In his commencement address at the University of South Carolina on May 9, 2003 President Bush affirmed his commitment to the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) and praised the work of the initiative's pilot programs to promote literacy as well as business development and expanded its mandate to support a number of new efforts, including a U.S.-Middle East Free Trade Area and a regional Forum on Judicial Reform.
The U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), was established by then-Secretary Powell on December 12, 2002, to create educational opportunity at a grassroots level, promote economic opportunity and help foster private sector development, and to strengthen civil society and the rule of law throughout the region. The initiative is a partnership and works closely with governments in the Arab world, academic institutions, the private sector, and non-governmental organizations. The initiative provides a framework and funding for the United States to expand the four pillars of MEPI--economic, political, educational, and women's empowerment. As part of the initiative, we continually review existing U.S. assistance programs in the region to ensure our aid is reaching as many people as possible across the region.
The Administration committed $29 million for pilot education, economic, and political reform projects in 2002. In fiscal year 2003 we funded $100 million in programs, and we worked to award $89.5 million with fiscal year 2004 funds. In the Administration's fiscal year 2005 budget, Congress provided MEPI with $74.4 million. Every year, MEPI funds supplement the more than $1 billion in bilateral economic assistance we provide annually to the Arab world.
MEPI will continue to work with Congress to secure additional funding in future years. We will also be coordinating with other donors and the private sector to leverage U.S. Government resources.