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

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Rabat, Morocco
April 4, 2014

FOREIGN MINISTER MEZOUAR: (Via interpreter) Mr. John Kerry, Mr. Ambassador Dwight Bush, ladies and gentlemen, I’m very delighted to be hosting you today in this meeting and in this visit, which is as – important as the second round of the Strategic Dialogue between the United States and the Kingdom of Morocco. Delighted also to work with you together so that this round is a second boost for a strategic partnership between our two countries.

Welcome, Mr. John Kerry, the Secretary of State for foreign affairs, and also I would like to welcome the delegation, your delegation. Welcome, Mr. Ambassador Dwight Bush, whom we are delighted to have with us here. And we are convinced that he shares the same feelings.

Mr. Secretary of State, ladies and gentlemen, I would like first to commend the interest that the American administration has always shown towards Morocco as a country that represents a model for stability and quite democratic reforms, which reiterate its belief in the values of the freedom, justice, (inaudible). (Inaudible) would like for this interest which represents (inaudible) quite clear during the visit of His Majesty Mohammed VI to Washington. And that was the (inaudible) very interesting at the level of its result as translated by the statement, the common statement whose content is an optimistic roadmap for our two countries. And it opened horizons and opportunities, new horizons, and the new opportunities for cooperation to face the international changes and the many expectations of our two people.

The Strategic Dialogue which started in 2012 is based on a very (inaudible), also to see the future for a strategic partnership, a multidimensional partnership, (inaudible), economic, cultural, and peace relations based on common values in which we believe together the values of freedom, democracy, human rights, tolerance, peace, and human solidarity.

The economic cooperation (inaudible) a very important point in the Strategic Dialogue in spite of the progress that was achieved at this level, like the (inaudible) of the free exchange. We are looking forward, of course, to more cooperation. And in this context, the size of the investments, American investments in Morocco, shows efforts that we have to make because it represents only 8 percent of all the investments attracted by Morocco. At the time when we’re looking forward to the fifth international (inaudible).

(Inaudible) our cultural and education partnership, which is diverse and numerous, we would like to report the positive process into (inaudible) university education thanks to a network of American schools in the country, led by the University of New England, which will open in the city of Tangier, and also thanks to the programs of university exchange which has made it possible for thousands of Moroccan students to study in American universities.

Within the same spirit of cooperation and – because of the values of peace and tolerance, Morocco hosted the J. Christopher Stevens full – Virtual Exchange, which was launched by His Majesty Mohammed VI and President Obama, and it will contribute to the interaction of these two cultures. And I am convinced that the cultural and educational work group will be one of the concerns, and they will have to think about new topics for this cooperation at the level of university and youth.

Mr. Secretary of State, Morocco has always, under the leadership of His Majesty, in the process of reforms that are political – and its experience in the reconciliation was a model that became a reference not only in the region and contributed to the facilitation of the core democratic reforms, thanks to the (inaudible) of the institutions of Morocco and their maturity and their ability to react and interact with the changes, both nationally and internationally. The flexibility of our institution and their openness and their ability to listen and because they believe in the values of modern times might have helped Morocco to interact in a balanced way with new developments.

In this framework, the process of reforms was launched through the constitution of 2011 and its democratic provisions and guarantees of universal rights all through the reform of justice and good governance, in addition to the reinforcement of equality between men and women which, I think, agrees with the reforms of our country and its international commitments. In the domain of human rights, we put in place mechanisms to control those rights. And this is about the National Council for Human Rights, which opened branches in the regions of Morocco and made the recommendations to the government about the civil rights and political rights in their universal dimension. The government also worked on the translation of these recommendations on the ground in the form of laws, the last of which was making it impossible for – to present people to military courts. All these initiatives of reforms are guarantees that Morocco gave to its people on one hand, and this is very important, and also to its partners, led by the United States on one hand. And it made of it a special case which deserves to be called exceptional, and the uniqueness of its experience in the regional context, which is still seeking stability.

So this process came to reiterate the role of Morocco at a very precise moment in the region, facing challenges of violence, extremism, terrorism, and instability, in particular in the region of the Sahel. And in this context, the spiritual authority which His Majesty enjoys because he’s the leader of the believers, plays a very important role in facing extremism, and it also disseminates cooperation with African countries in the religious domain at a moment where Africa needs this spiritual support to face terrorism based on these values, the values of tolerance. But to guarantee the stability in the region and the Sahel in particular has to be the result of the settlement of the crisis in the Sahara. Therefore, Morocco appreciates the support that is given by the United States to the efforts of the Secretary General of the United Nations and his special envoy to find a final solution accepted to all about the Sahara on the basis of the Moroccan initiative for self-rule, which was considered by the American Administration to be very serious and realistic.

The Moroccan initiative in its content reacts to the expectations of the people in the Sahara in the management of their own affairs, which guarantees dignity, freedom, and development. And in this framework, I would like to report the role of the National Council for Human Rights and its regional communities, especially in the south of Morocco, to reinforce the culture of human rights. And I would like also to report the recommendations for the development of the region as suggested by the National Committee for Human Rights and which have been launched very recently.

So Morocco, to enter the African environment, is based on the support of our friendly people and that we need here to point out to the different visits conducted by His Majesty to a number of African countries, and which seeks to reinforce cooperation – South-South cooperation and focuses on peace and the settlement of conflicts in a peaceful way, and also human development and also the preservation of cultural identity and the religious identity of a number of African countries, and are very delighted to report at the same time the interest in the African continent and the initiative of the United States of America in the person of President Barack Obama to organize next August the first summit of the United States and Africa. And this is a strong sign to the commitment of the American Administration towards the development of this continent.

In this context, Morocco is convinced that it is necessary to implement common programs with our American partner to guarantee stability and economic prosperity and also to have access to energy and reinforce trade and encourage investments in various domains. We are convinced of our ability together to contribute to build a stronger partnership towards Africa based on three pillars – Morocco, the United States, and Africa – in order to invest in common because of the position of Morocco as a hub towards Europe and Africa, and also because of what we can do for the stability in the Sahel and in Africa in general.

The international current reality, Mr. Secretary of State, as well as the challenges for the peaceful settlement of conflicts imposes (inaudible) Morocco to continue its efforts in the framework of the United Nations and international agreements according to the statement on the – following the meeting of His Majesty and the President of the United States. So Morocco renews its commitment to work together with the United States and any other international actors for more coordination of our attitudes in order to put an end to bloodshed in the civilians – Syrian civilians – and in order to find a solution accepted to all for political transition that will guarantee the integrity of Syria. Our commitment to the values of peace is behind our attempt to find a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on the basis of the option of two countries that live together in peace. Undoubtedly, the recommendations of the 20th round of the Al Quds Committee held in Marrakesh and the – is a step towards the achievement of these common objectives.

Mr. Secretary of State, ladies and gentlemen, the atmosphere of an understanding – of the environment of understanding based on common political and references of democracy and human rights makes us believe in our ability for a common partnership on the basis of new developments (inaudible), and this will be very important and decisive in determining the process in this region and in Africa in general at the economic and – level, and also peace, but also to fight terrorism and disseminate stability, which have to go through the processing of tensions in the region. And this is a role that Morocco tries to play very strongly because it is convinced that a strategic partnership with the United States of America is going to bring the two countries together and achieve the objectives like our relations have done in the past in many domains.

I would like to welcome once again the Secretary of State as well as the delegation that comes with him, and also his (inaudible) ambassador. I wish the success to the proceedings of our group. Thank you very much indeed. (Applause.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you very much, Minister Mezouar. Thank you for a very, very generous welcome. We had a spectacular dinner last night. As many of you know, the tradition of a great meal in Morocco is a long-held one and a very special one. And I want you to know that I’m going to try to persuade people in America that we need to have a meal where we have eight meals in one. It’s really – it was splendid, and it’s wonderful to come together in this beautiful hall, a mini-United Nations, really spectacular.

And I will tell you I’ve had the privilege in the last year visiting many foreign ministers in their offices, but very few are as splendid as the office I just was in with the view of the river and the wall and the old fort and the city in the background – absolutely spectacular. I don’t know how he gets any work done. From now on, I told him when I telephone him, I’m going to have this image in my mind of this extraordinary view as he sits there talking to me.

I value enormously, as President Obama does, our relationship with His Majesty as well as with the foreign minister and his team, and we’re very, very grateful to the Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs in cooperation for hosting us here for this Strategic Dialogue. I’m very grateful to our new ambassador – many of you probably have not had the chance to meet him yet – Dwight Bush, who just arrived here five or six days ago, will present his credentials today prior to my meeting with His Majesty. And we’re grateful to the U.S. Mission for their cooperation and help here.

And we’ve got with us a really first-tier delegation involved in this dialogue, as you do, Mr. Minister. And I think this is an important step in helping our countries to build a very longstanding relationship and take it to a new level in a very new and challenging time, as you just described in your comments. We often talk about the rich history of the relationship between the United States and Morocco. Morocco was the first nation to recognize the United States in 1777, and we remember with great gratitude and with a sense of respect for history the important role that Morocco played during the Second World War. And it’s truly important to remember the deep historical foundation and friendship between Morocco and the United States. So when I hear the minister a few minutes ago talk about freedom and democracy, human rights, tolerance, peace, human values, we understand this is part of our DNA. And it’s not a coincidence that our relationship goes back to 1777.

So we have much to build on, and the work of the Strategic Dialogue and of our strategic partnership will contribute to the ability of the United States and Morocco to show that we value something a lot more powerful than our past, and that’s the future. We are here today to help shape a common future, and it’s a future defined by a shared prosperity and shared security that we can create together, but it’s also shared by all of those values that Salaheddine just a moment ago enumerated.

We just met a few minutes ago upstairs in a bilateral meeting. And the foreign minister laid out to me, to us, a very comprehensive and eloquent statement about the transformation and the transition that is taking place in Morocco, the efforts Morocco is making to manage this movement to the future. In some parts of the world, there is a major resistance to modernity, and how each nation makes this transition will be defined by each nation individually. There are going to be different ways, different speeds, different levels of accomplishment in different places.

We want to make sure that we are thoughtful and sensitive to that process, but obviously, we also want to make sure that we’re encouraging and working cooperatively and creatively to help countries be able to make this transition. We’re living in a world with a remarkable population bubble – unbelievable numbers of young people. Sixty percent of the country – this country and others – under the age of 30; 50 percent or more under the age of 25. It’s extraordinary. And the challenge of any government anywhere to be able to provide jobs, education, opportunity is enormous.

I mean, all of us remember that what began in Tunisia was not religiously driven; it wasn’t extremist driven. It was a fruit vendor who was exhausted by corruption, by the inability to be able to lead his life and sell his wares. And when a police officer slapped him around and refused to allow him to do what he was doing, he rebelled and set himself on fire, and that fire ignited a revolution.

In Tahrir Square, it wasn’t driven by the Muslim Brotherhood or any religious or other Islamist effort. It was driven by young people who were demonstrating against a structure that didn’t allow them to have opportunity. And everybody today is connected. No politician can shut off the world. Nobody has the ability to be able to tune it all out, because everybody through communications and travel and the internet and television, everybody knows what’s going on everywhere.

When I was in Kyiv, in Ukraine a few weeks ago, I met a man near the Maidan who said to me, “You know, I just came back from Australia. And the reason I came back is I want to make sure that in my country I have the ability to live the way I saw people living in Australia.” It’s pretty simple.

So this is our challenge together, and the United States is deeply committed to an incredibly vibrant and extraordinary capacity that Morocco has and is already exhibiting, already engaged in – by you, not by anybody else. You have, with the leadership of His Majesty, King Mohammed VI, already undertaken major reforms and major efforts to manage the future. And the United States has demonstrated commitment to that, I hope, in many ways, and we will continue to. We want to work with you. We have a $700 million Millennium Challenge Compact, which was completed last year. It’s just one step.

But I think the growth in our bilateral trade, which has actually tripled over the last 10 years, is very significant, and we want it to go further. I heard the foreign minister tell me that we’re still a small percentage of foreign direct investment. We want that to grow. And Morocco is one of fewer than 20 countries in the world, and the only country on this continent where the United States has a free trade agreement. That’s important. But we can’t pretend that that’s enough and we don’t come here pretending that it is.

We need to build on the strength of that investment, and we need to strengthen it. Morocco’s incredible potential for growth and it’s growing role as a vital gateway to a very dynamic continent, make it even more vital for the United States, frankly, to be able to grow the relationship.

So when Morocco is already among the top African nations investing in African nations, you can understand why investors around the world want to be part of it. And that’s part of what has attracted dozens of American companies to the U.S.-Morocco business development conference that took place last month. Morocco is clearly a country that is open for business and open to the world. And that’s exciting. It’s never been more clear than in recent months during King Mohammed VI’s recent outreach to the region.

With the 18 different agreements Morocco signed earlier this year with Mali, in areas from microfinance to infrastructure, Morocco is driving both greater security and greater prosperity in the region, in the Maghreb. And I also understand that his – after His Highness left Mali he left immediately to go to Guinea, Gabon, and the Ivory Coast, where he also brokered a series of new economic agreements. That’s all just in the first months of this year. So I guess it sounds like he and I have a similar travel schedule. But apart from that, he’s really aggressively out there trying to manage this process and push it forward.

And of course, King Mohammed VI was in Washington, as Salaheddine mentioned, for a very important meeting last fall where we clearly rededicated ourselves to the importance of the relationship, and I believe that visit has helped to strengthen ties that we see in every facet of this relationship.

We are also very appreciative and excited that Morocco is hosting the Global Entrepreneurship Summit later this year. I went to last year’s Summit in Kuala Lumpur. I had the privilege of speaking to about 5,000 young kids, all who want to be entrepreneurs. And I cannot tell you the energy and the excitement and the initiative of those young people, all of whom, in our language, want to be the next Bill Gates and the next Steve Jobs. They’re exciting. And it gives you enormous hope for the future. What we have to do is create the climate for these young people to be able to take an idea and make it into a business and use their energy and ingenuity.

So I firmly believe that the places where citizens have the freedom to dream up a new idea, and to take that idea and put it into reality, those are the places where people can be their own boss and where they’re free to fail – those are the societies that are the most successful, they’re the societies that are most cohesive, and those are the places that are most peaceful, tranquil, and satisfied.

USAID’s new strategy here in Morocco is focused on supporting exactly that kind of pursuit of prosperity. And the efforts that they began last year are concentrated on three areas: developing the workforce; supporting more responsive government; and improving education in those first, most critical years. If you can’t get a decent education and then get some kind of a job to build on that education, you will be economically handicapped the rest of your life. And that’s an important principle to begin any discussion about the future. USAID is making those commitments – I want to emphasize this, it’s very important – we’re making those commitments to support what the Moroccan people and the parliament have committed to together. We’re not trying to make independent initiatives. We’re not trying to do something that isn’t proved, not part of the process, but we want to support Morocco as it implements the organic laws, opens up its civil society, and finds the most effective ways to introduce difficult but necessary economic reforms.

Now obviously – although we talked upstairs about how possibly to deal with extremism and to deal with society, education and jobs and opportunity and civil society are in some ways equally important or more important than security – but still security is one of the most fundamental obligations that a government owes its citizens. And here too, the United States and Morocco stand side by side. In fact, the Moroccan Royal Armed Forces are wrapping up the 2014 African Lion military exercise in Agadir today. And for a decade now, the United States has participated in these exercises; we are expanding them to include other partners from Africa, Europe, and Canada. And Morocco’s military commitments continue to be a mark of strength and a stabilizing force in the region. And the evolving threats in the Maghreb make it clear that this kind of commitment is really more vital than it’s ever been.

I also want to commend Morocco for its leadership in the Global Counterterrorism Forum and especially Morocco’s proactive role in co-leading with the Netherlands the year-long GCTF initiative to address the phenomenon of foreign fighters.

So whether in Morocco’s support for Mali’s new government or its continued efforts to counter violent extremism, in its robust economic outreach in the region and commitment to fostering religious tolerance, Morocco is playing an essential leadership role and we come here today to show our understanding of and respect for that role.

The United States stands by and will stand by this relationship every step of the way. President Obama is deeply committed to that, and that commitment comes from much more than the impressive group of American officials who’ve come here today. It comes from our people.

We know that that commitment is evident in many different ways. You just mentioned the Christopher Stevens virtual exchange. We’re very, very grateful to your leadership with respect to that. And as you know, Christopher Stevens was a Peace Corps volunteer here. Today, I will be swearing in the latest class of Peace Corps volunteers, and they’re going to join the more than 4,000 Americans who have dedicated two years of their lives to serve here in Morocco since the day that President Kennedy started the Peace Corps and made this call for deeper engagement in the world.

We’re very, very grateful that Morocco has engaged the United States as a partner and as a friend from the very beginning of that initiative. And we take pride in what we’ve accomplished together and in the many ways that the bonds between our people have deepened. So I want you to know that President Obama is committed to making certain that that legacy is a legacy that we can build on here today and work together on every single day going forward in order to grow this relationship with the work that we do in the days to come. So Mr. Minister, thank you very, very much for your generous welcome here, and thank you for hosting this Strategic Dialogue. (Applause.)