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Clinton Rejects 'One-Size Fits All' Approach in Middle East

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (file photo)

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (file photo)

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday gave one of the most comprehensive speeches yet by the Obama administration on the recent changes in the Middle East. She said America strongly supports democratization in the region, but rejected what she called a "one-size fits all" approach.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke at the U.S.-Islamic World Forum, an annual meeting that is being held in Washington for the first time.

The audience included dignitaries and business leaders from Muslim countries as well former American diplomats.

Clinton told them that what she called "the long Arab winter" has begun to thaw.

"For the first time in decades, there is a real opportunity for lasting change. A real opportunity for people to have their voices heard and their priorities addressed," she said.

She said young Arabs have shown the world that they share universal human aspirations for freedom, dignity and opportunity.

"But these young people have inherited a region that in many ways is unprepared to meet their growing expectations," she added.

She cited unemployment, poverty, corruption and a lack of women's and minority rights as factors holding back the region.

Clinton said President Barack Obama would give a major speech in the coming weeks about the Middle East.

The secretary of state said the Obama administration had reoriented U.S. policy in the Middle East to focus more on people and less on governments. But she said the response to the democracy movements would vary from country to country.

"We understand that a 'one-size fits all approach' doesn’t make sense in such a diverse region at such a fluid time," she said.

The administration has been criticized for soft-pedaling its response to democratic aspirations in some countries - such as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states - where U.S. interests might be most affected.

Clinton said the United States wants to develop stronger bonds with people themselves, with billions of dollars going to private sector investments and economic assistance to help transitional democracies overcome early challenges.

But she said America's core interests have not changed. She said those include resolving long-standing conflicts, promoting human rights, countering Iran's threats and defeating al-Qaida and other extremist groups.