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Public Papers - 1990 - May

Remarks at the Welcoming Ceremony for President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia

1990-05-15

President Bush. Mr. President, welcome back to the United States, and welcome back to the White House. I look forward to continuing the dialog that we began last November, and we are pleased to have this opportunity to welcome you to Washington for a longer visit than was possible last year.

We're especially pleased to have this opportunity to repay the fine hospitality that Tunisia showed us in 1983 and then again in 1986, when I visited as Vice President. As with those journeys, your visit continues a tradition of high-level discussions, demonstrating that our relations -- dating back to 1797, and close since Tunisian independence in 1956 -- are still sound and growing.

True to its heritage as an ancient crossroads between Europe and Africa, Tunisia has played an effective role as intermediary between the Arab countries and the West. It's been an example of pragmatism, stability, and progress in the Middle East. And Tunisia has consistently supported a peaceful, negotiated resolution to the Middle East issues, including the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Tunisia also has an impressive record in other respects. It has the highest literacy rate in north Africa. It has always honored its debt obligations. It is persevering in the fourth year of a disciplined, market-oriented restructuring of its economy. And it's made a renewed commitment to democracy.

Your visit comes at a time of transition for north Africa. And we look forward to this opportunity to consult closely on the broad range of issues and concerns that we share. Today your friends in the Maghreb are searching for prosperity and stability. Political pluralism and market-based economies have taken root and are beginning to flourish there. Towards this, Tunisia's reforms are a potential model. We support Tunisia's commitment to democracy and a market-oriented economy, and pledge continuing assistance and cooperation in these important efforts.

It is fitting, Mr. President, that you should visit as we approach our Memorial Day services. From my visits to your homeland, I recall the moving sight of the American military cemetery in Carthage, spread out across 27 acres donated by Tunisia, a dramatic plateau between the Mediterranean and the Bay of Tunis. There in north Africa lie the graves of nearly 3,000 brave Americans who gave their lives in the allies' first major overland offensive in World War II, 3,000 Americans who will never come back home. And there in north Africa are inscribed the names of nearly 4,000 missing, 4,000 Americans whose fate will never be known.

But their sacrifice remains well-known to all. That sight reminds us that the ties between the United States and Tunisia are old and deep. And their sacrifice, like the sacrifices of freedom-loving people everywhere, reminds us of the new opportunities for both progress and peace that are today sweeping the world.

Amid this time of great change, both in the world and in the region, we look forward to our discussions with President Ben Ali, who also comes to Washington as the current President of the Arab Maghreb Union. We welcome him with a spirit of understanding and cooperation, looking forward to our conversations as allies and as friends.

Welcome back, Mr. President. God bless you and the friendship that is shared by our two nations. Thank you for coming.

President Ben Ali. In the name of God, the clement, the merciful, Mr. President, I'm conveying the warmest greetings and the most sincere expression of friendship of the Tunisian people to the American people, whom we highly regard and admire.

Indeed, we are proud of the deeply rooted friendship between our two countries, which dates as far back as 1799, when the first treaty was signed between the United States of America and Tunisia. This treaty as well as the agreement that followed do illustrate the common determination of our two countries to establish relations founded on mutual respect and close cooperation, and to undertake joint action towards upholding the noble principles in which we believe, and promoting security and peace among nations.

Mr. President, it is with great pleasure and deep gratitude that we recall the support extended by your country to Tunisia during its national struggle for freedom and independence, as well as the assistance our country has been receiving from the United States in its efforts towards achieving development and progress. Our visit comes in fulfillment of our common resolve to strengthen the bonds of friendship between our two peoples, as well as the fruitful cooperation between our countries. Indeed, Tunisia, which has entered a new era, is as firmly determined as the United States is to give these relations the attention and the support they deserve. Mr. President, we are pleased to say that we are committed as firmly as you are to the ideals of democracy, human rights, and free market economy, for such are our fundamental choices. And we are confident that you will continue supporting and strengthening these options.

We have welcomed with as much satisfaction as you have the historic changes the world is witnessing today, which mark the triumph of the noble principles in which we both believe. Indeed, such changes illustrate the determination of peoples and their legitimate aspirations to secure dignity and freedom.

Mr. President, the privileged position held by your country and the important role it plays on the international scene entails major responsibilities in the active contribution it has to make for the triumph of rightful causes: the causes of justice and freedom, as well as the support for the efforts of development and progress. All these endeavors will help establish a balance between the members of the international community in which the rights of individuals and nations are safeguarded and the security, stability, and well-being of mankind guaranteed.

Mr. President, I would like to reiterate my deep appreciation and sincere thanks for your warm welcome and kind words, and am looking forward to the valuable opportunities that my visit will provide for talks and consultation on matters of common interest in order to strengthen our bilateral relations as well as security and peace in the world. Thank you.

Note: President Bush spoke at 10:12 a.m. at the South Portico of the White House, where President Ben Ali was accorded a formal welcome with full military honors. President Ben Ali spoke in Arabic, and his remarks were translated by an interpreter.

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