Remarks With Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dipu Moni

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Prime Minister's Office
Dhaka, Bangladesh
May 5, 2012

FOREIGN MINISTER MONI: Distinguished friends, good evening. We are delighted to have with us today the U.S. Secretary of State, Mrs. Hillary Rodham Clinton. She arrived this afternoon on an official visit. This is her first visit as the Secretary of State, but not her first visit per se. Her earlier visit in 1995, along with her daughter Chelsea, is fondly remembered by everyone. Given the personal manner in which she has touched the hearts of the people, Hillary Clinton has been something of a household name in Bangladesh, and we welcome Secretary Clinton with the same fondness and warmth.

Her current visit has been long awaited and will be counted as a landmark event in the shaping of our bilateral relations of the U.S. since the visit of President Bill Clinton in 2000. Our relations with the U.S. have matured over the years and are based on shared values and commitments and reflected a true partnership. The partnership is as much about convergence and the continued effort at greater convergence as it is about space for dissidence and mutual respect for the space.

In this spirit today, we have discussed a host of important issues of concern to both countries, ranging from bilateral, regional, to the global. We have discussed issues on both sides that we wish to move forward on, on our part, duty-free and quota-free access of our products to the U.S. market and extending of GSB facilities where important. In addition, we raised the issue of Bangladesh’s enrollment in the Millennium Challenge Account, repatriation one – of one of the self-confessed convicted killers of the father of the nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, currently resident in the USA, et cetera.

Both sides expressed the desire to give institutional shape to our partnership dialogue, and we have agreed on signing the Joint Declaration on Bangladesh-U.S. Dialogue on Partnership this evening. The declaration reiterates our common values and aspirations and an accent on cooperation. This declaration now formalizes a dialogue on the entire gamut of our bilateral relations and priorities on an annual basis.

Alternating between Dhaka and Washington, D.C., our friends also raised a number of special interests to them, a number of issues. These include governance and related issues, economic cooperation, counterterrorism, collaboration, and partnership on global issues, et cetera. We have reiterated our resolve to contribute towards building a peaceful and stable world where our issues of common concern will continue to be our priority.

We wish to collectively propagate our values of democracy, diversity, rule of law, and human dignity globally, building coalitions across north-south or east-west divides, to transcend the ghettos of our minds, crafting one world on this our one earth. I thank you all.

And now I would invite Secretary Clinton to make her comments.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very, very much, Minister. And it is a great personal pleasure for me to be back here in Bangladesh after too many years away. I am very grateful to the foreign minister for her warm and gracious welcome and the substantive conversations that we just concluded, and I am looking forward to seeing the prime minister to continue those discussions.

I am sorry that I missed the festivities for Bengali New Year. I know you put on quite a colorful celebration here in Dhaka. And I hope this will be a very successful, positive year for progress, peace, and prosperity for Bangladesh and for the friendship between our countries. That friendship goes back decades, and it is rooted in our shared democratic values, our strong economic ties, and our deep people-to-people connections.

Today, we are working together to help solve some of Bangladesh’s most pressing challenges, from disaster response to healthcare, from food security to climate change. Bangladesh represents one of the largest development assistance commitments that the Obama Administration has made.

Today, I congratulated the foreign minister on the impressive progress that Bangladesh is making on a number of important issues. Bangladesh is on track to meet many Millennium Development Goals by 2015 with a particular emphasis on saving the lives of mothers and children. The rates of maternal and child mortality have dropped; the rate of poverty has dropped, and that is a great tribute to the commitment that Bangladesh and the people of this country have made to improving the lives of all of your citizens.

And I also wish to acknowledge that Bangladesh has joined the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, which both helps saves lives by promoting clean-burning stoves and fuels and also helps save the environment by removing black carbon and soot from the atmosphere. The people of Bangladesh are setting an example for people everywhere in how to meet similar challenges.

We also discussed Bangladesh’s growing contributions on the regional and global stage. This country’s world-renowned experts on cholera traveled to Haiti, Somalia, and elsewhere to help fight deadly outbreaks. We are working together to ensure that foreign terrorist groups cannot use Bangladeshi territory to launch attacks. And Bangladesh contributes more personnel to United Nations peacekeeping operations than any other country in the world.

We also discussed how both the people of Bangladesh and its neighbors, Burma and India, are making progress together. Bangladesh is ideally geographically situated to serve as a land bridge for trade between the dynamic Asia Pacific region and the huge economic potential of South Asia. And we are pleased to see the reforms occurring in Burma, because that also holds great benefits, first and foremost for the people of that country, but also for its neighbor, Bangladesh.

And we discussed the continuing challenge that the thousands of Rohingya refugees currently living in Bangladesh and in other countries pose and that perhaps now, with the reforms going on in Burma, we can begin looking for solutions.

So there is a great, deep, rich, comprehensive agenda between the two countries, and that is why we have decided to create a U.S.-Bangladesh Partnership Dialogue. We will be signing the memorandum to that effect later this evening, but this dialogue institutionalizes the many discussions we are having. There was a very successful security discussion between our two nations’ experts just last week. We have many conversations and high-level meetings on issues concerning the economy and human development. We want to try to maximize our bilateral cooperation on the wide range of issues that are important to us, including disaster management, counterterrorism, food security, climate change, cooperation between our militaries. This new agreement should leave no doubt how much the United States values the partnership between our two countries.

On climate change in particular, I’m pleased to announce that the American development agency USAID will provide $13 million over four years to the Bangladesh Climate Change Resilience Fund to work toward helping Bangladesh figure out what it’s going to do to adapt to climate change and also how to lower your own carbon footprint. We are proud to stand with the Bangladeshi people as they take on one of the great challenges facing humanity.

In addition to all the government-to-government work that I’ve just described, there is a critical role for civil society, nonprofit organizations, youth leaders, activists, journalists, labor organizations, and more. Civil society sparks social change, and the civil society of Bangladesh has been a model and an inspiration for people in countries everywhere. It has made Bangladesh a home for innovation that has not only positively impacted the people of this country, but literally tens of millions around the world. If Bangladesh is to continue on the path of progress, it will be essential to maintain an environment where civil society groups operate freely.

The world has been especially inspired by the work of the Grameen Bank, which has unleashed the potential of millions of women in Bangladesh and around the world to not only improve their own livelihoods but also contribute to long-lasting economic growth in their communities and countries. And I look forward to Grameen Bank carrying on its good work for a long time to come. I hope the process for identifying a new independent and respected managing director will be carried expeditiously and transparently.

Tomorrow, I will meet with students and citizens and have the chance to speak in more detail about our friendship. But in the meantime, let me reiterate the great feeling of connection that I have for this country. I was saying to the minister that I served as a senator from New York for eight years, and the Bangladeshi community of New York was a very active participant in the politics of that state, and I got to know many Bangladeshi American citizens and other Bangladeshis who were in New York and value my relationships with them.

I know that our people can look forward to an even more fruitful relationship in the years ahead, and I wish the people of Bangladesh a happy New Year. Thank you, Your Excellency.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Honorable Secretary. We will take four questions. Two will be posed by journalists on the Bangladesh side and two from the U.S. side. We’ll alternate between one Bangladesh and a U.S. question.

QUESTION: (Off mike.)

MODERATOR: All right. He’s obviously aggressive one – (laughter) – I can’t but recognize you.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. My name is (inaudible). I work for United News of Bangladesh. I have a question for Secretary Clinton. You know that Assistant Secretary of Political and Military Affairs Mr. Andrew Shapiro came here to lead U.S. delegation to the security dialogue held here last month. And after dialogue, he commented that Bangladesh is a key player in maintaining security in the Bay of Bengal. My question, whether Washington is trying to bring Bangladesh into U.S.-India access to protect security in the Bay of Bengal and explore oil and gas in the Bay of Bengal after Bangladeshi victory in the maritime boundary case against Myanmar. Thank you very much.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, let me say that the security partnership between our two countries is very important to us both. And we commend Bangladesh’s strategy that uses a zero-tolerance policy on terrorism, and we will continue to partner with the security services, your government, and the people of this country to ensure that extremists are not able to use Bangladesh as a transit or training point to commitment violence against Bangladeshis or against people anywhere.

Last month during the security dialogue, Assistant Secretary Shapiro and MFA Additional Secretary Kamal chaired that inaugural meeting and had very positive and substantial discussions related to both our bilateral defense relationship and our shared commitment to peace, stability, and prosperity in the region. I think that the future for Bangladesh is extremely positive. And you mentioned the Bay of Bengal. The recent decision setting the maritime boundary between Bangladesh and Burma and the ongoing legal process concerning the boundary between Bangladesh and India will give a very clear demarcation so that Bangladesh can begin exploring and looking for resources that might benefit the people of Bangladesh. But I also think there is room for cooperation in the region in order to protect the investments that may be made regarding natural resources in order to protect against piracy.

As maritime trade increases, which is all to the benefit of Bangladesh, as exploratory work increases, which may well turn out to be to the benefit of Bangladesh, it’s very important to have a process in place. And certainly what Bangladesh is doing with your outreach to Burma, your outreach to India, Sheikh Hasina’s efforts to try to enhance regional cooperation is the way of the 21st century. In order to protect your own interests, your own security, your own economic prospects, there has to be very clear understandings as to what is yours, what is someone else’s. We see this across the world right now because of the hunt for natural resources. And I have to commend the Government of Bangladesh for putting in motion a process that is leading to a peaceful legal outcome about boundaries, and that will lay the groundwork for the next steps to be taken.

MODERATOR: For the American side, CNN, Jill Doherty, please.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Madam Secretary, there now are reported 22 disappearances in Bangladesh, apparently political disappearances, harassment of the opposition. Is Bangladesh moving, spiraling toward serious political violence? And what are you telling both sides – or what do you plan to tell both sides to help to bring this to some type of control? And then also, is there any update on Mr. Chen from Beijing?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well first, let me say that we discussed these issues. We discussed the recent killing of Mr. Islam, the labor organizer. We discussed the recent disappearance of Mr. Ali, the political organizer and the need for thorough, independent investigations. The minister stated very clearly that it was this government’s policy to conduct such investigations and that there was no room for impunity. The democracy that Bangladesh has developed depends upon the rule of law, it depends upon political actors of any and every political party being committed to the rule of law to transparency. We urge all political actors in Bangladesh to work together for the good of the country regardless of differences in viewpoints on any policy matter.

In a strong democracy, everybody has to be rowing in the same direction because you’re all in the same boat. You’re going to make progress together or you’re going to run into very turbulent waters. And it’s important that in this country, which has such unlimited potential and has proven its ability to sustain the democratic path – the elections of 2008 were free, fair, credible, recognized as such around the world – that everybody take seriously any disappearance, any violence against activists, any oppression of civil society, any intimidation of the press. That is just what’s required in the 21st century if democracy is sustainable.

So I am very clear in my hopes for the continuing action on the part of this government of civil society or political actors, because ultimately, it is up to the people of Bangladesh who are the beneficiaries of a healthy, functioning democracy. Violent demonstrations like the recent hartals during which five lives were tragically lost exact a heavy toll, especially on Bangladesh’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens. They also send a negative signal to the international community about the investment climate here. So we continue to support democracy in Bangladesh and the freedoms that every Bangladeshi is entitled to of speech and expression and the right to peacefully assemble. And we strongly urge all sides to settle differences through constructive political dialogue, including parliamentary debate.

We want to see Bangladesh succeed. This is personal for me. I’ve been following Bangladesh now closely for 17 years. I remember the faces of the women and children and men that I met in the villages. I feel so hopeful about what can happen here, and I really am urging all parties – not just the government, but all parties to do everything necessary to support democracy, to plan for another free, fair, and credible election and to stay committed.

Finally, with respect to your second question, as I said yesterday, we’re encouraged by the progress we made in supporting his efforts to have the future he seeks. We are closely engaged in following up as he takes the next steps, and we will certainly keep you informed as we go forward.

MODERATOR: We’ll take a second question from the Bangladesh side.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MODERATOR: All right. Can you take from the electronic media?

QUESTION: Thank you. My name is (inaudible). I am from ATN Bangla, the first private television in Bangladesh. My question is – before I go for the question, let’s say Bangladesh, developing country like ours, we always seek assistance from you. Our foreign minister said we want duty free, quota free access about production, U.S. market, we want development assistance from U.S. and many things. Sometimes our political leaders seek your advice for democracy and many things. But as a journalist, I want to know United States actually wants from Bangladesh.

SECRETARY CLINTON: We want Bangladesh to be a prosperous, successful, democratic country that demonstrates unequivocally that democracy is the best path to sustainable development, that despite the challenges of a democratic process, there is a consensus that cuts across all political actors, that there must be cooperation on the fundamental issues facing the country in order to achieve the level of development that the people of Bangladesh deserve.

We do not seek anything other than that. Within the context of two democracies working together, we have cooperated on many of the issues that the minister and I have referenced on development, on trade, on security, and we will continue to do so. But we are betting on Bangladesh. That’s why it’s very important to us to continue to urge the hard decisions that are necessary for the rule of law, for transparency. None of this is easy. If it were easy, anybody could do it. And a lot of countries have given up or never tried. You have never given up, and you never have stopped trying, and that is to the great credit of the people of Bangladesh and to successive leaders. And it has not been easy. The history that brought this country into being, the struggle to establish and sustain a democracy is one that I admire, because it’s been hard. So we don’t want to see any faltering or flagging. We want to see democracy flourish in Bangladesh.

The progress on the Millennium Development Goals sends a clear message that this can be done. The fact you now have a hundred percent enrollment in primary school, this is the future. So all of the issues we raise, we raise as a friend and a partner, as a country deeply committed to that banyan tree that Senator Ted Kennedy planted all those years ago. We want to see this country flourish. That’s the best way that I can describe what we want from you.

MODERATOR: Last question tonight on the American side from Reuters, Andy Quinn. Thank you.

QUESTION: Thanks. Madam Secretary, again, to you. If we could please look ahead tomorrow to your visit to India. The U.S.-India relationship is often described as a natural partnership, but as a partnership that seems to be very slow in delivering. There are a number of issues outstanding – lack of progress on the civil nuclear deal, slow or nonexistent progress in opening markets to consumer FDI, and New Delhi’s, publicly anyway, lukewarm stance on Iran – cutting Iran oil imports. Why has progress been so slow in your view? And what concrete expectations do you have for advances on any of these three major areas during your visit over the next couple of days. Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Andy, of course I’ll have more to say when I’m in India about our relationship. So just very briefly, we see signs of a lot of progress. I think trade is up 19 percent. We are deepening and broadening our cooperation across many issues. We are developing partnerships in areas we never have before, like in higher education. Our clean energy cooperation is extraordinarily far reaching. So I think it’s like any relationship. There’s progress in some areas that we are very heartened by, and there’s more work to be done, but that’s the commitment that we make when we say to another country, “We want to be your partner,” which is why it’s so important what we’re doing in Bangladesh here today. Because these are long-term relationships.

This is not something here today, gone tomorrow. We are developing in our partnerships the habits of cooperation, the institutionalization that lasts from government to government. I will not be the Secretary of State next year, and I want to see our partnership with Bangladesh or our partnership with India or any other country be embedded in our two governments. And therefore, we are in it for the long term, and we work on these issues together. We make progress. Sometimes there are setbacks, but these are two important countries to us – India and Bangladesh – and we see them in their own ways as being real leaders regionally and globally. I mean, I mentioned that Bangladesh leads the world in U.S. peacekeeping forces, and I have seen those peacekeeping forces. I’ve seen them all over the world, and you should be very proud.

And I have to confess I’m also very proud of the women that you have in your security forces. When I see them, it is such a strong signal that here is the fourth largest Muslim nation in the world with women leaders of the caliber of the foreign minister, of the prime minister, proud young women serving in every capacity as journalists and as security and military personnel. Bangladesh has so much to give and to model for the world. So we know this is hard, but we are confident. We’re confident in the kind of future that his country is building, and we’re going to be by your side. We will continue to raise difficult issues, because we think that’s what friends do. We’re not going to sit by if we see something we believe you should focus on. But overall, we are very much on a positive trajectory together, and we will remain committed to that. Thank you.

MODERATOR: That’s all the questions that we can take. Thank you, Madam Secretary. Thank you Madam Minister. If you wish to make some concluding remarks –

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, again, I’m just delighted to have this chance to be here and have this substantive conversation with the minister. I’m looking forward to continuing with the prime minister.

Thank you so much, Your Excellency.

FOREIGN MINISTER MONI: Thank you, and thank you, Madam Secretary for all the kind remarks that you have made about Bangladesh, about its people, about the efforts that we are making, and I think we look forward to a very fruitful close bond and partnership. Thank you. Thank you so much.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Madam Secretary, Madam Minister. The press briefing is over. Thank you very much.

PRN: 2012/ T63-12