U.S. Department of State
William J. Burns, Deputy Secretary
December 6 Roundtable with Journalists in Algiers
Deputy Secretary Burns: Good evening everyone.
It's a pleasure to see all of you this evening and it's certainly a pleasure to be back in Algiers, which I've visited many times over the years. This visit, coming soon after the visit of Secretary Clinton and the U.S. Algeria Strategic Dialogue earlier this fall, is another opportunity to strengthen our constructive and strategically important bilateral relationship. I had excellent and wide-ranging discussions earlier today with President Bouteflika, the Prime Minister, and other senior Algerian officials.
We continue to work together to deepen our ties with the government and the people of Algeria across a broad, mutually beneficial agenda, including, trade and investment, security cooperation, diplomatic partnership, democratic reform, and cultural and educational programs.
In the past year, Algeria has taken further steps to strengthen its democracy. We were encouraged by the roughly 21 million Algerian voters who participated in elections earlier this year to determine who would occupy the National Popular Assembly. These elections - and I would note the high number of women elected - were a welcome step in Algeria's progress toward democratic reform.
Algeria has dealt with terrorism on its own territory and was one of the first countries to condemn the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. Since that time, we have intensified contacts in key areas of mutual concern and are encouraged by Algeria's strong support of international counterterrorism efforts, including our partnership in the Global Counterterrorism Forum. The rise in terrorist and criminal activity in the northern Sahel is a threat to the entire region and beyond. We applaud Algeria's resolve to stem the proliferation of weapons, drugs, and fighters across the Sahel, and strongly support these efforts.
Our two countries share concern over instability in Mali and its negative impact on regional security. We call on all of Mali's neighboring countries to increase their border patrols to curb the flow of arms, drugs, fuel, and fighters into Mali. We support efforts to facilitate a political dialogue with non-extremist groups in northern Mali. We understand Burkina Faso in its role as lead mediator for ECOWAS is preparing a framework for negotiations. We continue to call for a coordinated international effort to accelerate the beginning of serious political talks between the rebel groups and the interim Government of Mali. Algeria has an important role to play in this process.
The United States highly values our relationship with the Government and people of Algeria, and is committed to deepening our cooperation in the months and years ahead.
And now I am glad to take questions. Please.
Question from Hacene Ouali (El Watan): My question is on Mali, there is a talk on Political solution or a military solution; is the U.S. in favor of a military intervention in the north of Mali? Thank you
Deputy Secretary Burns: There are a number of different dimensions to the challenge in Mali today: Political crisis within Mali; a humanitarian crisis resulting in refugees and internally displaced persons; and a security crisis which is a shared concern of the United States and Algeria, particularly the danger of violent extremist groups using northern Mali as a safe haven. A successful strategy to deal with all those challenges also has to have several dimensions. We've worked with others in the international community to help deal with the humanitarian challenge posed by the refugee crisis. As I said in my opening remarks, we strongly support Algeria's leadership in fostering political dialogue, including between the Tuareg and the interim Government in Mali. And in response to the security risk posed by the situation in Mali, we certainly support increased counterterrorism cooperation, cooperation with Mali's neighbors as well as with the interim Government in Mali, and we believe that an African led multinational force supported by the international community may be necessary. Thanks.
Question from Beatrice Khadige (Agence France Presse, AFP): we read a lot of news talking about an opposition between the positions of France and the United States over the Mali issue, could you confirm there are differences or nuances or finally you agree more than what is said? What is exactly the situation?
Deputy Secretary Burns: I just laid out what the American approach is to the crisis in Mali. All I would add is that we work very closely with our partners in France on this challenge and I think we have a shared view of the nature of the threat that's posed and we look forward to continuing to work closely together in the weeks and months ahead.
Question from Karim Kebir (Liberté): Good evening. Mr. Burns, your visit coincides with the visits of foreign officials whose countries are interested in the crisis in Mali including the UK envoy and the African Union special envoy and the presence of the members of Ansar al-Din who are negotiating. Have you met with them?
Deputy Secretary Burns: I had the meetings I described to you before. All I would add is that it's a mark of the important role that Algeria plays in working with its neighbors and working with the international community to deal with the challenges in Mali that you have so many visitors and envoys here. We believe Algeria's role in dealing with this crisis is extremely important and we look forward to strengthening our cooperation on this issue.
Question from Béatrice Khadige (AFP): Do you consider important that Algeria participate along with Mauritania in a West African force, if necessary, to free Northern Mali?
Deputy Secretary Burns: Algeria can obviously speak for itself in terms of the position that it takes. All I would stress again is that we value greatly Algeria's role in dealing with the crisis in Mali and the challenges that it poses to the entire region. And we certainly look forward to deepening our cooperation with Algeria as well as with others in the region and the international community in the weeks ahead.
Question from Hacene Ouali (El Watan): Can we say today that there a convergence of views among all the international actors, i.e. ECOWAS, Algeria, France, and the United States on the solution to the Malian crisis?
Deputy Secretary Burns: I think there is a great deal of shared concern about the situation in Mali in all of its dimensions in terms of the humanitarian challenges, the political challenges, the security challenges, that it poses. And I do believe that there is an increasing convergence of view amongst the key players in how best to deal with those challenges. And given the urgency of the situation and the nature of the threats we are going to continue to work hard to deepen our cooperation.
So thank you all very much. It's nice to have the chance to meet with all of you.