Celebrating the One Year Anniversary of the President's Cairo Speech

Maria Otero
Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs 
Keck Center of the National Academy of the Sciences
Washington, DC
June 8, 2010

(Remarks as prepared)

Dr. Cicerone, Dr. Holdren, Representative Holt, Dr. Zewail, Dr. Alberts, Dr. Zerhouni, Dr. Varmus, Ambassadors Shoukri and Baali, Charge Salman Al Farisi, General Jones, Excellencies, and distinguished guests.

I am honored to represent the State Department on this occasion marking the anniversary of President Obama’s speech in Cairo. That speech announced a New Beginning to relations with Muslim majority countries and Muslim communities in developing new partnerships to address global challenges.

It is fitting that this event take place at the National Academy of Sciences, where President Obama announced a deeper U.S. engagement in science and technology early in his administration. Without a doubt, no previous President of the United States has placed a greater emphasis on science, or made it so central to U.S. policy; comparisons have been made to President Kennedy at the dawn of American space exploration, or to President Lincoln, who brought the National Academy into existence in 1863, based on ideas first advanced in 1743 by one of America’s greatest innovators, Benjamin Franklin.

President Obama has made science and technology central to both the American economic recovery and the global economic recovery. His cooperative vision was laid out in his speech to the Turkish parliament in Ankara on his first overseas trip, in the Cairo speech last June, in his special Ramadan message last August, and in his remarks to the U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha in February. His vision is to work together to address critical global issues like climate change, energy supply, water and food security, entrepreneurship and job creation, and the sharing of data and digital resources. We intend to develop all of these initiatives in true partnership.

To those ends he created the U.S. Science Envoy program announced by Secretary Clinton last November in Marrakesh. The Envoys travelled to some of the world’s historic centers of scientific learning and modern centers of rapid technological change to listen and seek out advice and good ideas. They went to Cairo, Alexandria, Ankara, Istanbul, Paris, Doha, Kuwait City, Riyadh, Jeddah, Rabat, Casablanca, Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli, Jakarta and smaller cities and towns all over the Muslim world, to seek ways to develop new partnerships. Envoys, thank you for your dedication and service.

Today I have the great pleasure to announce a $5 million cooperative agreement between the State Department and the Civilian Research and Development Foundation for a program called Global Innovation through Science and Technology or GIST, which will include the establishment of a Digital Science Library for the Maghreb. This program has three core elements: building capacity, accessing information, and stimulating innovation and job creation through science and technology. The capacity building piece will build on and expand existing scientist engagement programs. The part dedicated to information access, roughly $1.5 million of GIST funds, will go towards the Maghreb Digital Library, which will fill critical gaps in access to information and improve the communication among scientists worldwide. Finally, roughly half of GIST funds will go towards a major S&T innovation conference in early 2011 preceded by a series of meetings and leadership groups, which is being developed in cooperation with regional stakeholders like the OIC and its organ ISESCO, the Islamic Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

Now let me turn to some other examples of what my Department has been doing, working with foreign and American partners, including governments, the private sector, NGOs, universities, and individual scientists.

The Department’s Global Muslim Science Partnerships program—which focuses on young men and women in science, technology and engineering—will engage Algerian professors and graduate students in the cooperative deployment and use of advanced un-manned underwater robotic vehicles to survey seismic activity in the Bay of Algiers. We will support the Eye on Earth summit in December in the United Arab Emirates. We will begin work on a Young Scientist Global Exchange program. And we are planning two new science diplomacy films.

Some of you may have seen some of our previous films viewed by millions of young people overseas—Path of Totality, produced with NASA, on eclipse observation in the middle of the Sahara desert, a film titled One, which documents the experiences of young Palestinian and Israeli teenagers working together on a tall ship off the coast of New England and learning about each other and the environment. You may have heard about One Small Step, One Giant Leap, which chronicles the adventures of 24 Libyan teenagers who trekked to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, as part of the first large-scale U.S. exchange program with Libya. The young participants in the film, broadcast frequently on regional television, now have nearly rock star status in Tripoli, and hundreds of young Libyans have now applied to Space Camp.

We are working with centers of excellence around the globe, in addition to developing proposals for some new ones. Currently, U.S. government officials are traveling in the Middle East engaging their counterparts on a center of excellence in water there. We have signed new science agreements with Indonesia and Kazakhstan. We continue to deepen cooperation with Central Asian countries in energy, agriculture, and telecommunications. Cooperation with Pakistan is expanding in areas like broadband applications, nursing workforce development, and innovation. Next week, I will lead a delegation to Pakistan to talk about water, including scientific cooperation on water. Cooperation with Saudi Arabia is advancing in space, aeronautics, and remote sensing, and with Jordan in water management, biotechnology, and nanotechnology. We have tripled the size of the U.S.-Egypt Science and Technology Cooperation Fund from $3 to $9 million annually and announced a U.S.-Egypt Science Year for 2011. And a workshop was held in Abu Dhabi in September to help women scientists build new networks for collaboration.

We are broadening cooperation with the OIC in polio eradication and expanding cooperation in immunization and disease surveillance. During the H1N1 pandemic, the U.S. cooperated with Malaysian health, agriculture, and defense agencies to build regional capacity to respond to disease outbreaks. We have announced new programs in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education and a TechWomen program, which will provide professional peer mentorships for women from Morocco to Lebanon to Gaza. At the Entrepreneurship Summit hosted by President Obama in Washington in April, we announced an Innovation Award for Women’s and Girl’s Empowerment.

Most importantly, we continue to seek your advice and support. As President Obama noted in Cairo, “All of us share this world for but a brief moment in time. The question is whether we spend that time focused on what pushes us apart, or whether we commit ourselves to an effort -- a sustained effort -- to find common ground, to focus on the future we seek for our children, and to respect the dignity of all human beings.” Thank you.