For more information on the human rights situation in countries around the world, check out the human rights reports.
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THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you very much. Thank you. Please, have a seat. Thank you very much. I want to begin by thanking Hillary Clinton, who has traveled so much these last six months that she is approaching a new landmark — one million frequent flyer miles. (Laughter.) I count on Hillary every single day, and I believe that she will go down as one of the finest Secretaries of State in our nation’s history.
The State Department is a fitting venue to mark a new chapter in American diplomacy. For six months, we have witnessed an extraordinary change taking place in the Middle East and North Africa. Square by square, town by town, country by country, the people have risen up to demand their basic human rights. Two leaders have stepped aside. More may follow. And though these countries may be a great distance from our shores, we know that our own future is bound to this region by the forces of economics and security, by history and by faith.
Today, I want to talk about this change — the forces that are driving it and how we can respond in a way that advances our values and strengthens our security.
Now, already, we’ve done much to shift our foreign policy following a decade defined by two costly conflicts. After years of war in Iraq, we’ve removed 100,000 American troops and ended our combat mission there. In Afghanistan, we’ve broken the Taliban’s momentum, and this July we will begin to bring our troops home and continue a transition to Afghan lead. And after years of war against al Qaeda and its affiliates, we have dealt al Qaeda a huge blow by killing its leader, Osama bin Laden.
Bin Laden was no martyr. He was a mass murderer who offered a message of hate –- an insistence that Muslims had to take up arms against the West, and that violence against men, women and children was the only path to change. He rejected democracy and individual rights for Muslims in favor of violent extremism; his agenda focused on what he could destroy -– not what he could build.
Bin Laden and his murderous vision won some adherents. But even before his death, al Qaeda was losing its struggle for relevance, as the overwhelming majority of people saw that the slaughter of innocents did not answer their cries for a better life. By the time we found bin Laden, al Qaeda’s agenda had come to be seen by the vast majority of the region as a dead end, and the people of the Middle East and North Africa had taken their future into their own hands.
That story of self-determination began six months ago in Tunisia. On December 17th, a young vendor named Mohammed Bouazizi was devastated when a police officer confiscated his cart. This was not unique. It’s the same kind of humiliation that takes place every day in many parts of the world -– the relentless tyranny of governments that deny their citizens dignity. Only this time, something different happened. After local officials refused to hear his complaints, this young man, who had never been particularly active in politics, went to the headquarters of the provincial government, doused himself in fuel, and lit himself on fire.
There are times in the course of history when the actions of ordinary citizens spark movements for change because they speak to a longing for freedom that has been building up for years. In America, think of the defiance of those patriots in Boston who refused to pay taxes to a King, or the dignity of Rosa Parks as she sat courageously in her seat. So it was in Tunisia, as that vendor’s act of desperation tapped into the frustration felt throughout the country. Hundreds of protesters took to the streets, then thousands. And in the face of batons and sometimes bullets, they refused to go home –- day after day, week after week — until a dictator of more than two decades finally left power.
The story of this revolution, and the ones that followed, should not have come as a surprise. The nations of the Middle East and North Africa won their independence long ago, but in too many places their people did not. In too many countries, power has been concentrated in the hands of a few. In too many countries, a citizen like that young vendor had nowhere to turn -– no honest judiciary to hear his case; no independent media to give him voice; no credible political party to represent his views; no free and fair election where he could choose his leader.
And this lack of self-determination –- the chance to make your life what you will –- has applied to the region’s economy as well. Yes, some nations are blessed with wealth in oil and gas, and that has led to pockets of prosperity. But in a global economy based on knowledge, based on innovation, no development strategy can be based solely upon what comes out of the ground. Nor can people reach their potential when you cannot start a business without paying a bribe.
In the face of these challenges, too many leaders in the region tried to direct their people’s grievances elsewhere. The West was blamed as the source of all ills, a half-century after the end of colonialism. Antagonism toward Israel became the only acceptable outlet for political expression. Divisions of tribe, ethnicity and religious sect were manipulated as a means of holding on to power, or taking it away from somebody else.
But the events of the past six months show us that strategies of repression and strategies of diversion will not work anymore. Satellite television and the Internet provide a window into the wider world -– a world of astonishing progress in places like India and Indonesia and Brazil. Cell phones and social networks allow young people to connect and organize like never before. And so a new generation has emerged. And their voices tell us that change cannot be denied.
In Cairo, we heard the voice of the young mother who said, “It’s like I can finally breathe fresh air for the first time.”
In Sanaa, we heard the students who chanted, “The night must come to an end.”
In Benghazi, we heard the engineer who said, “Our words are free now. It’s a feeling you can’t explain.”
In Damascus, we heard the young man who said, “After the first yelling, the first shout, you feel dignity.”
Those shouts of human dignity are being heard across the region. And through the moral force of nonviolence, the people of the region have achieved more change in six months than terrorists have accomplished in decades.
Of course, change of this magnitude does not come easily. In our day and age -– a time of 24-hour news cycles and constant communication –- people expect the transformation of the region to be resolved in a matter of weeks. But it will be years before this story reaches its end. Along the way, there will be good days and there will bad days. In some places, change will be swift; in others, gradual. And as we’ve already seen, calls for change may give way, in some cases, to fierce contests for power.
The question before us is what role America will play as this story unfolds. For decades, the United States has pursued a set of core interests in the region: countering terrorism and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons; securing the free flow of commerce and safe-guarding the security of the region; standing up for Israel’s security and pursuing Arab-Israeli peace.
We will continue to do these things, with the firm belief that America’s interests are not hostile to people’s hopes; they’re essential to them. We believe that no one benefits from a nuclear arms race in the region, or al Qaeda’s brutal attacks. We believe people everywhere would see their economies crippled by a cut-off in energy supplies. As we did in the Gulf War, we will not tolerate aggression across borders, and we will keep our commitments to friends and partners.
Yet we must acknowledge that a strategy based solely upon the narrow pursuit of these interests will not fill an empty stomach or allow someone to speak their mind. Moreover, failure to speak to the broader aspirations of ordinary people will only feed the suspicion that has festered for years that the United States pursues our interests at their expense. Given that this mistrust runs both ways –- as Americans have been seared by hostage-taking and violent rhetoric and terrorist attacks that have killed thousands of our citizens -– a failure to change our approach threatens a deepening spiral of division between the United States and the Arab world.
And that’s why, two years ago in Cairo, I began to broaden our engagement based upon mutual interests and mutual respect. I believed then -– and I believe now -– that we have a stake not just in the stability of nations, but in the self-determination of individuals. The status quo is not sustainable. Societies held together by fear and repression may offer the illusion of stability for a time, but they are built upon fault lines that will eventually tear asunder.
So we face a historic opportunity. We have the chance to show that America values the dignity of the street vendor in Tunisia more than the raw power of the dictator. There must be no doubt that the United States of America welcomes change that advances self-determination and opportunity. Yes, there will be perils that accompany this moment of promise. But after decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be.
Of course, as we do, we must proceed with a sense of humility. It’s not America that put people into the streets of Tunis or Cairo -– it was the people themselves who launched these movements, and it’s the people themselves that must ultimately determine their outcome.
Not every country will follow our particular form of representative democracy, and there will be times when our short-term interests don’t align perfectly with our long-term vision for the region. But we can, and we will, speak out for a set of core principles –- principles that have guided our response to the events over the past six months:
The United States opposes the use of violence and repression against the people of the region. (Applause.)
The United States supports a set of universal rights. And these rights include free speech, the freedom of peaceful assembly, the freedom of religion, equality for men and women under the rule of law, and the right to choose your own leaders -– whether you live in Baghdad or Damascus, Sanaa or Tehran.
And we support political and economic reform in the Middle East and North Africa that can meet the legitimate aspirations of ordinary people throughout the region.
Our support for these principles is not a secondary interest. Today I want to make it clear that it is a top priority that must be translated into concrete actions, and supported by all of the diplomatic, economic and strategic tools at our disposal.
Let me be specific. First, it will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region, and to support transitions to democracy. That effort begins in Egypt and Tunisia, where the stakes are high -– as Tunisia was at the vanguard of this democratic wave, and Egypt is both a longstanding partner and the Arab world’s largest nation. Both nations can set a strong example through free and fair elections, a vibrant civil society, accountable and effective democratic institutions, and responsible regional leadership. But our support must also extend to nations where transitions have yet to take place.
Unfortunately, in too many countries, calls for change have thus far been answered by violence. The most extreme example is Libya, where Muammar Qaddafi launched a war against his own people, promising to hunt them down like rats. As I said when the United States joined an international coalition to intervene, we cannot prevent every injustice perpetrated by a regime against its people, and we have learned from our experience in Iraq just how costly and difficult it is to try to impose regime change by force -– no matter how well-intentioned it may be.
But in Libya, we saw the prospect of imminent massacre, we had a mandate for action, and heard the Libyan people’s call for help. Had we not acted along with our NATO allies and regional coalition partners, thousands would have been killed. The message would have been clear: Keep power by killing as many people as it takes. Now, time is working against Qaddafi. He does not have control over his country. The opposition has organized a legitimate and credible Interim Council. And when Qaddafi inevitably leaves or is forced from power, decades of provocation will come to an end, and the transition to a democratic Libya can proceed.
While Libya has faced violence on the greatest scale, it’s not the only place where leaders have turned to repression to remain in power. Most recently, the Syrian regime has chosen the path of murder and the mass arrests of its citizens. The United States has condemned these actions, and working with the international community we have stepped up our sanctions on the Syrian regime –- including sanctions announced yesterday on President Assad and those around him.
The Syrian people have shown their courage in demanding a transition to democracy. President Assad now has a choice: He can lead that transition, or get out of the way. The Syrian government must stop shooting demonstrators and allow peaceful protests. It must release political prisoners and stop unjust arrests. It must allow human rights monitors to have access to cities like Dara’a; and start a serious dialogue to advance a democratic transition. Otherwise, President Assad and his regime will continue to be challenged from within and will continue to be isolated abroad.
So far, Syria has followed its Iranian ally, seeking assistance from Tehran in the tactics of suppression. And this speaks to the hypocrisy of the Iranian regime, which says it stand for the rights of protesters abroad, yet represses its own people at home. Let’s remember that the first peaceful protests in the region were in the streets of Tehran, where the government brutalized women and men, and threw innocent people into jail. We still hear the chants echo from the rooftops of Tehran. The image of a young woman dying in the streets is still seared in our memory. And we will continue to insist that the Iranian people deserve their universal rights, and a government that does not smother their aspirations.
Now, our opposition to Iran’s intolerance and Iran’s repressive measures, as well as its illicit nuclear program and its support of terror, is well known. But if America is to be credible, we must acknowledge that at times our friends in the region have not all reacted to the demands for consistent change — with change that’s consistent with the principles that I’ve outlined today. That’s true in Yemen, where President Saleh needs to follow through on his commitment to transfer power. And that’s true today in Bahrain.
Bahrain is a longstanding partner, and we are committed to its security. We recognize that Iran has tried to take advantage of the turmoil there, and that the Bahraini government has a legitimate interest in the rule of law.
Nevertheless, we have insisted both publicly and privately that mass arrests and brute force are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain’s citizens, and we will — and such steps will not make legitimate calls for reform go away. The only way forward is for the government and opposition to engage in a dialogue, and you can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail. (Applause.) The government must create the conditions for dialogue, and the opposition must participate to forge a just future for all Bahrainis.
Indeed, one of the broader lessons to be drawn from this period is that sectarian divides need not lead to conflict. In Iraq, we see the promise of a multiethnic, multisectarian democracy. The Iraqi people have rejected the perils of political violence in favor of a democratic process, even as they’ve taken full responsibility for their own security. Of course, like all new democracies, they will face setbacks. But Iraq is poised to play a key role in the region if it continues its peaceful progress. And as they do, we will be proud to stand with them as a steadfast partner.
So in the months ahead, America must use all our influence to encourage reform in the region. Even as we acknowledge that each country is different, we need to speak honestly about the principles that we believe in, with friend and foe alike. Our message is simple: If you take the risks that reform entails, you will have the full support of the United States.
We must also build on our efforts to broaden our engagement beyond elites, so that we reach the people who will shape the future -– particularly young people. We will continue to make good on the commitments that I made in Cairo -– to build networks of entrepreneurs and expand exchanges in education, to foster cooperation in science and technology, and combat disease. Across the region, we intend to provide assistance to civil society, including those that may not be officially sanctioned, and who speak uncomfortable truths. And we will use the technology to connect with -– and listen to –- the voices of the people.
For the fact is, real reform does not come at the ballot box alone. Through our efforts we must support those basic rights to speak your mind and access information. We will support open access to the Internet, and the right of journalists to be heard -– whether it’s a big news organization or a lone blogger. In the 21st century, information is power, the truth cannot be hidden, and the legitimacy of governments will ultimately depend on active and informed citizens.
Such open discourse is important even if what is said does not square with our worldview. Let me be clear, America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard, even if we disagree with them. And sometimes we profoundly disagree with them.
We look forward to working with all who embrace genuine and inclusive democracy. What we will oppose is an attempt by any group to restrict the rights of others, and to hold power through coercion and not consent. Because democracy depends not only on elections, but also strong and accountable institutions, and the respect for the rights of minorities.
Such tolerance is particularly important when it comes to religion. In Tahrir Square, we heard Egyptians from all walks of life chant, “Muslims, Christians, we are one.” America will work to see that this spirit prevails -– that all faiths are respected, and that bridges are built among them. In a region that was the birthplace of three world religions, intolerance can lead only to suffering and stagnation. And for this season of change to succeed, Coptic Christians must have the right to worship freely in Cairo, just as Shia must never have their mosques destroyed in Bahrain.
What is true for religious minorities is also true when it comes to the rights of women. History shows that countries are more prosperous and more peaceful when women are empowered. And that’s why we will continue to insist that universal rights apply to women as well as men -– by focusing assistance on child and maternal health; by helping women to teach, or start a business; by standing up for the right of women to have their voices heard, and to run for office. The region will never reach its full potential when more than half of its population is prevented from achieving their full potential. (Applause.)
Now, even as we promote political reform, even as we promote human rights in the region, our efforts can’t stop there. So the second way that we must support positive change in the region is through our efforts to advance economic development for nations that are transitioning to democracy.
After all, politics alone has not put protesters into the streets. The tipping point for so many people is the more constant concern of putting food on the table and providing for a family. Too many people in the region wake up with few expectations other than making it through the day, perhaps hoping that their luck will change. Throughout the region, many young people have a solid education, but closed economies leave them unable to find a job. Entrepreneurs are brimming with ideas, but corruption leaves them unable to profit from those ideas.
The greatest untapped resource in the Middle East and North Africa is the talent of its people. In the recent protests, we see that talent on display, as people harness technology to move the world. It’s no coincidence that one of the leaders of Tahrir Square was an executive for Google. That energy now needs to be channeled, in country after country, so that economic growth can solidify the accomplishments of the street. For just as democratic revolutions can be triggered by a lack of individual opportunity, successful democratic transitions depend upon an expansion of growth and broad-based prosperity.
So, drawing from what we’ve learned around the world, we think it’s important to focus on trade, not just aid; on investment, not just assistance. The goal must be a model in which protectionism gives way to openness, the reigns of commerce pass from the few to the many, and the economy generates jobs for the young. America’s support for democracy will therefore be based on ensuring financial stability, promoting reform, and integrating competitive markets with each other and the global economy. And we’re going to start with Tunisia and Egypt.
First, we’ve asked the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to present a plan at next week’s G8 summit for what needs to be done to stabilize and modernize the economies of Tunisia and Egypt. Together, we must help them recover from the disruptions of their democratic upheaval, and support the governments that will be elected later this year. And we are urging other countries to help Egypt and Tunisia meet its near-term financial needs.
Second, we do not want a democratic Egypt to be saddled by the debts of its past. So we will relieve a democratic Egypt of up to $1 billion in debt, and work with our Egyptian partners to invest these resources to foster growth and entrepreneurship. We will help Egypt regain access to markets by guaranteeing $1 billion in borrowing that is needed to finance infrastructure and job creation. And we will help newly democratic governments recover assets that were stolen.
Third, we’re working with Congress to create Enterprise Funds to invest in Tunisia and Egypt. And these will be modeled on funds that supported the transitions in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. OPIC will soon launch a $2 billion facility to support private investment across the region. And we will work with the allies to refocus the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development so that it provides the same support for democratic transitions and economic modernization in the Middle East and North Africa as it has in Europe.
Fourth, the United States will launch a comprehensive Trade and Investment Partnership Initiative in the Middle East and North Africa. If you take out oil exports, this entire region of over 400 million people exports roughly the same amount as Switzerland. So we will work with the EU to facilitate more trade within the region, build on existing agreements to promote integration with U.S. and European markets, and open the door for those countries who adopt high standards of reform and trade liberalization to construct a regional trade arrangement. And just as EU membership served as an incentive for reform in Europe, so should the vision of a modern and prosperous economy create a powerful force for reform in the Middle East and North Africa.
Prosperity also requires tearing down walls that stand in the way of progress -– the corruption of elites who steal from their people; the red tape that stops an idea from becoming a business; the patronage that distributes wealth based on tribe or sect. We will help governments meet international obligations, and invest efforts at anti-corruption — by working with parliamentarians who are developing reforms, and activists who use technology to increase transparency and hold government accountable. Politics and human rights; economic reform.
Let me conclude by talking about another cornerstone of our approach to the region, and that relates to the pursuit of peace.
For decades, the conflict between Israelis and Arabs has cast a shadow over the region. For Israelis, it has meant living with the fear that their children could be blown up on a bus or by rockets fired at their homes, as well as the pain of knowing that other children in the region are taught to hate them. For Palestinians, it has meant suffering the humiliation of occupation, and never living in a nation of their own. Moreover, this conflict has come with a larger cost to the Middle East, as it impedes partnerships that could bring greater security and prosperity and empowerment to ordinary people.
For over two years, my administration has worked with the parties and the international community to end this conflict, building on decades of work by previous administrations. Yet expectations have gone unmet. Israeli settlement activity continues. Palestinians have walked away from talks. The world looks at a conflict that has grinded on and on and on, and sees nothing but stalemate. Indeed, there are those who argue that with all the change and uncertainty in the region, it is simply not possible to move forward now.
I disagree. At a time when the people of the Middle East and North Africa are casting off the burdens of the past, the drive for a lasting peace that ends the conflict and resolves all claims is more urgent than ever. That’s certainly true for the two parties involved.
For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure. Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state. Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection. And Palestinians will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist.
As for Israel, our friendship is rooted deeply in a shared history and shared values. Our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable. And we will stand against attempts to single it out for criticism in international forums. But precisely because of our friendship, it’s important that we tell the truth: The status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace.
The fact is, a growing number of Palestinians live west of the Jordan River. Technology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself. A region undergoing profound change will lead to populism in which millions of people -– not just one or two leaders — must believe peace is possible. The international community is tired of an endless process that never produces an outcome. The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation.
Now, ultimately, it is up to the Israelis and Palestinians to take action. No peace can be imposed upon them — not by the United States; not by anybody else. But endless delay won’t make the problem go away. What America and the international community can do is to state frankly what everyone knows — a lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples: Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people, each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.
So while the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine, a secure Israel. The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.
As for security, every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself -– by itself -– against any threat. Provisions must also be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism, to stop the infiltration of weapons, and to provide effective border security. The full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign, non-militarized state. And the duration of this transition period must be agreed, and the effectiveness of security arrangements must be demonstrated.
These principles provide a foundation for negotiations. Palestinians should know the territorial outlines of their state; Israelis should know that their basic security concerns will be met. I’m aware that these steps alone will not resolve the conflict, because two wrenching and emotional issues will remain: the future of Jerusalem, and the fate of Palestinian refugees. But moving forward now on the basis of territory and security provides a foundation to resolve those two issues in a way that is just and fair, and that respects the rights and aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians.
Now, let me say this: Recognizing that negotiations need to begin with the issues of territory and security does not mean that it will be easy to come back to the table. In particular, the recent announcement of an agreement between Fatah and Hamas raises profound and legitimate questions for Israel: How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist? And in the weeks and months to come, Palestinian leaders will have to provide a credible answer to that question. Meanwhile, the United States, our Quartet partners, and the Arab states will need to continue every effort to get beyond the current impasse.
I recognize how hard this will be. Suspicion and hostility has been passed on for generations, and at times it has hardened. But I’m convinced that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians would rather look to the future than be trapped in the past. We see that spirit in the Israeli father whose son was killed by Hamas, who helped start an organization that brought together Israelis and Palestinians who had lost loved ones. That father said, “I gradually realized that the only hope for progress was to recognize the face of the conflict.” We see it in the actions of a Palestinian who lost three daughters to Israeli shells in Gaza. “I have the right to feel angry,” he said. “So many people were expecting me to hate. My answer to them is I shall not hate. Let us hope,” he said, “for tomorrow.”
That is the choice that must be made -– not simply in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but across the entire region -– a choice between hate and hope; between the shackles of the past and the promise of the future. It’s a choice that must be made by leaders and by the people, and it’s a choice that will define the future of a region that served as the cradle of civilization and a crucible of strife.
For all the challenges that lie ahead, we see many reasons to be hopeful. In Egypt, we see it in the efforts of young people who led protests. In Syria, we see it in the courage of those who brave bullets while chanting, “peaceful, peaceful.” In Benghazi, a city threatened with destruction, we see it in the courthouse square where people gather to celebrate the freedoms that they had never known. Across the region, those rights that we take for granted are being claimed with joy by those who are prying loose the grip of an iron fist.
For the American people, the scenes of upheaval in the region may be unsettling, but the forces driving it are not unfamiliar. Our own nation was founded through a rebellion against an empire. Our people fought a painful Civil War that extended freedom and dignity to those who were enslaved. And I would not be standing here today unless past generations turned to the moral force of nonviolence as a way to perfect our union –- organizing, marching, protesting peacefully together to make real those words that declared our nation: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
Those words must guide our response to the change that is transforming the Middle East and North Africa -– words which tell us that repression will fail, and that tyrants will fall, and that every man and woman is endowed with certain inalienable rights.
It will not be easy. There’s no straight line to progress, and hardship always accompanies a season of hope. But the United States of America was founded on the belief that people should govern themselves. And now we cannot hesitate to stand squarely on the side of those who are reaching for their rights, knowing that their success will bring about a world that is more peaceful, more stable, and more just.
Thank you very much, everybody. (Applause.) Thank you.
Chairman Shaheen, Ranking Member Barrasso, Members of the Committee:
Watching the wave of democracy protests in the Arab world reminds us inevitably of the last time dictatorships across an entire region suddenly shook and collapsed under the weight of the people’s desire for freedom. In 1989, Europe changed suddenly and immeasurably. Because of those events and because of the wise bipartisan policies in the years that followed, Europe, and our relationship with Europe, has changed vastly in the last twenty years. In those days, the major preoccupation in the transatlantic relationship was the defense of Europe against the Soviet threat. Today, Europe is almost fully democratic, largely unified, and is America’s essential global partner. When the Libya crisis erupted, for example, we worked closely with our European allies pass UNSCRs 1970 and 1973, and we looked to NATO to lead the effort to enforce the no-fly zone and arms embargo and to protect civilians.
Beyond Libya, the U.S. and Europe work together on an extraordinarily wide range of issues, from Afghanistan to Iran to the tumultuous events in North Africa and the Middle East. On both sides of the Atlantic we are working hard to recover from the worst financial crisis since The Great Depression. Because our economies are intertwined, and we are working together so closely on problems around the globe, policy decisions taken in Europe to address the Eurozone crisis will have an impact here in the United States. There is a common thread that runs through all our engagement with Europe: U.S.-European cooperation is and remains essential to achieving our strategic objectives.
Our engagement with Europe begins with the idea that the United States faces a daunting international agenda and that our ability to deal with it is immeasurably increased by working with strong allies and partners. In meeting these challenges, we have no better partner than Europe, where we work with democratic, prosperous, militarily-capable allies who share our values and share our interests. In the words of President Obama, Europe is “the cornerstone of our engagement with the world.”
To help you understand the breadth and depth of that engagement, I’ll describe the strategic objectives that drive our approach toward Europe. Then, I’d like to offer you an assessment of our record over the past two years on these objectives.
When I think about this administration’s priorities in Europe, there are three basic objectives that stand out in our engagement with the continent:
1. First, we work with Europe as a partner in meeting global challenges. On every issue of global importance, Europe’s contributions are crucial to solving major international challenges. No matter what the issue is – from the war in Afghanistan, to the Iranian nuclear challenge, to the new operation in Libya – Europe is indispensable. We are vastly stronger – in terms of legitimacy, resources, and ideas – when we join forces with Europe on the global agenda.
2. Second, we are still working with Europe on Europe, that is to say working to complete the historic project of helping to extend stability, security, prosperity and democracy to the entire continent. The extraordinary success that the United States and Europe have had together in promoting European integration, in consolidating and supporting the new democracies in Central and Eastern Europe and integrating them into Euro-Atlantic institutions demonstrates the promise of this enterprise. But our work is not done. And so the effort continues in the Balkans, in Europe’s east, and in the Caucasus.
3. Finally, we have sought to set relations with Russia on a more constructive course. President Obama recognized that he had inherited a relationship that was in a difficult place and that this situation did not serve the interests of the United States. Therefore, our goal has been to cooperate with Russia where we have common interests, but not at the expense of our principles or our friends. As such, where we have concerns, such as on Russia’s human rights record, or on Georgia, we will continue to raise concerns with government and foster connections with civil society.
Looking back on the past two years, we can point to significant progress in each area:
First, we have worked together as never before with our European partners on global issues, including Afghanistan, Iran, missile defense, and the momentous developments in North Africa and the Middle East. Specifically:
In Afghanistan, following the President’s West Point speech in November 2009, Europe contributed about 7,000 additional troops, over 100 training teams for the Afghan army and police, and nearly $300 million for the Afghan National Army trust fund. European nations now have almost 40,000 troops in Afghanistan and the total European contribution to Afghanistan since 2001 comes to over $14 billion.
On Iran, we maintained unity in our efforts to engage, and we have at the same time seen the strongest-ever set of sanctions adopted by the UN Security Council and an even more robust set of follow-on sanctions adopted by the European Union. These additional measures taken by the EU cover a variety of areas critical to the regime including trade, finance, banking and insurance, transport, and the gas and oil sectors, in addition to new visa bans and asset freezes. These steps have raised the price of Iran’s failure to meet its obligations and we hope will serve to bring them back to the negotiating table.
On Missile Defense, NATO allies recognized at the Lisbon Summit in November 2010 that the defense of Europe can no longer be achieved just by tanks or bombers. Now, we need defenses against a new and grave set of threats, in particular ballistic missiles in the hands of dangerous regimes. Our aim as an alliance is to develop a missile defense capability that will provide full coverage and protection from ballistic missile threats for all NATO European territory, populations, and forces. This capability will be a tangible expression of NATO’s core mission of collective defense. At the summit, allies also welcomed the U.S. missile defense system in Europe, known as the European Phased Adaptive Approach, as a valuable national contribution to the overall effort, and we hope to see additional voluntary contributions from other allies. We are now exploring further ways to cooperate with Russia on missile defense, without in any way prejudicing NATO’s ability to independently defend its territory from missile threats.
In Libya, we consulted and cooperated closely with our European allies to pass UNSCRs 1970 and 1973, which levied sanctions against the Qadhafi regime, established a no-fly zone over Libya, and gave us the authority to protect Libyan civilians from the regime’s attacks. NATO took over enforcement of UNSCR 1973 on March 31 and now has over 7,000 personnel in Operation Unified Protector, over 200 aircraft and 20 ships. OUP has maintained a consistently high operational tempo across a vast country. NATO has flown over 6,000 sorties – almost half of them strike sorties – and hit hundreds of critical targets. And this is primarily a European operation. Over 60 percent of the aircraft come from our allies and our partners, including from the region. All 20 naval ships are contributed by Canada and European allies.
In the second area, extending the European zone of peace, prosperity, and democracy, we have had some important successes, but equally important challenges remain. As I said at the outset, the work of “completing” Europe is not finished. What I think is most notable about our current efforts under the Obama Administration is how closely – as part of a deliberate strategy – we are working together with Europe to achieve this goal.
Take, for instance, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia. These are the countries of the EU’s Eastern Partnership, an initiative that the United States strongly supports and works with to advance democracy, stability, and security in this part of the world. We share with our European counterparts a similar approach to these countries because of our common goals. As the situation has deteriorated in Belarus, including with the conviction of former Presidential candidate Sannikov, we have coordinated very closely with the EU including on possible additional sanctions.
The same can be said of the Balkans: the U.S. and European view is that Europe will not be complete until all of the countries of the Western Balkans are full EU members. On the dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo, on the future of Bosnia, on Croatia’s path to the EU, we have consulted closely with Europe. We also welcomed Albania and Croatia into NATO, extended Membership Action Plans to Bosnia and Montenegro, and Macedonia will join once the dispute over its name is resolved. This degree of accord on the Balkans is the foundation of our success—we work together every step of the way. The intensive joint diplomacy of recent months has shown how closely our visions are aligned, something which is essential for progress in the region.
U.S. and European unity is particularly critical in Bosnia, where nationalist politicians are irresponsibly challenging the very core of the Dayton Accords and threatening the functioning and integrity of the Bosnian state. Bosnian leaders are often privileging their own interests above their populations. Bosnia cannot take its rightful place in Europe unless it has a state functional enough to meet NATO and EU accession requirements. We are, together with our European allies, committed to helping Bosnia meet those requirements.
Another example of the decisive impact that U.S.-European cooperation can have in the region is our joint response to events in Belarus. The Government of Belarus’s crackdown on civil society and the opposition following the flawed election in December has been sharply condemned on both sides of the Atlantic. We have made very clear that our relationship with Belarus cannot improve in the context of continued repression of civil society, the opposition, and independent media. The U.S. and the EU have called for the immediate and unconditional release of all detainees and an end to the continue human rights violations against critics of the government. We consider the five presidential candidates and other democratic activists who are being tried after being arrested in conjunction with the December 19 presidential election to be political prisoners; the latest convictions and ongoing trials are clearly politically motivated. Both we and Europe have targeted measures against those officials responsible for the crackdown even as we and Europe support the aspirations of the people of Belarus for a modern open society. To that end, the United States is providing an additional $4 million in democracy-related assistance to help Belarusians create space for the free expression of political views, the development of a civil society, freedom of the media, and empowerment of independent entrepreneurs. Both we and Europe want a better, more productive relationship with Belarus; unfortunately, the country’s leadership is following a policy that will only further isolate Belarus and its people.
Turning to the Caucasus, our joint efforts with the European Union and other international partners in the region have resulted in progress, but disputes over territory and a need for further meaningful political and economic reforms remain serious obstacles to greater stability. In Georgia, our steadfast engagement and generous assistance have aided in transforming Georgia into an aspiring democracy and important partner to NATO in Afghanistan. Together with our European partners, we will maintain our support for Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty within its internationally recognized borders and will continue to support international efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the dispute over Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Elsewhere in the region, we will continue to press for democratic reforms and an opening of the political space such that human rights and fundamental freedoms are fully respected, to encourage normalization between Turkey and Armenia, and to increase our engagement through the Minsk Group with Russia and France to help Armenia and Azerbaijan find a peaceful settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. In that regard, we strongly believe that the time has come to finalize and endorse the Basic Principles and move to the drafting of a peace agreement. We believe that the United States and Europe must work together to avoid further conflict in Europe and help the countries in the region move towards democracy, peace, and greater prosperity.
Our foreign assistance investments remain an important instrument in advancing the European zone of peace, prosperity and democracy. There have been reductions to the region’s assistance budget in the Administration’s FY 2012 Request. They are the result of the achievement of some assistance goals in the region and of the particularly difficult budget climate in which we find ourselves. In future decisions on resource allocations, we will continue to take account of vital long-term U.S. interests in this region.
Finally, what has arguably been the most challenging part of our European agenda – our reset with Russia – has paid significant dividends. Challenges remain. However, we can now say that our engagement with Russia can help with America’s security and our global priorities. The results speak for themselves:
Most significantly, we have concluded a New START Treaty and following the recent approval by both Congress and the Russian State Duma, it has entered into force. The agreement is the most comprehensive arms control agreement in nearly two decades and significantly reduces the number of nuclear weapons and launchers deployed by the United States and Russia while also putting in place a strong verification regime.
We signed an agreement for the transit of troops and materiel across Russia in support of efforts in Afghanistan. Under our bilateral agreements, more than 1100 flights carrying over 170,000 U.S. military personnel have transited Russia en route to Afghanistan. Under a NATO-Russia agreement, nearly 27,000 containers have transited Russia for use in Afghanistan. At this time, 50% of U.S. sustainment cargo for Afghanistan goes through the Northern Distribution Network and 60% of supplies transiting that network go through Russia. This is a significant benefit for the United States.
We have secured cooperation with Russia on Iran and North Korea’s nuclear programs, both in terms of UN Security Council Resolutions 1929 and 1874 respectively, and Russia’s decision to cancel a contract for the delivery of the S-300 air defense system to Iran.
We have done all of this without compromising our principles – in particular our steadfast commitment to respect for universal values, the sovereignty, and territorial integrity of all of the nations of Europe. We firmly believe that the security and prosperity of Europe also rests in adhering to commitments to advance human rights and democracy. Where human rights problems exist, we will continue to speak out and strongly support the rights of Russian citizens and others throughout the region to peacefully exercise freedom of expression and assembly as guaranteed under the constitution and enshrined in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Helsinki accords.
And thanks to the work of the Bilateral Presidential Commission and its 18 working groups, our engagement with Russian society is paying important dividends as well. Polling now indicates 60 percent of Russians have a positive view of the U.S., a figure not seen in nearly a decade.
This brief overview of the U.S. agenda with Europe demonstrates that we work together closely with Europe on nearly every major issue, both internationally and within Europe. Whether the issue is promoting democracy in Europe’s east or south, advancing energy security for the whole continent, or contributing to the NATO effort to secure Afghanistan, the energy, ideas, and commitment of Europe is something we look to and rely upon in pursuing our common goals.
As you can see, our transatlantic partners have been very busy. But appropriately so – we have an extremely full U.S.-Europe agenda because we have so many pressing challenges in the world today, and close transatlantic cooperation is the indispensable starting point in addressing all of them.
There is much work to be done to translate this agenda into concrete steps toward the security and prosperity of both Europe and the United States. This is not easy, particularly at a time of budgetary austerity all across the industrialized world. We will have to adapt creatively to this new reality by finding ways to make our collective defense spending smarter and more efficient. We will need to reform NATO and streamline its operations, as we and our NATO allies pledged in the recent NATO Strategic Concept. We will have to find ways to advance NATO-EU cooperation so that the full resources of both institutions can be harnessed most effectively. We must continue to build on the momentum of the OSCE Astana Summit last December to reinvigorate efforts to ensure comprehensive security in Europe. We have to create a more seamless and market-based flow of energy into Europe and within Europe. If we can do these things, I am confident that the partnership between the United States and Europe – which has achieved so much in the last sixty years – will achieve even greater things in the decades to come.
With that, I look forward to your questions.
“So we face an historic opportunity. We have embraced the chance to show that America values the dignity of the street vendor in Tunisia more than the raw power of the dictator. There must be no doubt that the United States of America welcomes change that advances self-determination and opportunity. Yes, there will be perils that accompany this moment of promise. But after decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be.”
President Barack Obama
May 19, 2011 Washington, DC
Today, recognizing the irreversible changes that have taken place in the Middle East and North Africa in recent months, President Obama announced a new approach to promoting democratic reform, economic development, and peace and security across the region.
Aligning Our Interests and Our Values: The President reaffirmed his commitment to a set of core principles that have guided the U.S. response to events in the Middle East and North Africa for the past six months. First, the United States opposes the use of violence and repression against the people of the region. Second, we support a set of universal rights including free speech; the freedom of peaceful assembly and association; equality for men and women under the rule of law; the right to practice your religion without fear of violence or discrimination; and the right to choose your own leaders through democratic elections. Third, we support political and economic change in the Middle East and North Africa that can meet the legitimate aspirations of the people throughout the region.
Our support for these principles is a top priority and central to the pursuit of other interests in the region. The U.S. will marshal all our diplomatic, economic, and strategic tools to support these principles. The status quo is not fair, nor stable. And it can no longer secure the core interests of the United States. Ultimately, our values and our interests will be better advanced by a region that is more democratic and prosperous.
Promoting Democratic Reform: It will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region and to support transitions to democracy. Real and durable democratic change in Tunisia and Egypt could have a transformative effect on the region and beyond. We will support free and fair elections, a vibrant civil society, basic rights to speak your mind and access information, and strong democratic institutions in both nations. We will empower women as drivers of peace and prosperity, supporting their right to run for office and meaningfully participate in decision-making because, around the world, history shows that countries are more prosperous and peaceful when women are more empowered. And we will deliver an economic program that reinforces our strong support for the transitions that are now underway.
The United States will also stand up for human rights and democracy in those countries where transitions have yet to take place. We will make the case to our partners that reform is in our shared interest. We will be a strong voice for democratic reform – a message we will deliver consistently, at high-levels, and across the U.S. government. We will strengthen and protect advocates for reform. Our message to governments in the region will be simple and clear: if you take the risks that reform entails, you will have the support and partnership of the United States.
A New Chapter of American Diplomacy: As the U.S. continues to work with governments, we will broaden and elevate our engagement with the people of the region. Building on our efforts since Cairo, our engagement will reach beyond elites and extend beyond capitals, cultivating reformist voices both inside and outside government. We will engage with and listen to those that will shape the future, particularly young people and women. Across the region, we will provide assistance to legitimate and independent groups, including some not officially recognized by governments. And we will expand and deepen our ties with entrepreneurs, and our cooperation on science and technology. We will engage, too, with all groups that reject violence, support democratic practices, and respect the rights of minorities, even if we don’t agree with them. Using the same connective technologies that helped power the protests, we will connect and listen to the people of the region and factor the concerns of all these individuals and groups into our policy choices.
Making this strategic shift in our own approach will not always be easy. It demands that we renew and reshape our partnerships with governments in the region, and forge a deeper connection to a new generation that is desperate for a new beginning. President Obama will issue a Presidential Directive in the coming weeks to direct his Cabinet and national security team to put this new approach into action.
The United States is already putting this approach into practice across the region:
Bahrain: The United States is committed to Bahrain’s security. However, we believe that reform is the only path to enduring stability in Bahrain and that both sides must compromise to forge a just future for all Bahrainis. The only way forward is for the government and opposition to engage in a dialogue. The government must create the conditions for dialogue, and the opposition must participate to forge a just future for all Bahrainis.
Egypt: The United States supports an orderly, peaceful, and legitimate transition to a representative and responsive government committed to democratic principles in Egypt. It is important to empower positive models, and Egypt is critical as the largest Arab country and an enduring partner of the United States. We are encouraged by some of the steps that the interim government has taken on the political front, and we support a fully transparent and inclusive process moving forward. The U.S. is working with the international community to identify ways to stabilize Egypt’s economy in the short-term and promote economic policies for the medium and long-term that will help ensure economic prosperity accompanies the transition.
Jordan: The United States is committed to our long-standing partnership with Jordan – a regional leader on political and economic reform. We recognize the government’s efforts to respond to the legitimate demands of citizens through the National Dialogue Committee, and urge Jordan’s leadership to seize this opportunity to advance meaningful reforms. U.S economic assistance supports Jordan’s economic growth and development and promotes political, economic, and social reforms though programs in judicial reform, education, public health, job creation, and youth empowerment. We are also working with non-governmental partners is Jordan to cultivate a vibrant civil society. The United States also remains committed to Jordan’s security and continues to provide security assistance aimed at, among other things, modernizing the Jordanian military and enhancing border security.
Libya: The United States led an international effort to intervene in Libya to stop a massacre – joining with with our allies at the UN Security Council to pass a historic resolution that authorized a no-fly zone and further authorized all necessary measures to protect the Libyan people. At the start of the air campaign, the President pledged to the American people that U.S. military action would be limited in duration and scope and that we would ultimately transition from a U.S. to a coalition lead. The President has made good on that pledge. Now that we have transitioned to a NATO lead, we will continue to play an important role in the international community’s effort to put pressure on Col. Qaddafi and to protect innocent civilians that his regime continues to attack. The President has made clear, Qaddafi has lost the confidence of the Libyan people and he must go. At the same time, the United States is engaging and assisting the Transitional National Council, a legitimate and credible interlocutor, which is committed to an inclusive, democratic political transition in Libya. We are also working to address humanitarian needs in Libya and along its borders.
Morocco: The United States supports Morocco’s efforts to promote ongoing democratic development through constitutional, judicial, and political reforms. We recognize the Moroccan government’s efforts to respond the demands of its citizens and we urge the government to implement these crucial reforms. We are working with the people and the government of Morocco to support their efforts to consolidate the rule of law, protect human rights, improve governance, empower youth, and works towards meaningful constitutional reform. This includes a robust dialogue on human rights and political freedom.
Syria: The United States condemns the Syrian government’s murder and mass arrests of its people. We have imposed additional sanctions on the regime, including on President Assad and his inner circle. We stand by the Syrian people who have shown their courage in demanding dignity and a transition to democracy. President Assad now has a choice: he can lead that transition, or get out of the way.
Tunisia: The United States is committed to supporting the Tunisian people as they build the stronger democratic foundations needed for long-term stability and broad-based economic growth. We welcome the significant steps that have been taken to advance the democratic transition, and will support Tunisians inside and outside of government as they hold democratic elections, craft a new constitution, and implement a broad-based reform agenda. We will support a new partnership between Tunisian civil society groups and technology companies in order to get more information, communications capacity available broadly throughout society.
Yemen: The United States supports the aspirations of the Yemeni people for a more stable, unified, and prosperous nation, and we are committed to assisting them in this courageous pursuit. We are also committed to assisting Yemen to eradicate the security threat from al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula. President Saleh needs to follow through on his commitment to transfer power. We support a peaceful and orderly transfer of power that begins immediately.
Supporting Economic Development: To ensure that democratic change is reinforced by increasing economic opportunity, the President laid out a new economic vision for the region to support nations that commit to transition to democracy. We will also focus on rooting out corruption and other barriers to progress. Our efforts will create incentives for nations to pursue a path to democracy and modern economies and will also help tap the enormous potential of the region’s young people. Our approach is based around four key pillars – support for economic policy formulation, support for economic stability, support for economic modernization, and the development of a framework for trade integration and investment.
Support for Better Economic Management: We will offer concrete support to foster improved economic policy formulation and management alongside our democratization efforts. We will focus not only on promoting economic fundamentals, but also transparency and the prevention of corruption. We will use our bilateral programs to support economic reform preparations, including outreach and technical assistance from our governments, universities, and think tanks to regional governments that have embraced reform, individuals, and NGOs. We will mobilize the knowledge and expertise of international financial institutions to support home grown reforms that increase accountability.
Support for Economic Stability: Egypt and Tunisia have begun their transitions. Their economic outlooks were positive before recent events, but they are now facing a series of economic dislocations.
Galvanizing Financial Support: We are galvanizing financial support from international financial institutions and Egypt and Tunisia’s regional partners to help meet near term financial needs.
Turning the Debts of the Past Into Investments in the Future: The United States will relieve Egypt of up to $1 billion in debt by designing a debt swap arrangement, and swap it in a way that allows Egypt to invest these resources in creating jobs and fostering entrepreneurship.
Support for Economic Modernization: We realize that the modernization of the economies in Middle East and North Africa will require a stronger private sector. To address that, we are committed to working with our international counterparts to support a reorientation of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to support countries in the region. The Bank played a crucial role in supporting democratization and economic transition in Central and Eastern Europe and can make a great contribution in Middle East and North Africa as well. We also seek to establish Egyptian-American and Tunisian-American Enterprise Funds to stimulate private sector investment, to promote projects and procedures that support competitive markets, and to encourage public/private partnerships. And as Secretary Clinton announced in Cairo, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) will provide up to $2 billion dollars in financial support for private sectors throughout the MENA region.
Develop a Framework for Trade Integration and Investment: The United States will launch a comprehensive Trade and Investment Partnership Initiative in the Middle East and North Africa. We will work with the European Union as we launch step-by-step initiatives that will facilitate more robust trade within the region, build on existing agreements to promote greater integration with U.S. and European markets, and open the door for those countries who adopt high standards of reform and trade liberalization to construct a regional trade arrangement.
(For more detail, see the Economic Support for the Middle East and North Africa Fact Sheet, see: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/05/18/factsheet-economic-support-middle-east-and-north-africa)
Promoting Peace and Security: Even as we change our policy approach in response to political and economic changes in region, the United States maintains its commitment to pursue peace and stability in the region. We remain committed to our non-proliferation agenda in the region and worldwide and continue to demand that Iran meets its international obligation to halt its nuclear weapons program. Our counterterrorism agenda is as robust as ever, as evidenced by the recent takedown of Osama bin Laden. We will continue to take the fight to al Qa`ida and its affiliates wherever they are.
The Broad Outlines of Middle East Peace: The President seeks to shape an environment in which negotiations can restart when the parties are ready. He intends to do this laying out principles on territorial borders and security.
On territory, the boundaries of Israel and the Palestinian state should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps. On security the Palestinian state must be non-militarized, and the full and phased withdrawal of Israeli forces would be geared to the ability of Palestinian security forces and other arrangements as agreed to prevent a resurgence of terrorism; stop the infiltration of weapons; and provide effective border security. The duration of this transition period must be agreed, and may vary for different areas like borders. But it must be sufficient to demonstrate the effectiveness and credibility of security arrangements. Once Palestinians can be confident in the outlines of their state, and Israelis are confident that the new Palestinian state will not imperil its security, the parties will be in a position to grapple with the core issues of refugees and Jerusalem.
Ultimately, it is up to Israelis and Palestinians to take action. No peace can be imposed upon them, nor can endless delay make the problem go away. But what America and the international community can do is state frankly what everyone knows: a lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples. Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people; each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.
Ending the Combat Mission in Iraq, Building a Strategic Partnership: President Obama kept his commitment to responsibly end our combat mission in Iraq, bringing home 100,000 troops and transitioning to a full Iraqi lead for security in the country. Consistent with the 2008 Security Agreement, the United States intends to withdraw our remaining troops by the end of the year, while our civilians strengthen an enduring partnership with the Iraqi people and government in economic, diplomatic, cultural, and security fields.
Surged in Afghanistan: The strategy in Afghanistan is working. With the addition of 30,000 U.S. forces, nearly 10,000 coalition forces, and almost 1000 civilians, the surge is achieving its intended effect. We have arrested the Taliban’s momentum and placed the insurgency under significant military pressure. Increasingly, our collective efforts are focused intensely on providing trainers and funding for Afghan National Security Forces to support their assuming lead security responsibility, significantly growing the Afghan Security Forces to nearly 300,000. Even as we begin to reduce our U.S. combat forces this July, and increasingly focus on advising and assisting the Afghan security forces, we are working toward completion of a renewed partnership agreement with the Afghans that will affirm our enduring commitment to stability in Afghanistan. Finally, we are equally committed to an Afghan-led political process toward a peaceful resolution.
Focused on Al Qa`ida: We have applied unprecedented pressure to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qa`ida and its adherents. We have disrupted plots at home, and increased military, intelligence, and diplomatic support to expand the capacity of our partners from Pakistan to Yemen; from Southeast Asia to Somalia. Over half of Al Qa`ida’s top leadership has been killed or captured, including, most recently, Al Qa`ida’s leader, Osama bin Laden. As the President noted in announcing Bin Laden’s death to the American people, his demise does not mark the end of our effort, as al-Qa`ida remains intent on and capable of striking the United States and our partners.
Political Change in the Middle East and North Africa: The United States has demonstrated with its response to the political change in the Middle East and North Africa that promoting representative, responsive governance is a core tenet of U.S. foreign policy and directly contributes to our counterterrorism goals. Governments that place the will of their people first and encourage peaceful change through their policies, systems, and actions directly contradict the al-Qa`ida ideology, which at its core advocates for violent change and dismisses the right of the people to choose how they will be governed. Effective governance reduces the traction and space for al-Qa`ida, limiting its resonance and contributing to what it most fears—irrelevance.
Standing Up for Universal Rights in Iran: The Administration has strongly condemned Iran’s violent repression at home and will continue to call on the government of Iran to allow the Iranian people the universal right to peacefully assemble and communicate. Just as we hold Iran accountable for its defiance of its international obligations on the nuclear program, we will continue to take actions to hold the Iranian government accountable for its gross human rights violations, including by designating Iranian officials and entities engaged in such violations. We will continue to provide capacity building training and new media tools to help Iranian citizens and civil society make their voices heard in calling for greater freedoms, transparency, and rule of law from their government.
Secretary Clinton: Introductory Remarks for President Obama’s Speech on Events in the Middle East and North Africa, and U.S. Policy in the Region
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you all, and welcome to the State Department. I am delighted to be here to welcome the President as well as our colleagues from the Diplomatic Corps, Senator Kerry, and senior officials from across our government, and especially the many young Foreign Service and Civil Servants who are here today.
Mr. President, from your first days in office you have charged us with implementing a bold new approach for America’s foreign policy – a new blueprint for how we advance our values, project our leadership, and strengthen our partnerships. We have seen that in a changing world, America’s leadership is more essential than ever, but that we often must lead in new and innovative ways.
And so, Mr. President, these Foreign Service Officers and these Civil Servants, the men and women of the State Department and USAID, work every day to translate your vision into real results – results on the ground in nearly every country in the world. That is why the work we have done to provide them with the tools and resources they need to perform their mission is so important. And it’s why we need to keep making the case for those resources.
Because alongside our colleagues in the Defense Department, America’s diplomats and development experts of the State Department and USAID are on the front lines of protecting America’s security, advancing America’s interests, and projecting America’s values. As a wave of change continues to sweep across the Middle East and North Africa, they are carrying our diplomacy and development far beyond the embassy walls – engaging with citizens in the streets and through social networks as they seek to move from protests to politics; with NGOs and businesses working to create new economic opportunities; and with transitional leaders trying to build the institutions of genuine democracy. They represent the best of America, and I am so proud to have them as our face to the world.
Mr. President, it is fitting that you have chosen to come here to the State Department to speak about the dramatic changes we have witnessed around the world this year.
Now, on the back wall of this historic Benjamin Franklin Room is a portrait of the leader of Tunis, given as a gift in 1865 by the people of Tunisia in honor of the enduring friendship between our nations at the end of our Civil War. A century and a half later, Tunisians – and courageous citizens from across the region – have given the world another gift: a new opening to work together for democracy and dignity, for peace and opportunity. These are the values that made America a great nation, but they do not belong to us alone. They are truly universal. And it is profoundly in our interest that more people in more places claim them as their own.
This moment belongs to the people of the Middle East and North Africa. They have seized control of their destiny and will make the choices that determine how the future of the region unfolds.
But, for America, this is a moment that calls out for clear vision, firm principles, and a sophisticated understanding of the indispensable role our country can and must play in the world. Those have been the hallmarks of President Obama’s leadership from his first day in office. So, it is with great confidence and faith in our future that I welcome the President of the United States, Barack Obama. (Applause.)
Press briefing by Senior Administration Officials to Preview Economic Components of the President’s Speech on Events in the Middle East and North Africa
MR. VIETOR: Thanks, everybody, for getting on. We wanted to do a quick call to preview a portion of the President’s speech tomorrow.
First, the housekeeping. This is background. You’re joined by three senior administration officials. If you need sourcing information, let me know — you know, for editors. I can help you with that.
We are talking with a 9:00 p.m. Eastern this evening embargo. You can have this in papers tomorrow, you can have it online at 9:00 p.m., but we would like to give everyone a chance to write as long as they can before anything goes online.
So 9:00 p.m. embargo tonight, background.
Lastly, we would like to talk today about some of the economic proposals the President is going to put forward tomorrow. These are new; they’re newsworthy. We’re not going to talk about every element of the speech today. I know there are a lot of other issues in the Middle East and North Africa that folks are interested in. We’re not going to get into all of those today, just be as straightforward as possible.
So with that, I’ll turn it over to our first senior administration official.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, Tommy. I’ll just say a few things by way of introduction. The President will give a speech tomorrow on the Middle East and North Africa. As we said, this comes at a moment of opportunity in the region and for U.S. policy in the region. We’re obviously coming off of a decade of great tension and division across the region, and now, having wound down the Iraq war and continuing to do so, and having taken out Osama bin Laden, we are beginning to turn the page to a more positive and hopeful future for U.S. policy in the region.
And again, that is reinforced, of course, by the peaceful movement for democratic change that has swept across the region for the last six months.
So the President will have the opportunity to speak broadly about the change in the Middle East and North Africa, the implications for U.S. policy, and some concrete proposals for American policy going forward.
This obviously has a range of components, and he’ll be discussing a range of issues, but we wanted to focus on one particular portion of the speech, which is the one that is focused on, the promotion of the economic development and support of democratic change.
I think it’s important to note that the political movements of nonviolent protests that we’ve seen are rooted in part in a lack of opportunity in the region. You have very large populations of young people, many of whom — too many of whom cannot find a job. You have a history not just of political rights being restricted but of economic corruption that has also frustrated opportunity.
So we think it’s important to note that some of the protests in the region are deeply rooted in a lack of individual opportunity and economic growth, as well as a suppression of political rights.
We also know from our study of the past that successful transitions to democracy depend in part on strong foundations for prosperity, and that reinforcing economic growth is an important way of reinforcing a democratic transition.
So as we look at the steps that the United States can take to support democracy in the Middle East and North Africa, one of the most important areas for us to focus on is supporting positive economic growth that, again, can incentivize and reinforce those countries that are transitioning to democracy.
So a portion of the speech tomorrow will focus on that. And before I turn it over to my colleague, I’ll just note that, in particular, we’re focused on those nations that have already begun their democratic transitions, in particular Egypt and Tunisia. And we see this as a critical window of time for the United States to take some concrete action to demonstrate our commitment to their future and to, again, reinforce their democratic transition with support for a broader base of prosperity.
With that, I’ll turn it over to my colleague.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, thank you. As my colleague just noted, economic modernization is key to building both a stronger foundation for prosperity and showing the fruits of democratic change.
One thing that’s clear when you look at this region is that it’s a very diverse group of countries with diverse characteristics and economies. You’ve got major oil producers, but also countries that are dependent on oil imports from their neighbors.
The pace of economic reform across the region is uneven. And even in countries that have had substantial economic growth, the benefits of that growth have not necessarily been widely shared. What all these countries share, though, is untapped potential of its people. A majority of the population is under 30 — 4 million people entering the labor force every year. In Egypt alone, youth unemployment was estimated to be 30 percent. And so there’s a great deal to be done to ensure that the benefits of economic growth and reform are benefitting — are widely shared and are bringing people into the work force and providing jobs and opportunities.
From the beginning of this — of the upheaval, representatives of the U.S. government have been in consultations with people in the region. And the President will be laying out a vision tomorrow for the region of what it can be long-term and its role in the world. And as part of that, we’ll be announcing a series of initiatives to support that long-term vision.
Our approach is based around four broad pillars, and I’ll mention the broad pillars and my colleague will go into further details under several of these. First is support for better economic management. As we’ve learned from the transition experience in Central and Eastern Europe, it’s important to provide support on policy formulation and economic management, along with our support for democratization. We’ll use a number of programs to support NGOs, universities, think tanks, and others who can help contribute to economic policymaking in the region.
Second pillar is support for economic stability. Clearly, as part of this — of the upheaval, there’s been a series of economic implications. Growth forecasts have been revised downward. International reserves have decreased. Budget deficits are widening. And the international community will need to come together to take steps in the context of reform to ensure financial stability across the region. And my colleague will go into more details about specific steps that the U.S. is prepared to take in that context.
Thirdly is support for economic modernization and reform. And very much key to the future of this region is the development of a strong private sector, entrepreneurial sector that can create jobs and bring young people — who I mentioned earlier — suffer from high unemployment rates into the workforce. There are institutions and experience out there in facilitating this transition, and he’ll be taking a number of steps to ensure that the international financial institutions and others are supportive of this modernization.
And finally, fourth, it’s important to develop a framework for trade integration and investment. If you take out oil exports, the countries of this region, 400 million people, export about the same amount of goods as Switzerland does with only 8 million people. The countries are not terribly well integrated with each other, nor are they terribly well integrated into the global economy. And we’ll be taking a number of step-by-step initiatives to facilitate more robust trade within the region and to facilitate — do trade facilitation, to build on existing agreements, to promote greater integration with the U.S. and Europe, and to open the door for those countries who adopt high standards of reform and trade liberalization to construct a regional trade arrangement.
With that, let me turn it over to my colleague for further details.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks. So in terms of specifically how we will stand with the people of Egypt and Tunisia — as they transform their economies to ensure fairer treatment for all their citizens and to expand opportunities, particularly for the young — first, we’re going to galvanize support from the international community. The multilateral institutions have a huge role to play here. They have a lot of experience to bring to bear, which they gathered during the transitions in Central and Eastern Europe.
And the multilateral development banks — the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the IMF — are working with us and with other partners to bring resources to bear and also help these countries develop fundamental transformations of their economy that will allow vendors to provide for their families with dignity, women to get loans to start businesses, and of course that young people should be able to find jobs to build a better future.
As part of this, we’re committed to reorienting the European bank for reconstruction development to support the transitions unfolding in the Middle East and North Africa. As you know, the EBRD played a critical role in supporting political and economic transitions in Eastern Europe over the past two decades, in particular by investing in the private sector and promoting important reforms and economic governance that foster stability and opportunity, as well as democracy. And we are going to ask the EBRD to play a similarly transformative role today. And I think that’s particularly important because the EBRD has a specific democracy mandate, and so it will create strong incentives for countries in the region to implement reform that provide the economic underpinnings for political freedom and for strong democracies.
In addition, to help Egypt in meeting its critical and very important development needs, the United States is developing a new mechanism. It can essentially channel resources by canceling debts from the past to provide investments for the future.
And that will essentially address dual objectives. It will reduce Egypt’s external debt burden and provide important cash flow relief in a period in which that is particularly important.
And secondly it’ll channel additional resources to address Egypt’s medium-term development needs, in particular building a new inclusive economy that will generate more private sector jobs and more opportunities for young people. And of course we’ll ask our partners to join us in this initiative.
As another part of our effort to help Egypt invest in its people and regain access to global capital markets and investment, we will guarantee up to a billion dollars in borrowing to finance infrastructure and support job creation through our Overseas Private Investment Corporation, OPIC.
And finally, we are very supportive of efforts to obtain authorizations to establish an Egyptian-American enterprise fund which also will help with the goals of stimulating private sector investment and promoting projects that generate jobs.
So together we think these initiatives will help Egypt and Tunisia as they undertake the twin challenges of economic transformation and democratization.
MR. VIETOR: Great, thank you very much. And with that, I think we’ll take some questions.
Q Yes, thanks. What is the total dollar estimate of the entire program that you’re — that the President is going to announce? And secondly, one of the briefers mentioned the well-documented history of corruption in these countries. What safeguards are planned to make sure that U.S. funds don’t go the wrong way or perhaps end up in the wrong hands of groups or entities that are a threat to the U.S.?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Maybe I’ll say a word about anti-corruption and how this fits into our overall agenda. As you may know, we have been pursuing a broad anti-corruption agenda since the beginning of the administration. That’s been evident through the OECD, through the G20, and through a number of bilateral discussions that are making real traction internationally in that effort. I think the President has underscored repeatedly, including going back and talking about the experience of his own — with his knowledge of Africa about the pernicious effect of corruption and how it can diminish economic growth and demoralize a population.
I think in this regard, I think we’ll be doing a number of programs as part of our overall effort on anti-corruption and be working with countries in the region to ensure that new governments there are taking this — are taking this seriously.
But I would only note that it’s part of a global effort that we’re doing on open government transparency and anti-corruption.
Q Thank you very much. I’d like to note that today the President signed an executive order expanding sanctions, to include Syrian President Assad for human rights violations. Yesterday Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that Assad, through his actions, had made his intentions clear, and of course Vice President Biden has said that a leader who commits atrocities against his people has lost his legitimacy.
I’m wondering, does the President agree with Secretary Clinton and Vice President Biden, and will he call for Assad to step down from power in his speech tomorrow? Thank you.
MR. VIETOR: Hey, Josh, we’re going to put that in the category of things you’re going to have to wait for the speech tomorrow to get more clarity on. So we’re going to have to — if you have any other questions –
Q All right, let me try again. Can you please give us some details in terms of how you plan to get money towards Egypt and Tunisia? Has this been coordinated with Congress? What’s the scale of it and what types of assistance are you looking at?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me jump in on that. So on — in terms of the scale of assistance, we are talking, of course, with our authorizers and appropriators, and they have given their thoughts as well in helping to design some of these initiatives.
With regard to the scale, we anticipate that the debt swap, both relief of debt and the investments that would ensue, would amount to roughly $1 billion over a few years, and that the loan guarantees would support roughly an additional billion.
There will be additional financing coming from the multilateral development banks as well, several billion dollars, and just with regard to the earlier questions that were asked, to reinforce my colleague, these funds, these programs will be available in the context of overall economic reform programs put forward by the Egyptian and the Tunisian governments, and of course both the multilateral development banks and we will expect and I believe the governments will want to use those reform programs to put in place very strong safeguards against corruption and also to ensure that the licensing process is much fairer so that the smallest vendors can get licenses much more easily than has been the case in the past and in a much more transparent and fair manner.
So we will be looking for these additional support mechanisms to be put forward in the context of deep economic governance reforms.
Q Thank you very much for doing the briefing. Just a quick question. General Jones gave a talk to the National Press Club earlier this week where he called for a Marshall Plan for this region. And I’m wondering if you feel what the President is going to propose tomorrow rises to that level. Is this on the scale of a Marshall Plan for the Middle East and North Africa?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I’ll just say a few things and then my colleagues might want to join. I think people ought to be the judge of what are the historical analogies. I think that what we’ve looked at is how have nations successfully transitioned to democracy in the past? And you of course have the example of post-World War II. You also have the example of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the transitions in Eastern Europe, as well as many other countries around the world.
I think that’s what important to note is that this has — this is a plan that has many different components. It of course has the efforts that we’re going to pursue with our international partners in the World Bank and the IMF. It has the debt swaps and the loan guarantees that my colleague spoke about. It has enterprise funds that we’re pursuing with Congress that will increase investment in Tunisia and Egypt, as well as the efforts associated with OPIC and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, all of which I think draw on that experience of how do we take some of the successful efforts in Eastern Europe and apply them to countries that are transitioning to democracy in the Middle East and in North Africa.
And finally, you have the steps that we’ll be taking to advance the integration of markets and the trade relationships between the Middle East and North Africa and the United States and the European Union. So it’s a comprehensive approach that, again, is focused on how to foster development that is in service of democratic transition and that enhances opportunity for the people of the region.
It’s the beginning of a long-term effort, because obviously these transitions will play out over a period of years. Egypt and Tunisia are at the forefront because they’ve already undertaken these steps. And of course, it’s our hope that there are additional transitions to democracy that follow in the years to come.
And of course, it’s just one component of a broader set of tools that the United States brings to bear in the region. And of course, he’ll talk a little bit tomorrow — the President will talk at length tomorrow about our political support for individual rights and democracy in the region and a broad range of U.S. tools that we’ll be bringing to bear.
But what we wanted to make sure we are doing, again, is reorienting a number of tools of U.S. power in the region — diplomatic, political, economic, and otherwise — to reinforce those nations that take the important step of transitioning to democracy; to show that the international community and the United States will support those transitions; to provide real resources that can make a difference while also encouraging the type of reforms that we know are essential to both stable economic growth and democratic development.
So we believe that this is a very comprehensive and important way to reinforce democratic change. And we’re going to continue to look to build upon that progress in Egypt and Tunisia and those other countries that undertake reform in the years to come.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The only thing I would add is that in the transition of Central and Eastern Europe, the prospect of accession and membership in the EU was a powerful force for encouraging domestic efforts to reform their economies and stay on the right path. And it’s important the vision that the President will be laying out tomorrow and then working — will be substantive discussion in the days and weeks to come — is about laying out a vision for what this region can achieve in terms of private sector development, job creation, integration among themselves, integration with the world economy, and backing up that vision with very specific steps, as my colleague laid out, that supported on that path.
And so, it is an important step and it may take a number of years to achieve that overall vision, but it’s an important vision to keep in mind.
Q My question is related to Egypt. And I am just wondering that the whole package may be not satisfied through the Egyptian public opinion because of the Egyptian public are waiting for the U.S. as a strategic and as a country with a deep relationship to move further with a real package, including — that includes cancellation of the whole debt. How do you react to this?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would say that, again, I think what’s important here is that we’re embracing a profound shift and a partnership with Egypt, and we see Egypt really as — together with Tunisia — the beacon in this region. And so what we’re laying out is a profound multiyear set of engagements with the Egyptian people to help support them. At the end of the day, of course, the future is in their hands, and what we’re trying to do is support them here.
Egypt has I think a very good prospect of accessing private capital markets, and that’s important to Egypt’s future economic vibrancy, and that’s something that we know economic leaders in Egypt want to reinforce. So what we’re doing here is supporting Egypt by making a very important commitment to debt relief, while also making sure that Egypt remains very attractive in the financial markets and an increasingly attractive destination for private investment by engaging the private sector.
So we’ve done these elements in a carefully crafted way to both show how deeply and profoundly the American people support Egyptian people, but also to reinforce the strength of Egypt’s economy as it grows and attracts private capital into the future to create those jobs.
Q I appreciate you doing this call. A couple things. On the cancellation of the debt, I thought I heard you say a figure of about $1 billion. Secondly, the multilateral institution funding, I believe that’s already pretty much been announced — the World Bank talking about a $2-plus billion and IMF helping out on the funding cap for Egypt and Tunisia.
I’ve heard there’s talk about boosting resources for EBRD. Is that correct? Are you talking about the money there? And then just secondly, while it’s not officially on the agenda, European officials have clearly said that the IMF leadership succession will be talked among leaders, G8 leaders upcoming. I’m wondering if the U.S. has — can make clear whether they’re supporting a merit-based leadership process, or will it back another European?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So why don’t I just quickly talk about the multilateral development banks piece. The World Bank, the African Development Bank, the International Finance Corporation and the IMF, are all working hard together to address Egypt and Tunisia’s immediate financing needs that are associated with recovery and medium-term economic reform needs, which are going to create a much more vibrant private sector with much more jobs, rich kind of economy. And the amounts there have not fully been finalized, but they will run in the multiple-billion-dollar-over-several-years scale.
With regard to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, there what we’re really proposing is a reorientation of the mandate of that institution so that it can play the same role in the Middle East and North Africa with countries that are making that democratic transition that it has played so successfully in Central and Eastern Europe, in particular in creating a much more robust private sector.
With regard to the IMF, why don’t we leave that for a separate conversation.
Q Thank you so much for doing this. I just have a couple of questions. Just to understand the cancellation of debt relief for making the swap with the debt, over what period of time is that? Is that going to mean instead of making the debt repayments they’re going to be going into direct investments into Europe?
And secondly, if I can ask, are all the announcements that are going to be made tomorrow directed at Egypt and Tunisia, or is there going to be more detail about the integration for Arab states? For example, FTAs or other possibilities? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Why don’t I just speak briefly on the debt swap and then turn it back over to my other colleague to talk about the trade and investment approach.
So with regard to the debt relief, that is — that will be a two-to-three-year process. And those funds, of course, will become immediately available. The funds that are no longer needed for servicing the debts are funds that the Egyptian government will then be able to use — local currency, of course — to invest in priority sectors that we and they believe are likely to center in areas such as youth employment and entrepreneurship.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On the trade and investment front, what we envisage is a step-by-step initiative initially focused on facilitating more robust trade within the region, building on existing agreements. We have a number of agreements there, as does the EU, to further promote integration with the U.S. and European markets, and then ultimately working with countries in the region who have achieved a high level of reform and trade liberalization on the possibility of a regional trade arrangement. So it’s a multi-stage process.
Q Hi, I wanted to ask if the purpose of these moves with respect to Egypt and Tunisia is to act as a carrot of sorts to encourage other countries to move forward with their democratic reforms in the hope of getting these sorts of benefits?
And in the same vein, if that is the hope, how do we justify, for example, continuing to give substantial assistance to Jordan when the evidence of substantial political reform there is lacking? If countries that haven’t shown reforms are still going to get substantial aid, then is there really any linkage to the reforms? Thanks.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don’t know if our first colleague wants to take that one.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What was the question again?
MR. VIETOR: Hey, why don’t you handle part two? We just had to jump back on. The plane landed.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I think we very much do look at, as my other colleague said, as Tunisia and Egypt being at the leading edge of potential reformers in the region, as potential demonstration cases for the rest of the region. And therefore, we do see their success as a positive incentive for others in the region who are also working on the reform agenda.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, I’d just add to that, we believe that Egypt and Tunisia are hugely important for a number of reasons. First of all, Tunisia was just a vanguard of the democratic movements that had swept across the region. And Egypt is the largest Arab country, of course, and an important bellwether for the region as well. And one of the things that we know about what’s taking place in the Middle East and North Africa is that change is going to be different in every country. And as we’ve seen, there are going be very difficult circumstances where change is contested and transitions are more difficult.
And so one of the most important things that we can do, in addition to supporting political and economic reform in all countries and individual rights as well, is empowering a positive model, and that if Tunisia and Egypt are able to be successful in their transitions, able to solidify their democratic gains, and able to reinforce those gains through economic development, then that provides a powerful incentive for the nations and peoples of the other regions to pursue similar reforms.
So part of the purpose of this economic program, again, is to reinforce not only positive change in Egypt and Tunisia, but a positive model that can empower and incentivize democratic change and economic reform in other parts of the region.
Q I guess I’m trying to understand the broader context for all this — for this briefing — because you said this would deal with a portion of the speech, and you seem to be discussing only, or primarily, certainly, Egypt and Tunisia. And I’m wondering how — if you can outline or give a general sense of what other portions the speech falls into, and how — beyond the discussion of trade briefly there — how any of these economic proposals affect Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, any of the other countries that are in the region beyond Egypt and Tunisia, or is this just about those two countries?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’ll take the first part, and then I think my colleague should address the trade portion of the question. Obviously the speech addresses a broad context. It will speak to the political change in the region. It will speak to efforts that we’re undertaking to support human rights and democratic reform in the region and a broader interest in peace and security in the region. And the President, of course, will be speaking in length about that tomorrow. We’re just not previewing those particular portions today.
But however, with regard to your question, I would reinforce one of the things that I was just saying, which is that when you have a region of many different countries that are pursuing change in their own different pace, part of what we do is going to be using our influence in support of positive outcomes in different countries. But what’s perhaps even more important, given the fact that ultimately change is not going to be determined by the United States, change is going to be determined by the people of the region, but one of the most important things that we can do is empower positive models of change.
Already — and frankly, I think you’ve already seen that in events, because the protests that began in Tunisia spread to other parts of the Middle East and North Africa, and Tunisia and Egypt have been at the forefront of this. And again, they are all particularly important given Egypt’s role, for instance, as the largest Arab nation.
So it is entirely relevant to the other nations in the region and the other transitions taking place in the region to have a positive model of democratic transition and economic development in Tunisia and Egypt that would have a positive impact beyond their borders, because as my colleague said, it incentivizes — as we learned in previous transitions — nations are more likely to undertake positive actions if they see incentives for those actions, and that one of the clearest ways to provide those incentives is to see a positive model. But I’ll turn to my colleague on the trade question.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think on the trade question, the vision is one in which the countries are — where protectionism gives way to openness, where the countries are further integrated amongst themselves and with the global economy. And one might start with Tunisia and Egypt, but it’s a vision that other countries can certainly participate in and join in as they pursue economic reforms as well. So it’s broader than Egypt and Tunisia as well.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think the examples that were discussed earlier — if you go back to the post-war engagement of the U.S. and Europe, if you go back to the transitions in Central to Eastern Europe — in each case, we were crafting institutions that were really designed to provide positive reinforcement to those countries who were kind of moving in the right direction politically as much as economically. So if you look at the reorientation of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, that’s again — it’s a sort of signal that as countries take these quite ambitious and bold steps, that the international community and the U.S. in particular will be there to help support those transitions.
Q My question about the level of communication between the American administration and the government both in Tunisia and Egypt — concerning those financial initiatives, did you speak before with the governments in both countries and on what level? Did you speak with the Supreme Military Council or the government? Thank you very much.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’ll say a word and maybe one of my colleagues wants to join in as well. There have been meetings and visits in the region by officials from the Treasury Department, the State Department, the White House on the economic issues as well as an important meeting around the World Bank-IMF spring meetings on this issue as well. And so there’s been multiple contacts in each of the countries as we have been working on this economic program.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, and I’d just add one thing. In addition to those consultations, I think just generally at a variety of levels, both governmental and nongovernmental, to include conversations with civil society and nongovernment actors, one of the important messages that we hear from Egypt and Tunisia was how important economic growth and support for economic development would be to the current situation in Egypt and Tunisia, both in part because they did suffer some shocks around the recent upheaval in their countries, but also because as we look to ways in which, again, the United States can use our policy tools to support change, we can obviously do a range of things that speak up for and stand up for the things that we believe in and the rights that we support. And the President will speak to that tomorrow.
But one of the concrete ways that we can demonstrate our support for democratic changes is through this type of economic program. And so this is fully in line with many of the contacts we’ve had both in the official consultations but also in the types of messages that we’ve heard from within the government and from within civil society as well.
MR. VIETOR: All right. Thank you, everybody, for jumping on. And as we said before, the embargo is 9:00 p.m. tonight. We’ll work on getting you any information we can that would be helpful between now and then in terms of fact sheets, et cetera, and we’ll see you tomorrow. Thanks.
Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Ackerman, distinguished Members of the Committee:
Thank you for inviting us to testify before this committee on the subject of political transitions in the Middle East. You rightly recognize that this is a pivotal moment in the Middle East and North Africa. National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon said recently that the Arab Spring is an event comparable to the fall of the Ottoman Empire or the decolonization of the Middle East following the Second World War. And historians will long be debating these momentous developments. President Obama has often said that the future of the Middle East will be written by its own people, not by any foreign power. This administration stands with those in the region who call for peaceful, democratic transitions, for tolerance and pluralism. Our policy approach is both pragmatic and in keeping with American principles, values and interests.
We view this as a moment of great challenge and great opportunity – and the two are inexorably linked. Last month, Secretary Clinton noted that uprisings across the region have exposed a number of myths: The “myth that governments can hold on to power without responding to their people’s aspirations or respecting their rights; the myth that the only way to produce change in the region is through violence and conflict; and, most pernicious of all, the myth that Arabs do not share universal human aspirations for freedom, dignity, and opportunity.”
The protests and upheaval we have witnessed in so many countries has the potential to bring about a region that is more democratic, more economically dynamic, and more responsive to the needs and aspirations of its citizens. As Secretary Clinton has said, the status quo in the Middle East is unsustainable, and genuine democratic changes in that region will make countries both more stable and, in the long run, likely to be more in sync with the interests of the United States and our closest allies. But she also has warned of the danger that democratic transitions can be hijacked by undemocratic forces, giving rise to new autocracies. We need to shape our policies in the region to encourage peaceful democratic transitions and to help prevent the rise of such new autocracies.
The Obama administration believes that democratic transitions must be home grown. The challenge falls to the people and the leaders of the region to achieve the brighter future they desire – a future in which governments respond to the aspirations of their people and view it as their duty to protect human rights, fundamental freedoms and the dignity that all people desire and deserve. But the United States has a keen interest in their success, and we can play a key supporting role. We have done and will do this by acknowledging, supporting and empowering the democratic and reformist voices from the region. And we will continue to do this by speaking honestly about the need to respect human rights and shun violence. We continue to tell all governments, friendly or not, that the use of violence to suppress peaceful expression is wrong and destabilizing, both to the governments that resort to violence and to the region as a whole.
Much has been said about the alleged conflict between our democratic values and our desire for stability in the Middle East. This is a false dichotomy. The United States has a profound interest in regional stability, and we believe that respect for universal human rights and the principle that governments are accountable to their people are in fact key components of long-term stability.
As popular movements for political change take on the immense challenges facing their respective countries, political outcomes will have a significant impact on stability in the region. If the region’s movements for greater democracy, opportunity, dignity, and accountability fail to produce successful transitions to more inclusive and transparent democratic systems, the Middle East will be unable to overcome its mounting economic and social challenges. These challenges are well established, from stagnant economies saddled by corruption, inequality, and unemployment, to resource depletion, to the marginalization of women and minorities, and they add up to an unsustainable status quo.
The United States remains steadfast in our commitment to advancing our core interests in the region and defending the security of our allies. And we are explicit about our interests: We seek a comprehensive peace between Israel and its neighbors. We seek to combat terrorism and the dark ideologies of extremist groups. We seek to stop Iran’s illicit nuclear activity and curb its destabilizing influence in the region. We seek to cement a long-term partnership with an Iraq that is peaceful, sovereign, self-reliant, and reintegrated into the Arab world. We seek to maintain the continued flow of critical energy resources to the global economy. And we seek broad-based prosperity. Regional stability has always been a key factor in our ability to channel energies and marshal coordination in service of all these goals.
In light of the role of stability in promoting U.S. interests, we have an enormous stake in the outcome of the Arab Spring. Going forward, the regional stability we seek to advance our interests can only be sustained if the processes of democratic reform advance. As Secretary Clinton noted, when there is a gap between the government and the needs and ambitions of the people, states grow more brittle and less stable. In the long run, governments that are responsive to their people are the best guarantors of stability, and the best partners for the United States.
Furthermore, the peaceful, homegrown, non-ideological movements that have put Egypt and Tunisia on the path of democratic transition offer a powerful repudiation of the false narrative espoused by al-Qaeda and other extremist elements that violence is the only way to effect change. Thus, events in the region today present an opportunity not only for the advancement of universal values and human rights but also a strategic opportunity for the United States and our allies.
Our response to the upheaval in the Middle East has been rooted in a consistent set of principles: We have opposed the use of violence against peaceful protesters and supported the universal rights of free expression, assembly, and association and the right to participate in the affairs of the state. We have strongly condemned, including in multilateral fora, the killing, torture, and abuse of peaceful protestors. We have made clear our view that people’s legitimate demands and aspirations must be met by positive engagement from governments, in the form of meaningful political and economic reforms.
Our policy responses also take into account the interrelationship between political and economic change, because we know that people have not put themselves in harm’s way so that they could vote in one single election; rather, they seek to transform the relationship between themselves and their government – they seek a system of democratic governance that delivers results for them and their families. As we offer support and encouragement to governments and people pursuing political change, we are also looking to bolster the economic progress that can help make that change sustainable over time. And we have mobilized the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) to provide up to $2 billion in financial support for private-sector investments in the Middle East and North Africa.
We are keeping a close eye on religious minorities, who are often even more vulnerable to violence and abuse during such tumultuous times, and who rightly view religious freedom as part and parcel of the universal rights democracy promises. We are also concerned with ensuring that democratic change, where it comes, is inclusive – that means that women have an equal voice at the bargaining table and minorities are fairly represented.
Iran provides a powerful cautionary tale for the transitions underway. Iranians’ democratic aspirations in 1979 and 2009 were subverted by a brutal dictatorship. Throughout Iran, security forces have beaten, detained, and in several recent cases killed peaceful protesters, even as Iran’s president has made a show of denouncing the violence against civilians in Libya and other places. But we are holding Iranians who are responsible for human rights abuses to account. The United States and the European Union have sanctioned serious human rights abusers and joined a broad coalition of nations at the UN Human Rights Council to create a Special Rapporteur position for human rights in Iran. We will not remain silent as the Iranian government seeks to squelch the voices of its own people.
The path ahead will look different in each country of the region, and so too will our support for each unique process. But the trends that produced this dramatic moment in the Middle East have been building for many years, and they are not likely to fade soon. No part of the region has been untouched, and already we can say that the Middle East will never be the same again.
Tunisia and Egypt have begun the process of democratic transition and, if successful, are poised to offer a promising example to their neighbors for the power of peaceful movements to bring about meaningful change. Other states, including Jordan, Morocco, and Oman, have taken some initial positive steps toward political and economic reform, but all have more to do. In others, including Yemen and Bahrain, for example, much more work remains to reverse disturbing trends, hold security forces accountable for abuses, and initiate democratic reforms that improve equality and participation.
In Egypt, the military council deserves credit for responding to the aspirations of the Egyptian people for democracy and taking steps to meet many of their immediate demands. They have supervised a process for initial constitutional amendments, which were overwhelmingly passed in a referendum last month and which set the stage for democratic elections and the end of the emergency law. They issued a vastly improved political parties law; have taken early steps toward reorganizing the state security apparatus; publicly committed to lifting the emergency law before holding free, fair, and transparent democratic elections; recognized independent unions; and oversaw the successful constitutional referendum. The Egyptian Armed Forces also rebuilt a church in the village of Sol, which had been destroyed by mob violence on March 4.
We will be closely tracking the military’s implementation of all of its commitments, especially the lifting of the emergency law before elections take place. Moreover, we remain concerned about continued detentions by the military and quick trials of civilian protestors in military courts in a process that does not provide essential procedural safeguards.
We have received reports that dozens of people are in prison after being arrested at or near the site of peaceful protests. Military courts have tried protestors in proceedings that have sometimes taken less than an hour, with limited or no access to counsel. For example, on February 28, Amr al-Beheiry was sentenced to five years in prison after a one-day military trial following his participation in a peaceful protest on February 26. He was not allowed legal representation.
On April 14, the Supreme Military Council committed to “review the detentions of all the youth…tried in the recent period.” We are continuing to engage with the Supreme Military Council to encourage them to fulfill this commitment.
On a broader scale we also are concerned about sectarian violence and legal discrimination of religious minorities, and the limited participation by women in all aspects of the transitional process.
Egypt’s long-standing economic troubles contributed to the revolution, and the recent upheaval has made the country’s economic distress acute. The state of the economy, including unemployment rates, will of course affect the prospects for successful transition to democracy. We are consulting with our international partners and international financial institutions on ways to help. We have made available $165 million in bilateral funds toward meeting immediate needs for economic recovery and democracy and governance programming, and we are looking at avenues to potentially increase these commitments. We are working closely with Congress to increase access to capital available to the private sector, particularly for small and medium enterprises, taking the lessons learned from Eastern Europe to structure a successful Enterprise Fund for Egypt. We are exploring possible expansion of the Qualifying Industrial Zone program, which stimulates growth and deepens the U.S.-Egyptian partnership, as well as evaluating several other options for broader economic support to be responsive and demonstrate clear support of Egypt and its people.
The U.S. Government’s support for democracy and good governance in Egypt is a coordinated effort involving offices at the State Department and USAID. The State Department’s Bureau of Human Rights, Labor and Democracy (DRL) is focusing on political party development, with an emphasis on women, and on technical assistance for the upcoming parliamentary and presidential election, including training poll-watchers and helping nascent parties develop, maintain and represent their constituents. DRL is also working to strengthen independent labor unions because they are key actors in the larger political dialogue. It also supports programs to bolster independent media, including the training of bloggers, women and youth in multimedia journalism, and teaching the nuts and bolts of election coverage. And it helps train civil society groups that will be critical to building the institutions of sustainable democracy and monitoring and protecting human rights. DRL will use a portion of the reprogrammed and repositioned $165 million in Economic Support Funds for Egypt for these activities, and will collaborate with USAID and other relevant offices at State to ensure complementary roles.
In Tunisia, preparations are underway for the election this summer of a constituent assembly that will rewrite the constitution and chart the next steps in the country’s democratic transition. We applaud a number of steps already taken, including the interim Government of Tunisia’s efforts to improve human rights protections and its endorsement of the country’s personal status code protecting the rights of women. Tunisia has prepared a new elections law, and dozens of new political parties are organizing to compete. The United States is committed to helping secure a democratic transition that delivers results and sustainable economic development for all the people of Tunisia. Thus far, the Administration has identified nearly $30 million to help Tunisians build the capacity of civil society, political parties and media, to conduct free and fair elections, to promote transparency and accountability, to support youth employability, and to advance private sector development.
Of the nearly $30 million in assistance targeted to Tunisia, the Department of State’s Office of the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) is providing $20 million to support Tunisian efforts during their democratic transition. These funds are being channeled through Tunisian and international NGOs to shape an independent, professional, and pluralistic media sector; build a vibrant civil society; strengthen democratic political parties; develop a sound framework for free elections; enact economic reforms and expand entrepreneurship. MEPI has already awarded initial grants to both Tunisian and international NGOs and continues to seek innovative proposals through a year-long open competition. USAID is providing approximately $10 million in support for the political process. As with Egypt, relevant offices, including in the bureaus of Near East Affairs and Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, and USAID are working closely together.
Finally, because trade will be critical to building a more robust Tunisian economy, we are encouraging legal and economic reforms that would facilitate more open trade and private sector investment,
In Yemen, the United States supports a peaceful and orderly transfer of power in accordance with the Yemeni people’s demand for better governance that is more responsive to their needs and aspirations. A solution to Yemen’s problems will not be found through security measures, but through political dialogue, free elections, and more transparent and accountable governance. We urge the participation of all sides, including youth, in a dialogue to reach a solution that will be supported by the Yemeni people. Yemeni citizens, like people everywhere, have the right to demonstrate peacefully, to assemble, and to express themselves without fear of violence, arrest or death. We strongly urge all sides to refrain from violence.
The United States has welcomed the Gulf Coordination Council’s (GCC) initiative for supporting political transition in Yemen. As the situation unfolds, it will be critical to maintain active U.S. support on security, governance, and development to help the government of Yemen to preserve rule of law, maintain and improve service delivery, prepare for presidential elections, and draft a new constitution.
U.S. assistance policy on Yemen is two-pronged: we provide security and counterterrorism support to combat the immediate threat of terrorism, while delivering economic and technical support directly to local communities to help counter long-term drivers of instability, such as unemployment, poverty, and ineffective governance. The current political crisis in Yemen has rendered this work more difficult in the short-term, but has reaffirmed and emphasized its importance over the long-term.
We will continue to closely coordinate our assistance efforts with those of other donor countries. Through the Friends of Yemen process, for example, the United States harmonizes political and economic assistance efforts with partners including the IMF and the UN.
We are deeply concerned by what we are seeing in Bahrain. The operation to clear the streets of protests in March may at this point have restored superficial law-and-order, but now has given way to a campaign of retribution against elements of the political opposition, civil society, professional groups including medical practitioners, and Shi’a community leaders. Close to 600 people have been detained since March 17, including journalists, bloggers, teachers, human rights activists, medical staff, and political activists.
We have repeatedly raised our concerns with the Government of Bahrain, and made clear that security operations will not resolve the challenges Bahrain faces. Only a credible, peaceful, productive political process that addresses the legitimate aspirations of the Bahraini people will resolve the crisis. Targeting opposition figures for arrest, including political moderates, undermines any attempt by the Government of Bahrain to engage in a national dialogue. We have also expressed our concerns to the other Gulf Cooperation Council members and remain actively engaged with Bahrain and its neighbors, as well as with civil society and political societies inside Bahrain, in efforts to help rebuild trust and to create a climate where a productive political dialogue is possible.
The Administration has consistently spoken out against the Syrian government’s killing, torture, detention, and abuse of peaceful protestors, with President Obama condemning these actions “in the strongest possible terms.” He continued, “This outrageous use of violence to quell protests must come to an end now…We strongly oppose the Syrian government’s treatment of its citizens and we continue to oppose its continued destabilizing behavior more generally, including support for terrorism and terrorist groups.”
As the Syrian government’s abuses of human rights escalated, the Administration responded by leading the international community in calling a special session at UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that produced a strong resolution unequivocally condemning the Syrian government’s use of lethal violence against its citizens. The UN resolution also created an independent UN investigation into the recent violence, and called on the Syrian authorities to release prisoners of conscience and those arbitrarily detained, including lawyers, human rights defenders, and journalists, and to lift restrictions on internet access, telecommunication, and international journalists. We have also taken additional, unilateral steps. President Obama issued a new Executive Order specifically targeting individuals and entities responsible for human rights abuses in Syria with financial sanctions, as we recently did in the case of Iran. We coordinated this action with the European Union, and we expect the EU’s imposition of targeted sanctions will greatly amplify the impact of our efforts. We are closely monitoring the status of religious minorities in Syria who are increasingly worried for their safety as the situation destabilizes the country.
Since the protests in Syria began, U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford has conveyed our grave concerns directly to the Syrian government at the highest levels, and has played a vital role behind the scenes in obtaining the release of American citizens who were arrested by the Syrian security services. Ambassador Ford has also provided invaluable insights for our policy decisions, giving us a window into the thinking of senior regime figures, human rights and democracy activists, and other non-governmental contacts. His ongoing work is particularly important because the Syrian government has banned international media from reporting inside Syria, creating a dearth of credible information about events on the ground.
In Libya, the United States continues to play a critical role in the international coalition seeking to protect Libyan civilians and enforce UN Resolutions 1970 and 1973. Secretary Clinton and Undersecretary Burns have joined foreign officials in an international contact group on Libya. The united voice of the international community has made clear that there must be a transition in Libya that reflects the will of the Libyan people and the departure of Qadhafi from power.
We are assessing options for the types of assistance we could provide to the Libyan people, and are consulting directly with the Libyan opposition and our international partners about these matters, including delivery of critical humanitarian assistance. The United States alone is providing $53.5 million to meet humanitarian needs within Libya and to evacuate and assist those fleeing the violence in Libya. USAID deployed a Disaster Assistance Response Team to the region March 1, initially based in Tunisia and Egypt. Humanitarian assistance experts reached Benghazi, Libya, in early April to determine relief needs, advise and shape the U.S. response, and work with other donors and non-governmental organizations in getting assistance to people in need. Furthermore, the President has agreed to send up to $25 million in non-lethal assistance to the Transitional National Council (TNC) for use by their security forces. The items we are providing will include medical supplies, boots, tents, rations, and personal protective gear. We are continuing to work with the TNC to determine whether there is other assistance we can provide.
Even in Libya, where Colonel Qadhafi responded to his people’s protests with extreme violence and threats of worse, we can see reasons for optimism. Not only in the international community’s success in preventing the imminent slaughter of tens of thousands in the city of Benghazi and mounting international pressure on Qadhafi to end his brutal attacks, but also in the swift and unified international action that enabled this response. As Secretary Clinton noted in her address to the U.S.-Islamic World Forum last month:
In the past, when confronted with such a crisis, all too often the leaders of North Africa and the Middle East averted their eyes or closed ranks. But not this time. Not in this new era. The OIC, the GCC issued strong statements. The Arab League convened in Cairo, in the midst of all of the commotion of Egypt’s democratic transition, to condemn the violence and suspend Libya from the organization, even though Colonel Qadhafi held the League’s rotating presidency. The Arab League went on to call for a no-fly zone… But that’s not all. The Arab League affirmed – and again I quote – “the right of the Libyan people to fulfill their demands and build their own future and institutions in a democratic framework.” That is a remarkable statement. And that is a reason to hope.
The peoples of the Middle East and North Africa have never been immune to the universal yearnings of human beings for freedom, dignity, and opportunity. But now, for the first time, citizens across the region are raising their voices to demand democratic change, and governments are beginning to respond. But all the signs of progress in recent months, and all the potential we see today for a more democratic, stable, and prosperous region will only be realized if more leaders in more places move faster and further to embrace their citizens’ aspirations for freedom, dignity and opportunity. If leaders engage positively with their people to answer the region’s most pressing challenges – to open their political systems, curb corruption, and respect the rights of all of their citizens – then this inspiring moment will truly be a turning point for the Middle East.
Fundamentally, this moment of profound transformation was generated by the peoples of the Middle East, and they are the ones who will shape their future. But the United States has a stake in their success, and we stand with those across the region who are working for peaceful democratic change. We are committed to the future of this region where we have so many key interests, and we believe in the potential of its people. As citizens and leaders in the Middle East and North Africa move down the path of democratic change, we will support their efforts. And we look forward to the day when all the citizens of the region, men and women of all faiths, are able to have their voices heard, their rights respected, and their aspirations met. We look forward to continuing to work with this Committee and the Congress to help make that future a reality.
Good evening, everyone. And let me thank you, Strobe, for that introduction and for your many years of friendship. It is such a pleasure for me to join you at this first U.S.-Islamic World Forum held in America. His Highness the Amir and the people of Qatar have generously hosted the Forum for years. And as Strobe said, I was honored to be a guest in Doha last year. And now I am delighted to welcome you to Washington. I want to thank Martin Indyk, Ken Pollack and the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution for keeping this event going and growing. And I want to acknowledge all my colleagues in the diplomatic corps who are here tonight, including the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of Qatar, the Foreign Minister of Jordan, and the Secretary General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
Over the years, the U.S.-Islamic World Forum has offered the chance to celebrate the diverse achievements of Muslims around the world. From Qatar – which is pioneering innovative energy solutions and preparing to host the World Cup – to countries as varied as Turkey, Senegal, Indonesia, and Malaysia, each offering its own model for prosperity and progress.
This Forum also offers a chance to discuss the equally diverse set of challenges we face together – the need to confront violent extremism, the urgency of achieving a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians, the importance of embracing tolerance and universal human rights in all of our communities.
And I am especially proud that this year the Forum is recognizing the contributions of the millions of American Muslims who do so much to make our country strong. As President Obama said in Cairo, “Islam has always been a part of American history,” and every day Americans Muslims are helping to write our story.
I do not need to tell this distinguished audience that we are meeting at an historic time for one region in particular: the Middle East and North Africa. Today, the long Arab winter has begun to thaw. For the first time in decades, there is a real opportunity for lasting change, a real opportunity for people to have their voices heard and their priorities addressed.
Now, this raises significant questions for us all:
Will the people and leaders of the Middle East and North Africa pursue a new, more inclusive approach to solving the region’s persistent political, economic, and social challenges? Will they consolidate the progress of recent weeks and address long-denied aspirations for dignity and opportunity? Or, when we meet again at this Forum in one year or five years or ten, will we have seen the prospects for reform fade and remember this moment as just a mirage in the desert?
Now, these questions can only be answered by the people and leaders of the Middle East and North Africa themselves. The United States certainly does not have all the answers. In fact, here in Washington we’re struggling to thrash out answers to our own difficult political and economic questions. But America is committed to working as a partner to help unlock the region’s potential and to help realize its hopes for change.
Now, much has been accomplished already. Uprisings across the region have exposed myths that for too long were used to justify a stagnant status quo. You know the myth that governments can hold on to power without responding to their people’s aspirations or respecting their rights; the myth that the only way to produce change in the region is through violence and conflict; and, most pernicious of all, the myth that Arabs do not share universal human aspirations for freedom, dignity, and opportunity.
Today’s new generation of young people rejects these false narratives. And as we know and as we have seen, they will not accept the status quo. Despite the best efforts of the censors, they are connecting to the wider world in ways that their parents and grandparents could never imagine. They now see alternatives, on satellite news, on Twitter and Facebook, in Cairo and Tunis. They know a better life can be within reach – and they are now willing to reach for it.
But these young people have inherited a region that in many ways is unprepared to meet their growing expectations. Its challenges have been well documented in a series of landmark Arab Human Development Reports, independently authored and published by the United Nations Development Program. These reports represent the cumulative knowledge of leading Arab scholars and intellectuals. Answering these challenges will help determine if this historic moment lives up to its promise. That is why this January in Doha, just weeks after a desperate, young, Tunisian street vendor set fire to himself in public protest, I talked with the leaders of the region about the need to move faster to meet their people’s needs and aspirations.
In the 21st century, the material conditions of people’s lives have greater impact on national stability and security than ever before. It is not possible for people not to know what is happening beyond their own small village. And the balance of power is no longer measured by counting tanks or missiles alone. Now strategists must factor in the growing influence of citizens themselves – connected, organized, and often frustrated.
There was a time when those of us who championed civil society or worked with marginalized minorities or on behalf of women, or were focused on young people and technology, were told that our concerns were noble but not urgent. That is another false narrative that has been washed away. Because these issues – among others – are at the heart of smart power – and they have to be at the center of any discussion attempting to answer the region’s most pressing questions.
First, can the leaders and citizens of the region reform economies that are now overly dependent on oil exports and stunted by corruption? Overall, Arab countries were less industrialized in 2007 than they were in 1970. Unemployment often runs more than double the worldwide average, and even worse for women and young people. While a growing number of Arabs live in poverty, crowded into slums without sanitation, safe water, or reliable electricity, a small elite has increasingly concentrated control of the region’s land and wealth in their hands. The 2009 Arab Development Report found that these trends – and I quote – “result in the ominous dynamics of marginalization.”
Reversing this dynamic means grappling with a second question: How to match economic reform with political and social change? According to the 2009 Global Integrity Report, Arab countries, almost without exception, have some of the weakest anti-corruption systems in the world. Citizens have spent decades under martial law or emergency rule. Political parties and civil society groups are subject to repression and restriction. Judicial systems are far from either free or independent. And elections, when they are held, are often rigged.
And this leads to a third and often-overlooked question: Will the door to full citizenship and participation finally open to women and minorities? The first Arab Human Development Report in 2002 found that Arab women’s political and economic participation was the lowest in the world. Successive reports have shown little progress. The 2005 report called women’s empowerment – and I quote again – a “prerequisite for an Arab renaissance, inseparably and causally linked to the fate of the Arab world.”
Now, this is not a matter of the role of religion in women’s lives. Muslim women have long enjoyed greater rights and opportunities in places like Bangladesh or Indonesia. Or consider the family law in Morocco or the personal status code in Tunisia. Communities from Egypt to Jordan to Senegal are beginning to take on entrenched practices like child marriage, honor crimes, and female cutting. All over the world we see living proof that Islam and women’s rights are compatible. But unfortunately, there are some who are actually working to undermine this progress and export a virulently anti-woman ideology to other Muslim communities.
Now, all of these challenges – from deep unemployment to widespread corruption to the lack of respect and opportunities for women – have fueled frustration among the region’s young people. And changing leaders alone will not be enough to satisfy them – not if cronyism and closed economies continue to choke off opportunity and participation, or if citizens can’t rely on police and the courts to protect their rights. The region’s powerbrokers, both inside and outside of government, need to step up and work with the people to craft a positive vision for the future. Generals and imams, business leaders and bureaucrats, everyone who has benefited from and reinforced the status quo, has a role to play. They also have a lot to lose if the vision vacuum is filled by extremists and rejectionists.
So a fourth crucial question is how Egypt and Tunisia should consolidate the progress that has been achieved in recent months.
Former protesters are asking: How can we stay organized and involved? Well, it will take forming political parties and advocacy coalitions. It will take focusing on working together to solve the real big problems facing both countries. In Cairo last month, I met with young activists who were passionate about their principles but still sorting out how to be practical about their politics. One veteran Egyptian journalist and dissident, Hisham Kassem, expressed concerns this week that a reluctance to move from protests to politics would, in his words, “endanger the revolution’s gains.” So he urged young people to translate their passion into a positive agenda and to use political participation to achieve it.
As the people of Egypt and Tunisia embrace the full responsibilities of citizenship, we look to transitional authorities to guarantee fundamental rights such as free assembly and expression, to provide basic security on the streets, to be transparent and inclusive.
Unfortunately, this year we have seen too many violent attacks, from Egypt to Iraq to Pakistan, that have killed dozens of religious and ethnic minorities, part of a troubling worldwide trend documented by the State Department’s Annual Human Rights Report released this past Friday. Communities around the world are struggling to strike the right balance between freedom of expression and tolerance of unpopular views. Each of us has a responsibility to defend the universal human rights of people of all faiths and creeds. And I want to applaud the Organization of the Islamic Conference for its leadership in securing the recent resolution by the United Nations Human Rights Council that takes a strong stand against discrimination and violence based upon religion or belief, but does not limit freedom of expression or worship.
In both Egypt and Tunisia, we have also seen troubling signs regarding the rights and opportunities of women. So far women have been excluded from key transitional decision-making processes. When women marched alongside men through Tahrir Square in the early days of the revolution, they were part of making the change that Egypt was seeking. When they recently walked again through the square to celebrate International Women’s Day in their new democracy, they were met by harassment and abuse. You cannot have a claim to a democracy if half the population is left out.
And we know from long experience that building a successful democracy is a never-ending task. More than 200 years after our own revolution, we are still working on it. Because real change takes time, hard work, and patience – but it is well worth the effort. As one Egyptian women’s rights activist said recently, “We will have to fight for our rights… It will be tough, and require lobbying, but that’s what democracy is all about.”
In a democracy, you have to persuade your fellow citizens, men and women alike, to go along the path that you wish to take. And we know that democracy cannot be transplanted wholesale from one country to another. People have the right and responsibility to devise their own government. But there are universal rights that apply to everyone and universal values that undergird vibrant democracies everywhere.
One lesson learned by transitions to democracy around the world is that it can be tempting to fight the old battles over and over again, rather than to focus on ensuring justice and accountability in the future. I will always remember watching Nelson Mandela at the luncheon he hosted after his inauguration as president welcome three of his former jailors. Because to him, they were as important as any king or president or prime minister who was there, because when he was powerless, when he was imprisoned, they treated him with dignity. They looked upon him as a fellow human being. It helped him to move beyond what he had suffered. He never looked back in anger, but always forward in hope.
The United States is committed to standing with the people of Egypt, Tunisia, and the region to help build sustainable democracies that will deliver real results for people who deserve them. We want to support the aspirations that are so important. On this our values and interests converge. History has shown that democracies do tend to be more stable, more peaceful, and ultimately, more prosperous. But the challenge is how we get from where we are to where we want to be.
So the fifth question for us as Americans is: How can America be an effective partner to the people of the region? How can we work together to build not just short-term stability, but long-term sustainability?
With this goal in mind, the Obama Administration began to reorient U.S. foreign policy in the region and around the world from our first days in office. We put partnerships with people, not just governments, at the center of our efforts. The Administration moved quickly to respond to recent events and to affirm the principles that guide our approach. The President and I have spoken about this on a number of occasions, most recently just late afternoon today. And I know that the President will be speaking in greater detail about America’s policy in the Middle East and North Africa in the coming weeks.
And we start from the understanding that America’s core interests and values have not changed, including our commitment to promote human rights, resolve longstanding conflicts, counter Iran’s threats, and defeat al-Qaida and its extremist allies. This includes renewed pursuit of comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace. The status quo between Palestinians and Israelis is no more sustainable than the political systems that have crumbled in recent months. Neither Israel’s future as a Jewish democratic state nor the legitimate aspirations of Palestinians can be secured without a negotiated two-state solution. And while it is a truism that only the parties themselves can make the hard choices necessary for peace, there is no substitute for continued active American leadership. And the President and I are committed to that.
We believe our concerns are shared by the people of the region. And we will continue working closely with our trusted partners – including many in this room tonight – to advance those mutual interests.
We understand that a one-sized-fits-all approach doesn’t make sense in such a diverse region at such a fluid time. As I have said before, the United States has specific relationships with countries in the region. We have a decades-long friendship with Bahrain that we expect to continue long into the future. But we have made clear that security alone cannot resolve the challenges facing them. Violence is not and cannot be the answer. A political process is – one that advances the rights and aspirations of all the citizens of Bahrain. And we have raised our concerns publicly and directly with Bahraini officials and we will continue to do so.
The United States also strongly supports the people of Yemen in their quest for greater opportunity, their pursuit of political and economic reform that will meet their aspirations. President Saleh needs to resolve the political impasse with the opposition so that meaningful political change can take place in the near term in an orderly, peaceful manner.
And as President Obama has said, we strongly condemn the violence committed against peaceful protesters by the Syrian Government over the past few weeks. President Asad and the Syrian Government must respect the rights of the Syrian people, who are demanding the freedoms that they have long been denied.
Going forward, the United States will be guided by careful consideration of all the circumstances on the ground and by our consistent values and interests, but also by something else: We believe in this region. We see no reason that it cannot be among the most progressive, prosperous, peaceful, successful regions in the world. When we look at other regions in the world that have undergone change – sometimes violent, sometimes difficult – we see no reason why this region cannot succeed.
And wherever we can, we will accelerate our work to develop stronger bonds with the people themselves – with civil society, business leaders, religious communities, women, and minorities. We are rethinking the way we do business on the ground with citizens, and we want the citizens themselves to help set the priorities. For example, as we invest in Egypt’s new democracy and promote sustainable development, we are soliciting grant proposals from a wide range of local organizations. We want new partners. We want to invest in new ideas. We are exploring new ways to use connection technologies to expand dialogue and open lines of communication.
As we map out a strategy for supporting transitions already underway, we know that the people of the region have not put their lives on the line just to vote once in an election. They expect democracy to deliver jobs, sweep out corruption, extend opportunities that will help them and their children take full advantage of the global economy. So the United States will be working with people and leaders to create more open, dynamic, and diverse economies where there can be more inclusive prosperity.
In the short run, the United States will provide immediate economic assistance to help transitional democracies overcome the early challenges – including $150 million for Egypt alone.
In the medium term, as Egypt and Tunisia continue building their democracies, we will work with our partners to support an ambitious blueprint for sustainable growth, job creation, investment, and trade. The U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation will provide up to $2 billion to encourage private sector investments across the Middle East and North Africa – especially for small and medium-sized enterprises. And we look forward to working with Congress to establish enterprise funds for Egypt and Tunisia that will support competitive markets, provide small and medium-sized businesses with access to critical low-cost capital. Our Global Entrepreneurship Program is seeking out new partners and opportunities. And we want to improve and expand the Qualified Investment Zones, which allow Egyptian companies to send exports to the United States duty-free.
To spur private sector investment, we are working with Partners for a New Beginning, an organization led by former Secretary Madeleine Albright, Muhtar Kent of Coca-Cola, and Walter Isaacson of the Aspen Institute. It was formed after President Obama’s Cairo speech and includes the CEOs of companies like Intel, Cisco, and Morgan Stanley. These leaders will convene a summit at the end of May to connect American investors with partners in the region’s transitional democracies, with an eye to creating more jobs and boosting trade.
Under the auspices of Partners for a New Beginning, the U.S.-North Africa Partnership for Economic Opportunity is building a network of public and private partners and programs to deepen economic integration among the countries in North Africa. This past December in Algiers, the Partnership convened more than 400 young entrepreneurs, business leaders, venture capitalists, and Diaspora leaders from the United States and North Africa. These people-to-people contacts have already helped lay the groundwork for cross-border initiatives to create jobs, train youth, and support start-ups. And there will be a follow-up meeting later this year in Morocco.
For the long term, we are discussing ways to encourage closer economic integration across the region, as well as with the United States, Europe, and the rest of the world. The Middle East and North Africa are home to rich nations with excess capital as well as poorer countries hungry for investments. Forging deeper trade and economic relationships between neighbors could create many, many new jobs. And across the Mediterranean, Europe also represents enormous potential for greater trade and investment. If we were to reduce trade barriers in North Africa alone, just that one act could boost GDP levels by as much as 7 or 8 percent in Tunisia and Morocco, and it could lead to hundreds of millions of dollars in new wealth across the region every year.
The people of the Middle East and North Africa have the talent, they have the drive, to build vibrant economies and sustainable democracies – just as citizens have already done so in regions long held back by closed political and economic systems, from Southeast Asia to Eastern Europe to Latin America.
Now, it won’t be easy. There are many, many obstacles. And unfortunately, Iran provides a powerful cautionary tale for the transitions underway. The democratic aspirations of 1979 were subverted by a new and brutal dictatorship. Iran’s leaders have consistently pursued policies of violence abroad and tyranny at home. In Tehran, security forces have beaten, detained, and in several recent cases killed peaceful protesters, even as Iran’s president has made a show of denouncing the violence against civilians in Libya and other places. And he is not alone in his hypocrisy. Al-Qaida’s propagandists have tried to yoke the region’s peaceful popular movements to their murderous ideology. Their claims to speak for the dispossessed and downtrodden have never rung so hollow. Their arguments that the only way is violent change have never been so fully discredited.
Last month we witnessed a development that stood out, even in this extraordinary season. Colonel Qadhafi’s troops turned their guns on their own people. His military jets and helicopter gunships had unleashed a rein of terror against people who had no means to defend themselves against the assault from the air. Benghazi’s hundreds of thousands of citizens were in the crosshairs.
Now, in the past, when confronted with such a crisis, all too often the leaders of North Africa and the Middle East averted their eyes or closed ranks. But not this time. Not in this new era. The OIC, the GCC issued strong statements. The Arab League convened in Cairo, in the midst of all of the commotion of Egypt’s democratic transition to condemn the violence and suspend Libya from the organization, even though Colonel Qadhafi held the League’s rotating presidency. The Arab League went on to call for a no-fly zone. And I want to thank Qatar, the UAE, and Jordan for contributing planes to help enforce it.
But that’s not all. The Arab League affirmed – and again I quote – “the right of the Libyan people to fulfill their demands and build their own future and institutions in a democratic framework.” That is a remarkable statement. And that is a reason to hope.
All the signs of progress we have seen in recent months will only be meaningful if more leaders in more places move faster and further to embrace this spirit of reform, if they work with their people to answer the region’s most pressing challenges – to diversify their economies, open their political systems, crack down on corruption, respect the rights of all of their citizens, including women and minorities.
Those are the questions that will determine whether the people of the region make the most of this historic moment or fall back into stagnation.
The United States will be there as a partner, working for progress. We are committed to the future of this region and we believe in the potential of its people. We look forward to the day when all the citizens of the Middle East and North Africa – in fact, all around the world – have the freedom to pursue their own God-given potential. That is the future that all of us should be striving and working toward.
Thank you all very much. (Applause.)
Secretary Clinton: Women Senators’ Resolution Calling for Renewed Focus on Women’s Rights in North Africa and the Middle East
I thank Senator Snowe and all the women Senators for shining a spotlight on the critical role women continue to play in the dramatic events sweeping North Africa and the Middle East. I fully agree that women must be included in every aspect of political and institutional reform, because we know that no government can succeed if half its population is excluded from the process. This resolution underscores our current efforts to build capacity for good governance, allow all citizens to participate, and ensure that the human rights of all, including those of women, are respected. The U.S. State Department will continue to work with Congress as we together stand in support of the women in the region who are demanding that their voices be heard.