The Middle East


The United States Information Agency is probably best known for its educational, cultural, and professional exchange programs. But USIA also plays an important role in explaining and advocating U.S. foreign policy to overseas audiences. The role of USIA and USIS posts during the 1997-1998 crisis over UN inspections in Iraq is an example of how public diplomacy supports U.S. foreign policy and the national interest.

As part of an interagency group led by the National Security Council, USIA has made a vigorous effort to inform foreign audiences about why the United States supports sanctions against Saddam Hussein. USIA information programs have also emphasized American concern for the suffering which Saddam Hussein has caused the Iraqi people.

USIA has arranged for senior American officials to speak to foreign publics. Strobe Talbott, the Deputy Secretary of State, and Bill Richardson, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, are among officials who have given television and print interviews to foreign editors and reporters. They were able to reach Washington correspondents at USIA's Foreign Press Center and questioners overseas through USIA's WORLDNET television. WORLDNET, for example, developed "Crisis in Iraq," a 60-minute weekly broadcast providing a comprehensive update on important developments in the dispute, with Administration officials and leading academic and military Middle East experts as guests.

An overseas USIA web-site, "U.S. Policy on Iraq," is keyed to the concerns of foreign "opinion leaders." It includes statements by President Clinton and other Administration officials, a special report on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, fact sheets on Iraq's record with UNSCOM and with the oil-for-food program, and other critical information. The site offers documents in English, Arabic, Russian, French and Spanish, to reach audiences worldwide where the U.S. sought support for its position.

USIS officers around the world have been at the forefront of the effort to inform and influence foreign publics. Some examples of these public diplomacy activities are listed below.

  • President Clinton's message to the Arab world on American policy towards Iraq was transmitted by USIA's WORLDNET television February 20. Middle East USIS posts placed the message on local television stations and on two major regional satellite systems, Al Jazeera and the Middle East Broadcast Centre (MBC). Although few commentators agreed with the U.S. position, there was recognition of the gesture the President had made in addressing the people of the Middle East.
  • USIS posts have provided public affairs support for visits by U.S. officials. During Defense Secretary William Cohen's February trip to the Gulf, USIS Qatar arranged for him to be interviewed on the Al Jazeera regional television network. When Ambassador Richardson visited China, USIS Beijing organized a 20-minute interview with CCTV, China's national television network, the first such broadcast in China by a senior U.S. official.
  • USIS Moscow placed eight minutes of a February WORLDNET interview with Ambassador Thomas Pickering, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, on one of the most highly rated political opinion TV shows in Russia.
  • USIS Rome provided key U.S. and UN documents in translation to members of the Foreign Affairs committees in the Italian Parliament, to important contacts in key ministries and the media, as well as to the general public via the Embassy's home page. The Italian government initially opposed any use of military force in Iraq, but ultimately, Italy stated that it would stand with its allies in the use of force if no peaceful resolution had been possible.

The effort to inform and influence foreign publics has always been integral to USIA's mission. As international media carry information instantaneously to publics once isolated from the rest of the world, USIA's role in shaping the message has become more critical than ever.

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