Remarks At the National Council of International Visitors Meeting
Good afternoon. It’s really an honor to be with you to help observe – and celebrate – the 50th anniversary of the National Council of International Visitors, as well as the 70th anniversary of the International Visitor Leadership Program. I’d like to thank Assistant Secretary Ann Stock and her IVLP team at the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and Sherry Mueller and her National Council of International Visitors colleagues for inviting me to speak to you today.
I’ve been fortunate to attend a number of the NCIV events this week – and I have to say that the NCIV really knows how to celebrate a big anniversary! The fact that the Secretary Clinton, Senator Lugar, and so many other key leaders in the foreign policy arena have been part of these events underlines just how incredibly important the work that each of you – as citizen diplomats do – in your communities. I was fascinated – but not a bit surprised – to learn at the dinner on Wednesday evening that the NCIV was nominated in 2001 for the Nobel Peace Prize.
And I’ve so enjoyed being able to talk with several of you over the last few days. Your sustained and enthusiastic commitment to citizen diplomacy – and your voluntarism, hospitality, and interest in other cultures – embody the very best of America.
My experience of the IVLP has been mostly in the field, overseas – helping to identify and select rising leaders as candidates for the program, briefing them before they depart, debriefing them on their return, and, perhaps most importantly, engaging and working with these individuals after they return to encourage, support, and follow their work in civil society, human rights, education, environmental protection, and so many other important areas. Truly there is no more important public diplomacy resource than the International Visitors Leadership Program.
The State Department plays an important role in coordinating and convening IVLP’s, but the truth is that without all of you in the room, it simply couldn’t work. So, again, I want to commend each and every one of you for all that you are doing to advance mutual understanding and productive partnerships with individuals and organizations from South and Central Asia. The Department of State organizes hundreds of exchange programs each year, and none of them would be possible without the incredible dedication of people like you. In dedicating your time and talent to ensuring that these visitors have an unforgettable experience in our country, you are an integral part of our diplomatic efforts.
Several months ago, my office was contacted by someone in Texas who wanted to learn more about Central Asia in general and Uzbekistan in particular. The person planned to do this by hosting events for visitors in her home and at her workplace, a university teaching hospital. But, she did not know how to plug into the network of volunteers, so she emailed the Department of State and her message came to my office. We were happy to connect her with the NCIV representative in her town – and another citizen diplomat joined the NCIV team. The spirit of volunteerism is thriving in our country and all of you are role models for both our own citizens and for the international visitors who visit the United States each year.
So on behalf of the Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert Blake, who very much wanted to be with you today but is leading an official delegation to Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, I want to extend our heartfelt thanks for all that you do to support our efforts in the region.
I’d like to like to talk with you today U.S. policy goals and objectives in South and Central Asia -- objectives that are supported and advanced by our public diplomacy programs and exchanges, including the International Visitor Leadership Program. I will also give a few examples of the activities that are making a positive difference in the region, and strengthening our relationships with governments and their citizens in this part of the world. These days, it’s not enough to have good relations with governments. We also put a great deal of emphasis on building strong relationships with non-governmental and youth organizations, as well as in the private sector.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that many IVLP grantees are changed for life as a result of their experience. And, without doubt, they are changed in ways that build bridges between the United States and the rest of the world.
On a personal level, my Foreign Service career – and my life – has been enriched by the interesting, bright, involved, and accomplished individuals and groups that I’ve been privileged to meet over the years through the International Visitors Program. I suspect that the same is true for all of you, which is one reason you continue to be such enthusiastic supporters of this program.
But let me move to a short overview of our foreign policy objectives in South and Central Asia -- and some thoughts on how public diplomacy, including the International Visitor Leadership Program, supports our policy objectives.
While in terms of number of countries, SCA is easily the State Department’s smallest regional bureau, we are front and center in the foreign policy priorities of the United States.
In total, the region is home to nearly a quarter of the world’s population.
Over half of the population of our region is under 25 years of age.
More than 600 million Muslims live in the SCA region, accounting for over one-third of the global population of that religious faith.
The Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs has set five principal and inter-related strategic objectives in the region, and I’d like to summarize each of them.
First, to build security and stability throughout South and Central Asia.
The headline here is our mission, with international partners, to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As the President said in December 2009, “This is the epicenter of the violent extremism practiced by al- Qa'ida. It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak.”
Hand in hand with this mission comes support for capacity building efforts in Afghanistan.
It’s important to note that several other Central and South Asian nations are playing a critical role in these efforts.
The Northern Distribution Network (or NDN) runs through several Central Asia countries and supplies a growing percentage of provisions for our military efforts in Afghanistan. The NDN offers the people of Central Asian countries an opportunity to sell goods and services to coalition forces in Afghanistan.
Beyond the NDN, the Central Asian nations have in other ways underpinned our efforts to bring stability and reconstruction to Afghanistan.
For example, Kyrgyzstan hosts the Manas Transit Center, which facilitates troop transport and supports refueling missions for coalition forces in Afghanistan.
Electricity from Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan provides power to the streets and homes of western Afghanistan and parts of Kabul.
Cultivating broad and long lasting relationships with the Central Asian countries helps to gain long-term support for our critically important efforts in Afghanistan.
South Asian countries have also supported international efforts in Afghanistan. India, in particular, has been a key contributor to reconstruction, with more than $1.3 billion in assistance, including the construction of highways, transmission lines, and the parliament building.
On the subject of Afghanistan, I might add that in July of last year, an IVLP group of 13 Afghans visited several cities in the U.S. to learn about combating corruption and increasing transparency in governance.
The topics they discussed included separation of powers, checks and balances, public access to education…all discussions that hopefully will contribute in some small way to a more stable Afghanistan. Highlights from the trip included a visit to Salt Lake City, where they met with the Chief Justice for the Utah Supreme Court and also enjoyed music performed by the renowned Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Second, the United States is working to establish regional anchors of stability and opportunity in South and Central Asia.
Key to this goal is advancing our strategic partnership with India. As President Obama said during his visit to India last November, “Let me say as clearly as I can: The United States not only welcomes India as a rising global power, we fervently support it.”
Growing ties between our governments, people, and economies have helped to sustain and accelerate India’s rise. The nearly three million Indian-Americans in the U.S. provide a powerful connection between our two countries, as do the more than 100,000 Indian students who are enrolled in American universities.
Bilateral trade has more than tripled in the last decade. And engagement, including in counter-terrorism and defense modernization, between the U.S. and Indian governments has never been as comprehensive as it is today.
I would note here that Biplab Paul, an IVLP alumnus from India, was recently the recipient of an Ashoka Changemaker Fellowship. He was given the award for creating a business that pioneered a cost-effective and affordable solution to water scarcity. It provides a reliable irrigation system, restores the biodiversity of the Gujarat region, and empowers women.
Writing about his IVLP, Paul said, “My IVLP helped me crystallize my ideas. I then won the World Bank social enterprise award. From there I started working with women-led business models, which led to a Commonwealth scholarship as well as recognition from Nobel laureates as a Changemaker for India. Now ultimately I have successfully scaled the Ashoka Fellowship, which was my dream.” And it all started with an IVLP!
Our engagement with Pakistan is, likewise, deep and broad.
One indicator of this is the record number of IVLP grantees who visited the U.S. over the past year – making Pakistan currently the largest source of IVLP grantees in the world. Visitors included members of Pakistan’s provincial parliament who learned about legislative practices at the federal, state, and local levels and examined the roles of civil society and the media in the United States.
And Kazakhstan is playing a growing role on the international stage, a development that we very much support. Last year, Kazakhstan served as Chairman in Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the first former Soviet republic to do so, and in December hosted the OSCE Summit. In addition, Kazakhstan will take over the chairmanship of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) next month.
Third, we are committed to expanding opportunities for cooperation and reform in Central Asia.
The re-set in U.S. relations with Russia has provided the political space to engage more deeply in Central Asia. For example, last year, we worked closely with Russia to in responding to a political and humanitarian crisis in Kyrgyzstan.
Assistant Secretary Blake has initiated a series of Annual Bilateral Consultations (or ABCs) to establish a broader and deeper dialogue with each of the Central Asian countries. In fact, he is in Tashkent this week for the ABC in Uzbekistan.
The ABCs include frank discussions about human rights, democratic reform, defense cooperation, trade, and other issues. In Tajikistan, for example, the United States continues to explore how to expand its cooperation to help the country meet economic and security challenges, while being concerned about the narrowing of the space for political dialogue in recent months.
Just recently, in January of this year, an IVLP group with representatives from each of the Central Asian countries visited the United States to learn more about water resources management. The trip included visits to large cities, such as Chicago, as well as to Nevada. The visitors particularly enjoyed their visit with the Paiute (pī'yö�t') tribe in Nevada, where they discussed the interaction between tribal, federal and local regulatory bodies.
Fourth, we are committed to supporting democratic institutions and democratic governance in South and Central Asia.
In Sri Lanka, we have encouraged the government to undertake an effective reconciliation and accountability process in order to move forward after decades of conflict so that the country can heal and prosper.
In the Maldives, we supported the transition to democratic governance in 2008 and continue to watch with much interest as the country experiences the growing pains of a young democracy.
In 2008, Bhutan also took positive steps toward a peaceful transition toward democratic governance from a constitutional monarchy.
In Nepal, we have focused on support for the peace process and constitution building. We continue to urge Nepal’s leaders to end the current political stalemate and reach agreement on a new constitution and government.
In Kyrgyzstan, the U.S. strongly supported that country’s recent transition to parliamentary democracy.
We work with Bangladesh, a moderate, Muslim-majority democracy that has achieved remarkable economic success in the past ten years, on a wide range of priorities from democracy promotion to climate change and food security.
In fact, Bangladesh’s democratic system of government is buffeted by one of the region’s most vibrant civil societies, which the U.S. has recognized as a key partner in furthering development on issues such as good governance, poverty alleviation, and human rights.
Fifth, we are committed to advancing regional economic integration and development.
Building greater connectivity between the South and Central Asia economies remains a challenge, but our goal is to link the growing energy resources of Central Asia with large markets in India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
Obstacles to greater integration include the security environment in Afghanistan and Pakistan, continuing India-Pakistan tensions, and rivalries between Central Asian leaders and governments that have limited progress on regional cooperation in areas such as water and electricity.
In support of these five objectives, our embassies are drawing on several public diplomacy tactics and approaches.
The first is improving the quality of and access to education. This helps to provide economic opportunity and fosters critical thinking. The Fulbright program has a major role to play in this. In addition, each year we have several IVLPs that focus on higher education, education reform, and related issues. Policy makers and practitioners have an opportunity to sit down with U.S. counterparts to discuss common problems and examine the various approaches we have taken in our country. In the process, connections are made that often last a lifetime with both sides benefitting.
We are working in the region to expand both English language instruction and advising on educational opportunities in the U.S. and to reach out broadly to diverse populations in these activities. We also want to expand the numbers of Americans who study abroad.
For example, right now, for every American going to India to study, 38 Indians are coming to our country to pursue undergraduate or graduate degrees. If we are to succeed in the global marketplace, we will need to have more of our young people traveling to and connecting with the SCA region.
Second, on an ongoing basis we are working to build support for our policies. This is of course what our embassies do every day. Major initiatives in region include the creation of a network of Government and Media Information Centers in Afghanistan -- two are up and running, in Kabul and Kandahar, with others expected to open later this year. In addition, we are establishing more American Corners and other platforms for engagement, and we are vastly expanding our use of social media and SMS messaging, which is one of the communication tools of choice in the region.
Third, we are working to counter violent extremism. We do this, first and foremost, in partnership with the governments and people of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Meanwhile, in Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Kyrgyzstan we are working in a wide range of innovative ways to support reconciliation in post-conflict environments.
Fourth, all of our embassies – in countries from Uzbekistan to Bangladesh – are making more extensive use of exchange program alumni as partners in continuing initiatives, often at the grassroots level. In this way, the investment that you have made in the International Visitor Leadership Program continues to pay dividends long after our guests have returned to their home countries.
And finally we are focused on reinforcing the commitment of the United States to democratic ideals, opportunity, and respect for local culture. A great example of how this all comes together occurred back on November 15 of last year when Secretary of State Clinton presented International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) alumna Ela Bhatt with the Global Fairness Initiative Award for “her contribution to India and particularly the women of India, and to the global community.”
Bhatt participated in an IVLP program in 1985. She founded the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), a grassroots organization committed to protecting the rights of the poor and of self-employed women workers.
In recognizing the impact of Bhatt’s effort, Secretary Clinton said, “At its most basic level, Ela’s work is about fairness, about giving every person the chance to achieve his or her dreams, to make the most of his or her God-given potential – no matter how rich or poor, no matter whether they work in a factory or a home or on the side of a road.”
In concluding, I’d like to once again thank each of you for your contributions as members of the NCIV network to the success of the International Visitor Leadership Program in building bridges between the people of the United States and the people of each country in the South and Central Asia region. Your efforts to arrange meaningful, impactful programs for these young leaders and all the wonderful home hospitality that many of you provide are an integral part of the State Department’s public diplomacy, and we are deeply grateful to you for that.
I’d be happy to try to answer any questions you might have.