(as prepared for delivery)
Good morning, and thank you, Minister Poposki, Ambassador Althauzer, Ambassador Memedi, ladies and gentlemen. It’s a pleasure to be here this morning.
I would like first to thank the Institute for Geostrategic Research and Foreign Policy at the MFA, the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, and the Marshall Centre Alumni Association for organizing this conference. As President Obama remarked in Hanover, “These are unsettling times.” The conflicts in the Middle East threaten the western Balkans, they threaten all of Europe, and they threaten our transatlantic community. Our success in dealing with these challenges depend coalitions and cooperation. And that’s what the George C. Marshall Center builds — a habit of transatlantic cooperation. Its alumni here today, around Europe, and in partner nations around the globe form a network that develops and implements common responses.
Today, you will participate in a full discussion of the numerous challenges emanating from conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa. Each one has its particular origins and dynamics. But their direct impact in Europe is very similar: violence and war destroying communities and killing civilians, driving refugees across borders, and opening ungoverned spaces from where terrorist organizations export violence and import young people as fighters. Of course, these conflicts wreak havoc on global business and commerce. One need only think of that added cost to global shipping caused by the rise of piracy off the coast of Somalia.
In responding to such turmoil, it is tempting to try to seal off our countries; but that doesn’t work in today’s world. Television images do not allow us to hide in ignorance as so many suffer. We cannot ignore a refugee child at our border. We cannot stand idle as ISIL spews a hateful ideology among vulnerable young people around the globe. We have to address these challenges. There is no other way.
Today, I’d like to speak briefly about how the United States is engaged to deal with Syria, whose conflicts have had more immediate impact on this country than others in the region. I say conflicts plural, in Syria several simultaneous and interrelated conflicts are occurring at the same time. All have caused the untold suffering among the Syrian people, destabilized the region, and drawn in fighters from beyond Syria’s borders.
So what is the U.S. working on?
First is the fight against ISIL not only in Syria but also Iraq. Thanks to the efforts of our 66-member Coalition, ISIL is now on the defensive both countries. We have taken back 40 percent of the territory ISIL controlled a year ago in Iraq and 10 percent in Syria. But it remains tough, and that’s why the U.S. and other coalition partners have added forces and capabilities, particularly to train and assist local forces driving ISIL back.
We are working to build a lasting peace in Syria. We are supporting processes to achieve a genuine political transition in Syria, one that will establish an inclusive, pluralistic, and non-sectarian government that represents the will of all Syrians. It’s hard and frustrating, as I’ve seen from working on this issue during my three years in Ankara. No one has been more dogged in pursuit of this peace than Secretary Kerry. The Cessation of Hostilities has for the first time opened the door to reducing violence and clearly focusing on ending the conflict and pursuing the fight against ISIL. It is not easy, and we are working to restore the Cessation in areas where it has frayed. We are working to allow critical humanitarian assistance to beleaguered populations, cut off for weeks and months.
These conflicts have led to one of the largest refugee crises the world has known, foremost among neighboring states of Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon. The United States has provided more than 5.1 billion dollars in humanitarian assistance since the start of this crisis and is leading the world in humanitarian and development efforts. The United States provides food, shelter, water, medical care, humanitarian protection, and other urgent relief to millions of displaced people suffering inside Syria as well as 4.6 million refugees in the region.
And as refugees have come to Europe, we are working closely with our European partners to help address this challenge. Saving and protecting lives, ensuring respect for the human rights of all migrants, and promoting orderly and humane migration policy must be at the heart of the European response. We have contributed over $50 million to the UN response in Macedonia and the region. We have provided humanitarian supplies to the Red Cross and other organizations helping refugees. And we have assisted Macedonia in managing its border, in a way that helps orderly immigration and resettlement.
All of us, not just Europe, need to step up. The United States has welcomed more than three million refugees since 1975, helping them build new lives in all 50 states. The U.S. Refugee Admissions Program has brought to the United States 70,000 of the world’s most vulnerable refugees in each of the past three years, and plans to increase that number to 85,000 this year and 100,000 in 2017. And at the UN General Assembly this year, the President will host a summit to generate more action to support refugees, from this region and around the world.
What shakes our people the most, however, are events that happen in our own cities, in our own neighborhoods. The barbaric attacks on the innocent – in the Brussels airport, in tourist areas of Istanbul, at a Baghdad beauty salon – repel the entire world. They also show us we must contain the spread of violent extremism to defeat terrorist networks. Simply put, we need prevention in order to win this fight.
Extremism has come to the Western Balkans as well, resulting in hundreds of young people going to Syria and Iraq. In response, we have assisted your efforts to address this challenge by exchanging information, supporting regional cooperation, and enforcing new laws to combat the foreign fighter phenomenon. This has resulted in numerous successful prosecutions of recruitment networks.
As U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in February, “Even as we advance our efforts to defeat ISIL on the frontlines, we know that to be fully effective, we must work to prevent the spread of violent extremism in the first place—to stop the recruitment, radicalization, and mobilization of people, especially young people, to engage in terrorist activities.” And we are working hard on just that.
First, we are expanding partnerships to better understand violent extremism and its drivers at the international, regional, national, and local levels.
Second, we are working closely with our partners in Europe and around the world to adopt more effective policies to prevent the spread of violent extremism. One example is the Strong Cities Network, through which local officials around the world share their experiences and best practices. Cair, here in Skopje, recently became a member of the Strong Cities Network. Through its membership in the network, Cair will collaborate with other municipalities in the Western Balkans to develop programs, policies, mechanisms, and initiatives that are common to and will benefit the entire region.
Third, we are working with local partners to address the underlying political, social, and economic factors that put communities at risk and make young men and women susceptible to the siren call of extreme ideologies.
Fourth, we are engaging and amplifying messages from local, credible individuals who can expose the true nature of violent extremism, its barbarity, and its denial of human dignity.
Finally, we are helping strengthen our partners to prevent radicalization in prisons and ensure that former fighters are rehabilitated and reintegrated back into society whenever possible.
Ending civil war, providing refuge to innocent civilians, combatting radicalization, making our citizens safe from terrorism – these are the interwoven challenges of Syria. Europe and the United States must deal with them all, simultaneously, with determination and by remaining true to our values. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by this challenge. But together it is possible for us, the United States and Europe, including Macedonia and all your neighbors in the Western Balkans, to respond these challenges, to build a stronger, more resilient world.
I wish you a fruitful discussion of these and other issues.
Again, thank you for your invitation and attention.