Friday, June 5, 2009

OAS Speech by Tom Shannon

Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon’s speech at the OAS

Thank you very much for this opportunity to speak at this important and historic moment. I regret that Secretary Clinton is not here to make this intervention, but I am happy to do so in her place….

We also want to express our appreciation to the many countries around this table who have worked so hard to achieve consensus around this resolution. Statesmanship is a rare virtue. It requires maturity, vision and persistence. It also requires a clear headedness that avoids prejudice and rhetoric but instead attempts to build confidence and understanding while it fashions agreements. But statesmanship to be effective, to be an effective element in expressing our national purpose, must remain true to our fundamental values and interests.

Today’s resolution was an act of statesmanship. Today we addressed and bridged an historic divide in the Americas while reaffirming our profound commitment to democracy and the fundamental human rights of our peoples. We removed an historical impediment to Cuba’s participation in the OAS but also established a process of engagement with Cuba, a pathway forward based on the principles, purposes, the values and the practices of the OAS and the Inter-American system.

What we did today I believe also has to be understood as an action that affirms our commitment as a member of the OAS and as a member of the Americas to build a relationship with our neighbors and partners based on dialogue and collaboration. And finally today’s events also have to be understood as an important step forward for the OAS and as a resolution that fundamentally strengthens the OAS in the Americas.

I had an opportunity to speak with Secretary Clinton on her way to Egypt and she asked me to extend her congratulations to all present and she expressed her pride in having participated in this historic OAS General Assembly, especially her pride in participating in the working group that fashioned the text that became the document that we could agree on consensus. This is a text that was acclaimed twice, once in the meeting of heads of delegations and here today and it still sits in the style committee being worked and we look forward to its final redaction in accordance with the acclamation that took place in the meeting of the heads of dialogue; but her role in this and her ability to work with colleagues around this table and show that we all have this ability to create a broad consensus and a pathway forward is an important step. And I would like to recall that during her meetings with her colleagues and in her several interventions in the working group she reminded us that at the Summit President Obama called for a new beginning to the US-Cuba relationship; he lifted restrictions on family travel and remittances in Cuba. Two weeks ago he asked Cuba to restart migration talks, a request which Cuba has accepted, along with discussions on direct mail and we look forward to talks beginning soon. And as I noted at this Assembly, we have helped fashion and submitted the resolution that became the basis for today’s historic resolution.

Together these actions on the part of the United States signal the biggest change to our approach to Cuba in the last 40 years. We are not interested in fighting old battles or living in the past. We are committed to building a better people, a better future for all of the Americans, by listening, learning and partnership based on mutual respect.

At the same time we will always defend the timeless principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law that animate our societies and serve as a beacon for those around the world who are oppressed, silenced and subjugated. The United States looks forward to the day when a democratic Cuba rejoins the Inter-American system. Until then we will seek new ways to engage Cuba that benefit the people of both nations and of the hemisphere. We will continue to advocate for democratic governance in Cuba and throughout the Americas and the people of this hemisphere look to the OAS to do the same.

Our organization, the Organization of American States, represents a region covering more than a quarter of the earth. From the tundra of northern Canada to the Amazonian rain forests to the Pategonian ice fields, our citizens speak dozens of languages, celebrate many faiths and traditions and hail from every region of the world. But underneath our differences we are joined by geography, history, politics, economics, culture and family. Our futures and fortunes are linked.

Now we must stand together to affirm our shared values, face down common challenges and seek opportunities for the benefit of all our people.

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