Mutual respect between sovereign nations | Gwendolyn S. Green

The two sides agreed that Maltese officers and soldiers will continue to attend specialised training in the United States and special teams from the United States will continue to provide training in Malta to reach more Maltese soldiers

U.S. Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper (right) with Prime Minister Robert Abela
U.S. Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper (right) with Prime Minister Robert Abela

The United States and Malta have long held a relationship based on shared values and mutual respewct.  As a testament to the strength and value of that relationship, U.S. Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper recently visited as part of a larger trip to the Southern Mediterranean-North Africa region. This was the first visit by a U.S. Secretary of Defense in fifty years and just the third cabinet level official to visit Malta since independence.

It was an honour to accompany Secretary Esper and introduce him to His Excellency Dr George Vella, President of Malta, and Prime Minister Robert Abela during his visit last week. Secretary Esper also met with Forein Minister Affairs Evarist Bartolo, Home Affairs and National Security Minister Byron Camilleri, and Brigadier Jeffrey Curmi.

Secretary Esper’s visit to the region included Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, and Malta as a demonstration of U.S. commitment to stability in North Africa. The United States recognises and appreciates Malta’s geostrategic role in the region and its excellent relations with its North African neighbours. Malta has long proved invaluable in defending peace, liberty, and human rights. Secretary Esper’s visit underscored the U.S. view of Malta as a trusted international partner and interlocutor on issues of regional stability, in particular Libya and the southern Mediterranean.

Our work at the U.S. Embassy in Malta focuses on issues related to security, innovation and commercial diplomacy, and empowerment, particularly of underserved and minority populations, and Secretary Esper’s visit revolved around those key aspects of our relationship.

During our meetings, Secretary Esper acknowledged the complex security challenges facing the Mediterranean and noted Malta’s strategic role as a sovereign state and member of the European Union. Together with our Maltese partners, we discussed ways to collaborate on transnational challenges like terrorism, irregular migration, and malign foreign influence.

President Vella and Secretary Esper emphasized the United States’ commitment to strengthening its partnership with Malta as like-minded, sovereign nations.  Secretary Esper and Prime Minister Abela discussed the complex security challenges facing the Mediterranean and welcomed the opportunity to strengthen our already robust defence cooperation.

The United States appreciates the excellent bilateral relationship that Malta and Libya have enjoyed for decades and welcomes Malta’s understanding of regional issues and its contribution to regional dialogue. Along those lines, during Secretary Esper’s visit we engaged in robust discussions about the continued instability in Libya, its impact on Malta, and potential paths to resolution and stabilisation. Secretary Esper expressed his gratitude for the insight and perspective these discussions provided as he prepared to meet with U.S. partners in North Africa.

During these discussions, Secretary Esper conveyed concerns about attempts by China and Russia to increase the influence of their authoritarian regimes in the region, including in Malta.

Libya has become the venue for Russia’s malign efforts to exploit regional conflicts for its own narrow political and economic gain. Russia’s role in Libya directly impacts Malta with increased migrant flows, human trafficking, and illicit fuel smuggling across the Central Mediterranean.

We also discussed our concerns about China’s debt trap diplomacy, opaque financing practices, poor governance, and disregard for internationally-accepted norms and standards, which undermine many of the standards and principles that we rely upon to promote sustainable, inclusive development, and to promote stability and prosperity. 

Given Secretary Esper’s leadership on security issues, our discussions with the Maltese government also focused on our shared objective to develop the Armed Forces of Malta’s capability to conduct at sea counter-terrorism and counter-trafficking boardings. Our long-standing International Military Education and Training (IMET) assistance and other U.S. funding has played an important role in developing the Armed Forces’ robust capacity in a number of areas, including counterterrorism, counter illicit trafficking, and search and rescue (SAR).

The two sides agreed that Maltese officers and soldiers will continue to attend specialised training in the United States and special teams from the United States will continue to provide training in Malta to reach more Maltese soldiers.

On behalf of the United States, Secretary Esper took the opportunity of his visit to thank Malta for its active role in the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF).

In particular, he recognised the important role Malta plays as the host of the GCTF-inspired International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law (IIJ), inaugurated in 2014. The IIJ provides rule of law-based training to lawmakers, police, prosecutors, judges, corrections officials, and other justice sector stakeholders on how to address terrorism and related transnational criminal activities within a rule of law framework.

The United States is the largest single contributor to the IIJ, although other members and the EU are increasing their support. Other governments and international, regional, and nongovernmental organizations are partnering with the IIJ in its development. Malta is an ideal home for the IIJ, due to its stability, neutrality, geographic location, and historical ties to Africa and Europe. The IIJ’s multinational, educational, and North Africa orientation fit well into the Maltese government’s strategic vision of Malta as a trusted international convener, a vision we support.

As Chargé d’Affaires, I am proud to represent the United States in Malta and I believe that our strong ties as democratic, sovereign states will go from strength to strength.

On behalf of Secretary Esper and his team I extend heartfelt thanks to His Excellency President Vella, Prime Minister Abela, and all our Maltese partners for their warm hospitality and expert support that ensured an exceptionally successful and fruitful visit. Secretary Esper and his team will not forget this impressive island and its people.

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