Remarks on the Groundbreaking Ceremony

Friends, Colleagues, Members of the Press;

We are very pleased you could join us this morning, here, at the site of our new Embassy.

That is the first time that our two national anthems have been played on this spot, but they will be played many more times here – hundreds of times – in years to come.  We are here this morning to dedicate this site, and to break ground for the first time.

As many of you know, the United States has had a diplomatic post in Mauritania for over 50 years, following President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s recognition of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania on November 28, 1960.   The U.S. Embassy in Nouakchott was officially opened on July 14, 1962.

Since those early days, the world has changed a great deal, as has the way we conduct foreign policy.  I think it’s fair to say that the challenges we face now are far more complex.  At the same time, the opportunities are greater, and the world seems smaller.  In the face of this ever shifting environment, our Embassy has continued to grow – a sign of the partnership and enduring friendship that both of our countries have invested in.  So too has our cooperation with the Mauritanian government and its people – whether it be in food security, education, health, or regional security.  For example, since the 1960’s, hundreds of young Americans have visited Mauritania as volunteers, scholars, and artists.  More recently, we have expanded our people to people relationships by encouraging young Mauritanians to study in the U.S. through programs like the Fulbright Scholarship or the Humphrey Program, and young Mauritanian professionals to experience the United States in their fields of work on our International Visitor Leadership Programs.  In exchange, they give Americans a glimpse of the diversity and rich cultural heritage that Mauritania has to offer.

This year, we are particularly proud to welcome the new Young African Leadership Initiative grantees who are going to participate in a special program initiated by President Obama.  They will spend six weeks at academic institutions in the United States, meeting with other young citizens from all over the African continent to discuss their goals and perspectives as future leaders in their nations, as well as with high-level U.S. government policy makers.  Upon their return to Mauritania, we hope to see them play active roles in public management, entrepreneurship, and civil society.  This program is one of several initiated by President Obama specifically to strengthen the partnership between African nations and the United States, and is another step in the multi-faceted, long-term relationship that we continue to build with Mauritania.

The construction of a new Embassy will allow us to provide opportunities and new technologies for Mauritanians.  With the expertise and help provided by our friends at Caddell Construction, we will build an Embassy that is “green” – with solar cells on the roof and with other measures that will help conserve electricity and recycle water.  Beyond the long-term benefits of having an environmentally friendly building, the project itself will create over 150 local jobs, and invest over $10 million in the local economy.  The training that many of these workers receive will be on advanced technologies, improving qualitatively the skills available in the city’s workforce.  Not only will the building that we are breaking ground for today serve as the new home for America’s Embassy in Mauritania, it will also stand for the new chapter in our relationship. It will be state-of-the-art, because we believe that we have no more important commitment than to our partners here.

Secretary of State John Kerry, in his trip last month to several African nations, reaffirmed his pledge of friendship from the United States.  He highlighted the deep historic and economic ties between the United States and Africa, including our commitment to promoting opportunity and development around the continent, expanding economic growth, and working with African counterparts to fight extremism while strengthening democratic institutions and protecting human rights.   He applauded the African Union’s steps towards “good governance, democracy and the right to development”, as represented in its charter.  And in the lead-up towards presidential elections here, we share with you a commitment for free, fair, and credible elections, because we know that nations in Africa, like nations all over the world, are strongest when citizens have a say, and when citizens’ voices can be a part of the political process.

What we’re doing here today represents that future.  It signals the importance of this endeavor, and our friendship.  We therefore dedicate this project not only to our shared history, but to our shared commitment to a fruitful relationship between our two nations, and we thank you for your presence here today.