Thursday, January 19, 2006

The speech from the Embassy Inauguration

<>Venerable Monks, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen: Thank you all for being with us this afternoon. It's an honor and - even more so, a delight -- to welcome you to our new embassy.

I do have one confession to make. Yesterday I rehearsed for over an hour trying to speak two sentences in the Khmer language. But then I realized that nothing could cause greater damage to Cambodian-American relations than my trying to speak your language! So please bear with me as I speak in English only.

We have been waiting for this day for a very long time -- literally for over half a century. The US opened its first embassy here at Hotel Le Royal in November 1950. Then, over the course of five decades we moved to no fewer than five temporary locations. But now our nomadic existence has come to an end, and we are no longer UNHCR-certified refugees.

We are finished with hotel rooms and rented villas. We have constructed a permanent U.S. diplomatic facility in one of Phnom Penh's most prestigious locations -- n fact, we're back where we started -- right across the street from Hotel Le Royal. But after working for the government for 25 years, I am not at all surprised that we changed our mind five times and took 55 years to figure out that our original idea was the right one.

I like to think this embassy is more than just a secure and efficient place to go to work each day. For us it is a symbol of our commitment to Cambodia. This structure says more eloquently than any words that I can speak that "we ain't going nowhere." We are here to stay and we are determined to build a relationship between Americans and Cambodians as enduring and steadfast as this building.

As you all know, that relationship is already quite strong. We are far and away Cambodia's largest trading partner, accounting for more than 60% of Cambodia's exports and more than 30% of its GDP. We've strengthened our cooperation in the war against terrorism, and together we are winning the war against AIDS -- reducing the prevalence rate of HIV from more than 3% to less than 2%, a staggering success for Cambodia and an inspiring example to the rest of the world.

Of course, we do not always agree with each other, and we value our relationship too much to pretend that we always see eye to eye. Our relationship will become stronger only if we speak to each other honestly. So let me reiterate that the U.S. is committed to the stability, prosperity and freedom of Cambodia, that we believe these three pillars support and safeguard Khmer culture and society, and that if you take away any one of these pillars, the entire structure collapses.

This is a very auspicious day to inaugurate our new embassy. In fact it is doubly auspicious. Today, depending on how you calculate the calendar, two of my favorite Americans were born. First, because today is the third Tuesday in January - it is the exact same Tuesday in January when Martin Luther King was born. Martin Luther King taught us many things, but one of the most important lessons was that laws and justice are not always the same thing. Indeed, sometimes the law and justice are in conflict with one another.

Second, this is an auspicious day because as Ambassador Sichan Siv reminded me, today happens to be the 300th birthday of Benjamin Franklin, our very first diplomat. Franklin was renowned for his wit, his subtly, and also --when necessary -- his bluntness. What better inspiration for all of us today than Franklin? Once, frustrated with his colleagues in the Continental Congress who were too worried about maintaining security and stability, Franklin warned them - and it is a good reminder to all of us, Americans and Cambodians alike: "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

And if that is true, then the opposite is also true. That is, when political leaders are willing to risk a little temporary instability in order to preserve an essential liberty they ought to be commended. It takes courage to take risks for freedom whether you are a human rights activist or a prime minister, and so today I would like to praise them both.

Having now quoted Franklin, anything I add would be superfluous, so let me just once more thank you all for joining us today. Speaking for the entire embassy community, we are grateful and honored you have found the time to be with us: to celebrate the opening of our embassy, to re-dedicate ourselves to our bilateral partnership, and to consecrate our work to protecting the freedom and dignity of the Cambodian people.

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