Today, the G8 countries and nations from the Broader Middle East and North Africa are having a meeting to take a determined step in building a historic partnership to advance political, economic, and social reform and progress in the region of BMENA. Thomas T. Riley, the U.S Ambassador in Rabat shares with Morocco Times his views about the forum for the future, the future of the Middle East after the passing of Yasser Arafat, and Moroccan-US relations.
M.T: Morocco will host the first meeting of the Forum for the Future on Dec. 11, a gathering that is closely linked to the question of reforms in the Arab world. How do you see this event?
T.Riley: The Forum for the Future is the centrepiece of the Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative launched by President Bush and the other G-8 leaders after meeting with regional leaders at the Sea Island Summit in June 2004.
At Sea Island, G8 leaders recognized and committed through their Plan of Support for Reform to support the interest of the leaders and citizens of the region in progress on economic, political and social reform and modernization.
The Arab League recently cited the importance of such reform in its Tunis Declaration as did reform conferences at the Alexandria Library in Cairo, in Sana'a, and in Istanbul; the Arab Business Council has also spoken out on how to build a better business and investment climate in the region.
The Forum is a vehicle to energize ongoing, regular dialogue and action on reform and modernization among countries of the region and their G8 and other partners. It aims to develop practical responses to calls for reform from within the region, including specifically through support for micro-finance, education and literacy, business development and training, democracy and public participation, and finance and investment.
The whole idea of the Forum for the Future is for countries in the Broader Middle East and North Africa and G-8 countries to come together and discuss ways to work together as partners so that countries that have shown a desire to modernize their economies and institutionalize democratic reforms can achieve those goals. Neither the U.S. nor the G-8 has any intention to impose a certain set of reforms or vision on the region.
In the meantime, efforts to bring peace between Arabs and Israelis will continue. The reform dialogue we are engaged in is not a substitute for those efforts.
M.T: What do you expect from this forum?
T.Riley: We are very pleased that the Government of Morocco asked us, as current G8 President, to co-chair this extremely promising first meeting of the Forum for the Future in Rabat. We are very much in a supportive role, and the Government of Morocco is working intensively to ensure that the Forum is a success.
This first Forum for the Future is extremely important. It will set the stage for this new partnership and marks the beginning of an open and enduring dialogue that will continue to be reinforced in future meetings of the partners. The Forum for the Future provides the framework for bringing together G-8 and regional Foreign and Finance Ministers, as well as business and civil society, to discuss reform. Those discussions will allow all of us to hear what the needs of the region are, and will ensure that our collective response meets those concerns.
I believe that holding the very first Forum for the Future in Morocco is highly significant and appropriate, given King Mohammed VI's strong personal commitment to social, economic and political reform and the progress that Morocco has made in this area. His courageous reforms have made Morocco a regional leader in terms of advancing democracy and giving his people new hope for a prosperous economic future.
M.T: President Arafat's death is a turning point in the Middle East peace process. What do you expect the future of the Middle East will be after his death? What will America do to implement peace in the region?
T.Riley: Our deepest sympathies are with the Palestinian people as they mourn the loss of Yasser Arafat. In the course of his lifetime, Yasser Arafat came to represent the Palestinians' hopes and dreams for the achievement of an independent Palestinian State. With his passing, we must continue to look to the future with hope that a renewed push for peace will be possible. President Bush has said he intends to pursue the establishment of an independent and democratic Palestinian state during his second term. He also expressed his hope that the election of a new Palestinian president on Jan. 9 would enable the Palestinians to build a viable, democratic and independent state. The United States has pledged to help bring about successful Palestinian presidential elections and will work with the Palestinian leaders to fight terrorism and promote democratic reform.
We also believe that with the disengagement from Gaza, we have an opportunity to get the Roadmap moving forward.
M.T: What is your analysis of the latest developments in the Sahara question? How can the U.S. help all parties to find a fair and peaceful solution?
T.Riley: Our position is unwavering: we support a political resolution of the Western Sahara issue. And, of course, we support the efforts of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and his special representative, Alvaro de Soto, and join them in calling on the parties to cooperate fully with UN efforts to resolve this longstanding dispute. The U.S. does not support a solution imposed on the parties. We also believe that Morocco and Algeria should take advantage of all opportunities to continue their dialogue and to improve their relations.
M.T: The U.S.-Morocco FTA was recently approved by Congress and will enter into effect in January 2005. Do you expect an increase in U.S. investment in Morocco?
T.Riley: The Morocco-U.S. FTA is a tangible sign of the importance the U.S. places on its relationship with Morocco. What should follow next is the expansion of business contacts between the two countries. That's what transforms the FTA from a paper document to a living, breathing economic relationship. I believe that having an FTA with the United States will make Morocco an attractive place to invest, not just for Americans, but also for other foreign investors. For example, a recent decision by one of the world's largest textile manufacturers to move to Morocco was undoubtedly influenced by the fact that this FTA exists.
I'd like to end with a quote from our U.S. Trade Representative, Robert Zoellick. I think his comments on the U.S.-Morocco FTA sum up where this agreement will lead us in the long run: As our bilateral relationship continues to grow and develop, so will our bilateral and regional trade, investment, and the exchange of technology, information, and know how. As we understand the realities and take advantage of the opportunities of globalization, our economies will become more and more interconnected and interdependent. For both of our countries, this is a good thing.