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Remarks Prior to a Meeting With Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa of Tunisia

April 04, 2014

President Obama. Well, it's a great pleasure to welcome Prime Minister Jomaa here to the Oval Office.

Several years ago, a fruit vendor in Tunisia essentially made a statement to the world about the need for a government that represented ordinary people and an end to corruption and a sense that democracy and rule of law could flourish in the Arab world. And that action triggered a movement that spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

And obviously, what we've seen in the years since is that some countries have had difficulty in this transition. There has been incredible energy and interest among young people about the possibilities of the future, but there's also been great challenges, both economically and politically, in many countries.

The good news is, is that in Tunisia, where this began, we have seen the kind of progress that I think all of us have been hoping for. Although it has been full of challenges, as any democratic process inevitably will confront, what we've seen now is a coming together of various factions within Tunisia, a new Constitution that not only respects the individual rights of men, but also women, that speaks to tolerance and respect for religious minorities. And it creates the bedrock, the foundation for a Tunisian society that can thrive in this new global environment.

Prime Minister Jomaa has a big job ahead of him. He's been tasked with making sure that during this period, as Tunisia is drafting election laws, preparing for new elections for the Presidency and the Parliament, that the economy begins to move forward with reform and that the political changes that are taking place happen smoothly.

Fortunately, by all accounts, the Prime Minister so far has done an outstanding job, and we are very pleased to welcome him and his delegation. The United States has a huge investment in making sure that Tunisia's experiment is successful. And we want nothing more than Tunisians to determine their own destiny, for the economic reforms that take place to allow Tunisia to be not just self-sufficient, but thriving in the world economy.

For this reason, I'm pleased that we're able to provide not only the assistance we've provided over the last 3 years, but additional assistance in the form of loan guarantees. We want to work with Tunisia to help on some of the border security issues that it's confronting with respect to the Libyan border. We have seen excellent cooperation with the Tunisian Government on some of our counterterrorism efforts. And we are confident that with the Prime Minister's guidance that, in fact, Tunisia can meet some its reform goals and lay the foundation for great success in the future.

So, Mr. Prime Minister, we're very pleased to have you here. After our meeting, I'm going to have an opportunity to meet with some Tunisian young people who are here studying in the United States as a consequence of a U.S.-funded scholarship that's being provided. I think the Prime Minister and I both believe that we do our work on behalf of young people, and we want to make sure that we're creating greater and greater opportunities for them. And so to have young people here from Tunisia who are able to not only get skills, but also the values that they can take back to Tunisia to help start businesses and to promote entrepreneurship and to create jobs and opportunity is something that we're very much looking forward to.

So, Mr. Prime Minister, welcome. And I know you've had a good visit so far. I'm sure you'll have great success in the months to come, and we want to help. So thank you.

Prime Minister Jomaa. Thank you, Mr. President. Let me first thank you for this kind invitation. I really appreciate that, and it's a great pleasure and an honor for me to be here meeting you. It's an opportunity as well to express the Tunisia's appreciation of all the support you are giving—the United States support, but your personal commitment and engagement to —to support this transition, democratic transition in the march of the Tunisia toward stability and democracy.

So thanks again. As you allowed me to switch in French, I will do it.

[At this point, Prime Minister Jomaa spoke in French, and his remarks were translated by an interpreter as follows.]

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the United States Government and to thank President Obama for the warm welcome that has been reserved for us and as we discuss past events, but also as we set the roadmap for the future of my country.

Tunisia and the United States have a longstanding history. In the 18th century, Tunisia was one of the first countries to recognize the United States independence, and conversely, the United States was one of the first countries to recognize Tunisia's independence.

So I want to thank you for allowing us to set this roadmap for the future. First, I would like to say that we are very proud of our new Constitution, of our shared values in democracy and rights. As we set this roadmap, we need to think about economic and social aspects, but as you were saying, we also need to think about teaching and learning, because we are eager to develop our youth and to develop new technologies.

So we have this new hard-won freedom that we have obtained, and the gestation—the birth—of our new Constitution was somewhat difficult, but we have overcome those periods. And now we need to focus on the future, on creating a new future for our youth.

[Prime Minister Jomaa continued in French, but no further translation was provided. He then spoke in English as follows.]

——democracy startup. And what I'm saying: Just believe in it. Just take the risk. Invest in it. And we will treat—we take the dividends, part for us. So I prefer to formulate it like this—[inaudible]. I believe that it's one of the best startup where we can invest today.

President Obama. Fantastic. Thank you. Thank you so much.

And I would do my statement in French also—[laughter]—but my seventh-grade French isn't quite up to it. So—[laughter].

Thank you, everybody.

NOTE: The President spoke at 2:10 p.m. in the Oval Office at the White House.

Barack Obama, Remarks Prior to a Meeting With Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa of Tunisia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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