Remarks at the Opening Plenary Sessions of the U.S.-Algeria Strategic Dialogue

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Algiers, Algeria
April 3, 2014

Shukran, thank you. Good morning, everybody. It’s nice to be here. I want to thank Foreign Minister Lamamra for his – Ramtane for his very thoughtful, very wise and encouraging opening comments, a really very comprehensive statement, Ramtane, with a great deal of thought about the things that we need to cooperate on and work on. So I’m particularly encouraged at the opening of this plenary session to have heard the broad prospects of increased cooperation between us. I want to thank you for your welcome here today, and particularly all the members of your team and the government for such a generous welcome. We’re really appreciative.

I want to thank our Ambassador, Henry Ensher, for his and the entire Embassy’s efforts that they perform on a daily basis here in order to build our relationship and to help to address many of the issues that we talk about (inaudible). And I particularly want to call attention to the fact that we have a very high-level, competent, experienced team here today. This is not a secondary effort. I’ve never seen one news outlet make as much effort to put its microphone right – kudos. (Laughter.)

But I want to say that our team is really ready to engage. We have people here who are deeply steeped in every sector that we will discuss today, who – I was about to say this is not a secondary stop. This is a very important moment for us because we believe deeply that this relationship can grow significantly, that there is much to be done to be able to advance our mutual interests. And in the end, diplomacy and relationships are built on the ability of countries to be able to find those interests and to find ways to be able to meet them together.

As Ramtane said to all of you, this is a relationship that goes way, way back, and it’s very special for us in the United States in that regard. The present-day American city of St. Augustine, Florida was actually founded 450 years ago in honor of a man from this corner of the world, the great scholar Augustine of Hippo. And as Ramtane mentioned a few moments ago, the treaty that was signed in 1795, the Amity and Peace Treaty that brought our countries together way back then, all the way through Algeria’s fight for independence – the United States and Algeria have worked together in support of peace and in support of self-determination.

And obviously, as a former senator for some 30 years and with the privilege of meeting John F. Kennedy as president, I am particularly proud of the fact that he did have that foresight to speak to Algeria’s rights as a country. And you have been through very difficult battles even since then in order to be able to live the right of self-determination and to be able to fulfill your dreams and aspirations.

So we come here today very sensitive to this history. We need to grow it. There’s much more that we can do. We need to trust each other. We need to build trust. And we need to think carefully about the challenges that we all face. This is a time when peace and self-determination are facing more complex threats than ever before, and it’s easy to say the words but it is not easy to achieve the goal. And I just want to say a word about that because it is what makes the cooperation between nations like ours so important.

Ramtane a moment ago said how Algeria is one of the strongest nations in the region, and it is one of the most homogenous, notwithstanding that there are moments of conflict. And the fact is that this country has resources, it has a civil society, it has people greatly committed to these values, and so there’s a natural ability for our nations to be able to come together. We face particular challenges.

Vast numbers of young people – actually all through Africa but throughout the region from the Maghreb to the Sahel into the Levant, all the way into South Asia – huge populations under the age of 30, nations where 60, 65 percent of the population is under the age of 30; 50 percent under the age of 21; 40 percent under the age of 18. The median age of Algeria is 27 years old. So we need to make sure that we can find jobs for these people, that their future is defined through education and opportunity, and not through IEDs and violence.

Those who offer the violence that comes with terrorism that Ramtane talked about don’t offer jobs. They don’t offer education. They don’t offer healthcare. They don’t have a program to pull the country together around its common identity. They destroy it. And they tell people, in a direct confrontation with modernity, that everybody has to do what they say and live the way they tell them. We’ve been through these struggles for too long as common humanity to be cowered by that, intimidated by it, or ruled by it. And so it is absolutely vital in this Strategic Dialogue that we work to find common ground.

And today, experts from both parties are going to participate in working groups that are focused on three areas: security, political cooperation, and economic and commercial opportunities, education and civil society engagement. So let me quickly just offer a few thoughts on each.

First and foremost, our security cooperation: The United States will absolutely continue to stand with Algeria to fight the scourge of terrorism which I just talked about. And we will continue to work with youth through the Global Counterterrorism Forum in order to combat drug trafficking, kidnapping for ransom, both of which fund terrorism in North and West Africa. We will look to increase our security assistance to Algeria. We really want to work in a cooperative way, and we want to do this so that Algerian security services have the tools and the training needed in order to defeat al-Qaida and other terrorist groups. And we will work to address the instability that has spread throughout the Maghreb and Sahel.

We are grateful, very grateful, for Algeria’s efforts in Mali and Niger which underscore Algeria’s constructive role in regional stability not only in the east, but to the south also. In the years to come, the United States hopes to partner with Algeria to build a more robust defense relationship based on mutual respect, and obviously, what I mentioned earlier, our shared interests. Together, we can help other nations in the region secure their borders, strengthen rule of law, and build stable democratic institutions.

Second, on our economic cooperation, we will do everything that we can in order to continue to strengthen business, trade, and investment ties between our countries. Joint efforts like the one that connected Algeria’s energy needs to General Electric’s energy expertise not only benefit both Algerians and Americans, but they also bring our economies closer together. And that’s why I’m very pleased to announce that our Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz, will attend the Algeria International Trade Fair in June. And the United States is delighted to be the guest of honor at this year’s trade fair, which Secretary Moniz will be on hand to talk about opportunities that American companies in Algeria can unlock for Algerians and Americans together.

There are just an enormous amount – energy, as we think about the challenge of climate change in the world, as well as the challenges we see with the recent events of Ukraine – energy must not be used as a weapon, as a tool of conduct in international affairs. And it is vital for us to diversify and to find ways to produce as much low-cost energy as possible so it is available for growth and development throughout the world. We have an ability to build on that capacity in our partnership very significantly. We think there’s an ability for the United States technology to marry with Algerian ingenuity and creativity in order to be able to build economic strength, and so that’s a huge opportunity.

Third, on strengthening the people-to-people ties that are critical to the success of any international partnership, we have a number of important initiatives in place today. And we hope to see even more in the future. We look forward to building on programs like those that are funded by the Middle East Partnership Initiative, aimed at strengthening civil society throughout the region, and the Fulbright student exchanges. That program here in Algeria is a very, very important one, time-honored between us. And in order to meet the extraordinarily high demand among Algerians to learn English, we are training more English teachers throughout the country. Every person in Algeria who wants to learn English ought to be able to have the opportunity to access the resources needed to do so, and we are working very, very hard to make that happen.

Finally, let me just mention quickly the external events that Ramtane referred to. It is critical for the world that we find a way to resolve the crisis of Syria, and we’re very appreciative for the cooperative effort with Algeria and other countries of the region to do so. We also believe there is no solution other than a political solution. There is no military solution. But we also believe that because of what has happened, the nature of the weapons used, gas, chemical bombs against children, indiscriminate killing of civilians, starvation as a tool of war, more then 140,000 people killed – we believe that it is impossible for Bashar al-Assad and his regime to ever regain the legitimacy to be able to govern the country. So the difficulty has been the absence of an ability to be able to change the dynamic where we can get that political solution, but we will remain committed, and we want to work with Algeria and others in order to help make that happen.

On the Middle East peace process, we remain committed. The parties met even last night and they are continuing to have their discussions. We will continue, no matter what, to try to facilitate the capacity of people to be able to make peace. But in the end, my friends, as all of you know, you can facilitate, you can push, you can nudge, but the parties themselves have to make fundamental decisions and compromises. The leaders have to lead, and they have to be able to see a moment when it’s there. There is an old saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” Now’s the time to drink, and the leaders need to know that.

Lastly, you have an election coming up here in Algeria two weeks from now. We look forward to elections that are transparent and in line with international standards, and the United States will work with the president that the people of Algeria choose in order to bring about the future that Algeria and its neighbors deserve. And that is a future where citizens can enjoy the free exercise of their civil, political, and human rights, and where global companies, businesses, are confident in being able to invest for the long haul.

So I look forward to the developments that come out of the working group meetings today. I particularly look forward. President Obama is very, very anxious to see this working effort, this dialogue produce a stronger relationship. President Obama is committed to enhancing the cooperation between the United States and Algeria in the months and years to come, and it’s a privilege to be here.

One last thing: We will cooperate in everything except the World Cup, where our teams may have to clash. (Laughter.) Thank you. (Applause.)