TRANSCRIPT: U.S. Recognizes the Government of Somalia

SECRETARY CLINTON: Good afternoon, everyone. It is a great privilege for us to be welcoming President Hassan Sheikh and his delegation here to the State Department. Today’s meeting has been a long time in the making. Four years ago, at the start of the Obama Administration, Somalia was, in many ways, a different country than it is today. The people and leaders of Somalia have fought and sacrificed to bring greater stability, security, and peace to their nation.

There is still a long way to go and many challenges to confront, but we have seen a new foundation for that better future being laid. And today, we are taking an important step toward that future. I am delighted to announce that for the first time since 1991, the United States is recognizing the Government of Somalia.

Now before I talk about what comes next for this partnership, it is worth taking a moment to remember how we got here and how far we have come together. When I entered the State Department in January 2009, al-Shabaab controlled most of Mogadishu and south and central Somalia. It looked at the time like it would even gain more territory. The people of Somalia had already endured many years of violence and isolation, and we wanted to change that. We wanted to work together, not only with the people of Somalia but with governments across the region, the international community, and other likeminded friends.

In early 2009, the final Transitional Federal Government began its work. Somali security forces, supported by the African Union Mission in Somalia, and troops from Uganda and Burundi and now Kenya and Djibouti began to drive al-Shabaab out of cities and towns. Humanitarian aid finally began getting to the people in need. Local governments resumed their work. Commerce and travel began to pick up. Now progress was halting at times, but it was unmistakable. And today, thanks to the extraordinary partnership between the leaders and people of Somalia, with international supporters, al-Shabaab has been driven from Mogadishu and every other major city in Somalia.

While this fight was going on, at the same time, Somalia’s leaders worked to create a functioning democratic government. Now that process, too, was quite challenging. But today, for the first time in two decades, this country has a representative government with a new president, a new parliament, a new prime minister, and a new constitution. Somalia’s leaders are well aware of the work that lies ahead of them, and that it will be hard work. But they have entered into this important mission with a level of commitment that we find admirable.

So Somalia has the chance to write a new chapter. When Assistant Secretary Carson visited Mogadishu in June, the first U.S. Assistant Secretary to do so in more than 20 years, and when Under Secretary Sherman visited a few months ago, they discovered a new sense of optimism and opportunity. Now we want to translate that into lasting progress.

Somalia’s transformation was achieved first and foremost by the people and leaders of Somalia, backed by strong, African-led support. We also want to thank the African Union, which deserves a great deal of credit for Somalia’s success. The United States was proud to support this effort. We provided more than $650 million in assistance to the African Union Mission in Somalia, more than 130 million to Somalia’s security forces. In the past two years, we’ve given nearly $360 million in emergency humanitarian assistance and more than $45 million in development-related assistance to help rebuild Somalia’s economy. And we have provided more than $200 million throughout the Horn of Africa for Somali refugee assistance.

We’ve also concentrated a lot of our diplomacy on supporting democratic progress. And this has been a personal priority for me during my time as Secretary, so I’m very pleased that in my last weeks here, Mr. President, we’re taking this historic step of recognizing the government.

Now, we will continue to work closely, and the President and I had a chance to discuss in detail some of the work that lies ahead and what the government and people of Somalia are asking of the United States now. Our diplomats, our development experts are traveling more frequently there, and I do look forward to the day when we can reestablish a permanent U.S. diplomatic presence in Mogadishu.

We will also continue, as we well know, to face the threat of terrorism and violent extremism. It is not just a problem in Somalia; it is a problem across the region. The terrorists, as we have learned once again in the last days, are not resting, and neither will we. We will be very clear-eyed and realistic about the threat they continue to pose. We have particular concerns about the dangers facing displaced people, especially women, who continue to be vulnerable to violence, rape, and exploitation.

So today is a milestone. It’s not the end of the journey but it’s an important milestone to that end. We respect the sovereignty of Somalia, and as two sovereign nations we will continue to have an open, transparent dialogue about what more we can do to help the people of Somalia realize their own dreams.

The President had a chance to meet President Obama earlier today at the White House, and that was a very strong signal to the people of Somalia of our continuing support and commitment. So as you, Mr. President, and your leaders work to build democratic institutions, protect human rights and fundamental freedoms, respond to humanitarian needs, build the economy, please know that the United States will be a steadfast partner with you every step of the way. Thank you.

PRESIDENT HASSAN SHEIKH: Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, sir.

PRESIDENT HASSAN SHEIKH: Thank you, Madam Secretary, for the great words that you expressed on the realities on the ground in Somalia and the future of Somalia and the future of the relationship between Somalia and the United States.

First of all, I would like to thank the Government and the people of the United States of America for the warm welcome accorded to me and to my delegation for the last two days. I am very pleased and honored to come to Washington and to meet Madam Secretary to discuss on bilateral issues and the mutual interests of our two countries. And Somalia is very grateful for the unwavering support from the United States to the people of Somalia. U.S. is a major donor to Somalia, which include humanitarian assistance and help toward security. We both have common interests and common enemy, which we must redouble our efforts to bring peace and stability in Somalia.

Somalia is emerging from a very long, difficult period, and we are now moving away from the chaos, instability, extremism, piracy, an era, to an era of peaceful and development. We are aiming to make a valuable contribution to the region and the world at large.

Today I provided an update of the huge progress made in the areas of security, political development, social services, and establishing reliable and credible governance institutions to Madam Secretary. This is an excellent time to me to visit the U.S.A. and to meet with U.S. leaders here in Washington, as Somalia is entering a new phase which requires from all of us to work hard with a very few to bring peace with a heart and view to bring peace and stability in Somalia.

Today, we had fruitful and frank discussions on many subjects that are of mutual interest to all of us and to the world at large. I am encouraged by the (inaudible) the energy, the willingness of interest shown to me and my country, and I am hopeful that Somalia will reclaim its role in the international landscape and play a more active and useful member of the nations of the world.

We are working for a Somalia that is at peace with itself and with its neighbors, where its citizens can go about their daily lives in safety, provided their families with confidence and gratefulness. Instability, violent extremism, and crime in Somalia are a threat not only to Somalia, but to the region and the world at large. We look to the future with hope, pride, and optimism.

And finally, I wish Madam Secretary all of the best for her future, and we all miss her greatly, and a warm welcome to the new Secretary of State and the new administration that will take over. Somalia will remain grateful to the unwavering support from the United States Government in the last 22 years that Somalia was in a difficult era. We remain and we will remain grateful to that (inaudible). And I say in front of you today thank you, America.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so much, Mr. President. (Applause.)

MS. NULAND: We’ll take two questions today. We’ll start with CBS News, Margaret Brennan, please.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, it’s good to have you back at the podium.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, Margaret. I’m glad to be back.

QUESTION: A question for you. Is there anything you’d like to see the Algerians do differently in response to the hostage situation that’s underway? And more broadly, are there security or policy implications for Westerners, Americans in the region because of what’s happening in Mali?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Margaret, thanks for asking that very timely question, and let me start off by saying that I spoke with the Algerian Prime Minister Sellal yesterday. I expect to speak with him again this afternoon. Our counterterrorism experts have been in close contact with their Algerian counterparts throughout the last days. And we’ve also been in close consultation with partners around the world, sharing information, working to contribute to the resolution of this hostage situation as quickly as possible.

Now let me say the situation is very fluid. It’s in a remote area of Algeria near the Libyan border. The security of our Americans who are held hostage is our highest priority, but of course we care deeply about the other Algerian and foreign hostages as well. And because of the fluidity and the fact that there is a lot of planning going on, I cannot give you any further details at this time about the current situation on the ground. But I can say that more broadly, what we are seeing in Mali, in Algeria, reflects the broader strategic challenge, first and foremost for the countries in North Africa and for the United States and the broader international community.

Instability in Mali has created the opportunity for a staging base and safe haven for terrorists. And we’ve had success, as you know, in degrading al-Qaida and its affiliates, leadership, and actions in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We’ve seen the great cooperation led by African troops through the UN mission that we were just discussing in Somalia. But let’s make no mistake: There is a continuing effort by the terrorists, whether they call themselves one name or al-Qaida, to try to destroy the stability, the peace and security, of the people of this region.

These are not new concerns. In fact, this has been a top priority for our entire national security team for years. We’ve worked with the Government of Yemen, for example, in their efforts against al-Qaida in the Arabic Peninsula. We’ve worked in something called the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership, which works with 10 countries across the region. So we have been working on these problems, trying to help build capacity, trying to create regional networks to deal with problems in one country that can spill over the border of another, and working to provide American support for the disruption of these terrorist networks.

At the UN General Assembly in September, we made the situation in Mali an international priority with a central focus on working to have an international response. I certainly am among a number of officials in our government who’ve met and worked on this issue over the last weeks. In fact, in October, I flew to Algeria for high-level talks with the President and others in responsible positions in this security area trying to determine what more we could do to strengthen our security ties. In November, I sent Deputy Secretary Burns and a team to Algeria to really get into depth about what more we could be doing. And then in December, we began to reach out more broadly in the ongoing counterterrorism discussions that we have.

Now, I say all of this because I think it’s important that we put this latest incident into the broader context. This incident will be resolved, we hope, with a minimum loss of life. But when you deal with these relentless terrorists, life is not in any way precious to them. But when this incident is finally over, we know we face a continuing, ongoing problem, and we’re going to do everything we can to work together to confront and disrupt al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.

We’re going to be working with our friends and partners in North Africa. We are supporting the French operation in Mali with intelligence and airlift. We’re working with a half a dozen African countries, as we did with respect to Somalia over so many years, to help them be prepared to send in African troops. In fact, by this weekend, U.S. trainers will be on the continent to offer pre-deployment training and sustainment packages for ECOWAS troops. And we are prepared to fund airlift for those troops into Mali.

This is difficult but essential work. These are some of the most remote places on the planet, very hard to get to, difficult to have much intelligence from. So there is going to be lot of work that has to go into our efforts. But I want to assure the American people that we are committed to this work, just as we were committed to Somalia. There were so many times, Mr. President, over the last four years when some people were ready to throw up their hands and say al-Shabaab made an advance here and this terrible attack in Mogadishu. And we kept persisting, because we believed that with the kind of approach we had taken we would be standing here today with a democratically elected president of Somalia.

So let me just say that this is about our security, but it is also about our interests and our values and the ongoing work of how to counter violent extremism, to provide likeminded people who want to raise their families, have a better future, educate their children, away from extremism and to empower them to stand up against the extremists. And I think it’s something that we will be working on for some time, but I am confident that we will be successful over that time to give the people of these countries, as we have worked to give the people of Somalia, a chance to chart their own future, which is very much reflective of the values and interests of the United States.

MS. NULAND: Last question today, Somalia Service of VOA, Falastine Iman, please.

QUESTION: Thank you. And I have question, one for the Somali President and one for Madam Secretary. For Somali President, how would you describe the U.S.-Somali relationship at this moment?

My other question is: Madam Secretary, sometime ago you announced a dual-track policy, which means dealing Somali Government and regional administrations. Are you still going to pursue these two approaches?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Could you just repeat the end of that? I think I lost a little bit.

QUESTION: You announced dual-track policy, which means dealing with the government and the regional administrations. So are you still going to pursue these two approaches?

PRESIDENT HASSAN SHEIKH: Yeah. Thanks, Falastine. Regarding for Somalia, I think this is a new era, and the United States Government and Somalia serving our relationships in this – the independence of Somalia in 1960s, and the signs and the symbols and the remains of this long-term relationship is still visible in Somalia. The schools built by the Peace Corps in the early 1960s is still functional in Somalia. These schools are still used by different people and different parts of Somalia. And from then onward, the support that the United States Government give to Somalia is still visible in Somalia.

And the last one I was telling is the last 22 years that Somalia was in a difficult times, the United States has always been the country that never left Somalia and have been engaging Somalia with difficult times at different levels, including when the existence of Somali nation was threatened in early ’90s. It was the United States forces that saved more than 300,000 lives of Somalis. Had that intervention not been there, it would have been difficult and different today, the situation in Somalia. So that relationship is there and the commitment and the unwavering support of the United States has always been.

And Somalia is part of the international community and part of the world. Somalia – United States is a role model country for the democracy, for the freedom of people, for the development of human capital. And this model we are going to pursue, of course, as the rest of the world. So the relationship was there in the past. It’s now there. And today, I am here standing in front of you to further improve that relationship in the context of the current realities in Somalia, in the region, and the continent of Africa. So it’s there and it will be there in the future.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much for those very strong words, Mr. President. Today, we are taking a new step in our engagement with the recognition of the government. We believe strongly that the successful conclusion of Somalia’s political transition – with a new president, a prime minister, a parliament, a constitution – marks the beginning of a new era of Somali governance. And therefore one of the reasons we wanted the President to come was to discuss the way forward.

Now, we still have the excellent work by U.S. Special Representative for Somalia Ambassador Swan, who leads a team, as you know, committed to working with the Government and people of Somalia. But our position now is the work that we did to help establish a transitional government, to support the fight against al-Shabaab, to provide humanitarian assistance, is now moving into a new era, as the President said. I believe that our job now is to listen to the Government and people of Somalia, who are now in a position to tell us, as well as other partners around the world, what their plans are, how they hope to achieve them.

So we have moved into a normal sovereign nation-to-sovereign nation position, and we have moved into an era where we’re going to be a good partner, a steadfast partner, to Somalia as Somalia makes the decisions for its own future.

Thank you all very much.

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