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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.


Dina Habib Powell
Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs

September 29, 2006

Dina Habib Powell
This past weekend, President Bush sent a delegation of private sector leaders. I was honored to be part of the delegation with John Chambers from Cisco, Dr. Ray Irani from Occidental Petroleum and Yousif Ghafari from the Ghafari Companies. Although he was not able to come on the trip, Craig Barrett from Intel is also part of this effort.

During our brief visit to Lebanon, we were able to meet with students, business leaders, NGOs and senior government officials including Prime Minister Siniora. It was really inspirational to see the resilience and determination of the Lebanese people.

On Monday this week, President Bush met with our delegation to talk about the trip. The President reiterated his commitment to the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Siniora, and commended these business executives for their leadership in finding ways for the American people to partner with the people of Lebanon. John Chambers announced a major $10 million commitment from Cisco to create jobs and provide venture capital for Lebanese entrepreneurs. This is just the beginning of a larger effort to create jobs, sponsor scholarships, and create internship opportunities for the people in Lebanon.

We all agreed that there is an urgent need to support this young democracy in the Middle East and a real window of opportunity to make a positive difference.

On Monday the business leaders and I also announced the US-Lebanon Partnership Fund, a place where Americans can go to get involved in these efforts. This fund is a public-private partnership that will focus on economic opportunities and education. You can find out more by visiting

This fund is an additional effort to the already $230 million pledged by the US Government for relief and reconstruction needs. I’m proud that the US government and Americas business leaders are working together to ensure that Lebanon is a stabilizing presence in the Middle East.

I’m looking forward to your questions.

Michael, from Powell, TN writes:
What are the President's goals in the reconstruction?

Dina Habib Powell
It is important to President Bush that the US reconstruction efforts respond to Prime Minister Siniora's goals for rebuilding Lebanon. On August 21, President Bush announced over $230 million in humanitarian reconstruction and security assistance to Lebanon. The aim of this assistance is to strengthen Lebanon's sovereign, democratic government, help the Lebanese people rebuild, and ensure a lasting peace.

As part of the US-Lebanon Partnership Fund, Cisco Systems is investing $10 million to provide venture capital and expertise with the specific goal of creating good jobs. President Bush unveiled earlier this week a loan facility program sponsored by Citigroup and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) that will mobilize $160 million in private capital through Lebanese banks to finance small and medium-sized enterprises, home repair and reconstruction, and long-term mortgages.

In our meetings with Lebanese business leaders, we discussed ways in which US business interests to encourage investment and entrepreneurialism. We encourage US corporations, small business, citizens and government agencies to assist in this effort by giving to the US – Lebanon Partnership Fund (

Yusuf, from Boston, MA writes:
The US government has not taken swift adequate measures to ameliorate the condition of the citizens of Lebanon after the repressive Israeli bombardment. What is the aid process so meager and so slow Thank you.

Dina Habib Powell
On August 21, President Bush pledged $230 million for humanitarian aid, reconstruction, and security assistance, which is already in use to help the Lebanese people. We are already working to help the Lebanese people by rebuilding the Fidar Bridge in Jbail, repairing roads from Marjeyoun to Nabatyeh, reconstructing residences, restoring and repairing schools, and working on environmental cleanup projects.

The US-Lebanon Partnership Fund will deliver financial support to Lebanon to rebuild infrastructure, modernize the education system and ensure access to capital for small and medium businesses. The President has made a long-term commitment to the people of Lebanon and we are working as quickly as possible to help the Lebanese people rebuild.

I encourage you to visit USAID’s website to keep informed about reconstruction on the ground. I also encourage you to monitor the US-Lebanon Partnership Fund website at

Jamie, from Virginia Beach VA writes:
How important do you think education of women is to the inculcation of democracy in the Middle East?

Dina Habib Powell
Jamie - thank you for your question. It is an excellent one. Year after year, Arab scholars who write the Arab Human Development report states that gender inequality is recognized as one of the main obstacles to development in the Arab world.

We know that by investing in women, we are investing in a better, more hopeful and more peaceful world. When women are educated, they share that knowledge with their children, families and communities, so when you invest in the education of women, almost every other statistic in a society improves.

During my tenure as Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, I have made a priority to create opportunities for women through our exchange programs. For example, we have created a mentoring partnership with American women business leaders, which offers an opportunity for women from all over the world to develop their management and business skills while gaining experience in the cutting-edge U.S. business environment. They gain awareness of civic rights and responsibilities, as well as skills they need to become effective business and community leaders.

These outstanding American business women have donated their time, talent and resources to this initiative. Ann Moore, of Time, Inc., Anne Mulcahy of Xerox, Gerri Elliot from Microsoft, and many other women have participated.

The Department of State offers a broad range of educational exchange programs, which offer women an opportunity to increase their English language skills to help them in a global environment.

Mrs. Bush's Global Literacy Conference in New York last week illustrated the vital importance of promoting literacy around the world.

Jill, from Covington, KY writes:
What did you learn on your trip to Lebanon that you didn't know before?

Dina Habib Powell
Jill – Thank you for your question. I realized that building the hope and confidence of the Lebanese people is critical. Lebanon is a proud country – and a democracy – whose people have shown tremendous resilience in the face of decades of civil war and foreign intervention. The Lebanese people are well-educated, Western-oriented and entrepreneurial. Last year’s “Cedar Revolution” – backed by people of diverse religious faiths and ethnic backgrounds – offered the hope of freedom and democracy for the Lebanese people.

However, visiting with Lebanese students at the American University Beirut and the Lebanon American University we heard many times how many of these students consider leaving Lebanon to seek employment. Now more than ever, it is important that the US and other democracies help the Lebanese people build a system that promotes educational opportunities, jobs and hope.

Hal, from San Jose, California writes:
Just curious about your cultural background. Are you a first generation American? Does your heritage help you do your job? Thank you for your service to our country.

Dina Habib Powell
Hal – thank you very much for your kind words. I am honored that President Bush and Secretary Rice have asked me serve as Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs. I have been asked many times why I chose to take a role in the Public Diplomacy effort of the United States. It has much to do with my own personal history. I was born in Egypt and immigrated to the US at the age of 5. As can only happen in America, I was able, after extraordinary work and sacrifice by my parents, to receive a good education, move to Washington to pursue my dreams, eventually serve at the White House, and to have been confirmed by the U.S. Senate as an Assistant Secretary of State.

I will never forget the day I first introduced my parents to the President nearly six years ago. As you can imagine they were beside themselves with excitement. The President approached - he welcomed them warmly to the White House and told them he was glad that their daughter was a part of his team.

I turned to see what I expected would be giant smiles on both their faces -- instead I saw tears. When I asked my father -- a tough Middle Eastern man not known for showing much emotion -- about his reaction, he explained that he couldn't believe that the young daughter he brought to the U.S. from Egypt so many years ago -- not speaking a word of English -- could one day serve the President of his adopted country.

While that is a meaningful story to my family -- it is also a story of hope and opportunity that is repeated over and over again across our nation -- a place where anyone from anywhere can succeed.

Many Americans answer the call to service. I was reminded of that this week when I traveled with two proud Lebanese Americans – Mr. Ghafari and Dr. Irani – who love both America as well as their place of birth. They are doing all they can to work for peace and prosperity in both countries.

Elie, from Little Rock, AR writes:
How can I as a Lebanese-American help with the efforts to bring peace and democracy to Lebanon? Thank you.

Dina Habib Powell
Elie – I am heartened to hear that you, like so many Americans, want to help. You are one of our important citizen ambassadors, representing the diversity that makes our country so strong.

I encourage you to visit the website for the fund to learn more about ways to help through the US-Lebanon Partnership Fund. I also encourage you to find other ways to get involved in our public diplomacy efforts. People to people interaction is the best way to build bridges of understanding.

The Department of State, through the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, works with 80,000 volunteers across the Unites States, who host high school exchange students in their homes or serve as mentors to young business and government leaders from around the world. There are many ways to get involved in our efforts to connect the people of United States with the people of other countries.

I encourage you to visit our website at to learn more about these exchange programs.

Dina Habib Powell
In closing, I just want to emphasize that public diplomacy is not the work of the US Government alone. We are forging new partnerships to increase exchanges and other public diplomacy programs to expand our reach and to promote an international dialogue with our country and people around the world. I want to thank all of you for participating today, particularly Elie from Little Rock and other citizens who want to help the people of Lebanon.

We encourage you to visit the US-Lebanon Partnership Fund website at

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