December 12, 2002 | News Releases on Middle East
Saying "it has become increasingly clear that we must broaden our approach" to the Middle East, Secretary of State Colin Powell announced an ambitious new initiative to help the countries of the region expand economic, political and educational opportunity.
In a major policy address on Thursday to an overflow crowd at The Heritage Foundation, Powell said America must continue to meet the challenges posed by Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But also, he said, America had to help bridge the "hope gap" between expectations and reality in the region. To meet this challenge, he proposed a three-pronged approach, called the U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative, that would seek to close the gaps in jobs, freedom and education.
Powell said the United States would focus on economic reform, business investment and private-sector development to try to close a "jobs gap" that has 14 million people in the region out of work. He said the United States will establish enterprise funds for the Middle East, "modeled after the successful Polish-American Enterprise Fund." He promised to help Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Libya and Yemen with technical assistance to meet the World Trade Organization's membership criteria, to begin free-trade negotiations with Morocco and to work to enhance trade relationships with other countries in the region, such as Egypt and Bahrain.
He said efforts already have begun in this direction. Last month, the government announced it had established the LEAD Foundation, in which the U.S. Agency for International Development is joining with the World Bank and private sector in Egypt to support micro-enterprise lending in Egypt.
Powell called for a series of programs, tailored to the various nations of the region, to increase political participation, strengthen civic institutions that protect individual rights and help more countries move toward democracy. He said parts of this effort have begun, including a pilot program in which the United States brought 55 women from the Middle East to Washington to observe the mid-term elections and discuss democracy and expanding freedom and participation in their countries.
"It is fitting that we meet at The Heritage Foundation," he said. "For The Heritage Foundation's vision -- to build a country 'where freedom, opportunity, prosperity and civil society flourish' -- is the same vision we share with the peoples of the Middle East for their countries."
Powell also called for extensive education reform focused on women. He said when literacy rates for girls improve, all other important indicators of development in a country improve as well. He said the United States would provide scholarships to keep girls in school and expand literacy for girls and women. He also said the United States would work through partnerships with parents and educators to strengthen local and parental oversight of school systems.
"This won't happen in one year. It won't
happen in five years," Powell said. "This is a long-term
Powell said the concept grew out of discussions between President Bush and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt over how to address the economic, educational and political problems that, together, have "largely left the Middle East behind" as we move toward a global, information-based economy. He said the ideas pre-dated Sept. 11, 2001, but awareness of the need for such outreach grew after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
"Through the U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative, we are adding hope to the U.S.-Middle East agenda," Powell said. "We are pledging our energy, our abilities and our idealism to bring hope to all God's children who call the Middle East home."