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Remarks to 2006 Forum for the Future

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Dead Sea, Jordan
December 1, 2006

Thank you very much, and first let me add my voice to those who thank very much the government of Jordan for the really fine arrangements and the attention to this very important gathering. We know how much work it takes to bring together so many countries as well as civil society, and I just want to thank you very much and thank His Majesty and the Prime Minister for the personal attention to this forum.

I want to thank also, of course, the Russian co-host for the important role that Russia has played on behalf of the G8 in arranging this forum.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov following the opening session of the Forum for the Future, as ministers prepared to receive reform recommendations from civil society representatives from around the Middle East. Russia was co-host of the 2006 Forum with Jordan.[State Dept Photo]Just two years ago, some would have thought the promise of reform was really not very possible in this region. But now that promise of reform is being fulfilled, and it's being fulfilled because the people of the region want reform, and I think we can say that governments are beginning to respond to those calls of reform.

The Forum for the Future is playing a significant role, and I want to applaud the progress that we together have made in this partnership, but especially the partnership taking place not just among governments but between governments and civil society. And thus I want to take a moment to thank all the members of civil society here for their great leadership and for their good work, and we look forward to continuing to support those efforts.

We have a shared vision of lasting and sustainable reform that brings us together here today, and we know that in our discussions with civil society they have identified important priorities building effective inclusive and impartial institutions of government ensuring that those institutions are accountable to the people, transparent in their operation and able to empower all members of society and nurturing a vibrant civil society as a way to bring new ideas and new energies to all challenges.

Reformers in the region both in and out of government must now build effective institutions of democratic states so states can, as they must, govern justly and by the rule of law. Much work remains to be done.

In the two years since we launched the Forum for the Future, we have seen the hopeful beginnings of this process in many countries historic expressions of the will of the people in places like Lebanon and Iraq and, yes, in the Palestinian territories. We have seen reformists gain greater political power in Kuwait and, just recently, in Bahrain. And we have seen gradual, yet significant, moves toward human and social development in places like Morocco and Saudi Arabia and here in Jordan .

And here let me just underscore a comment that my colleague Dora Bakoyannis just made: The increasing empowerment of women in this region is something to be applauded and to be extended. The right to vote was extended to the women of Kuwait . As I receive, increasingly, women ministers from this region and woman students from this region, I know the future of this region is one that will fully include its women. No society can operate fully and effectively and at its highest potential without the inclusion of women.

The forum has launched important initiatives to support the process of reform. I would like in this respect to take a moment to comment on the Foundation for the Future and its representatives who are here with us.

In recent years, Arab experts have identified some challenges facing the people of this region, among them poverty and violence and the lack of freedom and democracy. In fact, these challenges, combined with the fact that a majority of this region's population is under the age of 24, led the authors of the recent Arab Human Development Report to conclude that maintaining the status quo would be an "impending disaster scenario."

It is that urgent need for political reform that led to the creation of the Foundation for the Future. This is an institution based on the belief that, with serious and comprehensive reform, citizens of the broader Middle East can enjoy the freedoms and opportunities they deserve.

Government and civil society leaders from the region have come together to make the foundation a reality. They are setting priorities for the programs, seeking support around the world, and laying the groundwork to make their first grants. This serious effort provides hope to all in the broader Middle East who dream of greater peace, and prosperity, and freedom.

These same people can take hope in the fact that the world is coming together to support their work and their dreams. The government of Turkey was the first to contribute to the Foundation for the Future, and it is being joined by governments of the Middle East, Europe, and the United States.

I want just to make two comments from an American perspective. The first is to say we know that the process of reform, the extremely important process of reform, is taking place in a regional context that is indeed very difficult. We have heard comments today, and, indeed, we had a long discussion last night of the many regional challenges whether they are to bring peace, stability and democracy to Iraq, and the hope for that young Iraqi democracy to develop and sustain itself; whether it is the challenges the democratically elected government of Lebanon now faces; or, of course, the desire of all to finally see a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and an end to that conflict and the establishment of a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and freedom. We know these regional challenges form a backdrop in which it is sometimes difficult to continue the work of reform. But the work of reform must continue despite those regional challenges.

That said, the United States is absolutely committed to helping the region deal with those challenges, and, in particular, I want to speak to my personal commitment and that of President Bush to finding a way to bring about a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

President Bush was the first American president to make as a matter of policy the need for a Palestinian state. And we have been actively engaged in the years of his presidency in trying to bring that to fruition. But I can tell you that in the final two years of this administration it is our intention to be even more actively and intensively engaged because there will be no better achievement than to see a just outcome in which the Palestinian people finally receive their own state. They are people who have suffered greatly but who have enormous potential to contribute to a Middle East that lives in peace and in democracy and in security with all of its neighbors.

The final comment I would like to make is that the United States also understands that democracy and reform do not come easily, that they come, of course, from indigenous forces that are determined to have them, not from outside forces. But perhaps the United States, more than any, and perhaps I more than most, can understand how difficult the course of democracy can be.

The United States is a democracy, of course, more than 250 years old, more than 230, but it is a democracy that was born of the most difficult circumstances for my ancestors because, when the founding fathers said "we the people," they didn't mean me.

My ancestors were in the first constitution three-fifths of a man, but the institutions were there, and the call for a more perfect union continued. And through the next 150 years of our existence, we worked and worked and worked to make "we the people" a more inclusive reality, a more inclusive reality for women, a more inclusive reality for ethnic groups, and, ultimately, a more inclusive reality for the descendants of slaves like me. The very fact that I sit here as a female, African-American secretary of State says that America has made great strides. But we, too, still have work to do.

I want to assure you that as we are a partner in the great work of reform and democracy here in the Middle East, that we do so with a sense of humility, with a sense of our own imperfections, and with a sense that, if we stay committed to our work, the historic outcome of a democratic and peaceful Middle East that sometimes now seems very difficult will one day seem to have been inevitable.

Thank you very much.

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