December 3, 2021

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Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry Opening Remarks for the U.S.-Egypt Strategic Dialogue

22 min read

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Washington, DC

Benjamin Franklin Room

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, good morning, everyone.  It’s really a pleasure to welcome Foreign Minister Shoukry and all of the members of the Egyptian delegation here as we open the Egypt-U.S. Strategic Dialogue.  Sameh, welcome again.  It’s great to have you back in Washington.  We had the opportunity to meet in Cairo many months ago now, then in New York during the UN General Assembly.  We’ve been on the phone on many occasions since then.  And in many ways this is a homecoming for the foreign minister since, as you all know, he was ambassador here, and in fact we’ve known each other, been friends for many years.  So it’s particularly good to see you, to host you and the entire delegation again here at the State Department.

Next year, the Egypt-U.S. diplomatic relationship will mark its 100th anniversary.  And one reason the relationship is strong is because we’re not merely maintaining it, but consistently expanding the areas where we cooperate.  I’d also note that this is the first Egypt-U.S. Strategic Dialogue since 2015, which is too far apart given our many common interests and challenges.  And we intend to get it back on a more regular cadence.  And while the dialogue will cover a wide range of issues, let me just highlight a few in particular for today.

The first is our cooperation on regional security.  In the more than 4 decades since it was signed, the Camp David Accords has been the bedrock for peace in the region.  It’s helped pave the way for other Arab nations to make peace with Israel.  The Egypt-Israel relationship has never been stronger, as we saw in Prime Minister Bennett’s recent visit to Cairo in September to meet with President Sisi, the first trip at this level in over a decade.  Egypt’s mediation efforts were vital to achieving the ceasefire in May between Gaza and Israel, and it’s committed $500 million in reconstruction in Gaza, among other efforts to improve the lives of the Palestinian people.

In Libya, Egypt has played a key role in pushing for an inclusive political process and for elections to be held on time in December.  We’ve worked together to help the Libyans resolve pressing economic issues, including the unification of the Libyan Central Bank, and we very much agree on the importance of a full withdrawal of all foreign forces, fighters, and mercenaries from the country.

On Iran, we share serious concerns regarding Iran’s destabilizing influence in the region, including its support for terrorism, its ballistic missile program, and the deplorable practice of arbitrarily detaining foreign nationals – including U.S. citizens – to exert political pressure.  An Iran with a nuclear weapon would be an even more destabilizing force in the region and beyond, which is why President Biden met recently in Rome with his German, French, and British counterparts to discuss how we can work together to get Iran back into compliance with the JCPOA, the nuclear agreement.

On Sudan, the United States and Egypt have a shared interest in getting the country’s democratic transition back on track.  The military takeover that began on October 25th has been dangerously destabilizing.  A restoration of the civilian-led transitional government is the only path to facilitating the aspirations of the Sudanese people, who have demonstrated remarkable bravery in repeatedly coming out in demand for democracy.   And as I’ve discussed with Sudan’s leaders, releasing all of those detained since October 25th, lifting the state of emergency, ending violence against civilians are critical first steps to restoring the civilian-led transitional government.

The crisis in Ethiopia also puts the stability of the Horn of Africa at risk.  We continue to engage with all parties to the conflict and with partners in the region to encourage peace negotiations without preconditions in pursuit of a ceasefire.  The United States also continues to support a negotiated agreement on the dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam that will address the interests of all parties, including Egypt’s water needs, something that President Biden and President al-Sisi have discussed directly.

Second, this dialogue gives us a chance to deepen our collaborative efforts to tackle global challenges like COVID-19 and like the climate crisis.  The United States has provided more than 8.2 million doses of safe, effective vaccines to Egypt through COVAX, as well as about $55 million in assistance to help strengthen the country’s capacity to fight the virus, from training health workers to improving the vaccine supply chain.

As you all know, we just returned from COP26, where President Sisi committed to more than double Egypt’s use of renewable energy by 2035, from 20 to 42 percent, and reduce subsidies for fossil fuels.  We’re very much looking forward to partnering with Egypt as it undertakes this transition, including by supporting a visit of U.S. companies that want to be a part of it.  We welcome Egypt’s bid to host COP27, and we’re launching a new Egypt-U.S. climate working group to allow even closer coordination on climate negotiations in the lead-up to that event.

Third, our delegations and teams will discuss human rights.  We very much welcome Egypt’s launch of a national human rights strategy.  We’re committed to working together to advance key goals like reforming pretrial detention regulations, protecting the right to a free press and freedom of expression.  There are also other issues of concern, more areas where positive steps can be taken, not because the United States or anyone else is asking, but because, as the foreign minister, the president said, it’s what’s in the interests of the Egyptian people.  The work that Egypt is doing, the steps that are undertaken, are because it is good and right for the Egyptian people.

As we discussed this morning, making tangible and lasting improvements on human rights is also essential to strengthening our bilateral relationship, and the United States will continue to support those efforts however we can.

The fourth priority is economic cooperation.  If you go back to 1978, since then the United States has invested more than $30 billion in Egypt’s development.  USAID is currently funding $600 million in projects to invest in the Egyptian people.  That includes a new five-year, $36 million program to increase the capacity of small- and medium-sized businesses to export their goods and to improve Egypt’s trade and investment environment.

Across these efforts, our goal is a consistent one: to support a more prosperous and inclusive Egypt.  These kinds of investments are not just good for the Egyptian people, but for Americans as well.  Egypt is the largest export market for American goods in Africa, supporting nearly 30,000 American jobs.  And the 24 billion of U.S. foreign direct investment in Egypt supports more than 40,000 Egyptian jobs.

So we’re looking for ways to deepen this cooperation.  We have a new joint economic commission that we’re launching as a result of our meetings this week, which is more important than ever given the devastating impact of COVID-19, particularly on underserved populations, but it also represents a genuine opportunity for us to work together to, as we like to say, build back better for Egyptians and Americans alike.

Finally, for all the work between our governments, so much of this relationship between Egypt and the United States is grounded in ties between our people.  We see that in the families and friendships that connect our nations, the myriad ways Egyptians and Egyptian Americans shape American life – from the films of Rami Malek to the news brought to us every single day by Hoda Kotb – to the Egyptian innovations that we use every single day, from the 365-day calendar to the heart transplants pioneered by Magdi Yacoub.

Our government has provided scholarships and exchange opportunities to more than 23,000 Egyptian American students, mid-career professionals, including through programs like the International Visitor Leadership Program.  That program just marked its 80th anniversary, and one of its most significant participants, if you go back and look at the scope of this program, was Anwar Sadat, who came to the United States for the first time 1966 with his wife Jehan.  They formed bonds that lasted for the rest of their lives, which, of course, in President Sadat’s case, was tragically cut short.  Jehan would spend decades collaborating with American women’s rights advocates, humanitarian organizations, academic institutions, including the nearby University of Maryland where she taught classes.  We join Egypt in mourning her passing this year.

So all of this, I think, speaks to the fact that we have an incredibly broad and also incredibly deep agenda that joins our countries.  And we need to do this work.  We need to keep doing it together consistently, because ultimately it advances the interests of people in both the United States and in Egypt.  We’ll continue to invest in all of these opportunities, whether it’s climate, whether it’s trade, whether it’s people-to-people, whether it’s the partnership that we have on regional security and stability, whether it’s our work together on human rights.  Because ultimately, we know that it’s profoundly in our interest to do so.

With that, Mr. Foreign Minister, Sameh, the floor is yours.

FOREIGN MINISTER SHOUKRY:  Thank you very much, Secretary Blinken.  Ladies and gentlemen, good morning to you all.  I’m delighted to be back in Washington, D.C. – a city that I’m always happy to return to, having served here as ambassador to the United States.  And it’s my distinct pleasure to be co-chairing with my good friend Tony this round of the Strategic Dialogue between Egypt and the United States.  Let me at the outset thank him for the warmth of his reception and the very constructive discussions that we have had and which we have continued to have an interest in holding, whether in our telephone conversations or during our meeting on the margins of the United Nations.  And I’m looking forward to continuing both our personal relations and professional one, and wish him and his family every – good wishes.

My presence here today, along with a delegation of representatives from across the Egyptian Government, demonstrates Egypt’s firm commitment to its friendship with the United States – a friendship that has stood the test of time.  The Middle East is a region that continues to confront numerous complex challenges, and it is our belief that the partnership between Egypt and the United States has been and remains indispensable for the preservation of peace and the promotion of prosperity.  Indeed, the enduring relationship between our two countries stands as the cornerstone of stability in a troubled region.

For over four decades, we have striven to elevate every aspect of our cooperation, including on the bilateral front and as regards regional developments, with a view to fulfilling our mutual objectives.  Egypt has remained a reliable partner, willing to share its understanding and insights of our region in support of our common vision.  And while at times, and as natural among partners, our views did not necessarily converge, at no time did our policies or strategic perspectives diverge.

The previous decade was a period of trials and tribulations in the Middle East.  Thankfully, Egypt has weathered the storm and has successfully overcome the subsequent security and economic turbulence that bedeviled the region and is now standing on solid ground and is fulfilling its traditional role as a stabilizing force in the region.  We highly value the central role that our strategic partnership with the United States has played both in bolstering our ability to confront challenges to our security, including the fight against terrorism and extremism – and extremist ideology, and in supporting our tireless efforts to achieve a greater and more inclusive growth and economic development for the Egyptian people.

Both countries enjoy a high level of coordination at the political level, as exemplified by our latest coordination regarding the situation in Gaza.   Our military and security cooperation, which is acquiring an even greater importance given the many challenges to peace and stability in our region, has deepened in many aspects.  The Bright Star military exercises took place last September and were complemented by frequent exchanges between our senior military leaders, including a recent meeting of the bilateral Military Cooperation Committee.  Similarly, our close bilateral military cooperation and mutual logistic support has contributed to the capacity of the United States to preserve its core interests in the region and enhance the flexibility of its military posture and its ability to project power across the region.

Moreover, Egyptian-American relations are not limited to the areas of political and security cooperation.  There are also the economic, scientific, educational, and cultural areas, which are areas that provide potentially endless horizon and opportunities to further deepen and broaden ties between our two countries and peoples.  This is why we are stressing at this juncture the importance of strengthening our bilateral relations, especially in sectors of mutual interest, including trade, energy, research, development, and technology, higher education, cultural exchange, and health care.

We recognize that domestically, we continue to face numerous challenges that are typical of post-revolutionary societies.  These are challenges that we acknowledge and are actively addressing without either downplaying their importance or blowing them out of proportion. Indeed, policymakers throughout the world are facing the dilemma of how to reap the benefits of change while minimizing the dangers and risks associated with disruption.  It is our conviction in Egypt that orderly change offers us the best chance to succeed so that society moves forward. We also believe that human rights are an interdependent whole, which necessitates that we dedicate equal attention to political rights and civil liberties and economic and social rights.  This is an evolutionary process unique to each country, one that reflects and takes into consideration its social specificities, developmental realities, religious background, and cultural characteristics.

If there is a lesson to be learned from events in recent years, it is that there is a constant need for mutual introspection regarding the challenges faced by our respective societies.  It should be acknowledged that ultimately it will be up to the people of Egypt to decide for themselves what they want with respect to their political, social, and economic system that would ensure and promote the welfare of Egypt’s citizens.  The national human rights strategy that was developed through a wide-ranging consultative process with the active engagement of societal stakeholders and which has recent – which was recently launched with presidential endorsement, in addition to the president’s decision last month to end the state of emergency across Egypt, are irrefutable evidence of our determination and resolve to continue to forge our path towards a modern democratic state and for the benefit of our citizens first and foremost.

Indeed, the experience of the last 10 years has demonstrated that protecting the social cohesion and territorial integrity of the nation-state, as well as preserving the stability and efficacy of its institutions, is vital in order to fulfill the hopes for change and modernization and to guard against the rise of identity-based politics and sectarian militias.  This should be a guiding principle for our joint diplomatic efforts to restore peace and stability to our troubled region.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am here to tell you that Egypt is seeking a comprehensive partnership with the United States.  We are looking for a strategic relationship based on mutual respect and understanding.  Our relations should not and cannot be contained by narrow objectives or limited ambitions.  Accordingly, I propose that the way forward in the coming months should focus on upgrading the relationship.  In my opinion, this round of the Strategic Dialogue provides an excellent opportunity to discuss a variety of bilateral issues of mutual interest as well as regional crises.  It would allow us to take stock of our shared interest and underscore the value of our strategic partnership and examine all facets of our relations and expectations against the backdrop of the broader convergence of our strategic interests, thus providing a renewed foundation from which to strengthen and broaden the vital ties between our two countries.

I thank you again, Tony, for hosting us.  And I wish both delegations a very successful discussions, an in-depth discussion, and again, to reiterate our strong commitment to the ties of friendship, cooperation, and mutual understanding.  Thank you, Tony.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER SHOUKRY:  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Now to work.  Thanks, everyone.

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