The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

Remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Jomaa of Tunisia Before Bilateral Meeting

Oval Office

2:10 P.M. EDT

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 to 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 three 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, to promote entrepreneurship, and 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.

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 Tunisia’s appreciation of all the support you are giving -- the United States’ support, but your personal commitment and engagement to see progress in this transition, democratic transition in the march of Tunisia towards stability and democracy.

So thanks again.  And allow me to switch to French.

(As interpreted.)  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 road map 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 road map 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 road map, 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. 

Mr. President, (speaks in French.)  And what I'm saying, just believe in it.  Just take the risk.  Invest in it.  So I prefer to formulate it like this -- I believe that it’s one of the best ways.

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. 

Thank you, everybody. 

END
2:21 P.M. EDT

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