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12/30/02 - MIDDLE EAST INITIATIVE - 2002-12-31


The United States has announced an initiative to promote economic, political, and educational reform in the Middle East. As Secretary of State Colin Powell said, “America wants to align itself with the people of the Middle East, moving forward on the basis of hope, hope for peace, hope for a better life for the children of the Middle East and. . .the world.” The U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative, said Mr. Powell, will place the U.S. “firmly on the side of reform, and on the side of a modern future for the Middle East.”

The need for reform was made clear in the Arab Human Development Report, written earlier this year by leading Arab scholars and issued by the United Nations. Throughout history, the countries of the Middle East have made invaluable contributions to the arts and sciences. But today, as the report points out, too many people there lack the political and economic freedom, empowerment of women, and modern education they need to prosper in the twenty-first century.

As Secretary of State Powell put it, “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 left much of the Middle East behind.” Nevertheless, as Mr. Powell stressed, the U.S. rejects “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.”

The U.S. is dedicating twenty-nine million dollars to the initiative this year. And significant additional funds will be sought next year. This is in addition to the more than one-billion dollars that the U.S. provides in economic assistance to the Arab world every year.

The initiative rests on three principles -- economic freedom, political freedom, and education open to all. The U.S. will engage with public and private sector groups in Arab countries to promote economic reform, business investment, and private sector development. The U.S. will join with community leaders in Arab countries to strengthen civil society, expand political participation, and lift the voices of women. And the U.S. will work with parents and educators in Arab countries to promote better schools and more opportunities for higher education, especially for girls. As Mr. Powell said, “Until the countries of the Middle East unleash the abilities and potential of their women, they will not build a future of hope.”

The U.S. is well aware of the many obstacles to reform -- and of the limited role that outsiders can play. As Secretary of State Powell made clear, “genuine Middle Eastern interest must drive this initiative, and only Middle Eastern engagement will sustain it over time.”

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