U.S. Ambassador Barbara A. Leaf remarks at the National Day Celebration in Abu Dhabi on February 18, 2015

U.S. Ambassador Barbara A. Leaf

On the Occasion of U.S. National Day

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Emirates Palace Hotel

Abu Dhabi, UAE


Your Excellency, Shaikha Lubna Al Qassimi, Minister for International

Cooperation and Development;

Your Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen, fellow Americans;

Let me start by welcoming you all to our National Day celebration. As many of you may recall, in most parts of the world, our Embassies celebrate our National Day — just as we do across the United States — on July 4. Suffice to say, temperatures and sun conspire against us in that regard, here in the UAE in July. But February is a great time to celebrate America, because the month marks the birthdays of two of our greatest presidents: George Washington, the Father of our country, and Abraham Lincoln, who will always be remembered for preserving our union.

As we mark our Presidents Day, I would also like to pay tribute to the great  leaders of the UAE: to the founding father of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed, who also recognized the importance of union; to His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, the President, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashed, the Vice President and Prime Minister, and to his Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Commander of the Armed Forces.

Let me also express my thanks to the many generous American sponsors of this evening’s event. You’ll see their names and logos on signs posted here tonight. We are really grateful to them for helping make this evening so special.

And of course, let me also thank the dozens of U.S. Embassy staff and the staff of the Emirates Palace Hotel, who have worked so hard to make this event possible.

My friends, the partnership between the United Arab Emirates and the United States is strong, dynamic and growing. Decades of collaboration in business, education, health, and security have made the US and the UAE the closest of friends. Our shared common goal is a more prosperous and secure future for our countries, for our children – and for the region.

At no time has our work together been more vital than it is today. Violent extremism, and the wars, instability and suffering that it brings in its wake, are plaguing this region. But whether we reach for diplomatic, economic, humanitarian or military tools to address the issues of this region, the U.S. looks to the UAE as one of its closest partners in that effort. And it is that partnership which I will make my work to deepen and broaden.

As most of you know, I am still quite new to the UAE. I’ve been here less than two months, but haveal ready determined that traveling around and getting to know Emirati culture is possibly the best part of this job! Whether following horses in the desert as they ran the Dubai Endurance Cup race, or sailing in the Gulf, or learning to cook ‘Balaleet” in a master class at “Emirati Kitchen,” I am very much enjoying getting to know the UAE. And as I move around tonight, talking to all of you, I hope to hear your suggestions for things I should do, places I should visit, and issues I should learn more about.

Tonight through our National Day theme I will have a chance to return the favor and introduce all of you to what we love about America. Our theme for this evening is “Welcome to America” (Ahlan bi-kum fi Amreeka). I hope you will see this event as both a celebration and an invitation to get to know us better.

America is a big place. The continental United States spans more than 4,800 kilometers from sea to shining sea; it touches the frozen Arctic Circle in Alaska and the balmy tropics in Hawaii, and includes in its family people from every nation on earth.

To understand America you have to visit it, but with our celebration this evening we decided to bring you all a small taste of America, by highlighting four “big” things about the United States: Big Ideas, Big Cities, Big Sky, and Big Fun.

Big Ideas are what America was built on. America was an experiment in Freedom, Democracy and Justice – and that experiment blossomed into a great nation. The combination of big ideas — coupled with imagination and innovation — keep America going strong. People around the world like our big ideas and want to share them. I am delighted that here in the UAE you have made some of our big ideas your own – building a campus of New York University, an Abu Dhabi version of the Cleveland Clinic and a branch of the Guggenheim Museum.

As for Big Cities, with 50 amazingly different states, America has some of the most vibrant and unique cities in the world. When I think about our big cities – New York, LA, Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco, Washington, Miami, to name just a few – I think about how they unite diverse people. From every background imaginable, the residents of these great cities create a dazzling tapestry of humanity. Looking around the UAE, and seeing the booming cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, I think you share our appreciation for the strength that diversity can provide.

The term Big Sky generally means limitless outdoor beauty, something the UAE knows from its deserts, its nature preserves and its seacoasts. The images we selected for tonight highlight some of the breathtaking natural parks across the United States. From the red-rock of Arches National Park to the rolling hills of the Smoky Mountains, to the glaciers of Alaska, and swamps of Florida – if you can think of a landscape or natural habitat, chances are you will find it in the United States. But to me Big Sky also symbolizes the limitless potential and ambition shared by Americans and Emiratis – “the sky’s the limit!” as we say.

And last but not least, Big Fun. We know Emiratis like to have fun because we know what a fun place your country is. And when people visit the U.S., no matter what the reason, everyone is looking to have a good time. So whether you like big cities and shopping, or the outdoors and camping, or theme parks (like Disneyland) or even theme cities (like Las Vegas) there is something for everyone.

Visiting America from the UAE has never been easier. With numerous direct daily flights to the U.S. , and the U.S. customs pre-clearance facility at the Abu Dhabi International Airport – which allows travelers to go through US customs here and skip all the lines and customs in the US – there is no better time to visit. But until you can schedule your trip we have something to tide you over.

Around the event this evening you will notice that there are several large backdrop scenes of America related to our “big” themes – We want you to have some fun and take your picture in front of the backdrop and imagine yourself there in America. Post your selfie to Twitter or Facebook and tag it #USAinUAE.

Tonight we are also using launcing our mission-wide Instagram account which is called USAinUAE. Please visit our account in the coming days to see pictures from tonight’s celebration and from our other activities around the UAE.

So as you explore the event this evening, look at of the pictures, backdrops and facts, and ask the Americans you chat with (including the new American Ambassador) what these “Big” themes mean to them and what they think you should see when you visit America. I bet you won’t get a lot of repeat answers.

Once again, thank you for coming to share our celebration this evening. Please enjoy yourself — and Ahlan bi-kum fi Amreeka!