US embassy cable - 02AMMAN3662

JORDAN: OES-FUNDED CORAL REEFS SYMPOSIUM BRIDGES ARAB-ISRAELI POLITICAL DIVIDE

Identifier: 02AMMAN3662
Wikileaks: View 02AMMAN3662 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Amman
Created: 2002-07-03 15:17:00
Classification: UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY
Tags: SENV PREL ECON JO MEPN
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 AMMAN 003662 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE 
 
DEPT FOR OES/PCI SHIPPE AND SHAW, NEA/RA LAWSON 
DEPT PASS USAID 
COMMERCE FOR NOAA CROSBY 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: SENV, PREL, ECON, JO, MEPN 
SUBJECT: JORDAN: OES-FUNDED CORAL REEFS SYMPOSIUM BRIDGES 
ARAB-ISRAELI POLITICAL DIVIDE 
 
1. (SBU) SUMMARY:  A recent international symposium on coral 
reefs monitoring, partly funded through an OES grant, brought 
together scientists from Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Bahrain, 
Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Iran, among others, to share data 
and experiences.  Despite a tense political climate in the 
region, science was placed above politics and public 
interactions among the Arab participants and the Israelis 
were professional, cooperative, and cordial, although we 
learned later of some private remarks that were less 
welcoming of the Israelis.  The participants pledged to form 
an informal information-sharing network and reconvene next 
year to promote international cooperation on this global, 
trans-boundary environmental issue.  End Summary. 
 
2. (SBU)  From June 19-21, the NEA Regional Environment 
Office, through a $24,000 grant from OES, co-sponsored the 
"Middle East Regional Science Symposium and Workshop on 
Butterflyfish Monitoring," led by NOAA scientist Dr. Michael 
Crosby, and under the patronage of King Abdullah II.  Our 
partner was the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA) 
Environment Commission, which funded about half of the 
symposium's cost.  The symposium was an outgrowth of an 
ongoing Middle East Regional Cooperation (MERC) project that 
has encouraged scientific collaboration between Israeli and 
Jordanian marine scientists on their shared natural resources 
in the Gulf of Aqaba during the past few years.  Prince Ali, 
the king's uncle, opened the proceedings of the symposium, 
lending an official imprimatur and offering the Jordanian 
government's encouragement to the participants to continue 
their important regional cooperation. 
 
3. (SBU) The conference underscored the importance of 
regional cooperation on trans-boundary environmental issues, 
introduced the butterflyfish monitoring technique, and 
introduced ASEZA,s economic development plans for Aqaba to 
the foreign participants.  During the first day of the 
symposium, scientists from each of the countries (Jordan, 
Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Lebanon, Iran, India, 
Malaysia, South Africa, and the U.S.) presented papers on 
their respective coral reefs research.  The following day 
comprised workshops on the butterflyfish monitoring 
technique, data management and sharing, and priorities for 
future collaborative research and monitoring--all with an eye 
toward using this technique as an indicator of coral reef 
change and health.  Manuscripts of the research papers 
presented at the symposium will be published in a 
supplemental edition of the peer-reviewed "Aquatic 
Conservation," probably next year. 
 
4. (SBU) In addition to the more formal scientific 
presentations, students from a local Jordanian school who 
formed their own community environmental awareness group 
participated earnestly in the symposium, delivering two short 
presentations on the state of coral reefs in Aqaba.  Working 
with the local chapter of the Jordan Royal Ecological Diving 
Center and the Marine Science Station (affiliated with Jordan 
University and Yarmouk University), the student volunteers 
regularly assist with beach cleanups and raise public 
consciousness about the need to protect the local environment 
through sustainable development. 
 
5. (SBU) An appeal was made by most participants for 
continuing U.S. funding of this gathering of scientists.  It 
was also suggested by some that the group seek to fund future 
joint activities through solicitation of support from 
institutions, foundations, and research grants.  All agreed 
the symposium represented an important first step in 
developing the kinds of regional networks necessary to 
protect a shared marine environment. 
 
(NB:  No USG funding went to support the Iranian participant, 
in accordance with ILSA provisions.) 
 
6. (SBU) COMMENT:  From the perspective of encouraging 
regional cooperation through environmental issues, we were 
pleased to have such a good representation of Arab scientists 
sitting and working effectively with their Israeli 
counterparts.  The presence of the Saudis, Lebanese, and 
Bahraini, not to mention the Iranian, spoke to the dedication 
these individuals have for their science--something we have 
historically witnessed in the multilateral working group 
meetings on the environment and water resources.  While it 
was no surprise that the Jordanian participants, academics 
from the Marine Science Station who have longstanding 
collaborative relationships with their neighbors in Eilat, 
Israel, were at ease, the Egyptian showed a comfort level in 
dealing with the Israelis that was most welcome in light of 
some Egyptian official rhetoric about cooperating with Israel. 
 
7. (SBU) We were particularly pleased to learn that many of 
the Arab scientists had advance knowledge of the Israeli 
participants and remained committed to attending the 
symposium.  We understand from the organizers at ASEZA, 
however, that one or two individuals may have dropped out 
when they learned that Israeli scientists would be present. 
ASEZA officials confirmed that one Saudi regretted, probably 
because of personal convictions, and a Yemeni cancelled at 
the last moment, although it remains unclear if his decision 
was driven by Israeli participation.  A Syrian allegedly 
missed the symposium because of delays in obtaining official 
permission from his university and the necessary "exit 
visa" from the government. 
 
8. (SBU) The Israelis openly identified themselves as such; 
the Arab scientists engaged them during the symposium 
proceedings. The interpersonal dynamic on the margins of the 
conference was animated and positive, with no obvious 
shunning of the Israelis.  That said, we learned later from 
one attendee that the Saudi scientists confided to him that 
they were not fully comfortable with the open Israeli 
participation, although their demeanor did not betray them. 
 
Gnehm 

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