The Near East presents the United States with some of its most pressing security and political challenges. At a time of historic transformations, the U.S. is on the side of local forces for change, seeking to strengthen civil society, advance democratic transitions where they are underway, and sustain political, social, and economic reform all across the region. The U.S. Government has renewed its commitment to help the region to increase prosperity, promote freedom, and counter extremist ideology. At the same time, the U.S. will continue to help build a sovereign, stable, and self-reliant Iraq, and continue to promote a comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East.
Arab Awakening and U.S. support for political and economic reforms throughout the region: In 2011, the U.S. supported political and economic reform across the region, capitalizing on openings created in the wake of the ongoing Arab Awakening. The U.S. Government increased its work with civil society activists and organizations working to strengthen citizens' voices in how they are governed. Sustaining the vision set out by the President in his May 19, 2011 speech, the U.S. remains committed to supporting the people of the region in their calls for democratic institutions, transparency, accountability, and economic opportunity. In states already undergoing political transition like Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, the U.S. has worked closely with citizens to ensure founding elections are free and fair, setting these countries on a path to democratic consolidation. The obstacles facing countries in transition are daunting and the U.S. has pledged to continue its support.
Securing a peaceful, stable, and democratic Iraq: The bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Iraq is evolving with the departure of U.S. military forces from Iraq in December 2011. The Department of State has assumed the lead for the U.S. Government under the auspices of the bilateral Strategic Framework Agreement, signed with Iraq in 2008. Our mission in Iraq over the next three to five years will focus on strengthening our bilateral relationships in line with more traditional political, economic, security, and other priorities, as well as helping the Iraqi Government professionalize its police force. The U.S. closed all of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in Iraq in 2011, opened Consulates General in Basrah and Erbil, and opened a temporary consulate in Kirkuk. Another critical program under Department leadership is a robust Police Development Program, executed through approximately 20 sites across Iraq. In coordination with the Department of Defense, an Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq was established under Chief of Mission authority to manage security cooperation activities, to include foreign military sales to Iraq. Finally, USAID and the Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor will continue nationwide programs in support of national and local level governance, civil service and private sector reform, agricultural development, small business development, financial sector reform, community development, legal assistance, health, education, and assistance to minorities and disadvantaged groups.
Middle East Peace: A comprehensive peace in the Middle East which includes peace agreements between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as a broader peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors, remains a key foreign policy goal of the U.S. We continue to engage in significant diplomatic efforts to advance a two-state solution through the resumption of direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians based on the foundation outlined by President Obama in his May 2011 remarks. The U.S. Government strategy in pursuit of Israeli-Palestinian peace remains focused on a dual track approach: vigorous, integrated efforts on both the negotiating and institution building tracks. We also continue to work closely with our partners in the international community to achieve this objective.