Remarks With Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalem Before Their Meeting

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Treaty Room
Washington, DC
September 21, 2012

SECRETARY CLINTON: Good morning. I am pleased to welcome the Foreign Minister from Tunisia. I’m looking forward to our meeting. We obviously have a great deal to discuss, and I want to thank the Foreign Minister and the Government of Tunisia for their efforts over the last week to help secure our Embassy and the American Cooperative School of Tunis following the violent assaults of last Friday.

We are monitoring events closely today. There is no higher priority for President Obama and myself than the safety of our people. We’ve taken a number of steps around the world to augment security and to protect our personnel at diplomatic posts. And we are working closely with host governments in this effort.

As I have said before and as is embodied in the Vienna Convention and other international agreements, all governments have the duty, the solemn duty, to defend diplomatic missions. They must be safe and protected places so that governments can exchange views and work on many important issues, and leaders across the world must stand up and be counted in rejecting violence and holding violent actors accountable.

We are working closely with the Government of Tunisia. They have assisted us in enhancing the security of our facilities. We’ve also discussed with them the imperative of bringing to justice those responsible for these violent attacks. And we have offered and will continue to look for ways that we can assist the new Government of Tunisia in ensuring the rule of law throughout their country, first and foremost for the people of Tunisia themselves. We look forward to continuing to build our new partnership with the Tunisian Government and people. Our relationship is built around the shared principles of all democracies – a commitment to nonviolence, to tolerance, and inclusivity for all people, and to upholding the rule of law.

The Tunisian people have bravely put themselves on the road to democracy. They were the first of the Arab revolutions and they have made important progress in a very short period of time. They have worked too hard and sacrificed too much over too many years to see their progress hijacked or derailed by extremists with their own agenda. And those extremists, not only in Tunisia but in too many places around the world, look for opportunities to exploit this current situation or other situations, and all people and leaders must stand against them.

So as the Tunisian Government takes steps to strengthen security and protect the Tunisian people and economy from extremism and violent agendas, the United States stands ready to help. We also are working closely with Tunisia on the broader shared threat of terrorism, including from groups like al-Qaida and its affiliates.

So Minister, please know the United States remains committed to supporting Tunisia as you deal with this current situation, as you continue your democratic transition, and we want to be with you as you confront challenges and help seize opportunities together for the betterment of the future of Tunisia.

FOREIGN MINISTER ABDESSALEM: Thank you. Thank you, Your Excellency, Secretary of State, for providing us this opportunity to meet with you here in Washington. I’m here to express my condolences for the loss of the American Ambassador in Libya and the three other members of staff.

I’m also here to express our regret and full and strong condemnation for the storming of the American Embassy and school in Tunisia last Friday. This event does not reflect the real image of Tunisia. As a newborn democracy, all of you know that we are in process to dismantle the heavy legacy of political despotism and to set up the foundations of a new democracy. And we have the heavy, broader responsibility to succeed in this process of democratization. And I’m sure if we succeed, at least we send a positive message to the region, is that democracy is possible in that part of the world.

We are familiar to hear and to read in the newspapers and to hear from the media that democracy expanded in different parts of the globe except in the Arab region. But I hope that we prove by reality that democracy is possible in the Arab world – to be a democrat, Arab, and Muslim at the same time.

We already taken the necessary measures to protect the American Embassy, the American schools, and all diplomatic presence in Tunisia, members of foreign communities. It is our duty, and I’m sure that we have the ability and the capability to protect all private and public institutions in Tunisia. Stability, political stability, and security is priority for us as well for our friend and partner the United States. And I want to thank you, Mrs. Hillary, for providing us this opportunity, and I’m looking forward for a fruitful and constructive discussion.



PRN: 2012/1478