U.S. Committed to Democratic Reform in Arab World

U.S. Committed to Democratic Reform in Arab World


Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs Tamara Wittes briefed the foreign press yesterday on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speech at the U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha.  She highlighted the secretary’s trip as evidence of the administration’s commitment to the “new approach” with the Muslim world that President Barack Obama laid out in his Cairo speech last June. Wittes said the “new approach” includes three elements: a relationship built on mutual interest and mutual respect, a commitment to universal values, and working in the spirit of partnership and mutual responsibility.

When asked to respond to some Arab reformists who criticize the U.S. for “yielding to Arab autocratic regimes,” Wittes replied that this feeling wasn’t an accurate reflection of U.S. policy. “We do have dialogue with all of these governments,” she said. “I would say in just about every senior meeting we have, we are raising issues in democracy and human rights, and we’re talking about specific things that we think we’d like to see these governments do to advance down that path….we really are engaged at the government and the non-government level to try and advance the ball down the field in terms of democratic reform.”

Wittes highlighted the administration’s civil society concerns and said they are often voiced to Arab leaders. “…issues of law and due process as well as treatment of prisoners are issues that we raise in our dialogue with governments in the region including the government of Egypt.”

She seemed hopeful about democracy efforts in Iraq and its upcoming election, where she said encouraging steps can be seen in the fact that “most of the conflict if you will, is taking place through words rather than through violence in the streets.”

When asked to comment on the perception that lately the administration seems to have shifted its focus on more domestic issues, Wittes replied: “I see no slackening of our commitment. I see no slackening of our effort. If anything, I think we’re ramping up, and I’m hopeful that over the course of this year we will continue to see forward movement on all of these issues.”

A full transcript of Wittes’ statements as well as video of the briefing are available online.