USA to the Republic of South Sudan: “We will stand with you.”

Today, the Republic of South Sudan officially declares independence. This is the culmination of a peace process that started in 2005 after nearly 20 years of civil war between the central government in Khartoum and the South Sudanese.

The United States has been one of the principal allies of the South Sudanese–even as relations between Washington and Khartoum hardened.  The new country gives the United States a fairly strong diplomatic foothold in the region. So, it was interesting to read Ambassador Rice remarks from earlier today, which were delivered as part of the official independence day ceremonies.

Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, President Kiir—

I am honored to represent the United States at this hour of celebration. It is my particular privilege to lead such a distinguished, bipartisan U.S. delegation—including former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement on behalf of the United States; Representative Donald Payne, who has done so much in the U.S. Congress to support the birth of your state; and Ambassador Princeton Lyman, who continues to work tirelessly in the cause of peace. On behalf of President Obama, my fellow delegates, the U.S. government, and the American people, we warmly welcome the Republic of South Sudan to the community of sovereign nations.

Today is a day of celebration for all South Sudanese, and a day of triumph for all who cherish the rights of all people to govern themselves in liberty and law.

My country too was born amid struggle and strife on a July day. On this day, the world’s oldest democracy welcomes the world’s newest state.

As we do so, we salute those who did not live to see this moment—from leaders such as Dr. John Garang to the ordinary citizens who rest in unmarked graves. We cannot bring them back. But we can honor their memory by working together to build South Sudan into a country worthy of their sacrifice.

No citizen of South Sudan should ever take their independence for granted. You have waged a righteous struggle to win your liberty and chart your own course among the community of nations. Let that always serve as a reminder to lift up those who are denied their rights, those who hunger for freedom, and those who suffer in places where hope seems to be forgotten.

For South Sudan, independence is not a gift that you were given. Independence is a prize that you have won.

Yet even on this day of jubilee, we remain mindful of the challenges that await us tomorrow. No true friend would offer false comfort. The path ahead will be steep and pitted. But the Republic of South Sudan is being born amid great hopes—the hope that you will guarantee the rights of all citizens, shelter the vulnerable, and bring prosperity to all corners of your land; the hope that you will be able to live in peace and justice with your neighbors, bind up the wounds of war, and work with the Government of Sudan to resolve swiftly and peacefully all outstanding issues in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

All of this will demand leadership and accountability. For democracy and development rest on the foundation of good governance. Peace and prosperity rest on the foundation of strong institutions devoted to the public interest. Law and justice rest on the foundation of a political system free of corruption and fraud. And education and public health rest on the foundation of a government dedicated to the well-being of all rather than the interests of a few. The same self-reliance that won your freedom can now move you from independence and self-determination to opportunity and democracy. South Sudan’s leaders, and the citizens who hold them accountable, now have the chance to create a state that stands out not for its flag or its currency but for the investments it makes in the development of its people.

As you turn to the task of building your newborn nation, you can draw strength from a well that never runs dry: you, the people of South Sudan. Over the course of a week in January, millions of men and women lined up peacefully and joyfully to cast their ballots, from dusty village lanes to the main streets of Juba. You reminded us again of two mighty truths: few forces on Earth are more powerful than a citizenry tempered by struggle and united in sacrifice. And every problem created by human folly can be met by human wisdom and mended by human resolve.

In the words of President Obama, “today is a reminder that after the darkness of war, a new day is possible.”

Friends, colleagues, citizens of the world’s newest nation—know that the people of the Republic of South Sudan have a true and lasting friend and partner in the people of the United States of America as you work to strengthen the foundations of your democracy, promote human rights, and expand economic growth. Our support for the cause of peace for the Sudanese people has long been bipartisan and deep, and it will continue to be. We helped broker the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that led us here today, and we will continue to watch over it—and the future to come.

We do so, in part, because of our own history. As my country learned, a nation born from conflict need not live in conflict. My government will stand with you as you build up the institutions that enshrine your liberty. We will stand with you as you write a constitution for all South Sudanese. We will stand by you as you forge the conditions for lasting peace, prosperity, and justice. And we will work with you as you shoulder the obligations of a full and responsible member of the international community.

The task is great. The responsibility is yours. But so long as you seek a more perfect union, you will never be alone.

Thank you, and may God bless you all—and may He shine down upon your glorious independence day.