Good evening. Thank you all so much. Shukran. I’m glad to see so many friends here and colleagues from the United States Congress and so many distinguished members of the diplomatic corps. I’m delighted to be here tonight. It is my honor to join you here tonight.
Let me start by thanking my good friend, Jim Zogby. I first met him through politics, but we became fast friends because he’s just a great person. He’s one of the most honest, caring, and dedicated people I know—a leader who’s been in the trenches, who always plays it straight, and who’s passionate about civil rights for all Americans. The Arab American Institute is truly fortunate to have his leadership and commitment. So Jim again, thank you.
On behalf of President Obama, let me also congratulate the Arab American Institute on this 25th anniversary celebration. As you all know so well, Arab Americans have been making vital contributions to our country since at least the 1880s, but the establishment of the AAI in 1985 was a true milestone. Since then, AAI has been a key voice in the larger American chorus: speaking up about pressing needs and concerns, championing increased Arab American participation in our nation’s political and civic sphere, and fighting ignorance and intolerance. My very best wishes to AAI for your next 25 years.
I also want to congratulate tonight’s honorees for their tremendous work to advance the common good. We have heard about several, but there are more to come. Mayor Daley, thank you for creating opportunity and cherishing diversity in one of the world’s great cities. Judge Barkett, you moved us all; we salute your decades of service and your profound commitment to the rule of law. Mr. Zeitoun, bless you for sharing your extraordinary story and for all you’ve done for the proud and resilient city of New Orleans. Mr. al-Majid has done so much to preserve Arab and Islamic culture, and we are so proud of your honor tonight. And finally, the Corporation for National Community Service, which works every day to fight poverty, clean up the environment, and encourage us all to always ask how we can help our fellow citizens. May each of you savor this well-deserved tribute and this very special evening.
This year’s honorees remind us of the importance of some great American ideals: service, responsibility, inclusion, and equality. Citizenship grants us great blessings, and it demands great responsibility. Our limitless diversity and our founding commitment to equality are among our greatest strategic assets.
Today, we seek a world rooted in a truth that we hold to be self-evident: that all people are indeed created equal—of equal worth, of equal consequence, and with equal rights. This is a belief deeply rooted in the American experience, but also one with universal power. To be sure, as we all know, America has struggled for centuries to make this promise real, but that has only made the promise matter still more.
Last fall, I had the great privilege of visiting an UNRWA girls’ school in the Jalazoun refugee camp near Ramallah. I walked through their classrooms, speaking with first to twelfth graders and their proud teachers. I don’t think I will ever forget those girls’ stories and seeing the way their faces lit up as they discussed their dreams. They told of their desire to contribute, to build their nation, and to serve. Those girls, like my daughter and like children everywhere, should have the freedom to dream without limits and should only be limited by their abilities. So together with our partners, we seek a world of greater education and deeper opportunity—a world that rejects violent extremism and embraces human dignity—a world of development, of democracy, and prosperity—a world where a child can grow up in Gaza, in Baghdad, in Bamako, in Tel Aviv, or in Kabul, free of fear, free of want, and with the opportunity to live their dreams.
This deep belief in human equality and human dignity drives us toward a foreign policy that is both principled and pragmatic—one that recognizes not only the moral claim placed upon us by our common humanity but also the strategic realities we face in our interconnected world. President Obama has pursued a new era of American leadership and comprehensive engagement based on mutual interests and mutual respect. Part of that change is establishing a broader agenda for engagement with Arab and Muslim communities around the world. Growing out of President Obama’s historic speech last year in Cairo, we are expanding exchanges, deepening our collaboration on science and technology, working together on global health issues such as H1N1, and partnering to expand the reach of economic prosperity. And as you may know, President Obama will be hosting next week a Summit on Entrepreneurship next week, where more than 250 entrepreneurs from 50 countries, including many in the Arab world, will gather to advance opportunity in America and abroad.
As U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, I can tell you first-hand: everyone notices when a superpower becomes an agent of change. We are advancing the vision, strategies, and programs that renew America’s leadership, strengthen our security, uphold our values, deepen our prosperity, and reinforce the alliances and partnerships that multiply our strength. Let me touch briefly on three issues that are high on our agenda: Arab-Israeli peace, Lebanon, and Iraq.
First, let there be no doubt: President Obama and all of us in his Administration are determined to reach a comprehensive peace in the Middle East—central to which is a two-state solution. President Obama has defined this goal as a vital U.S. interest. Now, none of us need to be reminded that this is very tough work. But we believe that through good-faith negotiations, the parties can mutually agree to an outcome that ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and Israel’s goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israel’s security requirements.
Israelis and Palestinians, as well as all those interested in peace, need to confront a basic reality: the status quo has neither produced long-term security nor served their interests. All parties must accept their share of responsibility for reaching a comprehensive peace that will benefit the entire region and the world. Our efforts must be driven from both above and below. That’s why the United States is focused on two mutually reinforcing tracks: resuming negotiations between the parties, and helping develop the institutions of a future Palestinian state. We strongly endorse the Palestinian Authority’s two-year state-building plan and are doing all we can to support it.
It is also important that the parties fulfill their Roadmap obligations. Unilateral actions taken by either party cannot be allowed to prejudge the outcome of negotiations and will not be recognized by the international community. Our position remains clear: we do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity. Israel should also halt evictions and demolitions of Palestinian homes. At the same time, the Palestinian Authority should continue to make every effort to ensure security, to reform its institutions of governance, and to take strong, consistent action to end all forms of incitement. And the Arab states must also do their share. All too often, those who worry about the destabilizing impact of extremists are not doing enough to bolster the Palestinian Authority’s legitimate efforts. It is in the Arab states’ interests to advance the Arab Peace Initiative with concrete actions that make it easier for the Palestinians to pursue negotiations and to achieve an agreement. And it is all of our responsibility to contribute to an atmosphere conducive to progress—so that, for ordinary people on both sides, tomorrow need not look like yesterday.
Second, as I have said often repeatedly in the UN Security Council, the United States firmly supports Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence—and full implementation of Security Council Resolutions 1559, 1680, and 1701. Our engagement with Syria will not come at the expense of Lebanese sovereignty and independence. And I should add that it is my personal privilege to work closely with the Government of Lebanon and its representatives as a fellow Security Council colleague.
Finally, to strengthen our security, we are responsibly ending the war in Iraq. But even as we draw down our military forces, we are not disengaging from Iraq. Rather, we are forging a more traditional relationship with Iraq through deeper ties of diplomacy, trade, investment, culture, and education. When I visited Iraq last October, I saw first-hand how the United States is working together with our partners in Iraq’s sovereign government. As our UN Ambassador, I was particularly proud to see the dedicated service and sacrifice of our brave men and women in uniform and the invaluable work being done by the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq. The March 7 elections, which were supported by the UN’s electoral experts, were an important step for Iraq, and now Iraqi politicians are hard at work to ensure that Iraqis get to see an inclusive, representative government formed swiftly. As the Iraqi people face the longer-term challenges of expanding prosperity and opportunity, they will continue to have a partner in the United States.
Ladies and gentlemen, you know none of these are easy issues. I can’t guarantee that we will not have disagreements among friends from time to time. But I can promise that we will work together with you as partners, with honesty and respect.
The Obama Administration looks forward to continuing those efforts in the years ahead. Because as Kahlil Gibran once wrote, “To understand the heart and mind of a person, look not at what he has already achieved, but at what he aspires to do.”
Thank you all.
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