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 You are in: Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs > Bureau of Public Affairs > Bureau of Public Affairs: Press Relations Office > Press Releases (Other) > 2003 > April
Media Note
Office of the Spokesman
Washington, DC
April 1, 2003

U.S.-France "La Belle" Agreement Signed

Following is the text of a joint statement issued by the United States and France upon the signing of the U.S. – France Agreement regarding the sunken vessel “La Belle” on Monday, March 31, 2003, in Washington, D.C.

“Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs Paula J. Dobriansky and French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte today in Washington signed an Agreement regarding the historic sunken vessel “La Belle”. Representatives of the Texas Historical Commission and the French National Marine Museum also signed a related Administrative Arrangement authorized by the Agreement.

“La Belle”, under the command of Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle, played a pivotal role in the 17th-century exploration of what is now Louisiana and Texas, before it sank in the Gulf of Mexico. The discovery and excavation of “La Belle” opens a unique window into the life of La Salle, the man, and the history of that period that is shared by the U.S. and France.

The Agreement and Administrative Arrangement, both effective upon signature, highlight U.S.- French common interests and cooperation in regard to ownership, research, preservation and display of historic sunken warships, and the effective transmission of our joint history to future generations. Key elements are:

The Agreement reflects an important principle of international law -- that title to identifiable sunken State vessels remains vested in the Sovereign unless expressly abandoned, and is not lost by the passage of time. This principle is of great importance because it helps to ensure appropriate treatment and respect for sunken warships and aircraft around the world, many of which contain the human remains of men and women who died in the service of their country.

The wreck of “La Belle” and its associated artifacts will remain in Texas on a long-term loan under the custody and control of the Texas Historical Commission, except for temporary loans for the purpose of public exhibition of some of the artifacts.

The Arrangement will ensure that the physical remains of “La Belle” and its associated artifacts and human remains are preserved, studied, exhibited, and cared for in accordance with current international professional standards as those standards evolve over time.”

Released on April 1, 2003

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