfy the aspirations of the people in the Western Sahara to run their own affairs in peace and dignity. And we continue to support the negotiations carried out by the United Nations, and encourage all parties to work toward a resolution.

So again, Minister, thank you for hosting me and my delegation here today, and I look forward to working closely with you as we continue to move our countries toward even more productive partnership and friendship. Thank you, sir.

FOREIGN MINISTER AL-OTHMANI: Thank you. Thank you very much.

QUESTION: (In Arabic.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: No. Our policy on Western Sahara has not changed. We continue to (inaudible) efforts to find a peaceful, sustainable, and mutually agreed solution to the conflict that respects the fundamental human rights of all parties. We commend the UN envoy, Mr. Ross, for his continued leadership of the negotiating process. And we know that Morocco’s newly elected and appointed government leaders are fully engaged in pushing this process forward to an effective resolution. And as I said in my remarks, we think Morocco’s autonomy plan is serious, credible, and realistic.

And we also are pleased to see positive actions like Morocco and Algeria’s biannual intergovernmental meetings. They are a step in the right direction. We want to see both countries expand cooperation and constructive dialogue. That is the message I delivered in Algeria at the highest levels of the Algerian Government. I shared that with the meetings I had today here in Morocco because I think it’s, in today’s world, very much in the interests of Morocco and Algeria to work together on as many areas of agreement as possible. It’s good for the two countries, it’s good for the Maghreb, it would be good for economic development, it would be good for security, so we want to see that kind of continued progress between Algeria and Morocco.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) questions for you, Mrs. Secretary of State. First one is: What’s going to be of the Moroccan prisoners that are still held in Guantanamo Bay? And the second one is: Do you think that the political changes that Morocco has undergone in the recent months meet the United States’s criteria of democracy and political reforms?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, as to the first question, we remain in constant consultation with the government officials here in Morocco, and we are continuing to discuss that matter with them.

In regard to your second question, we are very pleased at the progress we have seen in Morocco. We applaud the millions of Moroccans who participated in last November’s parliamentary elections. It was exciting to see Moroccan men and women take part in this democratic process. And we are ready to work, as I enjoyed today, with the new government, with the new parliament, because there’s no denying Morocco has made significant progress along the path of democratic reform, and not only with an election, because after all, one election is not democracy. It takes a lot of hard work to establish a democracy. But the significant constitutional reform that has gone on under the leadership of His Majesty King Mohammed VI has led to the voters of Morocco approving a constitutional referendum. And the building blocks are all in place.

We understand. We’ve been at the business of democracy for 236 years. And we know how hard it is, and it does not happen overnight. It takes time and it takes the participation of every Moroccan. It doesn’t end when the votes are counted. It doesn’t end when the winners are announced, it’s not a spectator sport – for some, but not for others. Everyone has to be involved, and we think that the Moroccan experience is a very good model for others who are also seeking to have their own democratic reforms.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, if I may. The – as you know, the trial of the foreign and Egyptian NGOs (inaudible) apparently, and was postponed for two months. What happens to the Americans who have been at the Embassy now for several weeks? And more broadly, what does it say about the political transition underway in Egypt, about relations with the United States, and the question of American military aid? Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Steve, we are evaluating the outcomes of the legal proceedings today. We’ll have more to say after we have finished that analysis and gathered as much information as possible, because you’re right, it was a challenging procedure. But I will wait to comment further until I am fully briefed and have reached my own understanding of what was and was not decided today.

QUESTION: I have two final questions. First question is that (inaudible) in London and Tunisia and Algeria (inaudible), and what’s going (inaudible) from this region to bring (inaudible) back to Syria? And the second question is: What kind of (inaudible) could you (inaudible)? And the last one is: What (inaudible) U.S. presume to (inaudible) and bring more (inaudible)?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, those are three good questions. (Laughter.) With respect to the first question, Morocco and the United States are already cooperating very closely together, as we have done on many issues between ourselves but now are doing in the Security Council. Morocco provided the leadership for the resolution that was presented. Morocco has done a great deal to reach out and consult with other countries about the way forward. So we are working very closely together, and I think the minister and I are committed to looking for solutions.

Secondly, we’ve discussed at length security in the Maghreb and the Sahara, because we know that it’s difficult to develop the way you wish to and have the kind of future that people in Morocco deserve if you don’t have security. And so we already cooperate very closely, and we’re looking to expand that cooperation. And we also believe we have to bring in more countries to be part of the discussion – the Maghreb countries, the (inaudible) countries. So we’ve been discussing ways we might do that.

And finally on business and economic relations, everywhere I go in the region and beyond, people ask me if they could have a free trade agreement like Morocco and if they can have a Millennium Challenge grant like Morocco. And I tell everyone, we did not give that to Morocco; Morocco earned it. Morocco demonstrated what it takes to be in a free trade agreement and to meet the very high standards of the Millennium Challenge Corporation. So we discussed – the minister and I together and over lunch ways that he and I, along with other officials and under the work of the prime minister here and President Obama in our country, encourage more investment and more business in Morocco. And we will take steps to try to do that.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, I just want to follow up on Steve’s question, briefly. One is, do you know where the Americans are, or where are they, why were they not in the courtroom this morning? And does your answer to his question mean that there is no – there’s not yet any implication for the American assistance, that you are going to (inaudible) – that this decision to adjourn does not put that in jeopardy?

Then in Syria, I’d just like get your thoughts on – why is this so difficult? If it’s raining, you put up and umbrella. Why is – here you have a situation in which civilians are being killed. There is no shield or protection being offered to them.

And then lastly, on Afghanistan --


QUESTION: This not a good –

SECRETARY CLINTON: Why don’t we throw in Latin America and – (laughter).

QUESTION: Honestly.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Honestly (inaudible).

QUESTION: Well, I was only going to ask you two. Anyway, Afghanistan, it’s been a bad week. There’s another incident today in which some military trainers were injured. What is this – isn’t this a – hasn’t this (inaudible) the entire view as mission there? And how concerned are you about how things go forward? Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, if I can even remember all of your questions, I’ll try to answer them briefly. With respect to Egypt, I’m not going to add to what I’ve already answered because this is a fluid situation and there are a lot of moving parts that have to fully understand before I go any further than I have.

With respect to Syria, we have a very strong international group of friends of the Syrian people, and we understand how challenging the situation is when you have a government willing to shell their own people with heavy artillery, use tanks against their own cities, destroy homes, refuse to let the humanitarian workers in to remove bodies, to provide medical care. These are the kinds of terrible actions that deserve the condemnation of every country in the world. And we are consulting closely with those who are looking for ways of alleviating the suffering, first and foremost; of increasing the pressure on Assad and the people around him, because we continue to believe that those around Assad are quite concerned about the brutal attacks going on. We’re appealing to members of the Syrian army to put the people of their country first before a family or a political party. And we are pushing hard for a plan that would lead to a political transition. We welcome the help of those who are supporting the Syrian regime. We think that it would be appropriate for them to use whatever influence they have to at least get the humanitarian assistance in.

And finally on Afghanistan, Matt, look, we deeply regret the incident that has led to these protests. We are condemning it in the strongest possible terms, but we also believe that the violence must stop and the hard work of trying to build a more peaceful, prosperous, secure Afghanistan must continue.

QUESTION: (In Arabic.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: We certainly did discuss people to people relations because we believe strongly that the relationship between the American and the Moroccan people is the bedrock of our relationship. Government officials like myself come and go, but the underlying relationship between our people is what is enduring for now 235 years. So we want to increase people to people exchanges, business exchanges. There’s an excellent new program that we are very impressed by that we helped to start along with Moroccan business and government leaders to encourage entrepreneurship among Moroccans, particularly young people.

So there is a full range of such exchanges. Our ambassador and our Embassy have such a list. But we’re always looking for new ideas, and I would welcome any that any Moroccan might have.

Thank you.

PRN: 2012/T60-19