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Ambassador Jo Ellen Powell’s July 4, 2012 reception Speech

I am delighted to welcome you all this evening, to celebrate the 236th birthday of the United States of America.  We are celebrating another important anniversary this year as well -- the 50th anniversary of the commencement of embassy operations in Mauritania.  The U.S. Embassy in Nouakchott began operations with its first official correspondence to the State Department on July 14, 1962, almost 50 years ago to this day.  At that time, embassy personnel were limited to Charge d’Affaires William Eagleton, Jr. and a very small local staff.  With the embassy’s official inauguration on January 4, 1963, the United States became the first country to establish a diplomatic mission in the new capital of Mauritania. Ambassador Philip Kaiser noted at the inauguration, “The United States [is ready] to proceed with full confidence in the future of both the capital and the country of Mauritania.”  Since 1962, we have worked steadily to improve our diplomatic, educational, economic, and cultural ties, and foster our mutual understanding. 

The Peace Corps program, launched in 1967, and U.S. food assistance to Mauritania during the drought of the 1970s were early examples of our friendship and support for Mauritania.  Sadly, the Peace Corps is no longer active in Mauritania, but the legacy of the volunteers’ hard work continues.  Many who were touched by the program are now making a difference and contributing to the development of Mauritania today. 

The U.S. continues to support Mauritania, particularly in times of need, as illustrated by our current commitment to assist vulnerable populations in drought-stricken areas.  In this year alone, the United States government has contributed over 15 million dollars to assuage hunger. We have also provided significant security assistance in the form of training and logistics, to help Mauritania contribute actively to peace and stability in the region.    

At the same time, embassy educational and cultural programs have opened the door for many Mauritanians and Americans to travel between our two countries.  The Embassy’s International Visitor Leadership Program began in 1962 and to date more than 300 distinguished Mauritanians have participated. Several of them are with us today, including current and former ministers, high ranking officials, academics, journalists, and civil society leaders.   

The world-renowned Fulbright exchange program has brought American professors and students to Mauritania, and sent more than 120 Mauritanians for long-term academic programs in the U.S.  We hope American students will gain a greater appreciation of Mauritania, and of Arabic language and culture, through our newly-established Fulbright Language Teaching Assistant Program which sends young Mauritanian Arabic teachers to U.S. universities.  

The embassy also supports Mauritania’s culture and history through the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation.  Some of the projects have included the construction of a manuscripts conservation laboratory in Tichitt in 2001, renovations to the National Museum in Nouakchott in 2004, repairs of an historic home in Oualata in 2009, and our current project, the restoration of sections of the ancient walls that encircle Ouadane. 

Trade relations between the United States and Mauritania began officially in May 1964 with the signature of a “Guarantee of Private Investments.”  Among the U.S. partners to support Mauritanian trade with the United States are the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the African Development Foundation, and the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).  The US government also created the North African Partnership for Economic Opportunity, or NAPEO, which seeks to engage aspiring entrepreneurs of all ages, especially young entrepreneurs, to become the next generation of regional business leaders and employers in North Africa. 

As you can see behind me, we have prepared an exhibit that illustrates fifty years of United States Embassy engagement in Mauritania.  I invite you to visit the display before the end of the evening.  I would like to extend special thanks  to Mme. Miryam Daddah, Mme.Turkiyah Daddah, Ambassador Ahmedou Ould Abdallah,  Dr. Mamadou Hadiya Kane from the National Museum, and Ambassador Mohamedine Ould Daddah and others at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs  for their support in securing documents and photos for the exhibit.  Without their help, it would not have been possible. 

I am honored to serve as the 18th U.S. Ambassador to Mauritania.  I appreciate the efforts of my predecessors, who laid the groundwork for a fruitful relationship built on strong diplomatic, educational, cultural, and economic ties.  So today, as we celebrate America’s birthday, we also celebrate the robust cooperation that has existed between the United States and Mauritania since this embassy was established 50 years ago.