Updated - Adds video of Mrs Clinton's comments -

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this morning praised Malta for its 'extraordinary' response to the unfolding events in North Africa and also said the US was grateful for Malta's efforts to ensure that Americans were safely evacuated from Libya.

Speaking after talks with Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi at the Auberge de Castille, Mrs Clinton said her visit to Malta was an opportunity for her to reaffirm the strong friendship and partnership that exist between Malta and the United States.

"The Prime Minister and many people went the extra mile to get our people home safely, and we are grateful," Mrs Clinton said.

She said the prime minister was well acquainted with the opportunities and challenges which the Arab people faced in this moment of change and he had been particularly helpful in his meetings and counsel to the representatives of the New Libya over the past months as they sought to build a future for their country, and she had no doubt that Malta would continue to play a critical role for Libya to have a democratic government inclusive of all sections of the population, including women.

Mrs Clinton said Malta and the United States also had a shared interest in keeping the Mediterranean free of illicit nuclear material and in enforcing UN sanctions against the proliferation of weapons by Iran. The US, she said, appreciated Malta's work in interdicting illegal Iranian cargoes and denying port access to Iran ships which such cargoes.

The US, she added, also recognised Malta's efforts to stop the trafficking of persons across the Mediterranean and to help the victims of political persecution.

Although Malta was a small nation, its contribution to regional peace and security was significant and the US highly valued this relationship and looked ahead to further growth.

Dr Gonzi also spoke on the strong friendship between the two countries, pointing out how they had developed further over the past few months with the Visa Waiver and new Double Taxation agreements.

He said the events in the Mediterranean in the past 11 months brought about tremendous change “which was very good news for all of us.”

History demanded that Malta perform tasks which it tried to do to the best of its ability, he said.

Malta, he said, would continue to provide its support to North African countries as they moved towards democracy.   

Referring to US-Malta relations, Dr Gonzi said Mrs Clinton's visit consolidated something that was very strong.

“It was an opportunity for us to continue to grow in future.”

Mrs Clinton arrived at 2.30 a.m. and is later today due to fly to Libya. Her tour is also expected to include visits to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Oman.


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