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Karen Hughes at the U.S.-Arab Economic Forum

Karen Hughes, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs
Remarks at the U.S.-Arab Economic Forum
Houston, Texas
June 26, 2006

Well, thank you all. I want to thank Sam for his most gracious introduction. I hope you will forgive me my cold. I hope you can hear me better than I can hear myself because my ears are sort of stopped up. I've been doing too much traveling lately. I want to thank all of the organizers of this forum for your work to advance U.S.-Arab relations. I want to welcome Your Excellencies and ladies and gentlemen. I'm so delighted to see all of you and to be a part of this very important forum.

I'm approaching my one-year anniversary at the State Department in this new role and I'm still trying to get used to the title of ambassador. You don't have to worry about it going to my head because I'll hear somebody saying that in the airport or something and I always -- I don't think it applies to me, so I'll sort of look around to see which foreign dignitary they might be referring to. Not too long ago I was getting on a small commuter plane in California. It was one of those little planes that was so small that, if you'd realized how small it was when you made the reservation, you probably wouldn't have made the reservation. And the pilot, who looked way too young to be flying even this very small airplane, seemed to recognize me and he got very excited. And he came back and, you know, he couldn't stand up because the plane was so little, and he came back and he said, "I'm so glad to see you. I never thought I would have Madeline Albright on my airplane." (Laughter.)

But I can even top that off. I was on a crowded elevator with my husband and my son and more and more people kept stopping and more and more people got on. At the very end, the doors opened and two sort of elderly women pushed onto the elevator and one of them looked at me and then she looked away and then she looked again and stared. And finally she poked her friend in the ribs and in a loud stage whisper said, "Condi Rice is on this elevator." (Laughter.)

Now, you all know I am not Condi Rice, but I do bring greetings from our -- America's Secretary of State. She asked me to say hello to all of you and to encourage you to engage in very constructive dialogue over the next couple of days, which we all know that you will.

I'm humbled by the challenge that President Bush has assigned me of sharing our great American story and reaching out to the rest of the world, especially the Arab world in a spirit of friendship and partnership. This job is both a great opportunity and a great challenge; a challenge that we share. I recently met with a couple of Arab ambassadors and they made the point to me that while we face a big gulf of misunderstanding that this is not -- both of them made the point to me this is not just America's problem and it's not just the Arab world's problem. It's a shared problem; a challenge that we have to address and work on together. And I believe that Arab Americans especially have a very unique and important role to play as we try to bridge this gulf of misunderstanding.

As I travel the Arab world, I hear, as I'm sure all of you do, concern, suspicion, even mistrust of America's motives and some of our policies. Recently, we also witnessed here in America concern, suspicion and mistrust directed at the Arab world. The Dubai Port's matter hit a deep nerve of worry among our population about America's security in our post-9/11 world. Yet as we work to secure our country, as we work to protect our people, I believe it is just as much in our vital national security interest that America remain an open and welcoming country: open to visitors, open to students, open to other cultures, open to ideas and innovation and open to business opportunities. (Applause.)

I was in a low-income neighborhood in Turkey visiting a housing project, a little neighborhood program they had there, and a young man asked a question that really kind of struck me in the heart. He, through the translator, said, "Does the Statue of Liberty still face out?" And he meant, does America still invite -- is America still that open, inviting, welcoming country. And I would submit that as a nation, a proud nation of immigrants, we must remain open, welcoming, involved and engaged every day in our world. This moment calls all of us to work together, to highlight important values that we share: family, faith, opportunity, social justice, respect for the other.

In truth, whether Arab or American, I think most human beings around the world want the same things. We want to live a life of good purpose, to be respected for who we are and what we say and think and what we do, to have a good job that gives us an opportunity to provide for our families, to have an education, to -- we all want a better life for our children. Most of us want the freedom to be able to worship as our conscience dictates. We must build on these common values, these islands of health and strength, so that the next generation will inherit a safer stronger and better world, not a more divided and dangerous world.

The opening theme of this conference poses an intriguing question: What will U.S.-Arab relations look like in 2020? Well, the people in this room, each one of you, have a unique opportunity and responsibility to not only forecast what that world would look like, but also to help shape what that future becomes, to make it one of the endless possibilities that the theme of this conference evokes. The year 2020 will arrive sooner than we might think and the 14 years between now and then will bring some big changes . As one example, demographically, as you know, the Middle East boasts the fastest-growing populations. According to regional leaders like King Abdallah, in less than ten years, fully 50 Â of the population of the region will be under the age of 18. Already 70 percent of the population of Saudi Arabia is under 29 years of age and the population of Yemen is projected to double in just one generation.

Now, those numbers, when you stop and think about them are somewhat mind-boggling and they present both challenges and very real opportunities for a better future. Young people can be a source of ideas, of creativity, of course, both a source of labor and an expanding market for many of the businesses who are represented here today.

I'm here to talk about the unique responsibility of the leaders in this room, American leaders and Arab leaders, each of you as an agent of change. You are the decision-makers and investors who will really shape and write the answer to what U.S.-Arab relations look like in the year 2020. And the answer to this question of 2020 presents two competing visions: One grim at two opposite ends of the spectrum. One is quite grim-- increasing hostility, strife, isolation and violence, a world of increasing fear and ignorance which would limit opportunities for all of our peoples. The other vision of 2020 is decidedly hopeful and involves mutual respect, greater economic and social integration, partnership and broader opportunities for more and more people. This future embraces all that our societies have to offer men, women and young power and empowers all voices to participate. This hopeful vision can become the reality of the year 2020 if we work together to bring it about and choose a path of openness: open economies, open minds, open opportunities and open dialogue.

I'll start by discussing open economies. As Tom Friedman bestselling book famously proclaims, "Today's globalized world is in fact increasingly flat." To expand opportunities for all our citizens, doing more business together is one of the most constructive steps that we can take. Here in America we need to do a better job of highlighting and showcasing to our people the benefits of foreign investment in general and the positive contributions of Arab companies in the Arab world in particular.

For example, last year direct investments in the United States from the United Arab Emirates totaled almost $2 billion, up dramatically from just $519 million in 2004. These types of investments create American jobs here, what you might call insourcing. Foreign companies employ 5.3 million American workers inside the United States and generate over 20 percent of all of our U.S. exports and there's plenty room for growth. We want our friends in the Middle East to know that the door to trade with America is opening wider and wider every single day.

President Bush announced the Middle East Free Trade Initiative in May 2003 as part of a comprehensive effort to increase our engagement with the Arab world. Since MEFTA was launched the U.S. has been working on a country-by-country basis with those who are interested in economic openness and the prosperity it promises to bring.

Our free trade agreement with Jordan is a good example of a success story. Jordan's exports to the United States soared from $16 million in 1998 to 1.1 billion in 2004. In Egypt, trade from qualified industrial zone programs has nearly doubled from 60 million to 115 million last year. That trade adds up to a profitable relationship in many ways. By opening the door to trade we bring greater contacts between our people and it helps us step beyond misunderstanding and move toward a 2020 that is characterized by partnership and integration.

President Bush knows that global commerce is a crucial part of public diplomacy and building greater understanding. It's significant that he has nominated one of the top financial executives in the world, Hank Paulson, the CEO of Goldman Sachs as the new United States Secretary of the Treasury. Both he and President Bush know that trade brings jobs and makes for a more prosperous and more peaceful world.

With rising populations, the Middle East faces especially challenging demands for job growth. I was told recently that Egypt needs to create 800,000 new jobs every year just to keep pace with current growth. By expanding trade and business investments between America and the Arab world, we can ensure that the young energetic and enthusiastic populations will become a positive asset in future Arab economies, a source of human capital and innovation that can provide a competitive edge.

In our own country, the President has recognized that while our economy is strong and creating jobs we too face challenges; that are math and science scores, for example, are falling behind those of other nations in the world. To close this growing gap he has championed an initiative to encourage and foster American competitiveness globally and it's centered on education, which brings me to my second point, the importance of open minds as we lay a foundation for a more hopeful 2020. To build a world where misunderstanding, suspicion and mistrust become a thing of the past, we need open minds open to truth, unhindered by lies, unrestrained by ignorance and fear. To achieve this, all people must have access to education: boys and girls. Education allows children to see beyond a world of hate and hopelessness to one of possibilities. Education unleashes the creative contributions of every citizen to improve their own lives and build the common good.

Here in America, we need to do a better job of educating our young people about the world, learning more about other countries and cultures, learning languages such as Arabic so we can better communicate with and understand each other. With education also comes the ability to decide for yourself and that's what we want. Because I believe most people with educated open minds will choose liberty over tyranny, tolerance over extremism, and hope over hate. Open minds also inspire people to stand for their rights: the right to live in freedom, to participate in choosing their governments, to live in just societies that are governed by the rule of law and whose officials are not corrupt. Open minds are what will ultimately allow us to prevail in the war of ideas.

Our opponents want closed minds. They say their way or no way. Death to anyone who disagrees with them, no matter what faith or what religion. Together we must confront the violent extremists and their ideology of tyranny and hate. They seek to portray the West as in conflict with Islam, because that's the window into which they recruit. They can only flourish in environments that foster anger and misunderstanding. Yet their world view is wrong. Islam is a part of America. As an American government official, I represent almost seven million American Muslims who live and work and practice their faith freely here in our country. Together we must undermine the extremists by providing platforms for debate, by empowering mainstream voices of tolerance and inclusion, and by demonstrating our respect for Muslim cultures and contributions to our society and to world society. We can also undermine the extremists by building a world of greater opportunities.

As the Arab Human Development Report noted in 2002, working to create opportunities is rooted in the recognition that "From the Atlantic to the Gulf, people -- women, men and children -- are the real wealth and hope of Arab countries." This is a powerful declaration with which I wholeheartedly agree -- people are the hope of the future and the hope will only be fully realized when the potential of all people is fully developed: men and women, boys and girls alike. All people want to contribute to the success of their families and their communities and participate in the success of their country. All people, men and women, must have an open opportunity to do so. This is central to our vision of a much more positive world in 2020.

We have a lot of work to do to ensure that women have the chance to become fuller participants in society. Farahnaz Nazir, the founder of the Afghanistan Women's Association, has a wonderful saying that I heard during some of my visits to Afghanistan. She said, "Society is like a bird. It has two wings. And a bird cannot fly if one of those wings is broken." The Arab Human Development Report suggests that the job availability and education are among the two most common concerns among Arab youth. And the concern was even greater among young women, who saw not only their age but also their gender has a hindrance to success. As we lay the foundations for the world of our children, we must lead by examples so that the world of 2020 capitalizes on the full potential of our greatest asset -- all of our people.

This work of openness, opening economies, opening minds and opening opportunities, this work requires open dialogue. In this age of instant information with internet, cable news, satellite television it would be difficult to imagine any one stifling debate. Yet much of what passes for debate is sometimes just loud voices talking pass each other. So I think it's very important that we work in forums such as this one to foster genuine dialogue and encourage it our homes and in our communities and in our countries.

At the State Department we are moving aggressively to put in place a foundation for what I call "waging peace"; that encourages dialogue and builds understanding. We're increasing funding for programs that we know are effective, like our exchange programs. Exchange programs are the best kind of public diplomacy, because when you bring people together, the people become their own diplomats and find common ground together. Even though there are many competing demands for budget -- for money in our federal budget, from disaster relief to the war on terror, we increased funding for exchange programs this year by $70 million. And President Bush has proposed an additional $48 million for the year 2007. We're also reaching out through new exchange programs to those who have wide circles of influence: clerics, journalists, women leaders, teachers, bringing them to the United States so they can get to know us and so we can learn from them.

Not only that, we've shifted resources to add English language instruction for 9,000 high school students in 39 countries with significant Muslim populations. I met some of the young people participating in our English language programs in Morocco and they told me it's changed their lives. I asked a young man, "Tell me what difference it's made that you've learned English." And he looked back and he said, "I have a job and my friends don't." That's the kind of educational diplomacy that will prepare young people for the world of 2020.

We're also improving the way our Foreign Service members communicate in the countries where they serve. Rather than wait for the go-ahead from the home office in every case, we're encouraging our ambassadors abroad to be more available to the local media. We're positioning spokesmen in key regional media centers like Dubai. We've dramatically increased our presence on Arab media. State Department personnel -- I had them count and keep track -- they made almost 300 -- we made almost 300 appearances, I have to say we because I did some of them, too -- almost 300 appearances on Arab and regional media from January to April 2006, a good many of those in Arabic.

We're also reaching out to women in new ways. We started the State Department Fortune Women's Mentorship Partnership, which brings women business leaders from around the world to the United States to be mentored by women business leaders here, such as Ann Moore, the CEO of Time, and Anne Mulcahy, the Chairman and CEO of Xerox. Microsoft and the International Institute for Education are training a thousand women in the United Emirates in information technology. And this month, we announced a new U.S.-Middle East partnership for breast cancer awareness and research, bringing the top medical institutions in the United States together with the UAE in Saudi Arabia. And we're continuing conversations to expand this partnership to include Jordan and Morocco. This will be the first major regional women's health campaign in the Middle East and America is proud to be a partner in it.

We're also recruiting private sector leaders to work with government to serve as goodwill ambassadors, individuals from a host of major corporations such as Pfizer, Citicorp, Xerox, GE, UPS, PepsiCo, John Deere, American Electric Power and Asset Management worked with us to raise more than $100 million to help the victims of Pakistan's earthquake and the victims of severe flooding in Central America. Many of the CEOs personally traveled with me to tour these disaster sites. They've responded generously with the best of the heart of America and they tell their employees are very proud and appreciate the opportunity to work in partnership to help bring about a better world. I invite all the corporate leaders here today to join us in this effort. You can help those in need and your own country at the same time.

Secretary Rice calls the challenge before us "transformational diplomacy." As she describes it, transformational diplomacy is rooted in partnership not paternalism; in doing things with other people not for them. This is the work of years and decades, but it is urgent work that also cannot be deferred. The hour is pressing, but the challenge before us will seem less vast if we face it together. I challenge all of us, in America and throughout the Arab world, to choose the path of openness: open economies, open minds, open opportunities and open dialogue to take the first steps toward bringing about that world of endless possibilities that this conference envisions.

Thank you all so much for having me and I wish you a great conference. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

Released on June 29, 2006


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