Next week I am going to a meeting in Switzerland for SESAME, which I happen to think is the most exciting and revolutionary scientific undertaking that practically nobody outside of the scientific community has ever heard of.
What is it and why do I think it is so radical and so important?
The first question is easy.
SESAME actually stands for 'Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East' and will be the region's first major multi-country scientific research center. It's being developed under the auspices of UNESCO and is scheduled to open fully in Jordan in 2015. When it is completed, SESAME will be the Middle East's only source of so-called "high intensity synchrotron X-rays," key building blocks for research into biology, archaeology, and medical sciences.
Why do I think this is so revolutionary? Two reasons, really. First you have to look at the countries that have come together to collaborate on the project. The current members of SESAME include Israel, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, and the Palestinian Authority along with Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, and Jordan. (The United States, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Portugal, Russian Federation, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom are all official observers.)
Is there another program underway that has managed to place all these countries together in the same room to work together and share resources? I can't think of one. Frankly, I'm not sure anything even comes close to what SESAME is doing. So, beyond the obvious value of any particular scientific inquiry, the program demonstrates that people from these countries can and are working together, which gives us reason to believe we might eventually derive political benefits. SESAME represents a unique opportunity to establish the working relationships that can help lay the foundation for effective dialogue across the Middle East.
And then there are the economic benefits. Frankly, I believe SESAME is one of the region's most promising attempts to develop its economy and create new opportunities for local scientists, engineers, students and entrepreneurs.
See, for years now, one of the region's greatest challenges has been a major "brain drain" whereby its best workers and most gifted scientists move away to seek opportunities in more developed areas.
But I think SESAME can help reverse this trend. By providing world class facilities in the region, the center will attract and support the Middle East's best and brightest scientists, giving them all the reason they need to stay where they are and contribute to the region's growth and development. SESAME has already provided well-paid jobs in Jordan for more than 20 engineers, and with its frequent training sessions, has given more than 400 scientists from member countries new skills for peaceful purposes.
Now, to be honest, a lot of work remains to make sure SESAME opens on time, and many millions are still needed to complete construction. But much progress is being made -- just last month, Iran, Israel, Jordan, and Turkey agreed to make contributions of $5 Million USD to SESAME over the next four years -- and I am confident that SESAME will raise the remaining $15 million needed to finish construction. Moreover, the scientific benefits of SESAME to the region are already being realized, with such diverse partners as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), US Department of Energy, and CERN offering important synchrotron training opportunities to the future users of SESAME.
As the U.S. Ambassador to UNESCO, I could not be prouder of my association with SESAME and look forward to the day it gets the recognition is so justly deserves.