Transatlantic relations - One year into the Obama Administration
Transatlantic Relations – One Year into the Obama Administration
President Obama enters his second year in office in 2010, a year in which we will also mark the 65th anniversary of the end of the Second World War and the 235th anniversary of the opening shots of the American Revolution. I refer to these dates – so far apart from one another and indeed so distant from our own time – because they highlight the unparalleled longevity and the deep historical significance of the strong ties between the United States and France. They are milestones on the long, sometimes difficult, and momentous roads we have traveled together.
Personally, I am delighted to be the U.S. Ambassador to France during what I know will be a positive and productive time for the U.S.-European partnership. The challenges we face today are no less monumental than those we overcame together in 1945 or 1775. It is a particular pleasure and honor to represent the United States in France, as my family and I have deep connections to this country. My father participated in General Patton’s French campaign during World War II, and he was decorated by the French government. When I was in high school, my parents sent me to study at the Franco-American Institute in Rennes, and I later interned at Renault.
It is heartening to be the President’s representative to a country which enjoys such excellent relations with the United States. France and the United States are old and close allies. President Obama regards France as an essential partner in addressing the major issues confronting us all. Presidents Obama and Sarkozy, both men of conviction and action, speak to one another frequently and work closely together.
In addition to this rock-solid relationship with France, one year into the Obama administration, we have strengthened our working relationships with our other European partners and are continuing to develop new ways to work together to resolve the challenges that confront us.
President Obama took office during one of the most difficult times in recent American history. Facing two wars, a global economic crisis, the threats posed by climate change and nuclear proliferation, he began his administration determined to listen and work collaboratively with the international community.
During his first trip to Europe as President, in April 2009, President Obama said, “America can’t meet our global challenges alone; nor can Europe meet them without America.” During the first year of his administration, President Obama visited Europe six times, including two visits to France. Both Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have also visited Europe many times, including recent visits to France.
So many high-level American figures have visited France because France is a leader and our strong partner in addressing the issues of Afghanistan, Iran, the Middle East peace process, climate change, the financial crisis, and humanitarian assistance around the world. These are the central challenges on which the Obama administration is working hand in hand with France and our other European partners.
Secretary of State Clinton has rightly observed, “For too much of Afghanistan’s history, countries and outside groups have used it as a place to achieve their own ambitions, with little regard for the rights, talents, and dreams of the Afghan people.” While the United States has no intention of occupying Afghanistan, we will not abandon Afghanistan either. Our European partners agree that through civilian efforts we need to work with Afghanistan to develop stronger institutions and provide the financial support to keep Afghanistan stable even after international military forces depart. More than 32,000 NATO troops serve with American troops in Afghanistan to help the Afghan government secure democracy and disrupt terrorism. We are integrating civilian and military efforts to defeat Al Qaeda and the Taliban, and we are working together with NATO, the OSCE, and the EU to provide the significant financial, political, and military support to stabilize Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In the late fall, President Obama, after consultation and reflection, decided that the best way to reverse Taliban momentum and strengthen Afghanistan’s government and civil society was by modifying our strategy, adopting an approach that would require temporarily increasing the number of troops on the ground. After the President announced this strategy, our NATO allies, including France, affirmed their commitment to it.
France is among the countries that are providing essential support to the Afghan mission, contributing nearly 4,000 troops in Afghanistan and hundreds of crucial civilian and police trainers. French President Sarkozy has continually confirmed his commitment to the NATO mission, and we are extremely grateful for the sacrifices that France has made. Secretary Clinton noted in January at the Ecole Militaire that the United States and Europe are complementing each other’s efforts to provide civilian assistance in Afghanistan. She cited in particular France’s excellent health care initiatives and the United States’ agricultural development programs, as ways in which the U.S. and Europe are cooperating to strengthen various sectors of Afghanistan’s civil society.
Our common task in Afghanistan is not easy, and the United States and France have both lost courageous soldiers in the struggle. Their sacrifice will never be forgotten, nor will it have been in vain. The soldiers, instructors, and resources sent to Afghanistan are helping to create a more stable, developed, secure, and autonomous country. We will, therefore, continue to work together not only militarily, but also with an increased focus on providing civilian assistance.
The United States and Europe share concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear activities and support for terrorism. When Defense Secretary Gates visited France in February, he and Defense Minister Hervé Morin affirmed the importance of using international diplomatic and economic pressure to persuade Iran to bring its nuclear program into compliance with Iran’s international obligations. President Obama extended a hand to the people and government of Iran to work toward a possible solution in the hope that Iran would seize it and earn the confidence of the international community by accepting an offer to process its enriched uranium outside of Iran’s borders. But the President has always made clear that our policy toward Iran would operate on two tracks. Given Iran’s disappointing response to our diplomatic efforts, we are moving with our European partners towards the application of enhanced sanctions.
In addition to our joint efforts to convince Iran to bring its nuclear program into compliance with its obligations, the United States and the EU work to support the Iranian people’s rights to freedom of expression and to demonstrate peacefully. In February the United States and the EU issued a joint statement condemning human rights violations in Iran, and we will continue to work with our European partners to advance our common goal of encouraging Iran to respect international norms.
The Middle East
The EU is also a key partner in our efforts to bring peace to the Middle East. We have worked together on the resolution of conflict in Gaza and on training Palestinian security forces. President Obama is deeply and personally committed to achieving peace in this long turbulent region, including a durable two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine question. Together we are working to create a climate in which negotiations can take place. We seek to do this, together with our European partners, by helping to build the economy of the Palestinian Territories and the institutional capacity of the Palestinian Authority, while renewing political negotiations to enable the earliest possible establishment of a viable Palestinian state, living in peace and security alongside a secure Israel.
Climate change is an issue that is now front and center in our foreign policy. As Secretary Clinton has stated, “Climate change is more than a scientific phenomenon. It’s a political challenge, it’s an economic force, it’s a security threat, and a moral imperative.”
The United States and the major economies of Europe have a special responsibility to work together on the challenge of climate change. The Copenhagen Summit marked the beginning of a new era of international action as 55 countries, representing 80 percent of global emissions, pledged to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions. At Copenhagen, the United States committed to participating in an international effort to provide financing to help developing countries, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable, adapt to climate change. At home, we are working to curb our own emissions, create new jobs, and support new industries involved in green technologies. We will continue to embrace our responsibilities to improve our practices at home and to help others do the same.
The Financial Crisis
The United States and Europe are each other’s most important trade and investment partners, with the largest economic relationship in the world. Together, the United States and the EU generate 54 percent of world GDP. The sheer volume of this relationship means that small percentage gains can be huge in absolute terms: French and American firms do over $1.3 billion in business in each other’s markets each day. Despite this enormous volume, both sides recognize tremendous opportunities for growth, and the Transatlantic Economic Council is charged with improving this relationship by removing some of the remaining impediments to transatlantic business.
Our countries have all been affected by the financial crisis, but through the G20 we are working with our European and other partners to mitigate its effects and to develop reforms that will create an even stronger system with global checks and balances. As leaders of some of the world’s largest economies, it is our duty to work together to create a framework for sustainable and balanced economic growth. The Unites States will continue to honor that duty by working through the G20 and by pursuing reforms at home.
Humanitarian Assistance to Haiti
The earthquake in Haiti was a tragic event that will affect the Haitian people and involve the international community for years to come. The United States will provide aid and assistance to help Haiti rebuild, but as with other global challenges, we cannot do this alone. France was one of the first responders to the earthquake, and French government and NGOs have worked with the United States and the international community to rescue and provide needed immediate medical and food aid. Working together we can help Haiti not only to rebuild from this tragedy, but to develop its infrastructure, economy, and institutions to new levels.
The next generation
Ultimately, our shared goal is to make the world a better place for future generations – more peaceful, more secure, and more prosperous. To do so we must reach out to younger generations, listen to them, learn from them, and endeavor to empower and educate them, so that in the future we can sustain and advance the changes that we are now initiating.
The United States wants therefore to continue to reach out to Europe, to strengthen our relationships with our allies and partners, and to support and bring prosperity and stability to new European states as well. We want to reach out to young Europeans to hear their ideas and highlight our shared values and concerns. To further these goals, the U.S. Embassy in Paris and I will be engaging the young people of France, listening to their concerns and ideas, and connecting them with American youth through cultural and educational exchange programs. In my six months as Ambassador, I have had a chance to meet many members of the remarkable generation that is the future of France. I know many of you who are reading this have mentored young people, and I encourage you to continue and to join me in this effort.
I was delighted to meet many alumni of the International Visitor Program on January 20, the anniversary of President Obama’s inauguration. The Cercle Jefferson is composed of the very best of France. Your deep understanding of the United States and American culture makes you important threads in the ties that bind our two countries. I encourage you to maintain your interest in and support for strong transatlantic relations, and I look forward to working with you on our common challenges and goals in the years ahead.
Charles H. Rivkin
Ambassadeur des Etats-Unis d'Amérique
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