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U.S. Ready to Help Tunisia With Democracy, Panetta Says

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

CARTHAGE, Tunisia, July 30, 2012 – The 6,565 American troops memorialized at the North Africa American Cemetery here signify America’s commitment to freedom, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said during a visit today.

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U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, left, meets with Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki, right, in Tunis, Tunisia, July 30, 2012. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo -
  

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Panetta walked among the 2,841 graves and read the names of 3,734 Americans missing from battles that drove the Axis powers from North Africa in World War II.

In November 1942, the Allies launched Operation Torch to drive the Axis from the southern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. “After six months of fierce fighting and many lives that were lost, Tunisia was liberated from the Axis powers,” he said after placing a memorial wreath.

The North Africa campaign and the fight against Nazi Germany was one chapter in the story that has been unfolding for centuries, the secretary said. “It is the story of people struggling to overcome tyranny and oppression,” he said. “This struggle … to achieve basic human rights and freedoms is guided by a simple dream: the dream to secure a better life for our children.”

That story has a new chapter, written by the people of Tunisia, Panetta said. In January 2011, Tunisians peacefully took to the streets to demand freedom and basic human rights. “This is the birthplace of the Arab Spring, when the Tunisian people rose up in peaceful protest to demand democratic change,” Panetta said. “It not only inspired the region, it inspired the world.”

The secretary minced no words, telling the Tunisian people “that America stands with them and that we, too, are inspired by their revolution.” The United States, he said, supports the Tunisian people as they continue to strengthen their democracy.

Earlier in the day, Panetta met with Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki, Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali and National Defense Minister Abdelkarim Zbidi. He told them the United States is ready to help them strengthen their economy and talked about shared security concerns.

“I also had the opportunity in my meetings today to commend the Tunisian armed forces for the positive role they are playing in this critical time of change,” the secretary said.

The U.S. and Tunisian militaries have long been partners, and the revolution now gives the two countries the opportunity to partner more closely.

“In my discussions today, I was pleased to begin a dialogue on how we can deepen that cooperation in a range of common concerns: countering violent extremism and terrorism to ensure regional stability,” Panetta said. “I also conveyed that the Department of Defense stands ready to help Tunisia strengthen the capacity of its defense institutions as part of the broader effort to support Tunisia’s democratic transition.”

While there is uncertainty in the region deriving from the Arab Spring, there is also opportunity, Panetta said. “For generations, the United States has been the world’s greatest force in advancing peace and freedom and prosperity,” he added. “We have paid a heavy price to protect our country, as witnessed by this memorial. Today is no different.”

The United States is committed to helping people across the region and around the world achieve the freedoms they deserve, Panetta said.

“We are all grateful for the Tunisian government’s partnership, and we are inspired by their example to the world,” he said. “The torch of greater peace and freedom and democracy burns brightly in this historic land.”

 

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Related Sites:
Transcript
Photo Essay: Panetta Meets With Leaders in Tunis, Tunisia
Video
Photo Essay: Panetta Tours American Cemetery, Attends Meetings in Tunisia
Special Report: Travels with Panetta
State Department Background Notes: Tunisia

Click photo for screen-resolution imageU.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta meets with Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali in Tunis, Tunisia, July 30, 2012. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageU.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta meets with Tunisian Defense Minister Abdelkarim Zbidi in Tunis, Tunisia, July 30, 2012. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo  
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