About the Author: Jeffrey Feltman serves as the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs.
The Obama Administration has made it a priority to broaden U.S. engagement around the world -- reaching out to a wider range of partners, in and beyond governments, to discuss and work together on shared challenges, concerns, and opportunities. To see this approach in action, you don't have to look further than Secretary Clinton's February 13 - 16 trip to Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which I was privileged to join.
On the ground, Secretary Clinton's schedule was jam-packed. Even younger aides, accustomed to the Secretary's often grueling schedule, began dropping like flies after the sixteen hour flight from DC to Doha. The Secretary, meanwhile, stayed up, editing her speech for the U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha and reading her briefing papers.
After landing in Doha, she went straight into intensive bilateral talks with the head of the Turkish government, Prime Minister Erdogan, who was also in Qatar to attend the U.S.-Islamic World Forum, and then with the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. The next day in Riyadh, she spent four hours in dialogue with the King of Saudi Arabia, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. She also met with the Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al Faisal and the Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu. In each meeting, she discussed the many shared challenges and opportunities our countries face, including support for a comprehensive peace in the Middle East and concerns over Iran's nuclear ambitions.
In between these "bilaterals" Secretary Clinton sat down with civil society leaders in Doha; conducted a combined town hall and interview with students and Al-Jazeera in Education City; met with women business leaders from the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry; took questions from a group of Saudi students at Dar al-Hekma College; and delivered a significant policy address at the U.S.-Islamic World Forum.
For those keeping score at home, the Secretary met with government leaders, citizen activists, regional media, and leaders in education and the private sector. The dialogue was robust and lively. As she said during the Q&A session after her speech at the Doha Forum, "We are not always going to agree. We are not always going to disagree. We ought to narrow the areas of disagreement, enhance the areas of agreement, and look for ways to try to solve problems in between."
The administration's commitment to a broader engagement is evident not only in the conversations we have, but in the policies we pursue and the partnerships we build. In the last year, the United States rejoined the UN Human Rights Council and the P5+1 process with Iran. The Secretary traveled to the BMENA Forum for the Future in Morocco to reinforce the importance of civil society and announce programs to support citizen empowerment through education technology, and other means. The Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) is ramping up its support for local activists and organizations with home-grown agendas for progress -- these projects now make up more than half of all MEPI-funded projects.
The clearest message I took away from the Secretary's trip, besides her unmistakable commitment to reaching out and hearing from people of all backgrounds and perspectives, was that the United States is fully committed to realizing President Obama's vision for a new approach to foreign policy -- through the work we do, and the way we do it. That vision is for relationships defined by partnership and by shared responsibility for tackling our common challenges. These aren't relationships that can be created in an instant, or even a year, as the Secretary said. But every day, we are building partnerships and looking to solve problems in accordance with the principles of mutual respect, mutual interest, and mutual responsibility; a shared commitment to universal values; and a broader engagement with citizens and governments alike.