December 12, 2002

December 12, 2002 | WebMemo on Middle East

Sec. of State Colin Powell - The U.S. Middle East PartnershipInitiative

As prepared for delivery at The Heritage Foundation

Thank you, Ed, for that warm introduction. Thank you, and the Heritage Foundation, for inviting me here to discuss the hopes and aspirations we share with the peoples of the Middle East. I'd also like to welcome our other distinguished guests from the diplomatic corps, Congressional staff, the NGO community, and the private sector. Thank you for making the time to come today. It is fitting that we meet at the Heritage Foundation. 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.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Middle East is a vast region of vast importance to the American people. Millions of us worship in churches, mosques, and synagogues, professing the three great faiths that were born in the lands between the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf.

Our language and traditions are filled with references to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Mecca. Our phone books list names - such as Mousavi, Levy, and Shaheen - that speak of deep family roots in the Middle East. Our farmers grow wheat, and our workers make airplanes, computers, and many other products that we sell to the countries of the region. We, in turn, benefit from traded goods and investment from the Middle East.

And, tragically, thousands of our countrymen and women died on September 11, 2001, at the hands of terrorists born and radicalized there. Recognizing the region's importance, we have for half a century and more devoted our blood and our treasure to helping the peoples and governments of the Middle East.

Indeed, my own career in public service has been shaped by events there. I was privileged to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when the United States led the international coalition, including many Arab countries, that evicted the Iraqi invaders from Kuwait. Today, as Secretary of State, the Middle East requires a great deal of my attention. As a government, our Middle East policy has emphasized winning the war on terrorism, disarming Iraq, and bringing the Arab-Israeli conflict to an end.

The war on terrorism is not confined to the Middle East, of course, but our friends there have a particularly important stake in it. Many have suffered the scourge of terrorism first hand. I am pleased that our friends have stepped up to the challenge by extending basing rights for Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, exchanging intelligence and law enforcement information, arresting suspected terrorists, and clamping down on terrorist financing.

With the countries of the Middle East, our friends and allies, and the community of nations, we must also deal with the grave and growing danger posed by the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein. By unanimously passing Resolution 1441, the United Nations Security Council has offered Iraq a final opportunity to meet its obligations. The Iraqi regime can either disarm, or be disarmed. The choice is theirs - but it can no longer be postponed.

We also have a deep and abiding national interest in bringing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to an end. With our friends in the region and the international community, we are working to bring about a lasting peace based on President Bush's vision of two states, living side-by-side, in peace and security. This peace will require from the Palestinians a new and different leadership, new institutions, and an end to terror and violence. As the Palestinians make progress in this direction, Israel will also be required to make hard choices, including an end to all settlement construction activity, consistent with the Mitchell Report.

As President Bush has stated, with intensive effort by all, the creation of a democratic, viable Palestine is possible in 2005. Our ultimate goal is a just and comprehensive Arab-Israeli settlement, in which all the peoples of the region are accepted as neighbors, living in peace and security.

These challenges have been at the forefront of America's Middle East policy, and with good reason. Each profoundly affects our national interest, and the interests of the peoples who call the Middle East home. We remain deeply committed to meeting each of these challenges with energy and determination.

At the same time, it has become increasingly clear that we must broaden our approach to the region if we are to achieve success. In particular, we must give sustained and energetic attention to economic, political, and educational reform. We must work with peoples and governments to close the gulf between expectation and reality that Jordan's Queen Rania has so eloquently called the "hope gap."

The spread of democracy and free markets, fueled by the wonders of the technological revolution, has created a dynamo that can generate prosperity and human well-being on an unprecedented scale. But this revolution has largely left the Middle East behind.

Throughout history, the countries of the Middle East have made invaluable contributions to the arts and sciences. Today, however, too many people there lack the very political and economic freedom, empowerment of women, and modern education they need to prosper in the 21st century. The 2002 Arab Human Development Report, written by leading Arab scholars and issued by the United Nations, identified a fundamental choice - between "inertia … [and] an Arab renaissance that will build a prosperous future for all Arabs." These are not my words. They come from Arab experts who have looked deeply into the issues. They are based on the stark facts.

Some 14 million Arab adults lack the jobs they need to put food on their tables, roofs over their heads, and hope in their hearts. Some 50 million more Arab young people will enter the already crowded job market over the next eight years.

But economies are not creating enough jobs. Growth is weak. The GDP of 260 million Arabs is already less than that of 40 million Spaniards, and falling even further behind. Add in the production of Iran's 67 million people, and the total is still only two-thirds of Italy's. Internally, many economies are stifled by regulation and cronyism. They lack transparency, and are closed to entrepreneurship, investment, and trade.

The countries of the Middle East are also largely absent from world markets. They generate barely one percent of the world's non-oil exports. Only ten Middle Eastern countries belong to the World Trade Organization. The region's governments are now recognizing, as Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak has warned, that "giving a boost to exports is a matter of life or death."

A shortage of economic opportunities is a ticket to despair. Combined with rigid political systems, it is a dangerous brew indeed. Along with freer economies, many of the peoples of the Middle East need a stronger political voice. We reject the condescending notion that freedom will not grow in the Middle East, or that there is any region of the world that cannot support democracy.

President Bush gave voice to the yearnings of people everywhere when he declared, in his West Point address, that "when it comes to the common rights and needs of men and women, there is no clash of civilizations. The requirements of freedom apply fully to Africa and Latin America and the entire Islamic world."

Given a choice between tyranny and freedom, people choose freedom. We need look only to the streets of Kabul, filled with people celebrating the end of Taliban rule last year. There are rays of hope in the Middle East, as well. Countries such as Bahrain, Qatar, and Morocco have embarked on bold political reforms. Civic organizations are increasingly active in many Arab countries, working on bread-and-butter issues such as securing badly needed identity cards for women.

We are also seeing an explosion of media outlets, from satellite television stations to weekly tabloids. Though some still do not live up to their responsibility to deliver responsible coverage and factual information, they are making information available to more people than every before. Still, too many Middle Easterners are ruled by closed political systems. Too many governments curb the institutions of civil society as a threat, rather than welcome them as the basis for a free, dynamic, and hopeful society. And the language of hate, exclusion, and incitement to violence is still all too common.

As Morocco's King Mohammed told his country's parliament two years ago, "to achieve development, democracy, and modernization, it is necessary to improve and strengthen political parties, trade unions, associations, and the media, and to enlarge the scope of participation."

Finally, too many of the region's children lack the knowledge to take advantage of a world of economic and political freedom. Ten million school-age children are at home, at work, or on the streets, instead of in class. Some 65 million of their parents cannot read or write, let alone help them with their lessons. Barely one person out of a hundred has access to a computer. Of those, only half can reach the wider world via the Internet.

Even when children do go to school, they often fail to learn the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century. "Education" too often means rote learning rather than the creative, critical thinking essential for success in our globalizing world. The authors of the Arab Development Report have found that "education has begun to lose its significant role as a means of achieving social advancement in Arab countries, turning instead into a means of perpetuating social stratification and poverty." That is a telling indictment and a call to action.

There is a constant theme running through these challenges, and that is the marginalization of women in many Middle Eastern countries. More than half of the Arab world's women are illiterate. They suffer more from unemployment and lack of economic opportunity. Women also make up a smaller proportion of members of parliament in Arab countries than in any other region in the world.

Until the countries of the Middle East unleash the abilities and potential of their women, they will not build a future of hope. Any approach to the Middle East that ignores its political, economic, and educational underdevelopment will be built upon sand.

It is time to lay a firm foundation of hope. I am announcing today an initiative that places the United States firmly on the side of change, of reform, and of a modern future for the Middle East. During last March's visit by President Mubarak to Washington, President Bush asked me to head a new American government effort to support the peoples and governments of the Middle East in their efforts to meet these pressing human challenges.

I am pleased to announce the initial results of our work - an innovative set of programs and a framework for future cooperation that we call the U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative. The U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative is a bridge between the United States and the Middle East, between our governments and our peoples, that spans the hope gap with energy, ideas, and funding.

Our Partnership Initiative is a continuation, and a deepening, of our longstanding commitment to working with all the peoples of the Middle East to improve their daily lives and help them face the future with hope. Just as our decision to rejoin UNESCO is a symbol of our commitment to advancing human rights and tolerance and learning, so this Initiative is a concrete demonstration of our commitment to human dignity in the Middle East.

We are initially dedicating $29 million to get this Initiative off to a strong start. Working with Congress, we will seek significant additional funding for next year. These funds will be over and above the more than $1 billion we provide in economic assistance to the Arab world every year.

Our initiative rests on three pillars. We will engage with public and private sector groups to bridge the jobs gap with economic reform, business investment, and private sector development. We will partner with community leaders to close the freedom gap with projects to strengthen civil society, expand political participation, and lift the voices of women. And, we will work with parents and educators to bridge the knowledge gap with better schools and more opportunities for higher education.

Ladies and gentlemen, hope begins with a paycheck. And that requires a vibrant economy. Through the U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative, we will work with governments to establish economic rules and regulations that will attract foreign investment and allow the private sector to flourish.

We will help small and medium-sized businesses gain access to the life-blood of capital. As a first step, I am pleased to announce that we will establish Enterprise Funds for the Middle East, modeled after the successful Polish-American Enterprise Fund, to begin investing in promising new businesses. We will also help more countries share in the bounty of the global economy. That means offering aspiring World Trade Organization members like Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Lebanon, and Yemen, technical assistance to meet the WTO's membership criteria.

It means building upon our successful Free Trade Agreement with Jordan by beginning FTA negotiations with Morocco. And, it means continuing to work with countries like Egypt and Bahrain to explore ways to enhance our bilateral economic trade relationships, including through possible free trade agreements.

Open economies require open political systems. So the second pillar of our Partnership Initiative will support citizens across the region who are claiming their political voices. We began the first pilot project in this area last month, when we brought a delegation of 55 Arab women political leaders to the United States to observe our mid-term elections.

I had a very good meeting with this remarkable group during their stay in Washington, and I was inspired by their energy and commitment. They put tough questions to me, and we debated the issues as people do in free societies. These women were proud of their heritage and spoke eloquently of their dreams of a world where their children could live in peace. They told of their hopes to see an end to the conflicts that cripple their region, including their expectations for America's role. They talked about how they want control over their own lives and destinies. And, they asked to know more about American democracy, and how to make their own voices more effective.

Increased political participation also requires strengthening the civic institutions that protect individual rights and provide opportunities for participation. Through our Partnership Initiative we will support these efforts. To be effective, free economies and open political systems need educated citizens, so the third pillar of the U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative will focus on education reform.

Our programs will emphasize the education of girls. An Egyptian poet once wrote that, "A mother is a school. Empower her and you empower a great nation." He was right. When girls' literacy rates improve, all the other important indicators of development in a country improve, as well. We will provide scholarships to keep girls in school and expand literacy for girls and women. More broadly, we will work with parents and educators to strengthen local and parental oversight of school systems.

In each of these three areas, we are committed to genuine, two-way partnership. Partnership with the citizens and countries of the region, with Congress, and even with other donors as we implement this agenda. The U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative is one of the most challenging undertakings that we and our friends in the region have ever considered. We should be realistic about the obstacles on the road ahead, about the time it will take to see real change take root, and about the limited role that outsiders can play. We should understand that genuine Middle Eastern interest must drive this initiative, and only Middle Eastern engagement will sustain it.

But we should also avoid resigning ourselves to low expectations. As the ferment in the region shows, the peoples of the Middle East themselves are seized with these issues. We are not starting from scratch. We are already working successfully with a broad array of partners. For example, just last month we announced the establishment of the LEAD Foundation, in which the United States Agency for International Development is partnering with the World Bank and the Egyptian private sector to support micro-enterprise lending in Egypt.

In addition, through our Partnership for Learning, we are already engaged with the countries of the region on teacher training, English-language instruction, and other programs to strengthen their educational systems. Indeed, an important part of our work will involve reviewing our existing programs to learn from them and make sure our assistance touches as many lives as possible. Nor are we advocating a "one size fits all" approach. The region is much too diverse for that. We will be on the ground listening and working to make sure our programs are tailored to meet the needs of people where they live their lives.

With the U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative, we recognize that hope built from economic, political, and educational opportunity is critical to the success of all of our efforts. And that the success of these other efforts is, in turn, essential to creating hope. In my travels throughout the Middle East, in public and in private life, I have seen first hand the energy, creativity, and dedication of parents as they try to build a better future for their children. But I have also seen their frustration when progress is so painfully slow. We must move faster. We will move faster.

Through the U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative, we are adding hope to the U.S.-Middle East agenda. We are pledging our energy, our abilities, and our idealism to bring hope to all of God's children who call the Middle East home.

Thank you.

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