Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Peter Haas at Inauguration of Roots of Friendship

Good afternoon, Minister Shahriar, distinguished guests, partners, colleagues, and friends from the media.

On behalf of the U.S. government, I am honored to inaugurate today’s exhibition featuring the roots and routes of the unfolding journey between two great nations, the United States and Bangladesh.  As you navigate through this exhibition, you will see, these are not just photos of some past events, but a testament of our enduring relationship and people-to-people ties that have only grown stronger over time.

Almost two years ago, we began this special collaboration with Meridian International Center, a U.S. non-profit organization, to help curate this photography exhibition, highlighting the friendship between the two countries.  After extensive and careful research, we selected 50 exceptional photos out of hundreds, where each piece has a story to tell, a message to share, a tie that binds us together.

As you walk through the exhibition, you will see we have photographs featuring the initial seeds of friendship and collaboration between everyday Bangladeshi and Americans—early immigrants including artists, scholars, architects, doctors, and entrepreneurs—prior to Bangladesh’s independence in 1971 and as early as 1940.  On the other hand, we have images that portray how over half a century, our countries have connected through trade and business, education and science, culture and diaspora, aid and infrastructure, and diplomatic collaborations.

I would like to highlight the photograph of Dr. A.K. Nazmul Karim, Founding Chairman of the Sociology Department at Dhaka University, the first and the most prestigious public university in Bangladesh.  In 1953, Dr. Karim earned two master’s degrees in New York from Columbia University in government and sociology.  After earning his doctorate, he founded the Sociology Department at Dhaka University in 1957 with assistance from UNESCO and American academic, Dr. John E. Owen, a Fulbright scholar.  It is no secret that many of Bangladesh’s freedom fighters were nurtured in this department, freely sharing their desires for liberation.

Throughout this exhibit, we are reminded of how long USAID assistance has supported the Bangladeshi people.  Did you know that USAID support led to the creation of the renowned educational institution Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, BUET?  As a part of a USAID initiative in 1961, American architect, James Walden established an architecture and planning school in Dhaka, which became BUET.

For the BUET alumni present here today, I invite you to check out the photo of the first cohort of students sitting in a design studio class with an American professor, Daniel Dunham in 1961.

We all know of the great legacy of Dr. Fazlur R. Khan, the “father of tubular design,” but did you know he was the first ever Fulbright Scholar from Bangladesh?  When he visited the United States in 1952, he studied in my home state of Illinois.

These are only a few of the many outstanding examples of how our countries were enriched intellectually and culturally through academic exchanges, which began as early as 1940, more than 30 years before Bangladesh emerged as an independent country.

Because of that longstanding academic and intellectual partnership, we can now proudly boast that Bangladeshi students look to the United States as one of their top destinations for higher learning.

The United States remains as one of the major partners of Bangladesh to improve the health conditions for its citizens.  This exhibition showcases a rare photograph of an American doctor as he accompanies a visitor through the Cholera Research Center in Dhaka in 1968—another USAID endeavor—as one of three research laboratories in Southeast Asia to control and eradicate cholera.  Renamed as the International Center for Diarrheal Disease Research, Bangladesh, or more commonly known and easily pronounced as “iccddr’b,” it is now internationally recognized as one of the finest health research institutions in the region.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the USAID trained more than 50,000 healthcare providers and contributed nearly $150 million in related assistance to protect the people of Bangladesh from the pandemic.  I remember visiting Narayanganj Collectorate Preparatory School with Mayor Dr. Selina Hayat Ivy to mark the delivery of one of many shipments of U.S. vaccine donations.  Since the pandemic began, the United States has donated over 115 million COVID-19 vaccines to Bangladesh, free of charge —accounting for more than 70 percent of all international coronavirus vaccine donations to Bangladesh.

Active since independence, USAID Bangladesh remains as one of the agency’s largest and most successful development assistance programs in the world.  The U.S. government’s largesse and investments have saved lives— whether it was through food assistance following the country’s independence, to more recent efforts in strengthening resilience to disasters and improving the quality of healthcare so families across the country live longer and healthier lives.  The United States also invests in promoting democratic principles, strengthening civil society, and helping local government and political parties serve their constituents more effectively.

It gives me immense pleasure to see a photo of our current Agricultural Attaché, Megan Francic, reflecting her interaction with local fishermen from Khulna.  These images are testaments of how the bond between the countries have grown overtime, including diplomacy, development and humanitarian assistance, and people to people ties.

You will be impressed to see the historic photograph of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s visit to the United States in 1974 as the Prime Minister of independent Bangladesh.  This was the first time that a Bangladeshi head of state met a U.S. President.

Forty-two years later, on May 5, 2012, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, daughter of Bangabandhu, met U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and signed the U.S.-Bangladesh Partnership Dialogue to deepen the relationship between the United States and Bangladesh.

This exhibition also displays historic photos of all other previous Bangladeshi heads of state representing diverse political parties when they visited the United States.  These images underscore U.S. commitment towards good governance, respect for varied political ideologies, and freedom of expression as the pillars of a functioning democracy.

The United States and Bangladesh have established a longstanding partnership in trade and commerce and many U.S. companies have been working in Bangladesh prior to 1971.  One of the featured photographs portrays Acting Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler and Bangladesh Commerce Secretary Mahbub Ahmed signing the Trade and Investment Cooperation Forum Agreement (TICFA) in Washington, DC in 2013.  Through the TICFA, the United States continues to work closely with Bangladesh to achieve greater levels of economic cooperation and development.

On the occasion of the 51st anniversary of Bangladesh’s independence, Secretary Blinken said, “Both of our countries emerged after intense struggles for independence and we both strive to live up to our founding democratic ideals.  Over the last five decades, our continued cooperation is ensuring a safer and more prosperous future, now and for generations to come.”

Today, as I inaugurate this exhibition of historical photographs representing over 50 years of friendship, I reiterate the U.S. commitment towards supporting Bangladesh in achieving good governance and freedom of expression.

My thanks to Meridian International Center for its invaluable assistance in curating such an important exhibition.  I would like to recognize our exchange program alumni and partners for their impactful contributions to strengthen our bilateral relations during a critical time.

Let me end with the wise words of Ted Kennedy, Jr., “It is our shared responsibility to uphold the spirit of friendship, a bond as strong and as broad as a banyan tree.”

Thank you.