Ambassador Michele Jeanne Sisson speaks about building bridges to increase mutual understanding between Kuwait and the US

By Rabih Kallas
Special to The Times Kuwait

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Dr. Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Sabah, met last week with visiting United States Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, Michele Jeanne Sisson. During the visit, the two sides discussed a wide range of bilateral and multilateral priorities for the two countries, including combating global food security, advancing global health, addressing human rights and humanitarian needs, peacekeeping and peace-building, and other issues of mutual interest and concern.

During her visit, the assistant secretary of state also met with other state officials, as well as representatives from the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development, and the United Nations Representative Office in Kuwait. Amid the flurry of discussions and meetings, the US diplomat found time to accord an exclusive media interview to Arabic daily Al Jarida, covering an extensive range of topics of interest to Kuwait and the United States.

In an earlier interview with arabic daily Al Jarida  when asked what propelled her to join the foreign service, she said: “It sounds very simple, but I still think of what I do today, as primarily building bridges between the United States and the countries in which I am posted, so as to increase mutual understanding and show people what is common and what sets us apart.”

This commitment to building bridges between the US and other nations and engaging in mutually beneficial activities apparently holds true for her today, as it did back then. The career diplomat spent the greater part of her brief visit to Kuwait engaging in discussions on a wide range of issues of common interest to both countries, while also highlighting areas where the two nations could work together to improve their strengths for the benefit of people in Kuwait as well as around the world.

She began the interview by expressing her amazement at the huge change in infrastructure and developments taking place in Kuwait since her last visit over a decade ago. “I was also fortunate to participate in multilateral talks during the US-Kuwait Strategic Dialogue held in Washington in January of this year and I am very happy to be here in person and to have had the opportunity to sit down with His Excellency the Foreign Minister and other foreign ministry officials.”

Appointed in 2018 to the highest rank in the US Foreign Service of a Career Ambassador, Ms. Sison is a veteran diplomat who has served in her country’s foreign service for over four decades . In December 2021 she was appointed to her current post as Assistant Secretary of State; prior to this she has been assigned as Ambassador to Haiti, and before that as Deputy Representative to the United Nations. The 53-year old Ms. Sison has also served as Ambassador to Sri Lanka and Maldives, Ambassador to Lebanon, and Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates.

Born in Arlington, Virginia in1959, to Veronica Travers Sison and Pastor Bravo Sison from the Philippines, Ms Sison is the first Filipino-American ambassador from the United States. Following her BA in Political Science from Wellesley College in 1981 and her studies at the London School of Economics, Ms. Sison joined the State Department in 1982.

The US diplomat’s visit comes as part of the commitments made by the two countries during the US-Kuwait Strategic Dialogue, which among others called for promoting the stability and security of the region and advancing mutual interests, including defense and cybersecurity cooperation, bilateral trade and investment, combatting health and climate change challenges, facilitating travel, supporting educational and cultural partnerships, and advancing human rights and women’s empowerment.

Elaborating on her discussions with Sheikh Dr. Ahmad Al-Sabah  and other state officials, Ms. Sison stated: “I had an excellent interview with His Excellency the Foreign Minister, as well as with the Foreign Ministry Undersecretary for International Organizations and the Americas. I also met with officials of the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development, as well as with the United Nations team in Kuwait. During these talks we discussed how the United States and Kuwait can work together, not only on a bilateral level but also on how we can cooperate multilaterally within the framework of the United Nations system.

“In this regard, I would like to express my heartfelt thanks for the bilateral partnership between Kuwait and the United States, and the partnership that brings us together in multilateral organizations, as well as for the role that the State of Kuwait plays within the framework of the United Nations system. My visit gave me an opportunity to sit down and listen to the Kuwaiti leadership on its approach to the UN, specifically on issues such as adherence to the UN Charter, upholding the integrity of the UN, and talking about the common ground we share within the rules-based international system.

“We also had very good conversations about ways we can cooperate to combat global food insecurity that affects so many countries around the world right now, and collaborate on global health security, not only with the COVID-19 pandemic but other infectious diseases as well, and of course, we discussed promoting sustainable development and responding to the global climate crisis. The meetings were also about making sure we hear directly from the Kuwaiti leadership about their priorities, and about how we can work together to support the world’s most vulnerable people who are affected by food insecurity, global health threats and the climate crisis.”

Elaborating on global food security, and in particular about what Kuwait and the US could do to strengthen food security around the world, the Assistant Secretary of State said: “Food security is a big issue these days. The global food crisis was driven by the effects of climate changes such as droughts and floods, and of course the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic that caused bottlenecks to supplies and supply chains, which disrupted a lot of production in industry. Now we have conflicts, including Russia’s war on Ukraine that have led among others to fertilizer prices doubling since last year. And then of course we need fuel to move food from one place to another, and the price of fuel has also shot up. Thus, all these issues combined contributed to the exacerbation of the food problem, and accelerated the food crisis in sub-Saharan Africa, in South Asia, in the Middle East, and even across the world.

Although the US and Kuwait cooperate closely to support United Nations agencies that address such issues, such as the World Food Program (WFP), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), we still see from the food price index issued by the FAO that food prices are currently 17 percent higher worldwide than they were at this time last year. Although prices are beginning to decline somewhat, this has affected so many people and communities around the world.”

Turning to initiatives undertaken by the US to ameliorate the global food crisis, Ms. Sison noted: “As you know, the United States launched a roadmap for global food security during our May presidency of the United Nations Security Council. Out of more than 100 countries, Kuwait was among the first to sign this map, and we really appreciate that. This roadmap is centered around calling on the global community to act and increase humanitarian food assistance. While that’s a big part of the map, the plan is also about keeping markets open, about increasing fertilizer production, and investing in the resilience of food systems.

“All of these aspects are ways in which we want to work with the State of Kuwait in order to address this important issue. I know that the leadership and government of Kuwait have resorted to innovative technologies and sustainable agriculture to address local and food issues in Kuwait, and all of this I think can be applied at the international level as well, especially when we look at innovation. Of course, Kuwait has been and continues to be very generous especially with regard to food aid through the World Food Program, and it also promotes the use of technology, encourages fertilizer production, and invests in other sustainable development models in connection with long-term solutions to food security.

Expanding on her discussions with officials of the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development, Ms. Sison asserted: “We covered humanitarian aid pertaining to local projects in various sectors, such as energy, education, and health that assist underserved communities and vulnerable populations around the world, in addition to the Fund’s recent humanitarian projects in Yemen, Lebanon, and Syria, particularly Rohingya refugees.

“The Kuwait Fund and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) had entered into a Memorandum of Understanding in November 2020, in partnership with the World Health Organization to prepare for and prevent future pandemics. The US also supported the summer launch of the World Bank Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response Fund, an intermediary financial fund with more than US$1 billion in seed funding, to deal with epidemic prevention, preparedness, and response. In cooperation with partner countries, the US had committed US$450 million to the new fund while calling for more partners to join in the funding.”

On the contentious issue of human rights and freedom of expression in Kuwait, especially in light of the latest Human Trafficking Report released by the US State Department,which shows that  Kuwait falls short when it comes to battling human trafficking cases, Ms. Sison remarked: “Taking into consideration the wide spectrum of the subject of human rights, Kuwait has shown remarkable efforts to address the issue of the rights of people with disability. I would like to congratulate Rehab Bouresli, who is the first Kuwaiti citizen to become a committee member for the United Nations Rights of Persons with Disabilities for 2023-2026.

“There are many facets of human rights violations covered by the UN, and these were included in the multilateral discussion we have held, as well, dealing with government and stakeholders in Kuwait and overseas to tackle strategies to combat human rights violations.”  During the US-Kuwait Strategic Dialogue, the two sides also recognized that advancing human rights and fundamental freedoms of all persons strengthens the bilateral relationship and advances both nations’ national security. The two sides stressed the importance of protecting fundamental freedoms and expanding labor rights, as well as advancing women’s rights.

She concluded the interview by observing: “It is very important that we continue to work and cooperate with each other as partners, both bilaterally and multilaterally, in order to address all the challenges that we focused on discussing during my visit, such as food security, health security, the climate crisis, and upholding the integrity of the United Nations system, and adherence to the Charter of the United Nations, which provides for sovereignty, territorial integrity and the protection of human rights. All of these are values shared by Kuwait and the United States. Therefore, it gives me great pleasure to be able to come here in person and attend meetings, discuss and collaborate on ways in which we can help raise the profile of these priorities within the global multilateral system.”


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