dear friends, family, and colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Welcome, Bienvenue, Marhaba. Thank you for joining us on this very special evening–the inauguration of the American people’s new embassy to the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. From this site, my colleagues and I will continue to promote close relations, based on shared interests and goodwill, between our two peoples, between their two governments, and between President Trump and President Abdul-Aziz.
Some of you have heard the story of my first visit to your fascinating country. In 1984, when I was serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Senegal, I decided to visit fellow volunteers working near Kaedi. Once I was half-way across the river, the pirogue boatman doubled the fare. I protested. Seeing a Mauritanian police officer on the far bank of the river, I told the boatman that we would submit our dispute to him. We did so. The officer decided in my favor, scolding the boatman! My memories of the kindness and hospitality of the Mauritanians I met on that visit have stayed with me ever since. Thirty years later, I returned to Mauritania as the American ambassador.
On this occasion, I would like to mention a few facts about the relations between the United States and Mauritania. United States President Dwight Eisenhower recognized the independence of Mauritania and appointed our first ambassador on November 28, 1960. The United States was the first country officially to recognize Mauritania’s independence. Our first two ambassadors to Mauritania, Henry Villard and Philip Kaiser, were resident in Dakar, Senegal. In 1961, United States President John F. Kennedy directed that a U.S. embassy be built in Nouakchott on land made available next to the Mauritanian Presidential compound. In 1962, President Kennedy nominated William Eagleton to serve as the first United States ambassador resident in Nouakchott.
Over the last 55 years, 19 American ambassadors have lived and worked on our compound next to our neighbors, the Spanish and German embassies and the Mauritanian presidency. If the U.S. Senate confirms his nomination, then my friend Michael Dodman will become the 22nd American ambassador to Mauritania, the 20th resident American ambassador, and the first American ambassador to work out of this magnificent new Chancery. We will retain our property next to the presidency to serve as the residence of the United States ambassador and as the location of the American International School of Nouakchott.
Through all Mauritania’s history as an independent nation, our diplomats and our Mauritanian colleagues at the United States embassy have been here, promoting friendship between our two peoples and their governments. Mauritania’s history has touched our compound. In 1976, three mortars fired by POLISARIO fighters landed inside the embassy compound. No one was harmed, but the ambassador’s vegetable garden was destroyed! In 2003, the exterior of the embassy compound was damaged in the tragic violence that followed a failed attempt to seize control of the government illegally.
My wife and I made close friends among the Mauritanians we have met. We have many precious memories of our travels throughout this vast country. We will soon end our time here. We do so with much sadness. We are sincerely grateful for your lasting friendship. We will never forget your hospitality, kindness and warmth.
I thank Ambassador William Moser, Mr. Benjamin Dille, and their colleagues for traveling from Washington to be with us tonight. Ambassador Moser, as the chief executive for all United States diplomatic properties overseas, played a key role in the successful completion of this construction project, the most technologically sophisticated buildings in Mauritania. I also wish to thank my colleagues who worked so hard to organize this celebration. Thank you too to my wife Deborah for accompanying me, tonight, and through all the experiences we have shared together while in Mauritania.
I close by thanking the Mauritanian artists who make this evening even more memorable, Noura mint Seymali and Fama Mbaye. I admire your beautiful performances and all you do to bring Mauritania’s rich culture to the attention of the world. We are honored that you and your fellow musicians have accepted our invitation to perform this evening.
Vive the friendship between Mauritania and the United States of America!