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Remarks by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton: At the Opening Plenary of the U.S.-Morocco Strategic Dialogue

September 13, 2012 Benjamin Franklin Room

Secretary Clinton:  Good morning.  Well, let me welcome our friends and colleagues from Morocco here to the Benjamin Franklin Room on the eighth floor of the State Department for this very important first session of the U.S.-Morocco Strategic Dialogue.  Before I begin to address the significance of this Strategic Dialogue and the next step in our long relations with Morocco, I want to say a few words about the events unfolding in the world today.

We are closely watching what is happening in Yemen and elsewhere, and we certainly hope and expect that there will be steps taken to avoid violence and prevent the escalation of protests into violence.

I also want to take a moment to address the video circulating on the internet that has led to these protests in a number of countries.  Let me state very clearly – and I hope it is obvious – that the United States Government had absolutely nothing to do with this video.  We absolutely reject its content and message.  America’s commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation.  And as you know, we are home to people of all religions, many of whom came to this country seeking the right to exercise their own religion, including, of course, millions of Muslims.  And we have the greatest respect for people of faith.

To us, to me personally, this video is disgusting and reprehensible.  It appears to have a deeply cynical purpose:  to denigrate a great religion and to provoke rage.  But as I said yesterday, there is no justification, none at all, for responding to this video with violence.  We condemn the violence that has resulted in the strongest terms, and we greatly appreciate that many Muslims in the United States and around the world have spoken out on this issue.

Violence, we believe, has no place in religion and is no way to honor religion.  Islam, like other religions, respects the fundamental dignity of human beings, and it is a violation of that fundamental dignity to wage attacks on innocents.  As long as there are those who are willing to shed blood and take innocent life in the name of religion, the name of God, the world will never know a true and lasting peace.  It is especially wrong for violence to be directed against diplomatic missions.  These are places whose very purpose is peaceful:  to promote better understanding across countries and cultures.  All governments have a responsibility to protect those spaces and people, because to attack an embassy is to attack the idea that we can work together to build understanding and a better future.

Now, I know it is hard for some people to understand why the United States cannot or does not just prevent these kinds of reprehensible videos from ever seeing the light of day.  Now, I would note that in today’s world with today’s technologies, that is impossible.  But even if it were possible, our country does have a long tradition of free expression which is enshrined in our Constitution and our law, and we do not stop individual citizens from expressing their views no matter how distasteful they may be. 

There are, of course, different views around the world about the outer limits of free speech and free expression, but there should be no debate about the simple proposition that violence in response to speech is not acceptable.  We all – whether we are leaders in government, leaders in civil society or religious leaders – must draw the line at violence.  And any responsible leader should be standing up now and drawing that line. 

I wanted to begin with this statement, because, as our Moroccan friends and all of you know, this has been a difficult week at the State Department.  I very much appreciate, Minister, the condolences your government expressed to our Embassy in Rabat.  And even though that tragedy happened far away in Benghazi, we found a reminder of the deep bounds that connect Morocco to the United States.  It was in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco that one of the Americans we lost this week, Ambassador Chris Stevens, fell in love with the region when he served as a Peace Corps volunteer there.  That experience set him on a decades-long career of service.  So in the memory of fallen friends and colleagues, let us remind ourselves of the many ways in which not just our governments but the people of our two nations have worked together to build a better future.

In many ways, the United States looks to Morocco to be a leader and a model.  His Majesty King Mohammed deserves great credit for the work you’ve undertaken.  In fact, after my visit to Rabat earlier this year, I told my team:  “We need to start a Strategic Dialogue with Morocco.”  No country has been a friend of the United States longer than Morocco.  You were the first nation to recognize us back in 1777.  But we’re not satisfied with simply having a friendship that is longstanding.  We want one that is dynamic, growing, looking toward the future.  So let me highlight a few of the areas we should focus on today.

On political reform, we have all seen remarkable changes taking place across North Africa and the Middle East.  I commend Morocco and your government for your efforts to stay ahead of these changes by holding free and fair elections, empowering the elected parliament, taking other steps to ensure that the government reflects the will of the people.  Today, our political working group will discuss how the United States can continue to support your efforts to translate commitments into actions.  Because as we all know, democracy, real reform, require that people themselves feel the changes in their everyday lives: the courts reformed, the government more open and transparent, universal human rights of all Moroccans – men and women alike – respected.

I’m especially pleased by Morocco’s commitments to take on the deeply troubling problem of child marriage.  We know that child brides are less likely to get an education, more likely to face life-threatening problems, particularly around child birth and delivery, which not only shortchanges them but can even rob them and their communities of their lives and talents.  So we want to encourage the government and civil society to continue their important work together on this issue.  

With regard to the Western Sahara, the United States continues to support efforts to find a peaceful, sustainable, mutually agreed-upon solution.  U.S. policy toward the Western Sahara has remained consistent for many years.  We have made clear that Morocco’s autonomy plan is serious, realistic, and credible, and that it represents a potential approach that could satisfy the aspirations of the people in the Western Sahara to run their own affairs in peace and dignity.  We continue to support the negotiations carried out by the United Nations and hope parties can work toward resolution. 

With respect to the economy, our second working group will focus on what more can be done to deliver tangible economic benefits.  Morocco’s economy is relatively healthy, but you face the same problem that is now endemic across the world – unemployment is still too high, especially among young people. 

That’s why the United States is providing $1.5 million to support an effort to attract foreign investors, foster local economic development, and combat corruption across the region.  And I’m pleased to announce that later this year we will hold a Morocco business development conference here in Washington to connect businesses from both countries.

Today, we should discuss ways to build on all of these efforts by increasing bilateral trade, a particular goal of mine since so much trade from Morocco goes to Europe.  I’d like to increase the amount of trade coming to the United States, and also to improve economic integration across North Africa, which could greatly benefit Morocco because of Morocco’s stability and Morocco’s very strong economic foundation.  The greater integration there is, the greater the benefits for Moroccans. 

Third, the attack in Benghazi this week reminds us that security remains a vital issue.  Through our work together on the Global Counterterrorism Task Force, the United States and Morocco already share crucial information and best practices, and I thank Morocco for hosting a Global Counterterrorism Task Force workshop on threats in the South Atlantic next month.

We are also collaborating through USAID, the Peace Corps, and other agencies to help provide Moroccan youth with alternatives to criminal and extremist organizations.  And so we are partnering to help strengthen Morocco’s criminal justice system and law enforcement. 

There will be a lot to discuss in the meeting today.  And let me add, the United States greatly appreciates the constructive role Morocco is playing on the UN Security Council, especially your support for the effort to end the violence and bloodshed in Syria and help to usher in a new democratic future for that country.  I commend Morocco for offering to host the next ministerial meeting of the Friends of the Syrian People, and we look forward to continuing to work closely together as close partners even after your term on the Security Council has ended.

Finally, our education and cultural ties are reason for much celebration.  This year marks the 30th anniversary of our official program to facilitate academic exchanges and other bonds between us.  There are more than 5,000 Moroccan alumni of these programs.  Two are with us today – Dr. Benjelloun and Dr. Ouaouicha – and we thank them.  But among all our work on this front, from preserving Morocco’s historic sites to empowering youth, there’s one area I particularly hope we can focus on today and receive your advice and counsel – namely, interfaith dialogue. 

In these tense and turbulent times, it’s more important than ever for people of different faiths to exchange ideas, to build understanding, to promote religious tolerance.  It’s one of the great challenges of the 21st century, and it’s one that we must address together.

So we have a lot of work to do, Minister, but our friendship runs long and deep, and as the treaty our nations signed in 1786 says, and I quote, “Trusting in God, it will remain permanent.”  I’m confident that we will continue to solve problems and produce results that make our nations stronger, more peaceful, more secure, more prosperous, and also contribute to doing the same for the world. 

So again, let me welcome you, Minister.  It’s been a great pleasure for me to get to know you, to work with you, to be your colleague bilaterally, regionally, and globally, and also welcome your distinguished delegation.

Thank you.  

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