Remarks by Ambassador Klecheski at the National University Of Mongolia’s School Of International Relations And Public Administration

Ambassador Klecheski’s Remarks
Distinguished Speaker Series
National University Of Mongolia
School Of International Relations And Public Administration

Thursday, October 3, 2019

It is wonderful to be here at the start of a new academic year.  I’m truly honored to speak to you today – it’s obviously a source of pride to be invited to be part of the Distinguished Speaker Series.

This is an exciting time to be the U.S. ambassador here, and I look forward to describing how we, the U.S., views Mongolia as a partner and how we look to the future of that partnership.  But for me, the career of diplomacy has always been exciting and satisfying.  I’ve had wonderful assignments overseas – Russia four times, the Philippines three times, Kazakhstan, Iraq, Poland and Switzerland – and wonderful assignments in Washington DC – in our 24-hour crisis center, on the NATO Desk and at the National Security Council doing Russia. My family also has loved our sometimes nomadic life. I mention all this because I presume all of you are interested in international relations, and I suspect some of you might be interested in diplomacy specifically. I’ll be delighted to talk about that more in the Q&A part of today’s event, and of course I’ll welcome questions on this or any other subject. I certainly want this to be a give-and-take.


It’s always a professional accomplishment to become an ambassador, but I feel particularly lucky to serve as the U.S. ambassador in this country. One reason is that Mongolia’s culture is so rich, deep, and diverse, and Mongolia is so central to the history of the world.  Before arriving in Mongolia, I read as much as I could about that history and culture. Among the most popular books in the U.S. about that history are Jack Weatherford’s – your government, by the way, awarded him the Polar Star, the highest award a foreigner can receive. He and other historians posit that the concepts of religious freedom and the separation of church and state were pioneered by Chinggis Khaan, and they point out that your founding father exerted a strong influence on America’s founding fathers, including Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. Jefferson and Franklin were both well read on the history of Mongolia and incorporated these principles into our Bill of Rights.

In fact, Thomas Jefferson had a copy of the “Secret History of the Mongols” in his personal book collection.  Jefferson, our third president and author of the Declaration of Independence, donated his enormous book collection to help create the Library of Congress because he believed in the power of knowledge in a democracy.  The Library of Congress is now the largest library in the world.  At its heart, you will find Jefferson’s copy of the history of Mongolia.  The Library of Congress is truly stunning, and I highly recommend visiting it if you are in Washington D.C.

Unfortunately, not enough of that history is known in the United States, but that is changing.  From the policy-making level to people on the street, Americans are aware of and appreciate Mongolia’s fascinating culture and society more than ever.  We see this growing interest in many ways, from the official visit of President Battulga to the White House to meet President Trump, to the Mongolian rock band The Hu touring the United States with the number one world music album on the Billboard charts.  As it happens, my son just attended a Hu concert in New York last week.

Among the things Americans are increasingly getting to know about Mongolia is that our two countries share the same values of democracy and the rule of law.  If you look around the region and beyond, you’ll see that these values are in short supply, and therefore we should redouble our efforts to reinforce them at home and work with likeminded partners who share them.

We share a lot of other things as well, and I am convinced this creates a positive dynamic between our peoples.  We are both vast countries with beautiful open spaces.  Today, many of these spaces are being preserved through national parks and protected areas – and I’m proud that the U.S. is supporting Mongolia in that respect, through our National Park Service and many other of our institutions, as well as through the efforts of individual Americans and American NGOs.  Both our nations were founded by farmers and herders, and our rural and agrarian roots remain central to our societies today.  From cowboys to aduuchin (horsemen) horses are central to our cultural identity.  Mongolian nuudlechin (herders) move their families and livestock several times a year, and in the U.S., we have what is called the “Pioneer Spirit,” – many families moved West for a new start.  In Mongolia and in America, communities living far from cities had to make do.  If something broke or if you needed equipment, you couldn’t walk down to the store and get another, you had to fix it or build it.  This led to a sense of independence, individual rights, hard work, self-reliance, resilience, and innovation that we can see today in both our countries.  For all these reasons, despite being so far apart, I think our countries have a unique and special bond as third neighbors.

Economic relationship

That bond was forged when Mongolia made the courageous, and correct, decision over 30 years ago that democracy and free market economics would bring the most benefits to the most people.  I’ve spoken to people who were here at the time, who were part of that decision, and it was truly remarkable.  And since then, Mongolia’s progress is an inspiration to emerging democratic states around the region and around the world.  And I’m proud to say that at every step since Mongolia joined the community of free nations, the United States has been at your side.  Over the last 30 years, we have provided about $1 billion U.S. dollars in development assistance.

As you no doubt know, when our two presidents met in the White House just over two months ago, they declared that our relationship had reached the level of a “strategic partnership.”  I had the honor of participating in that visit to Washington, and I can tell you firsthand that Washington’s interest in developing our relationship is as strong as ever.  The meeting of our two presidents is the most telling example, but President Battulga was also warmly received by our Attorney General, the Administrator of NASA, and other top-level leaders.  And senior American officials are coming here, too, such as former National Security Advisor John Bolton; the new Secretary of Defense Dr. Esper, who included Mongolia on his first overseas trip; the Assistant Secretary of Economic and Business Affairs for the Department of State Manisha Singh; and most recently, Assistant United States Trade Representative Ed Gresser, who visited to help Mongolia boost its exports to the United States.

Your president’s visit, and all the various recent visits in both direction, have addressed all four of the pillars, or categories, of our overall relationship. One of them is our economic, trade, and investment relationship, and that’s always vitally important because for a lot of people in both our countries, jobs and opportunities are the main concerns. So I’ll start there.

Trade between our countries was $131 million in 2018, an increase of 43 percent compared to 2017, which we see as real progress.  And I am especially pleased to announce that we have already passed that mark in just the first six months of 2019, with bilateral trade already exceeding $133 million.  America’s biggest exports to Mongolia are machines, such as mining and agricultural equipment, and some vehicles.  For the most part, these are imports that enable Mongolia to export its own products and commodities, especially minerals.  In other words, imports from American amplify Mongolian exports.

All of that said, our two-way trade numbers are still substantially lower than the 2012 peak of $707 million.  We know there is much more room to grow, both to that previous peak and beyond.  Now that the United States and Mongolia are strategic partners, it’s important that we ensure our trade and investment relationship rises to match the upgrade in our overall relationship.

Part of that means alerting the U.S. private sector of the vast opportunities Mongolia offers and advocating for American business.  It means providing informed, accurate, and fair information and counsel on the investment climate to potential foreign investors, as well as advice to government partners on how to make Mongolia even more attractive to American businesses and investors.  It also means implementing programs to support transparency, good governance, the rule of law, and consultative decision making.

I’ll mention a couple of recent examples of how we are building economic ties.

Just last week, the most senior trade official to visit Mongolia in many years, the Assistant U.S. Trade Representative, was here to help Mongolia take better advantage of existing tariff preferences under the U.S. Generalized System of Preferences Program, or GSP for short.  For those of us non-economists in the room, this program allows eligible countries to sell their goods to the United States tariff free.

We also recently welcomed a new U.S. Department of Treasury Resident Advisor, who is working at the Bank of Mongolia to help your country strengthen its anti-money laundering regulations.

We are also working with Mongolia to diversity its economy and trading partners and bolster opportunities, inclusive private sector growth, and stability, sustainability, and sovereignty.  American businesses see great potential, especially in cashmere and tourism.

In order to further develop the potential for digital entrepreneurship, for two years now we have hosted major e-commerce seminars, brought in leading U.S. tech entrepreneurs and mentors, such as the founder of Travelocity, and partnered with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the Peacebook Forum to foster responsible use of social media and e-commerce.

But really, governments can only do so much.  There’s simply no substitute for private sector-led growth.

Looking ahead for the economic relationship, we see a number of key priorities, but none more important than improving process and transparency.

The foundation of the U.S.-Mongolia trade and investment relationship is our bilateral  Transparency Agreement.  This agreement, which entered into force in 2017, applies to international trade and investment, and includes joint commitments to provide opportunities for the public to comment on proposed laws and regulations, and for the laws and regulations to be published and accessible to all.  The Agreement also includes strong measures to combat bribery and corruption.

Once fully implemented, the Transparency Agreement will benefit both of our economies – our workers, businesses, and consumers – by providing producers, suppliers, exporters, and investors with clear, predictable, and fair business policies and practices.  It will increase participation by Mongolian civil society and the business community by allowing them the opportunity to provide comments on draft rules before they become final.  We are working closely with your government to implement this important agreement.

The Millennium Challenge Corporation Water Compact, which will improve the supply of water to Ulaanbaatar, is another important aspect of our economic engagement.  Communities and businesses depend on clean water.  One of the things that makes the MCC unique compared to other countries’ development and assistance programs is that our local partners identify the needs, design the solution, and implement the project.  In other words, it’s Mongolia that has the lead.  In this case, Mongolians, rightly I think, decided that access to clean water is a priority.  Studies show that the city of Ulaanbaatar will run out of water soon at its current rate of growth.  The MCC is providing a $350 million grant to increase the supply of water by more than 80 percent, which is vital to maintaining economic growth and public health.

Another aspect of the MCC that makes it unique is that this is a grant, not a loan with strings attached or a debt trap.  And because it is implemented by Mongolians, with strong transparency, anti-corruption, and accountability safeguards, it will create new jobs and advanced training for Mongolian managers, designers, construction workers, and water utility workers.  This is one of the largest recent U.S. investments in the Indo-Pacific region, and is a sign of our enduring commitment to the people of Mongolia.


Our security relationship with Mongolia, the second key pillar of the strategic partnership, is strong, growing, and vital to ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region and around the globe.  The citizens of both our nations are proud to serve, and proud to work together.  The number of senior U.S. military leaders who have visited Mongolia is telling.  Our new Secretary of Defense, Dr. Mark Esper, visited Mongolia on his first trip outside the United States.  The Commander of INDOPACOM, who is in charge of all U.S. Armed Forces in Indo-Pacific region, also visited recently, as have other high-ranking military officials.  In April, the Mongolian Minister of Defense visited Washington DC for the first time since 2011.

Every one of the senior U.S. military officials commended Mongolia for its impressive contributions to international peacekeeping.  Mongolia’s armed forces have a well-deserved reputation for excellence and professionalism in missions from Afghanistan to UN peacekeeping operations in South Sudan.  I’m proud to say that the United States has long supported Mongolian peacekeeping efforts.  We have provided support for the development of engineering and medical operations, including a new state of the art mobile hospital unit.  We invested in building the first class Five Hills Peace Support Operations Training Center, and support the annual Khaan Quest multinational peacekeeping exercise held there.  Khaan Quest includes not just Mongolia and the United States, but dozens of other nations from all corners of the globe to advance peace and security.  I’ve been to Five Hills, and I’ve watched Khaan Quest in action.  It was highly impressive.

Since 2009, the U.S. military has supported an annual major international disaster response and preparedness exercise, called Gobi Wolf.  Gobi Wolf is led by the Alaska National Guard on our side and on the Mongolian side by the National Emergency Management Agency.  Through the exchange of skills and best practices, plus hands on training and disaster response drills, we are helping to build Mongolia’s capacity to save lives and property during disasters.  I attended the opening of Gobi Wolf, and what impressed me most was the range of challenges – potential crises – for which the exercise prepared the participants, who were from Mongolia, the US and 19 other countries.

The U.S. military, however, is doing more than just training and exercises, it is also building key facilities to benefit everyone in Mongolia.  For example, with support from the Alaska National Guard and Army Corps of Engineers, we will have built five state-of-the-art kindergartens in rural areas by 2020.

One of the newer areas where we are stepping up cooperation is in law enforcement.  U.S. Attorney General Barr’s meeting with President Battulga in August in Washington D.C. demonstrated our mutual interest in this new phase of cooperation.  Mongolian law enforcement agencies are now working with our embassy’s Diplomatic Security team to help secure Mongolia’s enormous land borders and to combat transnational crime, money laundering, corruption, and illicit wildlife trafficking.  We have also started sharing our experience – best-practices, as we often call it – in fighting illegal narcotics, bringing over our FBI and DEA agents, among others, to work with anti-drug units of the Mongolian police. And as always, it’s been a two-way street, with the Americans both sharing our experience and learning from their Mongolian counterparts, professionals dealing with other professionals to achieve common goals.

One final point on security:  combatting human trafficking is also a top priority for both Mongolia and the United States, and we have been working closely with Mongolian authorities to end this terrible threat.  I am proud that through funding from the U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, and with the Mongolian government’s active involvement, we have successfully led a training program to provide tools for Mongolian authorities to take a victim-centered approach to investigating and prosecuting trafficking in persons cases.  We find that such an approach works well, and want to share our experience with you as you address those same challenges, which are challenges that the entire world faces.

People to People Ties

A big part of the enduring friendship between our countries is based on culture, education, professional exchanges, and English learning – what we call people to people ties – the third pillar of our relationship.

When the Prime Minister of Mongolia visited our Secretary of State last year, they decided to declare 2019 the U.S. – Mongolia Year of Youth.

The embassy’s support for English language programs is really expanding, and that’s something I’m very proud of.  We’ve doubled the budget of the Access English program for underprivileged children across Mongolia.  We already have a hundred Peace Corps Volunteers, most of whom teach English, in every province of Mongolia, and we are planning to add even more.  We doubled the number of English Language Fellows at Mongolian universities.  This summer we vastly expanded the number of Mongolians who take free, online English classes sponsored by the U.S. State Department.  And just this past weekend, the embassy organized the largest ever conference for Mongolian English teachers – more than 450 came to share best practices and learn new instruction methods.

Encouraging young people to become active members in civil society and participatory democracy is one of our highest priorities.  Earlier this year, the embassy joined with key non-profit organizations and other diplomatic missions to host a major youth summit, where hundreds of young people from across Mongolia gathered for workshops on democracy, good governance, and inclusive economic development.  I could only attend a couple of sessions, but really found them inspiring.   The embassy’s Leaders Advancing Democracy, or LEAD program, supports Mongolia’s best and brightest young leaders from a variety of sectors to solve the country’s most pressing issues.  230 young change makers are building the skills and networks to implement group projects to tackle poverty, unemployment, corruption, and environmental degradation.

Every year, our embassy invests around $2 million in over 100 scholarships and exchange programs, including the prestigious Fulbright program.  We also run exchange programs for Mongolian judges, prosecutors, and parliamentarians to learn about the American approach to justice, adjudicating commercial disputes, and the rule of law.

Hopefully some of you in this room will apply for scholarships or are interested in studying in the U.S.  I encourage you to visit our website, Facebook page, or stop by the American Corner at the Ulaanbaatar City Library to learn more about the many opportunities we offer.

We’ve also tried to connect our young people through a common passion for culture and sports, from basketball, jazz, to hip hop. Last week’s hip-hop concert was a lot of fun, perhaps some of you attended.

We also want to do everything possible to support legitimate travel to the United States – for business, tourism, to study, or for a big rock tour, for that matter.  Nearly 3,000 Mongolian students are currently studying at American universities, and a record 14,300 Mongolians visited the United States.  Our visa section is busier than it has ever been.

To help provide important information and to foster a better understanding of our visa and immigration laws, we launched the Travel Responsibly Campaign with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  This campaign has been successful in helping lower the number of people that overstay their visas or work illegally in the United States

Political – Indo-Pacific Strategy 

The last of the four pillars is ensuring peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.  As sovereign, open, free-market societies, the U.S. and Mongolia have a responsibility to stand together and support others in the region and around the world who wish to join the community of free, democratic countries.  Mongolia is a key partner in the U.S. strategic vision of an Indo-Pacific region in which all nations are sovereign, strong, and prosperous.

Allow me to enumerate the key principles of what we call the Indo-Pacific strategy.  I think you’ll agree that these reflect the shared values that define U.S. – Mongolian cooperation.

  • Respect for sovereignty and independence of all nations;
  • Peaceful resolution of disputes;
  • Free, fair, and reciprocal trade based on open investment, transparent agreements, and connectivity; and,
  • Adherence to international rules and norms, including those of freedom of navigation and overflight.

To advance this strategy, the United States is investing about 1.7 billion dollars in the region each year.  We are also emphasizing that the private sector should take the lead in spearheading economic development.  This is because the Asia Development Bank estimates the Indo-Pacific region needs about 1.7 trillion dollars in infrastructure investment every year.  And no government has that much money.  So the solution has to be to unlock private capital.  Also, the examples of Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Malaysia, and other countries have shown us how state-driven infrastructure investments and economic diplomacy can lead to corruption, debt traps, shoddy and dangerous construction, and unequal economic growth.  That approach can obscure strategic or military objectives and create risks for a country’s fiscal stability and national sovereignty.

The U.S., primarily through that massive private sector of ours, is investing tremendously in the region.  In the last ten years, U.S. direct investment in the Indo-Pacific region doubled to over $940 billion dollars.   Leading economists say that the key to attracting even more investment to the region is transparent, rules based, good governance – which I think we all can agree is an essential element to a healthy, sustainable democracy and inclusive economic growth.


So, to sum up, the United States and Mongolia have a solid foundation with a friendship based on shared values and a shared commitment to democracy and open markets.  Our partnership is strong and growing at an impressive pace.  Every Ambassador in every country will tell you that their bilateral relationship is special and important.  But in this case, our friendship is truly exceptional, as I hope I demonstrated in what I’ve said today.  The U.S. – Mongolia relationship is a cornerstone of peace, democracy, and prosperity both for our two countries and for the broader Indo-Pacific region.  And our commitment is to be the best third neighbor we can be.  I am so grateful to be in Mongolia at this crucial juncture in the history of our bilateral relationship.

Thank you for your time and attention, and I look forward to your questions.