At the Opening of the Fourth Petra Conference of Nobel Laureates
18 June 2008
Thank you very much. It is a pleasure and an honour to welcome all of you to the Fourth Petra Conference of Nobel Laureates. Elie, I thank you especially, for your hand in sustaining this important dialogue.I hope all of you will join me in extending a special welcome, to the young people who are joining us today.
These exceptional young men and women represent the largest youth cohort in Middle East history. In fact, with half the region's population under 18, the students who are here today are fast becoming the region's elder generation.
It is said that youth are the future. The youth with us today, and their peers throughout the Middle East, remind us that the future is now. Their generation is facing immediate challenges. We need to support them in every way possible. To prepare them to lead. To provide opportunities to excel. To open the way to share in global progress.
This region's youth, our world's youth, are why we are here today.
The Petra Conferences began in 2005 with a great sense of the dangers this region faced. Today, unprecedented dangers remain. The security environment is under siege by those who seek to perpetuate conflict and divide peoples. Extremism feeds on violence and frustration. Un-stopped, such trends would threaten, not only the region's stability and development, but worldwide security as well.
The Middle East must move out of this threat zone. The single-most important step is peace: a comprehensive settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It would be a serious mistake to miss the opportunities we have this year: to establish, finally, a sovereign, independent, and viable Palestinian state, along with a secure and recognised Israel, in a region that is unified, at peace, and ready to move forward.
This work, the work of peace and progress, should have all our support.
But the international political process is not the only forum for change. While today's headlines focus on conflict and controversy, the inside story is the need to change lives on the ground.
Throughout Jordan, and across the region, millions of people want to be part of a stable, moderate, modern Middle East. Long after today's conflicts are history, their lives will be shaped by what we did, this year, to build the foundation for the region's success.
To cooperate across borders, on common challenges: economic growth, environmental issues, resource needs. To improve living conditions, from desert communities to overwhelmed, urbanising cities. To raise incomes and create expanding opportunity. To empower youth and give them the confidence they need, if they are to be stakeholders in peace and progress. And more.
It starts with leadership within the region. But the wider world has a vital interest in supporting positive change. And no group can make a stronger contribution than you who are here today.
The Petra Conference is designed to bring together the world's best minds and most successful achievers. Look right and look left, and you will see leaders in key fields: individuals who have changed the world, founders of companies that are creating global opportunity, experts who have led development, and scientists, scholars, writers, and artists, who have stretched human knowledge, far beyond anything dreamed of only a few decades ago.
I see this expertise as the power of your group. Your meetings can draw on multiple insights, frame the issues in new ways, and find innovative new approaches. Your ability to ask the right questions and identify what works and what does not, can help cut through failed policy strategies, and advance those that are succeeding. Initiatives you create here can spread their impact to larger and larger circles, in the region and the world. And your past achievements will show people the path to success, your path: hard work, creative passion, and service to the world. That model of success is the strongest answer to those who preach destruction, isolation, and cynicism.
The Petra spirit is crystallised in the Middle East Science Fund that becomes operational this year. The Fund addresses a vital need of the developing world: to achieve the growth and spread of advanced scientific knowledge – especially about the practical issues that most concern our region's future. Energy. Water. The environment. New technologies.
It is my profound hope that this year's conference will provide opportunities to examine specific areas of need, and develop the practical, innovative mechanisms that will create change.
How do we grow economies that expand access to prosperity?
Are there better ways to manage scarce natural resources; and ensure access to food?
After decades of medical triumphs, what can we do to deliver health care and at affordable cost?
What practical steps can we take to expand dialogues of respect, and areas of cooperation, between divided peoples and regions?
The history of ideas is full of stories of how great discoveries are reached from different directions. At the height of the Cold War, an American and a Soviet economist do independent work that wins them the Nobel Prize. Over thousands of years, three civilisations, Asian, Arab, European, build on each other's advances, to create today's global knowledge.
The Petra Conference is a place where we hope great minds will converge and great ideas result. We do not have thousands of years to respond to the dangers. We must find answers now.
Over the next two days, you have the opportunity to influence lives, especially young lives. As you go about your meetings, I hope you will talk with the young people who are here, and listen to them. What you do here can transform their future for the better, as you have already transformed our world.
I wish you the greatest success.
Thank you very much.