I am honored to be here today to represent the Government of the United States and to reiterate our commitment to and support for the government and people of Tunisia.
I just had a good meeting with Prime Minister Essid. Before that, I sat down with Foreign Minister Baccouche, Minister of Interior Gharsalli, Minister of Finance Chaker and Minister of Investment Brahim, as well as Nahda party president Ghannouchi.
I also look forward to seeing several members of President Caid Essebsi’s team later this evening. One of my first stops this morning was to the National Bardo Museum to pay tribute to those—Tunisians and foreigners—who lost their lives nearly three weeks ago.
They arrived at the Bardo Museum on a spring day to learn about Tunisia’s majestic heritage—to view its mosaics and admire its art.
But when they stepped off their buses, instead of seeing beauty, they were assaulted by evil. This act of terror was an attack on Tunisia itself—and on the aspirations of its people to build a free, secure and prosperous nation. The attackers failed—because the determination of Tunisia’s leaders and people to build that better future is stronger than ever.
Secretary Kerry has called Tunisia a shining light in the region. The United States is committed to do all that we can to ensure this light continues to shine—and grows even brighter. We’re committed because Tunisia’s future matters—not only to its people, but to people around the world who see in its success hope for their own.
So today I discussed with Tunisia’s leaders how we can expand and strengthen our partnership.
First, we are prepared to provide additional assistance and training to Tunisia’s security forces. Our goal is to strengthen their capability to defeat those who would threaten the nation’s freedom and integrity. To that end, President Obama is seeking a more than 200% increase in our security assistance budget for Tunisia.
Second, we seek to expand investment, trade, and private sector engagement between the United States and Tunisia, which would help spur growth and create jobs here in Tunisia. For that to happen, Tunisia must pursue and implement significant economic reforms that signal to international investors and entrepreneurs that Tunisia is open for business. As U.S. Secretary of Commerce Pritzker noted last month at the Investment and Entrepreneurship Conference in Tunis, this includes reforms on the investment code, banking sector, tax and customs administration, and public-private partnerships—all of which would improve market access and facilitate increased investment in Tunisia.
Third, we will continue to strengthen the ties between our people. We welcome the visit of President Caid Essebsi to the United States to meet with President Obama. We are discussing ways to expand academic and scientific exchanges between students and professors, as well as develop programs to deepen an understanding of each other’s cultures. One year ago, a transitional government was just entering office after three years of political upheaval.
In short order, the Tunisian people participated in free and fair elections, welcomed a new parliament and president, and showed the world what can be accomplished through a dedication to democracy, consensus, and inclusion.
The journey is just beginning. There will be hard days, setbacks, and sacrifice ahead. But Tunisia is moving forward – with courage, determination, and confidence. The United States is proud to be your partner in that journey to a better future.
I appreciate the fruitful discussions I’ve had today with Tunisia’s leaders, and look forward to the opportunity to expand and strengthen a relationship that reflects our enduring commitment to the people of Tunisia.
Thank you very much.