Background Briefing on the Secretary's Upcoming Travel

Special Briefing
Office of the Spokesman
Senior State Department Officials
Via Conference Call
Washington, DC
January 7, 2011

OPERATOR: Welcome, and thank you for standing by. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. During the question-and-answer session, please press *1, make sure your phone is un-muted, and record your name when prompted. I would now like to turn this meeting over to Mark Toner. Thank you. You may begin.

MR. TONER: Thank you. Good morning, and thanks for joining us. As you know, the Secretary of State will head out tomorrow for a trip to the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Qatar. That will be from January 8th, tomorrow, through the 13th. She’ll also, in Qatar, participate in the Seventh Forum for the Future, which is a joint initiative of the countries of the broader Middle East and North African region and the industrialized countries of the G-8.

Just in that vein, just to give you a little bit more detail and granularity on the trip and speak to her agenda, we’re joined by two [senior State Department officials]. Just a reminder, the ground rules here are on background, so [the senior State Department officials] will henceforth be known as Senior Official Number One and Number Two – Senior State Department Official.

Without further ado, I’ll hand it over to Senior State Department Official Number One. [Senior State Department Official One], go ahead.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Thank you very much, Mark, and thank you so much for giving us the opportunity to talk a little bit about the Secretary’s trip to the Gulf. We’re very pleased that she’s going back out. As you may recall, she was in Bahrain a month ago for the Manama Dialogue. Now she’s going to go out and showcase our emphasis on partnership with civil society. And I’ll let my colleague talk a little bit more about that.

But I think what’s important about the trip is, in addition to this opportunity to really get some bounce with this idea that civil society has a role, has a very important role to play in the region, she’s going to have an opportunity to build on the very good personal relations that she has with a number of these leaders in the UAE, in Oman, and in Qatar. And she’s going to have the opportunity to talk about key regional issues. This agenda, obviously, is very familiar to all of you listening. It includes Iraq, Iran, the Middle East peace process, Lebanon, Yemen.

And we have a very robust bilateral agenda (inaudible) visiting. These are countries that we have worked with very closely over the years, and we’re going to have the opportunity for the Secretary to talk about our commercial relationships, to talk about people-to-people relationships that are so important to highlight some of the things that are of interest to us and to our friends in the Gulf.

We’re very pleased, for instance, that she’s going out to Masdar in the UAE, the green town that you may have read about recently. She’s going to spend some time in Dubai, where I understand she’s never been.

In Oman, she’s going to help mark the 40th anniversary of the Sultan of Oman, who is a longtime friend of the United States and a valued partner who’s made enormous changes on the ground in his country in the past 40 years. And I know that she’s looking forward to that opportunity.

And of course, in Qatar, the showpiece of the centerpiece of the trip is the Forum for the Future. But we also have a longstanding relationship with the Qataris. We have a very robust dialogue on a variety of issues, including African issues such as Sudan and Yemen. And we’re looking forward to having some real exchanges there as well.

I think I’ll turn it over to [Senior State Department Official Two] to talk a bit more in detail about Forum for the Future and the overall theme of the visit.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: [Senior State Department Official One], thanks so much, and Mark, and thank you all for joining us. Typically, when the Secretary is traveling to our part of the world, she is doing a lot of business on these core relationships, on important regional security issues, on conflict resolution, and these are the Middle East issues that I know most of you folks end up writing about when you write about U.S. engagement in our region.

But we have a lot more going on across the region, and this trip is really an opportunity to showcase that these other dimensions of U.S. engagement in the Middle East and in the Gulf, particularly the emphasis that we’ve placed on building partnerships beyond the government-to-government level, reaching out to civil society, reaching out to the private sector, and treating – and really viewing them as essential partners in progress in the region, in developing and building a vision for the future of this region that’s dynamic, that’s prosperous, that’s progressive, that provides opportunity for young people. And this is a region where a majority of the population is under 25. So that’s really the key goal for everything that she’s doing on the trip.

The second element here that’s driving this travel comes out of the Secretary’s commitment to civil society. And those of you who were in Krakow and those who were not heard her in her address there at the Community of Democracies talk at length about civil society and the way she views this sector as an essential partner alongside governments in democracy and development, and laying out in Krakow her commitment and U.S. Government support for the work of civil society actors around the world.

So this trip is really meant to manifest that very concretely. In every stop she is going to have direct engagement with civil society actors who have been involved in all kinds of creative ways in activities to tackle social issues like child marriage or domestic violence, as well as to work on cutting-edge innovation, promoting business development, working with young people, working in education. And she’s going to be engaging at each stop with civil society actors on those questions.

And this culminates, of course, in her engagement at the Forum for the Future, where the three legs of the stool she talked about in Krakow – government, civil society, and business – all come together in this multilateral meeting to talk about how together they can work to advance political, economic, and social reform across the region.

And the Forum is something that I think really has gained steam over the last couple of years. It’s got strong support from a number of regional governments and there are a lot of concrete commitments from the G-8 states that have flowed out of the partnership represented by the Forum for the Future. So all of that will be highlighted at the Forum, and the Secretary will be participating at the Forum in a session that really symbolizes this engagement between government, business, and civil society. She’s going to be part of a conversation with a foreign minister from the region, a civil society representative, and a business representative. And so that will be her final day on the trip before we come home.

MR. TONER: Thank you both. With that, we’ll open it up to questions. And just a reminder, as Caroline will tell you as well, if you could just give your name and media affiliation. And we’ll open it up to questions now.

OPERATOR: Thank you. We will now begin the question-and-answer session. If you’d like to ask a question, please press *1, make sure your phone is un-muted, and record your name and affiliation when prompted. To withdraw your request, you may press *2. Once again, if you have a question or a comment at this time, please press *1 and record your name and affiliation. One moment for our first question.

Our first question comes from Josh Rogin from Foreign Policy. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, good afternoon, and thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today. I’m wondering if you could please give us the list of – I understand that the Secretary’s trip is focused on civil society and civic engagement, but could you please give us the list of senior officials in each of those three countries that Secretary Clinton will be meeting with and what the main agenda items might be? And also, I see that Secretary Clinton will meet this evening with Saudi King Abdullah and Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri. Could you please also talk a little bit about the goals and the agenda for those two meetings? Thank you so much.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Well, let me first talk about the meetings this evening. The Secretary will be going up to New York to make a courtesy call on King Abdullah, who, as you know, has been in the United States for medical reasons over the last couple of months. This really is strictly a courtesy call. Obviously, the King’s health has been such that he hasn’t been able to receive many visitors up until now, so I think the Secretary is very pleased to have this opportunity.

We understand, and I frankly have not seen the latest schedule, that she’s tentatively scheduled also to see Hariri. We would obviously like to hear how things are going in Lebanon, particularly as we prepare for what we think will be the next round of events associated with the special tribunal on Lebanon.

With regard to the individuals that she’s going to meet in the region, pretty much who you would expect. In the UAE, obviously, she will meet Muhammad bin Zayed and his brother Abdul Aziz bin – excuse me, Abdallah bin Zayed. Muhammad bid Zayed is the Crown Prince of the UAE. Abdallah bin Zayed is the foreign minister of UAE.

She will travel to Dubai and have an opportunity to meet with the ruler of Dubai, Muhammad bin Rashid. In Oman, of course, she will meet with the Sultan of Oman and offer her congratulations on his 40th anniversary of his accession to the throne. And in Qatar, she will meet with Amir Hamad bin Khalifa, who is someone that she has met with most recently, I believe, in February.

In terms of the issues on her agenda in each place, obviously it’s going to be driven by the regional context. She’s going to want to talk about Iraq. We have a government now on the ground in Iraq, and all three of these countries have made public note of that. We obviously want to have them – we want to encourage them to be as supportive as possible to the new Iraqi Government. There have been some bumps in the road in those relationships in the past, as you’re well aware of. But I think that she will look forward to hearing from her interlocutors how they see things evolving in Iraq and how they might be able to assist the new Iraqi Government.

On the peace process, I think that it’s time once again for the Secretary to take stock on what is happening. We have had some visits both here and in the region. Senator Mitchell was just out recently. I think that she will want to have the opportunity with the three leaders, as well as any of the other foreign ministers that she has an opportunity to meet with around the fringes of the Forum – she’ll want to talk a bit about where the Arab Peace Initiative is certainly, and she’ll want to perhaps get a better sense of how the region sees the situation on the ground, both in terms of the Palestinian Authority but also in terms of the talks.

We continue to look for ways to engage on the peace process, as you are all well aware. The parties have indicated to us they want to continue contacts with us indirectly. And we are very eager to see progress made, but it’s an uphill battle and we look forward to talking to the rulers of the area to see how they can play a positive role.

On Iran, well, as you know, the Istanbul meeting is tentatively on the agenda for the near term. And certainly, given the very intense interest in the region in the Gulf, in Iran, the close proximity to Iran – I mean, I don’t need to tell any of you that – we particularly value our opportunities to talk with rulers in the Gulf about Iran, about Iran – what it’s doing, what it’s up to, what might be most effective to get it to a place at these talks at the P-5+1 talks in Istanbul, that would try and unknot this problem that we find ourselves in internationally with the Iranians and their nuclear ambitions.

The Gulf states obviously have a vested interest in this. And over the years, we’ve had very good and very robust discussions with them. I think that also in her meetings, she’ll want to take stock where we are on the sanctions regime. Obviously, given the countries in the region and their commercial interests, this is of particular interest to them.

Lebanon – I’ve already touched briefly on some of the issues that are emanating out of Lebanon. I have to say that Assistant Secretary Feltman is probably one of the world’s experts on Lebanon; regretfully, he is not here. But we are certainly watching very closely about what is happening on the ground in Lebanon with particular interest to – with regard to the special tribunal and some of the political discussions that are underway.

A full menu of regional issues, and then, as I said earlier, there’s also a number of bilateral issues on the agenda. So she’s going to have her work cut out for her and an awful lot of talking points.

OPERATOR: Does that conclude your question or comment?

QUESTION: Yes, thank you so much.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question or comment comes from Jill Dougherty from CNN. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Yes, hello. I wonder if you could give us some background on our off-the-record stuff.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I’m sorry, I’m not in a position to say anything.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question or comment comes from Jay Solomon from Wall Street Journal. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks for taking the call. Do you think – you talked about how much focus there’ll be on civil society and democracy. Is Egypt and the serious allegations of fraud and rigging of the last vote – is this likely to be something Clinton raises publicly while she’s in the region? And if not, why wouldn’t she be raising it considering how much focus there’ll be on the democracy front at these events?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Jay, thanks. This is [Senior State Department Official Two]. Look, obviously, there are significant concerns about the conduct of the Egyptian elections that we’ve already, I think, made our views pretty clear on. This – the nature of the trip and the Forum itself is, yes, to discuss democracy and civil society and also economic and social reforms, all of which are designed to advance human development and improve the lives of people of the region. And the role of civil society in political processes like elections is an important component of that.

At the Forum, there are going to be gathered delegates from civil society all across the region, from Morocco to Afghanistan, and they face a variety of different operating environments. Some of them face some challenges in operating, and a group of them will be meeting – a representative group of them will be meeting with the Secretary at the Forum. I’m sure that they will have some specific issues that they want to raise with her.

And I think that she wants to be there and wants to engage with them both publicly and in these more intimate meetings to have the opportunity to hear directly from them about the work that they’re trying to do about some of the challenges that they face and about what we can do to help them do their work.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question or comment comes from Kim Ghattas from BBC. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Thank you both for taking the call. I’m struck by the fact that you’re emphasizing how much the Secretary will engage with civil society, the importance of partnering with civil society. I mean, she has done that on almost every trip over the last two years, including the trips that she’s taken to the Middle East. I’m wondering what is perhaps new about what’s on the agenda or how she is going to engage with civil society.

And [Senior State Department Official Two], you just said that economic and social reforms help advance human developments in the Arab world, so I was wondering what you had to say about the unrest that we’re seeing in Tunisia and today in Algeria. I’m struck by the fact that there’s been very little comment coming out of the State Department about what’s happening there.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Okay. Kim, thanks. I think on the question of what’s different, you’re right. The Secretary makes a point of meeting with civil society groups on all her overseas trips, and that itself is flowing out of this issue that’s very close to her heart, that’s part of her political resume, and it’s something she feels very strongly about.

So it’s not a change. I think the point I’m making is simply that it’s the organizing principle for this trip rather than an element added on. And I think that the schedule, the engagements that she’s going to be having both with civil society actors in smaller meetings but also in her public engagements and in her government meetings – a lot of the emphasis is going to be on how governments and civil society can partner on behalf of progress for people in the region.

And there are a number of specific examples. There are some that have been built with a U.S. role, and there are others that have sort of developed organically. But I think that there is – that’s really the organizing principle for the whole trip and for her participation in the Forum.

On the country-specific questions, let me turn it over to [Senior State Department Official One].

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, we’re certainly watching what’s happening both in Tunisia and Algeria with a great deal of interest. We did call in the Tunisian ambassador yesterday and expressed our concern about both what is happening with regard to the demonstrations and encouraged the Tunisian Government to ensure that civil liberties are protected, including the freedom to peacefully assemble.

We also raised the issue of Tunisian – what looks like Tunisian Government interference with the internet, most notably Facebook accounts. Frankly speaking, we’re quite concerned about this and we’re looking at the best and most effective way to respond and to get the result we want.

In Algeria – this is something I actually watched with a great deal of personal interest having served there as ambassador for three years – it’s frankly too soon to tell exactly what is happening here. There have been, as you are well aware, price increases as well as an acute housing shortage, which have not been well-managed by the government. And as a result, people are taking to the streets. We understand that there was some additional demonstration and rioting today. We don’t know the extent of it. But we’re also looking there about what’s the most effective and immediate thing to say and do.

QUESTION: Thank you.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question or comment comes from Mina Al-Oraibi from Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks for doing this. I have a couple of questions. First is regarding Iraq. What do you expect from the three countries in terms of the Secretary’s talks on Iraq? What sorts of support? Will she be discussing the upcoming Arab summit to be held in Baghdad in March?

And my second question is about the Forum for the Future. I mean, this is the seventh Forum. What would you say is the biggest outcome so far of these meetings beyond having the opportunity to sit and network or talk for the day and a half that people are there?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, this is [Senior State Department Official One]. Let me take the Iraq question and then I’ll hand it over to [Senior State Department Official Two].

Listen; on Iraq, what we’re really hoping to do is elicit more expressions of support for the Iraqi Government. We do now have a government on the ground in Iraq after a very long and somewhat tortuous process. It is important for the region to step up and provide them support. It is important for Iraq, frankly, to be reintegrated back in the region. That’s not only in our interest and the Iraqis’ interest, but we think it’s in the interest of the countries of the area. We’re going to urge, I think, countries that have not already opened embassies to open embassies in Baghdad. That’s certainly a strong signal of support by a government for the newly formed government.

I mean, we’re not looking exactly for financial support or anything like that. What we’re looking for are the types of public statements and public gestures, including the attendance, obviously, at the Arab summit. That will demonstrate that Iraq is back. We understand that there are reservations in certain corners of the Gulf. We certainly appreciate that. But we think that those barriers can be broken down over a period of time as the countries of the Gulf continue to reengage.

[Senior State Department Official Two]?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Thanks, [Senior State Department Official One]. And then Mina, on the Forum, yeah, I mean, this initiative, as you probably know, was generated when the U.S. held the chairmanship of the G-8 states in 2004. And the idea was to help bring governments in the region and civil society in the region, which was at a much more nascent stage at that time, into dialogue about the challenges of reform.

And I think what we see today is a significant evolution of civil society and of that conversation. There were five civil society representatives at the first Forum for the Future in 2004, and there are going to be 50 civil society delegates out of hundreds, literally, who were involved in the Forum process over the course of this year. Fifty were selected to participate in the Forum itself.

And the civil society role has really grown and expanded over that period of time, so that this year, the civil society groups and this civil society part of the process is something that the United States has supported actively with our own funding through the MEPI program, the Middle East Partnership Initiative. The civil society groups organize for themselves three workshops – one political, one social, and one economic issue over the course of the year. And then they also – and developed recommendations at those workshops that they wanted to bring to the governments in Doha. And then they also held seven national seminars in countries around the region to bring the results of their workshops to a much broader array of NGOs.

So as the civil society landscape in the region has blossomed, I think their contributions to the Forum process have blossomed as well, and we see that very – a number of the governments over the course of this year, in preparation for the Forum, have remarked how constructive, how mature the civil society participation and contribution has become.

In terms of even more concrete outcomes, I think you can see several major outputs from the Forum process over the years. One of the biggest is the Foundation For The Future, which is based in Jordan and which is an independent NGO that supports civil society development throughout the BMENA region. It’s supported by a bunch of governments, both regional governments and Western governments, including just over $22 million from the United States over the years.

And then just in the last year on an initiative from civil society, the Forum conducted a study and decided to establish a Gender Institute, a BMENA Gender Institute, which Morocco has offered to host and which has pledges of support from the United States – Secretary Clinton announced at last year’s Forum – and from the United Arab Emirates and also from the Foundation for the Future.

So those are two institutions that have been created out of this government-civil society dialogue. There are also from the G-8 states tens of millions of dollars, maybe even hundreds of millions – I haven’t added it all up – from the various G-8 states in commitments to literacy and education, to civil society and good governance, to private sector development and women’s empowerment, that have come directly out of initiatives brought forward at the Forum. All of the facts and figures on that have been compiled by this year’s G-8 chair, the Canadians, and they’re going to be distributing all of that information in Doha.

MR. TONER: I think we have time for just a couple more questions.

OPERATOR: Okay, our next question or comment comes from Camille Elhassani from Al Jazeera. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Yes, hi. Thank you for doing this call. I wondered if you could give us a more detailed schedule of the Secretary’s activities, like which days she’ll be in which country.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Mark, are we in a position to do that or not? [Senior Administration Official One.]

MR. TONER: Sorry, I had my mute button on. I think you’ve talked broadly about who she’s meeting with and the purpose of those meetings, but I’d refrain from getting into too much detail.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: All right, well, as I said, she is going to be going to the UAE, to Oman, and to Qatar. She will be meeting the prime minister of – the Crown Prince, rather, of the UAE, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed and the Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi. She will travel to Dubai and meet with Mohammed bin Rashid, the ruler of Dubai. In Oman, obviously, she will meet with Sultan Qaboos to mark his 40th anniversary. And then in Qatar, she will meet the Amir of Qatar Hamad bin Khalifa. So her meetings with these individuals obviously are subject to change in terms of the schedule, but those are sort of the top of the – the top of each visit.

OPERATOR: Does that conclude the question or comment? Our next question or comment comes from Lachlan Carmichael from AFP News Agency. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Yes, thanks for doing this. I wanted to pick up where you mentioned the taking stock of sanctions on Iran. Do you need more work from the Emiratis, the Qataris, and Omanis to stop smuggling? How bad is the smuggling? How much is getting through to Iran?

And the second question is: Much has been made about how – from the U.S. Administration about how the WikiLeaks revelation showed that the Gulf Arabs were in your side. But isn’t the reality different, that they are nervous about Iran and therefore tend to play along with their needs? And that’s the question.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Well, let me address the issue of sanctions. Obviously, this is going to be one of the focuses of the Secretary’s discussions with the leaders in the region. Sanctions are an important part of our Iran policy, in fact, of the international community’s approach to Iran. As we try and find ways to influence Tehran’s behavior, to try and get them to the table with some serious discussions about what they’re doing with their nuclear material and how they can live up to the responsibilities of a nuclear power, we want to make sure that we have as many tools in our kit bag as possible. And sanctions is one of them. I mean, sanctions, frankly speaking, we understand do hit hard countries that have had economic and commercial relations with the country being sanctioned. These countries in the case of the UAE, they’re right across the water. Bandar Abbas is 150 miles from Dubai. So undoubtedly this regime is going to have an impact on these countries.

And so we appreciate the opportunity to talk frankly about what is working, what is not working, how we can help them better adhere to the UN sanctions. There may be areas in which we can provide technical assistance. We may be able to provide training. I’m speculating here, frankly. But we are willing to put pretty much anything on the table in terms of helping these countries meet their UN obligations to enforce sanctions against Iran.

In terms of the amount, I mean, we’ve seen all sorts of reports in the press and elsewhere, and I’m not an Iran expert, so I can’t tell you what works, what doesn’t work. I mean, we hear anecdotal evidence that the sanctions are beginning to bite in Tehran and Iran in general. Again, I’m not in a position at this point to assess that. But certainly one of the things I think the Secretary would welcome the opportunity hearing from those in the business community when she’s out there is how the sanctions are affecting them and what they see and hear. So she’ll have a good dialogue in each country.

On Iran in general, because this is an issue of great concern to the states of the Gulf and to these particular countries in general, we have had previous conversations and they’re going to continue. They’ve been very frank and open. So in terms of assessing what’s working, what’s not working, how much is getting through, how much is not getting through, I really can’t give you that. What I can tell you is we’re going to talk about it, and we certainly welcome input from the other side. So we’ll look forward to having those conversations – the Secretary will.

In terms of WikiLeaks, you can read anything that you want into the release of those alleged cables. So I’m not going to sort of engage on that. The fact of the matter is that both publicly and privately the countries of this region have expressed concern about the direction in which Iran is going. They’ve expressed concern about the impact of what is happening with the Iran nuclear program on their countries and on their future. And those are concerns that we and others in the international community share. And so that’s going be high on the Secretary’s agenda.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. TONER: Great. I think there’s time for just one more question.

OPERATOR: Okay, thank you. Our next question or comment comes from Hisham Melhem from Al Arabiya Television. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you for doing this. Again, I hate to beat a dead horse, but I have to go back to civil society. I mean, this is the seventh Forum, and you’re talking about reviving on the civil society, or the civil society in the Arab world is blossoming. I think that’s the word that was used. At the same time, you see that civil society is under tremendous assault from the various governments in the region, including governments that are friendly towards the United States, governments that receives support – financial and material and military from the United States from Egypt to Yemen to Tunisia, Jordan.

And when you add to that the sectarian violence that we’ve seen against the Christian communities in both Iraq and in Egypt, it seems to me that all of this focus on civil society, the states that are involved, the governing structures that are involved, including those that depend on U.S. support, are not listening to us. And I think I don’t have to tell you this, but this also carries with it a certain element of not only moral responsibility, but political responsibility, because those forces, especially the extreme religious elements, are using this to mobilize support against the United States because they are accusing the United States of supporting these governments that are not listening to their own people.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Hisham, that’s the question?

QUESTION: It’s a comment and it’s a question, because I’m sure you are frustrated, like most of us who are – who would like to see civil society truly blossoming, but it’s not blossoming, in part – mainly, probably – because of the actions, the repressive actions, of these governments. And many of them depend on U.S. support, and one would argue that those people who do not wish the United States well in the Middle East, the extremist religious elements in particular, are using this relationship between the United States and these various governments to put also the blame on the United States. So – and I think it’s incumbent on the United States to take a tougher – maybe a tougher position against these governments.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Hisham, thanks for the question and for the comment, and I understand where you’re coming from.

QUESTION: Is this [Senior State Department Official Two]?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yes, this is [Senior State Department Official Two].

QUESTION: That’s why – you know where I come from. Thanks. (Laughter.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Hisham, look, I think the Secretary’s been quite frank about her concern on freedom of association issues globally and a backlash against civil society, and that’s precisely why she raised that issue in Krakow and made that her priority and a focal point in her remarks there because she sees this as a significant challenge to democracy and to the growth of democracy globally. And the Middle East, I don’t think, presents an exception to that broader, very unfortunate global trend.

She discussed in Krakow some specific cases and countries, including Egypt, where she saw steps taken against civil society that were of concern to her. And I think the fundamental point that drove the creation of the Forum for the Future and this G-8/BMENA partnership is the fundamental point that she’s going to be carrying with her when she goes out there, which is that this is a region that is facing tremendous challenge, rising demand from a wired and motivated young generation that’s very aware of the world around them and of the trends in other regions. They want to be a part of that, and they’re putting increasing demands on government to create more opportunities for them and to help them create opportunities for themselves. They want to play a role.

There is also – as you noted, there are those in the region who are ready to put forward a narrative that says there is no hope, there is no opportunity, and are putting forward a sort of dark vision for the future of the region. But there are those in the region, including many very brave and dynamic civil society leaders and including many government leaders and business leaders, who are putting forward a dynamic and positive vision of the future. And what we want to do is support that.

And I think the Secretary’s call throughout her trip and at the Forum is going to be that in order to take on the challenge of integrating this rising young generation and all the potential that it represents, in order for us to succeed at this – and the stakes are quite large, as I think you pointed out – we, government, business, and civil society need to work together in partnership, not to view each other as competitors or as adversaries, but to work together in partnership to solve problems, to hold each other accountable for commitments, and to create real opportunities, meaningful opportunities, politically, socially, and economically for the people of the region.

So that’s very much the message she’s carrying. That’s why she’s going. And that’s what all the work that we’re going to be highlighting during the trip by actors on the ground, that’s what it’s directed toward.


MR. TONER: Thank you. And thanks especially to both of our senior State Department officials for joining us today and for walking us through the trip and providing a level of detail that I think will help journalists who are traveling as well as reporting from here on it. And this concludes the call. A reminder again that all these comments were on background, again, as senior State Department officials. Happy Friday and have a good morning.

OPERATOR: That concludes today’s conference call. Thank you for your participation. You may disconnect at this time.

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PRN: 2011/023