|Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
and Tunisian Foreign Minister Abderrahim Zouari
Remarks on Bicentennial of U.S.-Tunisian Diplomatic Relations
Washington, DC, October 7, 1997
Released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: It gives me great pleasure to welcome to Washington Foreign Minister Zouari of Tunisia as the United States and Tunisia this year celebrate the bicentennial of our diplomatic relationship.
In the late 1790s, our young nation was expanding its commercial ties to distant lands and seas. One such region was the Barbary Coast of North Africa, where our merchant men, unprotected and far from home, all too often found themselves the victims of pirates.
Some of our nation's first diplomats were dispatched to the region to deal with this problem, and in August 1797 a Treaty of Friendship was signed with the Bey of Tunis.
These early emissaries could not have imagined that the bonds that they were forging would continue for so long, and with such happy results. Today's ceremony demonstrates the friendship between our two countries and that it has stood the test of time.
For many older Americans, their first exposure to Tunisia was during World War II, when thousands of US soldiers, sailors and airmen either fought in or transited through Tunisia, on their way to liberate Europe.
During that period, the American Consul in Tunis, Hooker Doolittle, befriended a young Tunisian nationalist. It was a friendship that paid off. In 1956, when Tunisia proclaimed its independence, the United States was the first nation to recognize the new government, headed by that young Tunisian patriot, Prime Minister Habib Bourguiba.
In 1961, Bourguiba was the first foreign head of state to pay a state visit to the newly-elected President, John F. Kennedy. During that visit he asked for US help in fulfilling the goals he had set for his young country. In response, the US Agency for International Development began an extensive program which continued for more than 35 years. With US aid, the Tunisians built the Tunis-Carthage airport, university campuses, dams, irrigation projects, rural clinics and family planning centers.
Tunisia was also the first Arab country to request and receive Peace Corps volunteers. Ultimately, more than 2,300 volunteers would serve in Tunisia, making valuable contributions in the fields of agriculture, health, education, youth development and urban planning. More importantly, they helped to forge bonds of friendship and understanding that will sustain warm relations between our countries long into the future. Some of those Peace Corps volunteers are with us today, and we thank you.
Our AID and Peace Corps missions have closed now, as Tunisia has successfully graduated from the ranks of underdeveloped nations, posting remarkable social and economic gains.
Under the leadership of President Ben Ali, US-Tunisian ties continue to flourish. Our two militaries work closely together to preserve and promote regional stability in a very dangerous neighborhood. US businesses seek opportunities for investment in the Tunisian market. And Tunisia has played in the past a positive role in the Middle East peace process - hosting the PLO for many years and, more recently, in 1996, becoming one of the first Arab countries to establish diplomatic relations with Israel.
We hope the moderate voice of Tunisia will continue to be heard as we seek to restore positive momentum in the peace process. As you saw the Foreign Minister and I delaying coming in here, it was my opportunity to give him an update about what was going on.
As with all close friendships, we have endured some small bumps along the road. But our friendship is such that we can and do have frank discussions about our differences. We have an ongoing dialogue about human rights, and we discuss often our sometimes differing views on how best to deal with rogue regimes in the Middle East.
Our ability to discuss these differences does not detract from or weaken the bonds of friendship and cooperation between our two governments. On the contrary, these discussions attest to the strength and mutual respect which are the hallmarks of our relationship.
Mr. Minister, as our two countries continue together to work for peace, stability and economic prosperity for all peoples, I have no doubt that our relationship will grow even stronger. It is for me a great privilege to dedicate this exhibit and to extend to you and to the people of Tunisia the best wishes of the American people on this anniversary of 200 years of US-Tunisian diplomatic relations.
FOREIGN MINISTER ZOUARI: Madame Secretary of State, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your warm welcome, for your receptiveness, and for your kind words towards my country and our President.
This is my first visit to the United States since I was appointed as Minister of Foreign Affairs of my country in January 1997. And this is also my first meeting with you, Excellency, since you were appointed as Secretary of State, also in January of this year. We are well aware of your human and professional qualities, as well as of your prestigious reputation.
My visit in your great country coincides so auspiciously with the inauguration of this exhibit, which is highly significant for us since it commemorates a major event - which is the signing by our two countries of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship on August 28, 1797.
Two centuries of Tunisian-American history are marked by friendship, mutual assistance, fruitful cooperation and concerted action at the service of our common interests.
Madame Secretary of State, our many common achievements demonstrate the strength and the excellence of our bilateral relations. From Tunisia's assistance to the American merchant fleet in the Mediterranean during the 18th Century, to the great number of very diverse programs of cooperation in the '60s and '70s, and including the presence of the US Army in Tunisia during the Second World War, the valuable US support for Tunisian independence in the '50s, and the very close relations between our two countries during the Cold War, Tunisian-American relations have always been marked by a steady and lasting friendship.
Madame Secretary of State, the profound changes occurring on the international scene, together with the challenges of the next century require us to adapt our relations so that they may be further strengthened and made more prosperous - this for the mutual benefit of our two nations.
We should now work to elevate our already very close relations to the status of a true partnership, embracing all fields - and especially trade and investment. Indeed, there are no fields which are taboo among us. We now have the means and the potential to do so.
As far as Tunisia is concerned, in this new era under the leadership which is wise and enlightened of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia has achieved major economic gains. It has a largely open market, which is integrated into the world economy. It enjoys social equilibrium, stability and tolerance. These are all factors likely to stimulate an increase in trade and financial flows between our two friendly and allied countries.
Madame Secretary of State, the depth of the relations between our two countries and the conversion of our positions on international issues make of us special associates and partners for peace. This is borne out in the Middle East, where, as you know, Tunisia continues to play an active and conciliatory role in the peace process.
In this connection, we welcome the initiatives taken by President Clinton aimed at re-establishing a climate of confidence; at preserving the spirit of the Oslo and Washington agreements; and at putting the peace process back on track.
I take this opportunity to express to you our highest regards for the personal action you undertook during your trip to the region, as well as your recent efforts in New York with the Israelis and the Palestinians, and also with the Syrians. We welcome these efforts; we support them; and we encourage you.
Madame Secretary of State, (in English) finally I would like to renew my warmest thanks for your hospitality and express my hope to welcome you soon in Tunisia. I am not sure that we'll be around to celebrate the third centennial. (Laughter) But I am sure that our two countries will do so with the same fervor and friendship.
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