The relationship between the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (formerly the Organization of the Islamic Conference) and the United States is a partnership of engagement, which is growing stronger. President George W. Bush announced the establishment of the Office of the US Special Envoy to the OIC on June 27, 2007, and subsequently appointed Mr. Sada Cumber, a prominent Muslim American, to the position on March 3, 2008.
The interest of the US in the activities of the OIC through the visits and of the Special Envoy facilitated an exchange of info and views between the OIC Secretariat and the US State Department. This led to a better understanding of the OIC activities and efforts in the promotion of peace, reconciliation, security and development. As an example of this increased understanding and recognition, President George W. Bush in his statement to the UN General Assembly in September 2008, highlighted the constructive position of the OIC General Secretariat against extremism and terrorism. On the margins of the opening of UN General Assembly in the same year, the OIC Secretary General Prof. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu and the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met bilaterally to discuss the issues of mutual concern including the rise of Islamophobia in the West. Secretary Rice appreciated the work by the OIC in light of the new OIC Charter and the OIC Ten Year Program. They agreed that the promotion of good governance and democracy, as well as the rejection of violence and terrorism were the important pillars in the OIC-US relationship.
On January 20, 2009, the day of the inauguration of President Barack Obama, the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune published the OIC Secretary General’s open letter to President Obama, both welcoming the President and calling for a continued partnership. The letter was entitled, “An Invitation to a New Partnership from The Organization of Islamic Conference to President Barack Obama”. Main points from the letter included a call for dialogue between the West and the Muslim world; addressed the myths about Islam and Islamaphobia, and a discussion of the guiding principles in moderation and modernization specifically in reference to the battle against terrorism. There was also an emphasis on President Obama’s use of the word “change” throughout his campaign comparing it to the changes that have taken place within the OIC. Finally, the Secretary General expressed his appreciation for the appointment of the Office of the US Special Envoy to the OIC specifically concerning a positive outlook on the working partnership between the two.
The following month in February 2009, a bipartisan report calling for the new administration to engage with the Muslim world was published. The report titled, “Changing Course: A New Direction for U.S. Relations with the Muslim World”, called the OIC as a key actor and partner for the US to cooperate with. This report confirmed that not only the Presidential Cabinet, but also by the other key members of the US government saw the US-OIC cooperation as an important relationship.
On June 4, 2009, President Obama gave a speech in Cairo that outlined the relationship between the West and the Muslim world. He stated that both sides share common goals and ideas, welcoming the new relationship as compared to a more strained relationship during the past US administrations. Also in this speech the President announced an effort with the OIC to eradicate polio, as well as to promote child and maternal health. As a sign of follow up to the President’s commitment on June 25, 2009, the US government established the United States Special Representative to Muslim Communities. Also the first formal meeting between the OIC Secretary General and Secretary of State Clinton was held at the US State Department, where issues such as Palestine, Somalia and Afghanistan were discussed.
President Obama took another important step in ensuring a solid relationship with the OIC when he appointed Mr. Rashad Hussain as the second US Special Envoy to the OIC in February 2010. Mr. Hussain was invited to speak at the 37th session of the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers in May 2010. He expressed his eagerness to facilitate the partnership President Obama spoke of in Cairo, while also highlighting points of interest including, health issues, interfaith engagement and countering violent extremism. This continued engagement of the US in the OIC’s initiatives and activities will further prosper as the time passes.
Joint Project Health Initiatives between the OIC and the US
President Obama’s now famous speech from June 2009 in Cairo referenced a joint effort by the US and the OIC to eradicate Polio and promote child and maternal health. Prior to the Obama administration, the initial steps had been taken with the signing of a Cooperation Framework on December 1 2008 entitled “Reaching every Mother and Baby in the OIC with Emergency Care”. The OIC and US Center of Disease Control and Prevention then formed a joint project with pilots in Bangladesh and Mali launched August 2010. For the Mali project, the OIC and USAID sent a delegation initially to Bamako, Mali to make suggestions of the projects needed to help the people of Mali. The focus of the project in Mali is to reduce the mortality rates of mothers dying during the childbirth. The Mali project was launched in November 2010. The Bangladesh project was made possible with the partnership of the OIC, USAID and the Islamic Development Bank. The objectives of this project include the development of midwifery programs, standardizing maternal and neonatal care nationwide, and providing outreach to promote the use of skilled care for maternal and neonatal care as well as family planning. This project was launched May 2011.
The second joint health initiative between the OIC and the US is the eradication of polio. The resolution on global polio eradication initiative by the Islamic Conference of Health Ministries, calls for an urgent priority for all OIC member states to enhance public commitment, intensify eradication efforts, mobilize national financial resources, engage local religious leaders to create awareness of the efforts, and together overcome and counter effects of misinformation both about the vaccines and eradication of the disease. The OIC and the Islamic Development Bank have come together for a joint effort to assist in ways to eradicate polio in three OIC member states facing an endemic such as Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan. Most recently on September 27, 2010, in partnership with the UNICEF and the UN Foundation, the OIC Secretary General and US Special Envoy to the OIC hosted a high level meeting titled “Eradication of Polio: From Dushanbe to Dakar: Innovative Partnership for Polio Eradication in OIC Countries”. The progress continues with both of these initiatives, and the work to eradicate polio and ensure better health care for both mothers and children keeps strengthening the relationship between the OIC and the US.