Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey D. Feltman recently published an op-ed in Al-Hayat , a pan-Arab newspaper. He looks back at U.S. engagement in the region and looks ahead at some of the important decisions the Middle East faces in 2011. The text of his op-ed appears below.
Obama: A Commitment Toward Peace and Prosperity in The Middle East
By Jeffrey D. Feltman
December 27, 2010
In the first two years of the Obama Administration, the United States has strengthened important relationships with governments and with people in the Middle East. Together we face an array of challenges, as varied as the region itself, which can best be solved through partnership. Together we are making progress and laying groundwork for building greater peace and prosperity, pursuing our mutual interests based on relations of mutual respect and commitment to universal principles.
In Iraq, the U.S. combat mission is over and our two countries have built a strong civilian-led relationship that will endure to both our countries' benefit long after the U.S. military withdraws completely next year. Our diplomatic mission continues under the auspices of a bilateral Strategic Framework Agreement signed with Iraq in 2008. Despite a tumultuous government formation process, Iraqis have formed their most inclusive and representative government yet. The United States, through diplomacy and assistance, has supported Iraqi leaders' decisions to promote national unity and self-reliance through political progress and economic growth and development.
On nuclear security, President Obama has led an international effort, recommitting the United States to our own nuclear responsibilities and building an unprecedented international consensus against to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Along with the permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany, the United States has sought constructive diplomatic engagement with Iran, in an effort to bring Iran into compliance with its international obligations.
The United States is the single largest contributor in the Palestinian Authority's efforts to build the institutions that will serve a future Palestinian state. We support this crucial work, along with the international community, because it improves the lives of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza and helps prepare for the inevitable creation of a Palestinian state brought about through negotiations. This effort goes hand in hand with our determined and persistent efforts to move toward a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace in the region that secures a brighter future for Israelis, Palestinians, and their neighbors.
In 2010, the United States invested more in educational and cultural exchanges in the Middle East than any previous year, with the number of Saudi students studying in the United States, for example, hitting its highest level ever. Our partnerships in innovation, entrepreneurship, and science and technology have brought Arab entrepreneurs to Washington, American science envoys to the Maghreb, and new ideas and vitality to our business and trade relationships.
Looking forward to 2011, the Middle East will be facing some important decisions:
2011 will see Iraq's newly-formed government usher in a new political era, as the United States continues to strengthen our strategic partnership with Iraq. Our bilateral relationship has moved beyond security cooperation towards strong diplomatic relations and closer ties in commerce, culture, science, information technology, health, and education. It will be critical for Iraq's Arab neighbors to further Iraq's positive reintegration in the region and bolster their relations with the Iraqi people as well as their government. In this regard, the decision by the Arab League to hold its March 2011 summit in Baghdad was a welcome step from the Arab world.
In 2011 Israelis and Palestinians will continue to face the tough choices necessary for the peace both people's need and deserve. For a negotiated agreement to come to fruition, countries in the region and around the world must support the parties in this effort. As President Obama and Secretary Clinton have said, the status quo of this conflict is unsustainable. Tough decisions on the core issues will be required of both parties. We must all work to help them.
In 2011 Iran's leaders will need to make a choice between continuing to ignore their international obligations or playing a positive role on the world stage. When it comes to non-proliferation, human rights, and respect for other nations' sovereignty, all states have a stake in upholding international norms and standards of conduct and it is time for Iran to meet its responsibilities.
And every day of 2011, millions of Middle Eastern citizens, of every faith and background, will send their children to school, start businesses to support their families, and work to improve their communities. The United States will continue to support these citizens through programs in education, entrepreneurship and civil society. Education, business and innovation, however, cannot truly thrive without open markets, open inquiry, and open, democratic societies. Universal rights, the rule of law, and political and economic reforms will help people across the region take steps to improve their lives, their communities, and their children's future.
The United States has much at stake in our relationships in the Middle East. The region remains vital for our shared prosperity and security. The challenges and threats of the 21st century know no national or regional boundaries. To tackle these challenges we must reject the tactics of fear and division. The international community must be firm in our resolve and work in a spirit of partnership and openness.
We also see tremendous human and economic potential in the Middle East. A region that once led the world in scientific advancement, trade, and culture can again take a leading role on the world stage. Gulf nations, for example, are stepping up support for global solutions to global problems, such as the U.A.E. and Qatar's efforts to develop clean energy practices and address food security. We will continue to partner with governments and citizens across the region to advance our shared aspirations.
A new generation of young men and women are coming to the fore in the Middle East and seeking their place in the world. The obstacles and challenges they face are not theirs alone -- their nations and their neighbors have a great stake in their success. In the years to come, we will continue to overcome those obstacles, forge common ground, and secure a brighter future all generations to come.