Ambassador Alice G. Wells, United States Ambassador to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, February 18, 2015
Before I begin, I would first like to thank His Royal Highness, Prince El Hassan bin Talal – thank you, your Royal Highness, for your dedication to advancing mutual understanding through the Arab Thought Forum over the past 34 years as its visionary and founder.
I would also like to thank Secretary General Dr. Elfaqih for the gracious invitation to participate in this prestigious monthly speaker series and for his leadership.
Thanks as well to our moderator this afternoon, his Excellency Senator Jawad Al Anani. Your accomplishments are numerous and your efforts to promote peace, cooperation, economic stability and economic progress have been integral to Jordan.
And last, but not least, I would like to welcome tonight’s guests, the distinguished members of the Arab Thought Forum, Your Excellencies, the academicians and educators responsible for teaching the future leaders of this country, members of the media, NGO and civil society leaders, and the alumni of U.S. Government exchange programs who we consider honored friends of the U.S. Embassy in Jordan. Welcome.
It is a privilege to be here tonight among so many good friends.
Many over the last 65 years have used that word – friendship – to describe the special relationship that exists between the United States and Jordan. It is not a word you hear often in international diplomacy, but one that I think defines us best.
Our friendship is rooted in shared values – in the belief that democracy can work in any society, not just Western societies; that all people deserve an equal opportunity to build a better life for themselves and their children; that human dignity and the virtue of tolerance demand respect.
The United States has long valued Jordan for its embodiment of these values, especially now, in a region that still faces an uncertain future.
Jordanians know better than anyone that these values are under threat today, and need defending. Your brave martyr pilot, Captain al-Kassasbeh, gave his life to defend them. On behalf of President Obama and the American people, I once again extend our sincerest condolences to his family and join you in praying that his soul find rest.
I want to talk to you tonight about the special character of the friendship between our countries – its history, how it has animated U.S. policy towards Jordan and the region, and why it has never been more important than it is now, both for our own countries and for the world.
The first American diplomat accredited to Jordan, Wells Stabler, owed his position to “wasta” – to a personal friendship with His Majesty King Abdullah I. While a young visa officer at the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem – he was only 26 at the time – he ventured to His Majesty’s winter quarters in Shouneh to sign the official diplomatic register.
This was meant to be a bureaucratic formality, but Stabler was soon to learn one of the most important lessons a diplomat in Jordan can know: don’t think that you’re leaving without lunch. And coffee. And sweets. And more coffee. And tea. And now isn’t it about time for mensaf?
The two became close friends from that day forward – a fact which had an uneven effect on Stabler’s career. His Majesty once delayed the start of an Arab Legion parade when he learned that Stabler’s boss, the Consul General, had taken the invitation that was meant for Stabler himself. So His Majesty had the much more junior man summoned from Jerusalem while his boss waited. This was, needless to say, difficult for Stabler to explain to his superior.
But when a permanent American delegation was established in Amman, Stabler’s friendship with His Majesty made him a natural choice for the first permanent American representative to the new Kingdom. The two began a tradition of friendly consultation and trusted advice between Jordanian and American leaders that has continued throughout our history, which we witnessed most recently a few weeks ago between His Majesty King Abdullah II and President Obama.
Jordan has always meant more to the United States than the sum of its GDP or the size of our trade relationship. As the world finally rejected European imperialism following World War II, and as the Cold War eventually gave way to today’s multipolar international order, the relationship between the U.S. and Jordan instead came to exemplify a new sort of international partnership – one between two countries with shared goals and shared ideals. Jordan’s success today is a testament to the power of this model.
The United States and Jordan proudly stood together on the right side of history against the threats to peace and human dignity posed by Soviet Communism and other totalitarian regimes throughout the second half of the 20th century.
While colonial empires promoted policies that consisted of little more than conquest and plunder, the United States has always approached Jordan as a partner, and supported it as it determined its economic future on its own terms.
The program of economic modernization that Jordan has shaped for itself with the help of our assistance now stands as an example of the sort of responsible development that serves citizens first and creates stability, peace, and prosperity.
By the end of this fiscal year, total direct U.S. assistance commitments to Jordan since its founding will surpass $15 billion.
This assistance has helped Jordan provide the basic services that are the foundations of any prosperous economy and stable political system, including access to clean water, health care, and quality education for all.
In the 1960s, USAID helped Jordan build the East Ghor Canal, which transformed the Jordan Valley desert into farmland, and the Amman-Dead Sea road network which has ever since helped farmers in Ghor bring their crops to market.
In the last 15 years, our assistance has totaled nearly $825 million in the water sector – an investment in everything from the Zara Ma’in desalination plant, which supplies most of Amman’s fresh water, to the home-based rain water catchment systems that are helping families in Mafraq meet their own needs even as they offer shelter to their neighbors from the north.
Since the beginning of our partnership, the U.S. has helped improve Jordanians’ health by modernizing over 300 medical clinics and 25 hospitals, especially those that serve women and children. Over 70% of Jordanians born today are delivered in hospitals renovated with assistance from USAID.
Since 2003, the United States has invested almost half a billion dollars in Jordan’s education system, partnering with educators here to train the workers that Jordan needs for the 21st century economy. We’ve helped build 27 model schools and funded the expansion of 150 more. We have renovated 609 kindergarten classrooms, provided training to 20,000 teachers, and have just awarded $48 million for a program that promises to improve math and reading outcomes in the early grades at every public school in Jordan.
And from the day the Arab Legion became the Jordan Armed Forces, the United States has supported the brave men and women who wear its uniform. Our military assistance program here is the third largest in the world and has provided over $300 million in annual support since the turn of the century – support that has helped ensure that the JAF is a fighting force on par with the best on earth.
Today’s JAF is a bedrock not only of Jordan’s security, but the world’s, and we are proud to call ourselves your partners in the defining battle of our time. This is why we are prioritizing assistance to Jordan to ensure deliveries of new military equipment will occur without delay.
As Jordan’s prosperity has grown, and as its defenders have ensured that its borders are strong, Jordan’s people have opened their hearts and their homes to the most vulnerable among their neighbors – Palestinians, Iraqis, Syrians, and before them Armenians, Chechens, and Circassians.
These offers of refuge to people displaced by war are an exemplary service to humanity for which the world will remain forever grateful.
We share Jordan’s conviction that desperate people cannot simply be abandoned when their nations are consumed by conflict. This is why we have long been the largest individual funder of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, and why we have given nearly half a billion dollars to help Jordan provide food, clothing, and shelter to those fleeing the tyranny of the Asad regime We will pledge even more at the next conference of international donors in Kuwait, and we will continue to deliver that support quickly and efficiently.
In a region of the world where ethnic and sectarian divisions can seem insurmountable, Jordan stands as an example of a truth that Americans, too, deeply believe in – that what unites us is stronger than what divides us – that diversity is not a weakness, but a source of strength.
I saw this firsthand when I visited the Khader church in As-Salt recently with his Excellency the Mayor – a sacred space that reminds us that the people of the book can walk the same ground as brothers, even as they speak their different prayers.
The same spirit of tolerance and peaceful coexistence that I saw in Salt has long animated Jordan’s leadership in efforts to resolve the ongoing dispute between Israel and Palestine. In the Palestinians’ quest for self-determination and a state to call their own, Jordan’s leaders have been crucial advisors and keen participants in the hard progress towards peace.
His Majesty King Abdullah I gave his life for the cause, a sacrifice the world has never forgotten.
His Majesty King Hussein pledged that Jordan would always “work for that new dawn when all the Children of Abraham and their descendants are living … a life free from fear, a life free from want – a life in peace.”
This vision is still alive today, and remains the essential goal of Jordan’s policy and our own. As His Majesty King Abdullah II has said, “Only peace can bring stability, security, and prosperity to our part of the world.”
From the Madrid Conference and Oslo Accords, to the Wadi Araba Agreement and to the Arab Peace Initiative, and finally to our most recent shared efforts to restart the peace process, Jordan has been an unwavering advocate for peace, dignity, and security for all who call this region home.
This vision has recently faced some of its most difficult challenges yet. We all know, as Secretary Kerry has said, that the status quo is unsustainable.
We believe that an agreement that establishes two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace, remains a worthy goal – and an essential one. The stakes are too high, and the dangers of the status quo too great, to accept anything less.
We all know that there are limits to how much the United States, or Jordan, or anyone outside of the parties directly involved can do. Theirs must be the strongest desire for peace.
Nonetheless, for 20 years now Jordan has by its own example shown the world the benefits of peaceful coexistence with its neighbors, and its success remains the best argument for our continued quest for a just solution.
It is because the world is still in need of Jordan’s example that the United States is more committed than ever to our investment in Jordan’s future.
I was pleased to witness Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh sign an agreement two weeks ago that increases our committed assistance to Jordan from $660 million to $1 billion per year through 2017.
Beyond that, we have extended to Jordan an unprecedented $2.25 billion in loan guarantees – agreements that will save Jordan hundreds of millions of dollars in interest payments in the years to come. A third loan guarantee this year will further underscore in the clearest possible terms that America’s faith in Jordan’s future is unshakable.
While our past assistance helped Jordan stand on its feet as a new nation, our current investments aim to provide Jordan with the tools and capabilities to lay the foundations of a prosperous future in which it no longer needs our direct support.
That future will depend on the existence of a robust private sector that can produce sufficient employment to provide young Jordanians with the productive, well-paying jobs they rightly consider their birthright. The Government of Jordan is now projecting zero-growth budgets for the next several years, so we know that the public sector will no longer be able to absorb these young job seekers.
This is one reason why USAID currently sponsors $150 million in private sector development projects, including the Jordan Competitiveness Program – a project that will attract $700 million in new investment and create 40,000 new jobs in the healthcare, clean-tech, and ICT industries.
Programs like these are already changing the lives of Jordanian entrepreneurs like Maleeka Mohammed, the talented young woman who founded Jadara Electronics – a company that has grown to become a leading provider of high-tech engineering instruments in the local market.
It was in a USAID training course that Maleeka learned how to construct the financial projections she needed in order to approach banks for a loan. And when no local bank would fund an engineering start-up headed by a woman, the USAID Jordan Loan Guarantee Facility stepped in to provide the necessary backing that enabled Maleeka to obtain the 80,000 JD to expand her business.
As successful as these programs have been, we know that sustainable private sector development is ultimately a job for the private sector – which is why our policies have paved the way for ever-stronger economic cooperation between the U.S. and Jordan.
Since signing a Free Trade Agreement in 2001, we’ve seen trade between our countries increase more than 8-fold in the last 14 years, growing from less than $400 million to now over $3.4 billion annually, creating 50,000 well-paying Jordanian jobs in the process.
U.S. companies believe in Jordan’s future just as strongly as we do. U.S. investment here now equals $2.2 billion – a significant percentage of all foreign direct investment in the country.
Our economies are growing ever more interconnected as a result of this agreement, as Jordanian success stories become American success stories.
This is how Hikma Pharmaceuticals, with its facilities in Ohio and New Jersey, has become the 13th largest pharmaceutical company in the U.S., employing 1,500 Americans.
This is how Petra Engineering has become a world leader in providing custom air conditioning systems – systems engineered in Jordan and built from high tech components that bear the stamp “Made in America.”
Our Free Trade Agreement has also paved the way for American renewable energy firms to partner with their Jordanian counterparts to build the clean-energy systems of the future right here, diversifying Jordan’s energy sources.
This is why the American firm Sun Edison is investing $70 million to build a 20MW solar plant in Ma’an – a project made possible through a loan from the U.S. government.
This is why Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, the United States government, and private American firms like Noble Energy are working together to tap gas fields off of Israel and Gaza that promise to bring cheap, reliable, clean energy here by 2018 – deals which will help Jordan cement a strong economic foundation and serve as an Arab leader in reducing costly and unsustainable energy subsidies.
Following several years of protest and upheaval, the Arab World today finds itself at a critical moment. It is clear now that the old ways of governing and doing business must evolve to accommodate the aspirations of the next generation. Roughly a third of the people living in the Middle East and North Africa today are between the ages of 15-29, and they are determined to have a voice in shaping their future.
In so many of Jordan’s neighbors, the chaos of war has left that future uncertain. Here, however, one can sense the enormous potential that first drew millions of people across the Arab World to demand a say in shaping their own destinies.
Jordan has the potential to become a truly exemplary nation – a model for the Middle East and the world.
Yet many of the questions that citizens across the Arab World have raised to their governments and themselves in recent years still await the answers that will determine whether Jordan or any Middle Eastern country can realize its full potential, and help build the future its people deserve.
Questions like: Can Jordan harness the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship that animates its youth and make permanent the sustainable economic growth that we know it to be capable of?
Private sector development in Jordan has progressed beyond all expectation in recent years, even in the face of global economic calamity. But much more remains to be done to ensure that more jobs are created here – especially jobs that are suitable for the graduates who are still leaving Jordan for work in the Gulf countries and elsewhere abroad.
And so people here are still asking: Can any Middle Eastern country take full advantage of the talents of the next generation, employing them productively at home rather than watching them flourish abroad?
The challenge is great, but I believe Jordan can model success in a region that still produces only half the jobs it needs for the talented youth graduating each year from its universities.
Jordan has already established itself as a hub in the global IT industry, and now produces 75% of the Internet’s Arabic-language content. In the coming years, the government of Jordan and the private sector have an unprecedented opportunity to model how education policy, tax policy, and smart regulation can be made to reward innovation.
As it builds an economy in which its young people can flourish, Jordan can also provide an answer to the question of whether, in any Middle Eastern country, women can at long last realize their full potential and participate meaningfully in economic and political life.
This generation of Jordanian youth is the first where women outnumber men among university graduates. Last year, the top five finishers on the Tawjihi in all sectors were young women. Yet the rate of female youth unemployment remains double that of young men.
Quality opportunities to participate in the workforce remain frustratingly out of reach for Jordanian women of all ages. At 15%, Jordan’s female labor market participation rates rank among some of the lowest in the world – and not because Jordanian women lack the will or the talents to contribute meaningfully to the economic life of their country.
Jordan already knows how much Jordanian women are capable of.
You know them as MPs and Senators and government ministers and commission chairs – leaders like Reem Abu Hassan, Asma Khader, and Suhair Al-Ali.
You know them as the leaders of your civil society –women like Hadeel Abd al Aziz, Lubna Dawani, and Hala Lattouf.
You know them as newspaper editors, like Jumana Ghneimat.
You know them as bankers, like Nadia Al Saeed, Reem Badran, and Khouloud Saqqaf .
And you know them as the visionaries that have helped transform Jordan into the Silicon Valley of the Middle East, entrepreneurs like Randa Ayoubi and Doha Abdelkhaleq.
You know many more of them than I can name – starting, of course, with Her Majesty Queen Rania – and so many more who could contribute just as much as these women have if given an equal opportunity to do so.
Of course, not everyone can be an entrepreneur or a banker. Those Jordanians who do not seek higher education need good jobs as well. Our Free Trade Agreement, and before it the Qualifying Industrial Zones that the United States has established here, have helped create tens of thousands of jobs right here in sectors like the textile industry.
But far too many of these jobs have gone to immigrant workers. Since 2011, Jordan has watched $450 million per year flow overseas as remittances sent home by foreign workers – wealth that was produced in Jordan and could stay in Jordan if Jordanians took the same jobs that immigrants do.
Even well-educated youth can benefit from taking less prestigious work. As many of you here tonight can certainly attest, a humble, entry-level position can be the first step in a long and successful career. Take it from someone who earned her first paycheck with the words, “Welcome to McDonald’s, may I take your order?”
Whether Jordan can realize its full economic promise depends as well on the answer to another, broader question: Can the rivalries that have for too long characterized relations between Middle Eastern countries give way to constructive cooperation?
The stories I’ve shared with you of the private sector partnerships that have strengthened the bonds between Jordan and the United States are inspiring. But we also know that America should not be Jordan’s most important trading partner.
This is why Jordan and its neighbors must do more to better integrate their economies. Even in the last few years, trade within the countries of the Middle East and North Africa accounted for just 10% of the region’s total exports. Arab countries trade far more with the EU than they do with one another, and the Middle East has, overall, the lowest share of intra-regional, non-oil commerce in the world.
Countries in North America, Europe and Asia have learned that easing trade within a common market increases trade significantly. 25% of ASEAN countries’ exports now stay within their region; for the EU, that figure stands at 66%. There is no reason that figures for the Middle East should not be comparable, but this will require reducing tariffs and lifting the other barriers to intraregional trade that still remain. Changes as simple as harmonizing customs procedures, opening markets for services, strengthening respect and protection for intellectual property, and ensuring regulatory authorities are responsive to stakeholder concerns can provide needed incentives to boost regional trade.
The Arab Spring also led many to ask: Can any country in this region build a stable system of government that is truly representative of the will of its people?
The recent amendments to Jordan’s constitution, and the work that will be completed soon to shape new laws on municipalities, decentralization, elections, and political parties, show that Jordan is poised to answer that question in the affirmative.
As Jordan pursues those reforms and works to realize His Majesty’s vision for its democratic future, it has the potential to stand out as an Arab leader in building a system of government that is both true to its culture and history, and responsive to the ambitions and expectations of a new generation.
As His Majesty King Abdullah has said, reform, rooted in the principles of inclusiveness and participation, is a strategic choice that will make Jordan stronger.
Jordan is already pioneering new modes of consultative governance in the Arab World, such as the process that helped citizens shape the charter of the new National Integrity Commission.
That Commission, The Independent Electoral Commission, and the Anti-Corruption Commission are poised to help Jordan demonstrate to the world that informed citizens are engaged citizens, and that transparency and the fair application of laws are the keys to eradicating corruption.
Whether real, imagined, or exaggerated, corruption can undermine the institutions that are critical to Jordan’s prosperity. Transparent regulatory and tax policies, a professional media that can play a watch-dog role, and an independent judiciary provide the surest path to rapid economic modernization.
The eyes of the world are on Jordan now because answering these questions will not just define Jordan’s future, but the world’s.
The values that define us are under threat, and a larger question now looms over all these others: Can the core values that we share serve as the organizing principles of a Middle Eastern nation, or not?
Da’esh stands ready, only hundreds of miles from here, to answer that question with a resounding no.
In contrast to our belief in the power of education, economic development, and civic participation to uplift a society, Da’esh rules through terror and ruthless coercion, offering only the bleakest of futures to the people of this region.
As His Majesty has said, the war against Da’esh is a war between moderates from every land, every religion, and every culture against those who espouse the most base extremism, intolerance, and violence the world has witnessed in centuries.
We will remain forever grateful to the fighting men and women – Jordanian and American – who put their lives on the line to ensure we win this fight.
But we must not forget the fight against Da’esh extends beyond the battlefield as well, and into the realm of values and ideals. It is a battle that will be won not only by our soldiers and airmen, but by our teachers and entrepreneurs, the leaders of our civil society, and men and women from every walk of life who stand up, in all that they do, for what is right.
It is because our shared commitment to these values runs so deep that the United States is betting so much on Jordan’s future – because the Jordan in which we are investing is an exceptional nation. There is no better answer to the false promises of extremism and the dismal future promised by Da’esh than the powerful example of Jordan’s own success.
Winning this war will not be easy. As our leaders have reminded us, this is a generational fight, and one that will be decided here by the people of this region. It is one in which we know that the United States can only ever play a supporting role.
But we will stand with our friends, united in our common purpose. Together we can win – and we will.