Thursday, April 14, 2011

Int. Relations: U.S. Secretary of State Clinton Says "Long Arab Winter Has Begun to Thaw"

SOURCE U.S.-Islamic World Forum

Outlining comprehensive U.S. policy on Arab world democracy movements, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Tuesday pledged the United States "will be there as a partner, working for progress" in an address to the U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Washington, D.C.

"Today, the long Arab winter has begun to thaw," said Clinton before an audience including representatives of more than 30 Muslim nations. "For the first time in decades there is a real opportunity for change."

Clinton praised a "new generation of young people" in the Middle East and North Africa for rejecting political "myths" that have stymied forward progress in the Arab world. "We believe in this region," said Clinton. "There is no reason why this region cannot be among the most prosperous in the world."

Clinton congratulated young people in the region for rejecting "false narratives," including the views that violence and conflict are the only paths to change, or that Arabs do not share universal aspirations for freedom and opportunity. "They will not accept the status quo. Despite the best efforts of the censors, they are connecting to the wider world in ways their parents and grandparents could never imagine. They see alternatives," said Clinton. "They know a better life is within reach – and they are willing to reach for it."

"But 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," continued Clinton. "If they work with their people to answer the region's most pressing challenges: How to diversify their economies, open their political systems, crack down on corruption, respect the rights of women and minorities."

Secretary Clinton's address was the first-day highlight of the eighth annual U.S.-Islamic World Forum, sponsored by the Saban Center for Middle East Studies at the Brookings Institution and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the State of Qatar.

The Forum opened Tuesday with welcomes from Mohammed Abdullah Mutib Al-Rumaihi, Assistant Foreign Minister for Follow-Up Affairs of the State of Qatar; Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference; and Martin Indyk, Vice President and Director of Foreign Policy at Brookings.

Minister Al-Rumaihi called the Forum "one of the most important platforms for bridging the gap between the U.S. and the Islamic people."

Ihsanoglu said the Middle East peace process, including a lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, should be the central issue for the U.S. and Muslims and called for the U.S. to take a more active role in its resolution. But Ihsanoglu was optimistic that "we have begun to see encouraging signs in relations between the U.S. and the Muslim world."

Participants in a panel discussion on geostrategic issues were former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, Turkish National Security Adviser Ibrahim Kalin, Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh and U.S. Sen. John Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Kalin said the current Arab democracy movements "are obviously a historic moment."

"Finally we see the end of the Cold War mindset in the Arab world," he said. "This 'Arab Spring' will bring new changes as people take charge of their own affairs. Their demands for democracy and accountability will spread across the Arab world."

"This is an opportunity for Arab countries to change the relationship with their people, and therefore their relationship with our people," said U.S. Senator John Kerry, who endorsed "a new Marshall plan effort" bringing economic aid to the region. The U.S. has committed to providing immediate economic assistance for transitional democracies in the Middle East and North Africa, including $150 million for Egypt alone.

"I just came back from Cairo convinced that if this awakening is going to succeed, the economic challenge must be faced," said Kerry.

Former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski warned that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is especially urgent because U.S. influence in the region may be on the wane.

"If we don't step forward, we're going to lose the ballgame," said Brzezinski.

This is the eighth annual U.S.-Islamic World Forum, and the first to convene in Washington rather than Doha, Qatar. The move was made to encourage broader participation by U.S.-based analysts, business and religious leaders, and Muslim interests.

A poll released in conjunction with the Forum by the University of Maryland and Brookings found a clear majority of Americans – 57% -- support pro-democracy uprisings in the Arab world, even if they lead to regimes more apt to oppose U.S. policies.

The Brookings Institution is a non-profit public policy organization based in Washington and dedicated in part to securing a more open, safe, prosperous and cooperative international system. The mission of the Saban Center at Brookings is to promote better understanding of the policy choices facing U.S. decision makers in the Middle East.