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U.S.: Powell Calls For Democracy In Middle East

Washington, 13 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says the administration of President George W. Bush will intensify efforts to promote democracy and economic opportunities in the Middle East.

Speaking in Washington today, Powell said the United States will finance an initiative to stimulate political, economic, and educational reforms in the volatile region. The program, dubbed the "U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative," will include funding of $29 million to promote economic growth through private-sector development, community initiatives to boost political participation, and educational programs to improve opportunities for girls and women. "A shortage of economic opportunities is a ticket to despair. Combined with rigid political systems, it is a dangerous brew indeed," Powell said.

Analysts say the administration hopes to deflect radicalism and help educate Arab children and liberate women from illiteracy and poverty with educational scholarships and economic development.

In his speech, Powell said too many Middle Easterners are ruled by closed political systems. "Along with freer economies, many of the peoples of the Middle East need a stronger political voice. We reject the condescending notion that freedom will not grow in the Middle East, that there is any region in the world that cannot support democracy," Powell said.

Yesterday, George Tenet, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, also discussed U.S. ties with the Arab world. He said the United States must back democracy and reform among Muslim countries if it hopes to lessen the threat of terrorism.

In his speech today, Powell said open societies in the Muslim world, along with promoting economic opportunities, would usher in prosperity for the masses. "Still, too many Middle Easterners are ruled by closed political systems. Too many governments curb the institutions of civil society as a threat, rather than welcome them as the basis for a free, dynamic, and hopeful society, and the language of hate, exclusion, and incitement of violence is still all too common throughout the region," Powell said.

Powell also restated Bush's vision of an independent Palestinian state living side by side with Israel.