Fuzzy Spots in Obama's Science Diplomacy

Administration officials are scrambling to add substance to President Barack Obama’s new Middle Eastern science diplomacy initiatives, mentioned Thursday in his speech in Cairo. The President promised new “science envoys,” centers of excellence, and a “technological development” fund for the Middle East, North Africa, and Southeast Asia. The State Department and White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) were working today to bring those words into focus.

“Details of these initiatives will be crafted in discussion with officials in the nations where they will be based,” said OSTP spokesman Rick Weiss. Nina V. Fedoroff, science adviser to the Secretary of State and the Agency for International Development, said that proposals for centers of excellence “have been bubbling up from several different directions” with emphasis on issues such as agriculture and public health.

A State Department fact sheet explained that the United States “will work with educational institutions, NGOs and foreign governments” to decide the focus and location of such centers.

The new “science envoys” program could follow the lines of a bill sponsored by Sen. Lugar (R–IN) and approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that would deploy prominent scientists on missions of goodwill and collaboration. Fedoroff said such efforts would dovetail with evolving State Department science diplomacy programs.

Obama also announced a new regional fund to support technological development in Muslim-majority countries. The fact sheet said the fund would help pay for “S&T collaboration, capacity development” and innovations with commercial potential.

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