Two months ago, I stood in the beautiful U.S. Capitol Rotunda for the inspiring ceremony to bestow the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg with a Congressional Gold Medal. Wallenberg, by daring not to be indifferent, saved the lives of tens of thousands of Jews during World War II through a joint U.S. and Swedish government program. The story of Raoul Wallenberg is an exceptional confirmation of the value our two countries place on protecting human dignity and upholding the principles of tolerance and inclusivity. As President Obama noted in his remarks at Stockholm’s Synagogue one year ago, “…we’re reminded [by Raoul Wallenberg] of our basic obligations: to recognize ourselves in each other; to treat one another with compassion; to reach out to the less fortunate among us; to do our part to help repair our world. These values are at the heart of the great partnership between Sweden and the United States.”
The Gold Medal Ceremony was an archetype moment of Sweden and the U.S. working together. Today, one year after President Obama’s visit to Sweden, is a fitting time to highlight how the Swedish-American relationship has further expanded since the visit. It is no coincidence that President Obama’s visit occurred during a period of unprecedented cooperation and alignment between our two countries. And it is no coincidence that since then the relationship between Sweden and the U.S. has only become more robust and more strategic when facing global challenges.
As President Obama said of Sweden and the U.S., “We stand up for universal human rights, not only in America and in Europe, but beyond, because we believe that when these rights are respected, nations are more successful and our world is safer and more just.” Sweden and the U.S. collaborate on global development initiatives more closely than ever before. Sida is the largest partner of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Together, the development agencies jointly combat poverty in innovative ways, with a focus on agriculture, sustainable energy, and democracy. Sweden has committed to catalyze investments of up to one billion dollars, or 6.8 billion SEK, to Power Africa, President Obama’s program to electrify Africa. Sweden is the first country to formally join this project. This commitment follows discussion between President Obama and Swedish stakeholders during his visit to Stockholm last September, when parties affirmed at the dinner with other Nordic Leaders their intent to support Power Africa and to promote more efficient power systems in Africa.
Around the time of President Obama’s visit to Stockholm, the crisis in Syria was in some of its darkest days. Today, 12 months later, the suffering in Syria continues, as it does around the world from Ukraine to Iraq to Libya. The need for the international community to stand up for the rights of others has perhaps never been so urgent. One year ago, President Obama and Prime Minister Reinfeldt stood in agreement about the need to protect human rights and the imperative of the triumph of the rule of law. Today, one year later, the common resolve between our two countries has never been stronger and our two countries must continue to be active and effective voices in defending dignity around the world.
While in Stockholm, President Obama also paid a visit to the Royal Institute of Technology. There he met with researchers and viewed several innovative clean energy technologies. Sweden and the U.S. have demonstrated a shared commitment to supporting the development of innovative technologies and cleaner energy solutions that are at the core of our strategy to address climate change and have a less carbon-dependent future. President Obama’s Climate Action Plan has reduced greenhouse gas emissions, provided funding to advance renewable energy technology, and helped cities prepare for climate change with fortification against increasingly severe storms and droughts. We will continue our work with Sweden and the international community to keep moving forward in this area. I believe that the best way to tackle the challenges of climate change is together, so I think it is of the utmost importance that as both countries innovate to find what works, we support exchanges of ideas and programs.
Engaging with issues related to the Arctic was a priority for President Obama during his visit to Sweden, reflecting the Arctic’s position as both a domestic and global policy priority for the U.S. As we consider how to best preserve the region’s biodiversity while helping Arctic communities reach their fullest potential, we turn to partners like Sweden, who’s successful chairmanship of the Arctic Council is a model such engagement. During his visit, President Obama convened with Nordic leaders last September and discussed the impacts of climate change on the Arctic. We value the shared commitment to the Arctic and see this as the ideal foundation for achievement. The U.S. considers Sweden to be an especially invaluable ally; we look forward to a future in which our countries collaborate to protect and to research the Arctic environment and to encourage sustainable development, keeping in mind always the indigenous communities. It is our highest priority is to protect the Arctic – our people, our territory, our natural resources – and I am happy to say that Sweden shares this conviction.
Reflecting back on the past twelve months, it is correct to say that the partnership between the United States and Sweden could not possibly be stronger. President Obama’s visit helped make a solid relationship even more expansive. I am convinced that our cooperation, which is based in set of common core values and ideals, will continue to expand and flourish.