10:30 A.M. (Local)
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Mr. Prime Minister, thank you very much for your gracious welcome. We have -- presumptuous of me to say, but we have become good friends and acquaintances over the years. This is my eighth trip just since being elected Vice President and close to 20 since early on.
As some of your colleagues know, and I’ve had the great pleasure of knowing some of your colleagues for even longer, I am one, along with the President and my whole country, that recognizes the incredible depth and strength of an ancient culture that -- with great natural resources, the most important of those resources are your people -- your people. And your people have suffered for the past decades, first under the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, and then victimization -- being victimized by terror. And I have the overwhelming -- have an overwhelming amount of respect for not only the sacrifice your people have been required to make but the resolve with which they have met each of the challenges that has faced them.
Few nations have gone through what you have gone through, and few nations in recent history have made the progress you’ve made. But it’s because -- again, because of the incredible natural resource which rests in the people of Iraq.
Now -- it may sound somewhat presumptuous for me to say this, but now Iraq is poised to join the community of nations who are great contributors to the world, contributors in terms of culture, resources -- contributors in terms of the notion of the emerging non-distinction East or West, about the rule of law, the right of people to determine their own destiny.
And you are, as you said, Mr. Prime Minister, a great example of a nation who has worked their way through their travail and are expressing their peoples’ wills.
And with regard to the relationship between Iraq and the United States, we realize we are one of many relationships you will have. We feel a particular kinship to you because our people, our military in particular, has made sacrifices as well along the way. But this is a relationship going forward -- as you said, moving from one agreement -- the SOFA, which was a military agreement to a strategic framework agreement, which is a much broader agreement; agreements that are made between nations that are built on respect -- respect for their sovereignty, respect and -- for the will of the people of each of our countries. So it’s an honor to co-host this meeting with you today, Mr. Prime Minister, the U.S.-Iraq Higher Coordinating Committee established by the strategic framework agreement.
And I say on behalf of President Obama that we want to thank everyone here -- everyone here for the hard work that has gone into planning this important meeting. This is not the first meeting of the strategic framework committee of the Higher Coordinating Committee but maybe it is the most symbolic of the meetings representing the shift from one that was based upon a
SOFA to one that's based upon a relationship between nations who are sovereign nations respecting each other’s interest and deciding to cooperate with one another in the interest of one another.
You’ve met my delegation, but I’d like particularly to point out that we have Assistant Secretary of State Jeff Feltman who is here, who is very knowledgeable of the area, the region and is someone who is greatly respected by the President; as well as Deputy Secretary of Energy Dan Poneman, who is here as well.
And we -- all the Americans -- look forward to the presentations of our Iraqi counterparts and I hope view the presentation we have today as to how we envision proceeding with this new strategic framework agreement.
Iraq and the United States are two nations bound together by many things, but particularly bound together by the more than eight years of shared sacrifice and struggle. As I indicated our strong partnership was forged in the fires of combat, has succeeded in bringing Iraq back from the brink of an all-consuming violence and has paved the way for a more peaceful and more prosperous future for the people of Iraq.
As I indicated, this is my eighth trip to Baghdad since being elected Vice President. When I was here on September 1, 2010, to mark the beginning of what we refer to as Operation New Dawn, I shared a basic message with the people of Iraq and all of you on that day that I will reference again. And I want to make it very clear: The United States keeps its promises. Let me say it again: The United States of America keeps its promises.
As I say more colloquially in the neighborhood I’m from, a promise made is a promise kept. And we are keeping our promise. We kept our promise to withdraw our troops from Iraq’s cities in 2009. We kept our promise to end our combat mission in the summer of 2010, and now we are keeping our promise we made back in 2008 to remove our troops from Iraq by the end of this year. And they will be removed.
As President Obama and Prime Minister Maliki agreed when they spoke in October, drawing down our forces is not only in the best interest of Iraq, but it’s in the best interest of the United States of America, as well, and the best interest of the relationship. In one month our troops will have left Iraq, but our close strategic partnership, as you just referenced, Mr. Prime Minister, will God willing continue. It will continue not only in Iraq -- with Iraq but with this region. It will continue and it will deepen in the years to come, God willing.
Our troops as I said are leaving Iraq, and we are embarking on a new path together, a new phase of this relationship -- a relationship again I emphasize between two sovereign nations. The relationship will be guided by our strategic framework agreement which outlines partnerships across a range of strategic issues, including energy, trade, the rule of law, diplomacy, agriculture, education and many others. That partnership which you have been emphasizing from the beginning -- that partnership includes a robust security relationship based on what you decide -- what you decide -- you think that relationship should be.
We will continue our discussions with your government over the substance of our security arrangements including areas of training, intelligence and counterterrorism. This Higher Coordinating Committee will be the centerpiece of all these efforts. We’ll build on what is already a broad partnership between our two nations.
To name just a few recent highlights of what we’ve been doing together recently I think it’s worth pointing out for both our peoples. On the trade front, the United States has recently showcased 85 American businesses, universities and tourist organizations at the Baghdad International Trade Fair. Over 200 off-the-floor sales were made at that fair, helping both nations’ economies; an increasing number of Iraqis studying at United States universities -- 45 percent more this year than last. This enriches and strengthens not only the students who come to the United States, but the students in the United States with whom they will come in contact. They will learn as much from the young Iraqis heading our way as the Iraqis will learn about us.
This enriches and strengthens our institutions, as well. It helps to create an educated workforce in Iraq and creates a lasting bond between individual Americans and individual Iraqis.
We recently launched a robust program to provide advisory and technical assistance to civilian police services to support your efforts of rule of law while enriching your -- and enhancing your internal security, a decision that you made.
I look forward to hearing about these and many other issues from those in this room who are going on in each of these areas and further building these relationships. Again, I want to thank you all for having us here today. Thank you for your hospitality and to you, Mr. Prime Minister, for hosting this meeting.
From the perspective of me and the Vice President -- and the President -- as Vice President and the President, this is marking a new beginning of a relationship that will not only benefit the United States and Iraq, I believe will benefit the region and in turn benefit the world.
So thank you very much again, Mr. Prime Minister, for your hospitality.
10:42 A.M. (Local)