By Joe Macaron
WASHINGTON, OCT 14 (KUNA) -- On the backdrop of an ongoing global financial
crisis, US officials are attending this week a forum for democratic reforms in
the Broader Middle East and North Africa (BMENA) region, the last landmark
event for the "Freedom Agenda" spearheaded by President George W. Bush.
"We have been working very hard as a government to try to help bring
prosperity to BMENA and this financial crises obviously does not help that
effort," said Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs and BMENA
Coordinator Kent Patton in an interview with KUNA.
The Bush Administration spent over USD 7.5 billion on democracy related
projects since 2001, excluding military budget to fund the war in Iraq.
"I do not doubt the financial crisis will frame much of the discussions,
obviously when such a crisis gets at the heart of peoples political and
economic freedoms, this is not unrelated to the issues of political freedoms
in BMENA," affirmed Patton.
"The more there is uncertainty, the more there is increasing economic
stresses, it makes it more difficult for political, economic, and social
freedoms to be expanded," added the State Department official.
Over 60 senior officials from BMENA, Group of Eight (G-8), Spain, Denmark
and other international players are attending the fifth annual Forum For the
Future, to be held on October 18-19 in Abu Dhabi, co-chaired by the United
Arab Emirates and Japan, the current President of G-8.
The idea of the forum came about after consultations in 2004 at the Arab
Summit in Tunisia and the G-8 Summit at Sea Island in the United States,
resulting in a joint initiative, the "Partnership for Progress and a Common
Future". BMENA region includes all Arab countries in addition to Afghanistan,
Iran, and Turkey.
Patton said that Washington is encouraged by the progress made by BMENA
countries in the last five years but will continue to urge all international
partners in Abu Dhabi to work on the BMENA Initiative amid concerns the next
US Administration would forego such effort.
State Department officials have held meetings with representatives from the
two presidential contenders campaigns, Senators Barack Obama and John McCain,
to highlight the importance of this issue.
"This will be a priority for the United States for the foreseeable future,
just because it is an initiative of the Bush Administration, that does not
mean it will end in fact, there is a great deal of support now across the
region, the G-8 and within the United States to see BMENA continue", said
"We expect the next President of the United States and the next Secretary
of State will maintain their support for the BMENA initiative," he noted.
The forum will assess the progress made in political reforms since 2004,
including the expansion of popular participation and the empowerment of women
in addition to economic reforms for sustainable development and the
cooperation between governments, civil society and private sector.
Patton affirmed the United States "will remain a partner for reform in the
region and will continue to do what we can to work constructively to see
greater freedom, opportunity and prosperity for BMENA."
"The region can count on us as partners in this endeavor", he added.
Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, who was expected to lead the US
delegation to Abu Dhabi, has reportedly cancelled her trip and could possibly
be replaced be her deputy, John Negroponte.
Immediately preceding the ministerial forum, parallel civil society
meetings are held between 15 and 17 October in Dubai, drawing around 200
representatives of civil society organizations to prepare their plan of action
for the coming year and to elect representatives to attend the forum in Abu
The main nucleus behind the civil society meetings is a sub group of six
partners within the BMENA process, the Democracy Assistance Dialogue (DAD),
that includes the governments of Yemen (on behalf of BMENA), Italy (on behalf
of G-8) and Turkey (on behalf of friends of BMENA), in addition to three civil
society organizations Human Rights Information and Training Center (Yemen), No
Peace Without Justice (Italy) and the Turkish Economic and Social Studies
"In consultations with civil society leaders in the region, they come up
with a very inclusive and broad representation sampling of organizations",
The forum was held for the first time in Morocco, second in Bahrain, third
in Jordan and the last one was co-organized between Yemen and Germany.
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