FOREIGN MINISTER SHAHID: (In Dhivehi.) Secretary Pompeo, members of the U.S. delegation, members of the press, it is an honor and indeed a privilege to welcome you, Mr. Secretary and Mrs. Pompeo, to the Maldives. Your visit comes at a time when the Maldives-U.S. bilateral partnership has reached a new peak. One of my earliest visits abroad as foreign minister during this presidency was to Washington, D.C., signifying the importance President Solih’s administration attaches to revitalizing our friendship and cooperation with the United States. The decision to reopen the Maldives embassy in Washington was amongst the very first major decisions of the current administration. Indeed, if not for the unforeseen situation caused by COVID-19, we would now have a resident Maldives embassy in Washington once again. Sadly, our plans have had to be put on hold for the time being.
Ladies and gentlemen, during our discussions today, Secretary Pompeo and I reflected on the strengthening – this enduring friendship and ways to expand the scope of our longstanding relations. Today, we are all living the new realities of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It has overturned the entire global system and has left no country untouched. Like the rest of the world, the Maldives too has been led to endure many hardships due to the unprecedented challenges posed by this pandemic. In fact, we have had to take very extreme measures to control the virus, including shutting down our borders in March this year, which, for the Maldives, a tourism-dependent country, meant closing our main source of income.
We have now, however, opened our borders after placing stringent measures to ensure the safety of our visitors, welcoming all nationalities from across the globe. This was achieved through the hard work and well-coordinated efforts of all government agencies and through the support and much-needed assistance from our partners around the world. I take this opportunity to thank the United States Government for the numerous contributions, including the donation of 60 critical care ventilators, PPEs, as well as testing equipment that has amplified the efforts of our frontline workers and our health care system to manage this pandemic better.
We are also grateful for the support of the U.S. – that the U.S. has extended towards our economic recovery efforts. This pandemic has proven that the best and indeed the only way to move forward is together. No country is completely self-reliant, hence concerted global efforts are necessary to overcome the current challenges. It has also given us an opportunity to reorient our approach to development and focus on building a more resilient world. This is why President Solih has constituted a national task force on response and recovery, prioritizing on building resilience into our post-COVID action plan. This will ensure that the development gains we have made over the past decades are preserved and the key development projects promised and planned go forward without delay.
Last year, the United States extended a grant aid of 20 million U.S. dollars through its USAID program to assist the Maldives in public finance management, strengthen our democratic institutions, and empower our women and youth. We are happy to learn that the U.S. has decided on increasing this support further. This would go a long way, especially when we are focusing on building back better following the impacts of the pandemic.
During our discussions I informed Secretary Pompeo that the Maldives has joined the G20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative and have formally requested a suspension on all of Government of Maldives direct and guaranteed debt services payments until the end of 2020. We are like many other small island developing countries, need more flexibility in the DSSI arrangement. I therefore requested the U.S. support to amplify the call, firstly for the extension of the DSSI to G20 countries, and secondly to include private creditors and guaranteed debt of countries eligible for it, including the Maldives.
I also highlighted to Secretary Pompeo the importance the Maldives attaches to urgently addressing climate change. As you can see, climate change is an existential threat to the Maldives and it’s crucial to have global consensus on the matter at the earliest, and meaningful action is taken quickly. Ladies and gentlemen, our discussions today have reflected on the many aspects of our renewed, dynamic partnership. We have restarted bilateral trade talks to further commercial ties between our countries. We continue to receive support from the U.S. Government in our efforts to restore democratic values and rule of law, and we continue to closely cooperate on matters of security.
The Maldives and the U.S. has always enjoyed a robust partnership on security matters. This is evident from the joint military exercises that we started in early 1990s, the scope and frequency of which has increased over the years. Last year, we signed a Memorandum of Agreement on aviation security cooperation with the U.S. to strengthen the capabilities of the Maldives law enforcement bodies to combat terrorism and to ensure the broader safety of Maldivians and our foreign visitors. And just recently, our ministry of defense and the U.S. Department of Defense have signed a framework agreement which reflects both countries’ intent on strengthening defense cooperation and maintaining the peace and security of the broader Indo-Pacific region. It was therefore a pleasure to build on these issues at the bilateral discussions today to further solidify our security cooperation, especially in the area of countering terrorism.
During our discussions I also reiterated that a stronger partnership between the U.S. and the Maldives is crucial for promoting security in the Indian Ocean. It is critical especially in the fight against radicalization, violent extremism, and terrorism. I also emphasized our strong belief that the peace and security of the Maldives is closely intertwined with that of peace and security of the Indian Ocean. A stronger, prosperous, democratic, and a stable Maldives is integral to peace and security in the Indian Ocean. At the same time, stability in the Indian Ocean is fundamental for the security and development of the Maldives.
I also highlighted on the instrumental role the U.S. plays in our efforts to secure higher education opportunities for the Maldivian youth. Many of our leaders in both private and public sector today are beneficiaries of the U.S. education system. As a special request from our youth, I conveyed to the Secretary their keen desire to see a revival of the education programs we once enjoyed from USAID. We further agreed to step up cooperation on important multilateral issues and to enhance our cooperation at the United Nations. We have supported and continue to support each other on a number of bilateral and multilateral initiatives, and it is our hope that this relationship continues to flourish. I’m confident that the high-level interactions such as this would certainly pave a way to develop a stronger relationship between both our countries. Our cooperation and friendship are a testament to the power of partnership between countries, irrespective of size. I look forward to working closely with you, Mr. Secretary, to further strengthen the relationship between our two countries.
Mr. Secretary, before I conclude, let me also say that you have honored us by giving us much joy by your decision to include the Maldives in your busy itinerary. Yet, sadly, you are departing the Maldives not even having seen a sunrise or a sunset in paradise, nor experienced the true warmth of our hospitality. I do hope both you and Mrs. Pompeo will have an opportunity to visit us again and truly enjoy the sunny side of life. I thank you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, Mr. Foreign Minister. Thank you. Hello, everyone. Perhaps I’ll get fortunate and there’ll be a mechanical problem with my airplane, and I’ll get to see a sunset and a sunrise. I also want to thank President Solih for inviting me to visit Male. This is indeed a beautiful – it’s a beautiful city and a beautiful country, and I’m happy to have the opportunity to be here.
We had an incredibly productive conversation, positive meetings. It’s safe to say that our bilateral relationship has never been better, and for good reason. We fellow democracies believe in a free and open Indo-Pacific, and we’re cooperating on everything from economic development to counterterrorism, an area in which our collaboration has increased significantly during the Trump administration. And despite our bonds, beside the close relationship, a secretary of state has not been here since 2004. I’m here now because the United States values our friendship, and we see important opportunities between each of our two countries to work together like we’ve never done before.
As proof, today I’m announcing an historic development in our decades-old partnership. For the first time, the United States intends to open an embassy here in Maldives with a resident U.S. ambassador. Getting this facility opened won’t happen overnight, but it’s worth it. It’s the right thing to do. Your role here in the Indo-Pacific and in the international community is increasingly important, and my country wants to remain a good partner to a sovereign, democratic, and prosperous Maldives. Having an embassy here will help us do just that.
As was clear from our meetings, President Solih and Foreign Minister Shahid share the same goal that I just articulated. We know too that the Maldivian people treasure their democracy as well. More than 90 percent of eligible voters turned out for the 2018 elections. The United States Government has provided nearly 40 million since 2018 to support good government here, fundamental freedoms and economic empowerment for all, especially for women. Today I urge more progress on each of these fronts.
Our cooperation is especially important as we all recover from this pandemic. The U.S. has provided nearly $3 million in pandemic assistance to our friends here in the Maldives. As the global economy recovers and travel and tourism resumes, American companies will find an increasingly welcome investment environment here.
Maldivian leaders and I also spoke about defense cooperation – the foreign minister spoke to this, too. That too is growing in our relationship. Just last month, the Maldivian Defense Minister Didi signed a framework agreement for defense and security cooperation with our United States Department of Defense.
Conversations about security in the Maldives and other island nations I’ve been to, like Micronesia and Sri Lanka, have taken on new importance as the Chinese Communist Party continues its lawless and threatening behavior. We see that behavior in the PLA’s illegal militarization of the South China Sea. We see it in encroachments into its neighbors’ economic zones. And we see it when Chinese state-owned companies trash the environment. They leave behind levels of marine debris and pollution that would be unconscionable to many other nations.
The CCP has also failed to rein in illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing since announcing its zero-tolerance policy, something which I’ve spoken about with some frequency. Countries from Madagascar to Indonesia and beyond have dealt with Beijing’s blows to their fish stocks and economic livelihoods.
America’s different. We respect sovereignty, we urge transparency, and we build friendships and partnerships. And with that foundation set, I’m confident that we’ll have plenty of new opportunities between our two countries, especially now that the new diplomatic presence is coming into place.
Thank you, Mr. Minister, again for hosting me today. We have a very bright future ahead of us.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) minister as well and a question to you too. (In Dhivehi.)
And my question to you, Secretary of State, is: Maldives has been in the forefront in advocating climate change, the effects of it to the small island nations like Maldives. Do you have any interest, the U.S. have any interest in assisting the country in these kind of – especially in the field of climate change?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Please, go ahead.
FOREIGN MINISTER SHAHID: (In Dhivehi.)
The gentleman asked a question in our local language so I’ll just respond in —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Of course, yes.
FOREIGN MINISTER SHAHID: — in Maldivian.
SECRETARY POMPEO: No —
FOREIGN MINISTER SHAHID: He wants to know how I feel about your announcement regarding the opening of the U.S. embassy (inaudible).
SECRETARY POMPEO: Excellent.
FOREIGN MINISTER SHAHID: (In Dhivehi.)
SECRETARY POMPEO: You asked a question about whether the United States has interest in helping the Maldives with respect to the risk from changing weather patterns. Of course. Indeed, we have done that already. We have provided assistance; we’ll continue to do that for mitigation efforts and the like.
We continue to believe that the greatest way to combat any risk – whether it’s from changing weather patterns, or potentially rising seas – is human innovation and creativity. We’ve seen that time and time again in the United States; we think that’s the best solution for the entire world. We’re happy to be helping and be part of that here in the Maldives as well.
We’ve also done our fair share. There’s no nation that has reduced its climate and CO2 emissions in the way that the United States has over the last handful of years on a per-capita basis. We stand amongst industrialized nations as a beacon, and we did it not through state-driven, forced rulesets, but rather through creativity and innovation and good governance and a desire for the things that every human being desires: a safe environment, clean drinking water, and safe air.
We’ll continue to do that. We’re happy to help this region make sure that it is prepared for any changes that should occur.
MODERATOR: We’re going to have a translation for the questions so that everyone who doesn’t speak Maldivian can hear what was said. Apologies, everyone.
SECRETARY POMPEO: No worries.
FOREIGN MINISTER SHAHID: (In Dhivehi). For those who did not understand what I said in Dhivehi, let me briefly tell you I was asked in Dhivehi how the Maldives views the Secretary’s announcement regarding the establishment of a recent embassy in Maldives. Secretary Pompeo’s announcement is a historic step in the bilateral relations between our two countries. The opening of the first ever U.S. embassy in the Maldives would not only embody the political and diplomatic relations, but also form a bridge between the people of our two countries. It symbolizes the true spirit of friendship that intertwines our geographically diverse yet likeminded countries.
Since November 2018, the traditionally close bilateral relationship between the Maldives and the U.S. has certainly made significant progress. We are witnessing more high-level engagement, more interactions at all levels. And without a doubt, the establishment of a U.S. diplomatic mission right here in the Maldives would have an immense impact in the whole dynamics of our strategic partnership. It’s going to do better our bilateral trade, improve communications, and most importantly, improve connectivity between our offices. It would create a clear path to better develop a coordinated response in our joint efforts in ensuring stability, peace and security within the region, and the broader Indo-Pacific region. Also, better harmonize our joint actions in addressing global challenges that impact both our countries.
We are indeed witnessing some of the best days in the history of Maldives-U.S. partnership, Mr. Secretary, and I can only vouch that even better days are yet to come.
MR BROWN: Thank you. From the U.S. side, Will Mauldin, do you have a question?
QUESTION: Sorry, I think – I guess a bit of confusion. It’s – hi, Mr. Secretary. It’s Christina —
SECRETARY POMPEO: There’s actually not any confusion. Will, do you have a question?
QUESTION: Are you – Mr. Secretary, you want to take a question from me, sir?
SECRETARY POMPEO: You’re welcome to ask your question.
QUESTION: I’m wondering, we’ve talked a lot about China on this trip, and the threat they pose to the region, and you just mentioned their treatment of the environment. And I’m wondering, sir, if you believe that climate change is also a security threat to nations like the Maldives. And Mr. Foreign Minister, I’m wondering if there’s something specific you would like to see from the U.S. to help you with climate change. Thank you gentlemen both.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I actually answered that question already. Go ahead. You can give your answer.
FOREIGN MINISTER SHAHID: Thank you very much. We are looking at the U.S. leadership, for U.S. leadership in the climate – interest in the climate issue. Without the U.S. and the other larger countries, countries like the Maldives will not be able to do much. Our carbon footprint is very small, but we are going to be the first to suffer. You can see the islands are very low, the sea is threatening us. It’s an existential threat to us. And so we have full confidence that the U.S. administration will help us in working closely and finding acceptable ways of addressing these issues, I think.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Minister Shahid and I talked about that a great deal. We will absolutely do that. We are very mindful, too – everybody seems focused on the Paris climate accords, and yet the countries that have signed onto the Paris climate accords haven’t begun to do what ingenuity has led to from the United States of America. I mean, you need look no further than the Chinese Communist Party’s climate emissions year on year and their failure to already live up to the promises that they assertedly made in that agreement to understand that what really drives good relationships and good solutions are democracies working together to find innovative solutions with transparency, the rule of law, the things that really truly underwrite safe and healthy environments. Those are the things that the United States will continue to work towards, and we’re happy to work on it alongside our friends here in the Maldives as well.
MODERATOR: Thank you, gentlemen.
FOREIGN MINISTER SHAHID: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
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