|U.S. Administration Calls for End Mideast Violence |
U.S. Administration Calls for End Mideast Violence
Opening statement by Edward S. Walker, Jr., Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, before the House subcommittee on Middle East and South Asia, Committee on International Relations, on March 29, 2001. (He told the House International Relations subcommittee on the Middle East that press speculation that the United States is "disengaging" from the Middle East "is dead wrong". Administration encourages both sides to restore trust). Source: Washington File (EUR422), U.S. Department of State, Washington D.C., March 29, 2001.
"This Administration has been trying, since it took office, to encourage both sides to establish an environment that provides a framework for resolving differences and restoring trust and confidence," he said during his March 29 testimony.
He also said that the results of the recently concluded Arab Summit were "mixed." "On some issues, the summit was relatively moderate, while we have significant problems with statements on other issues," Walker said. He noted that both sides need to "do what they can to end the violence, cease the cycle of action and reaction, renew their bilateral security coordination, and work directly with each other to resolve their differences."
Following is the text as prepared for delivery of the opening statement by Edward S. Walker, Jr., Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, before the House subcommittee on Middle East and South Asia, Committee on International Relations, on March 29: (begin text)
Opening Statement by Edward S. Walker Jr., Assistant Secretary for Near-Eastern Affairs, Department of State, for delivery at a hearing of the Subcommittee on Middle East and South Asia of the Committee on International Relations, U.S. House of Representatives, March 29, 2001. 2172 Rayburn House Office Building.
I am pleased to be here today to discuss current developments in the Middle East.
This has been another challenging and difficult week for the Middle East, marred by continued violence and loss of life. We condemn the attacks of the past few days, and offer our condolences to the families of the victims. There is absolutely no justification for the killing of innocent people, especially children.
This Administration has been trying, since it took office, to encourage both sides to establish an environment that provides a framework for resolving differences and restoring trust and confidence. The violence of this week undermines these efforts. Both sides need to do what they can to end the violence, cease the cycle of action and reaction, renew their bilateral security coordination, and work directly with each other to resolve their differences.
Another event was our veto, on Tuesday, of a proposed United Nations Security Council resolution on the situation in the Middle East. We cast this vote with great regret, but in the belief that it was unbalanced and unworkable, and thus unwise. The draft resolution ignored the most basic precept of peacemaking: The need to encourage the parties to find and implement their own lasting solutions and then to stand ready to help in their implementation. We would have supported a resolution that called on both parties to take the steps necessary to restore confidence, and that expressed the Council's readiness to assist the parties in the implementation of any agreements they reach. However, the road to peace does not begin in New York. It begins in the region, and the parties themselves must make the difficult choices required.
This week, we also closely watched the Arab summit meeting in Amman. Before the summit, we communicated our views to Arab leaders and the Arab world, with special attention given to Iraq and the search for peace. The outcome of the Arab League summit was mixed. On some issues, the summit was relatively moderate, while we have significant problems with statements on other issues. On Iraq, our friends in the Arab League were able to significantly moderate the outcome of the summit language. On Israeli-Palestinian issue, however, the temperature in the region is clearly high and criticism of Israel by the summit was harsh.
The members of this subcommittee understand profoundly the importance of the Middle East, and why this Administration is aggressively engaged in pursuing and promoting our interests there. A review of the first two months in office underlines this fact clearly. Secretary Powell's first overseas trip was to the Middle East, where he met with the leaders of Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and the Palestinians. Last week President Bush welcomed Israeli Prime Minister Sharon to Washington and reaffirmed our close partnership with Israel. In the coming two weeks, Egyptian President Mubarak and Jordanian King Abdullah will visit the White House. The President and Secretary are looking forward to consulting with them and seeking their views on the regional situation as we review our policies. Both President Bush and Secretary Powell have had numerous discussions with the other leaders in the Middle East as well, and the Middle East has been a central topic in their conversations with the leaders from key nations outside of the region.
We are engaged and we will remain engaged. Press speculation that we are "disengaging" from the Middle East is dead wrong. The interests and concerns of the American people demand no less. We have to press forward, in close consultation with our friends and allies in the region, as we develop new policies that take into account the very troubled situation we found there.
This administration will approach the region as an integrated whole. Obviously, there are individual issues which will have to be treated on their own merits as they arise, but everything we do and everything we say will, on any specific issue, usually have implications and consequences for our other interests in the region. I want to make it very clear, we will not shy away from doing what is right or in our own interest just because of fallout on other issues. But we will be very much aware of what that fallout will be and how best to deal with it. We will act with strength and, as the President has promised, with humility. Let no one mistake humility, however, for weakness.
Let us now deal with some of the top issues of concern to us. The first and foremost continues to be the search for peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. I gather that there are some in the region who believe that our focus on Iraq policy indicates a subordination of our concern about the violence that has seized relations between the Palestinians and Israelis. That would be a false conclusion and one that could lead to misjudgments by our friends and some of our opponents. Our country has vital strategic and economic interests in the region, and we believe that these interests will best be served by a peace that can be embraced by Israelis, Palestinians, and the region as a whole. We also have a vital and strategic interest in the survival and well-being of Israel. That commitment will not flag in this administration.
For the past six months, the situation has been marked by increasing violence in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. This violence has resulted in the deaths of more than 400 Palestinian and Israeli men, women, and children, the majority of them Palestinian. Many more have been wounded in the daily tragedies of bullets and bombs. The violence has undermined the basis of trust and mutual confidence that is critical for building the foundation on which negotiations for peace must be based. Israelis no longer believe that the Palestinians are willing to renounce violence and live in peace with Israel. Palestinians no longer believe that Israelis will ever be ready to treat them equitably as a respected partner.
Secretary Powell addressed this issue when he met with Israeli, Palestinian, and other leaders during his trip to the Middle East. President Bush is reviewing the situation during his meetings and conversations with key regional leaders. Throughout these discussions, our approach has been founded on the following premises:
- The violence must end.
- Normal economic life must be restored.
- Incitement to violence, whether by words or by deeds, must stop.
- Israelis and Palestinians must reestablish a dialogue at all levels.
- Both sides must avoid unilateral actions that gratuitously provoke the other, particularly at this critical time.
- The United States stands ready to actively support the parties in their efforts toward peace. We will stay involved, but we will not become the negotiating partner for either side. Finally, we will not impose a solution. As Secretary Powell put it, "The United States stands ready to assist, not insist."
Beyond the Israeli-Palestinian issue, we continue to support a comprehensive peace in the Middle East, based on UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, and the formula of land for peace. This includes continued hope and expectations that the parties might find a mutually acceptable means for movement on the Syrian and Lebanese tracks. We will not be shy about lending our weight to develop momentum in this regard.
Israel's withdrawal from south Lebanon in May 2000, in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 425, dramatically changed the situation on the ground. After so many years of calling on Israel to implement that resolution, it is bizarre that some parties and people in the region cite Israel's compliance as a sign of weakness. Quite the contrary, it was a sign of unusual strength and leadership on the part of former Prime Minister Barak. Misinterpretation of this Israeli move would be a one-way street to disaster. Accordingly, we have strongly urged all the parties to exercise maximum restraint and avoid provocative and destabilizing activities. We have also worked closely with the United Nations to reinforce Syrian and Lebanese commitments to respect the UN "blue line" established by the Secretary General for the purpose of verifying Israel's withdrawal.
Since Israel's withdrawal from south Lebanon, the Government of Lebanon has taken some steps to exercise its authority in the south. We have been encouraged by these steps to reestablish Lebanese sovereignty over its own territory. Nevertheless, Lebanon should do more to reestablish its authority in the south as called for in UN Security Council Resolution 425.
Jordan and Egypt are key players in the search for peace, and vital partners of the United States. Jordan is an essential, moderate, pro-peace ally. By virtue of its geographic location, it is under great pressure from Iraq and cannot ignore the Israeli-Palestinian violence. Jordan needs our support, politically and economically. It is in our own interests to promote a stable, prosperous, pro-peace country on Israel's eastern border. The Jordan-U.S. Free Trade Agreement will have a particularly positive impact for Jordan and for our own interests. It solidifies Jordan's recent economic reforms and will bolster investor and business confidence. We are not going to turn our backs on this commitment to King Abdullah.
We value our close relationship with Egypt and our cooperation on political, military, and economic issues. The President continues to support fully the assistance we give to Egypt to help it reform its economy and build its military into an effective coalition partner with the United States. Egypt's leadership role in the Middle East was amply demonstrated when it became the first Arab state to sign a peace treaty with Israel more than twenty years ago, and again in 1991 when we built an international coalition to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi occupation. Today, President Mubarak is a pivotal player among those who advocate peace in the region, publicly condemning calls for violence against Israel and the use of oil as a weapon. He has spoken out against economic boycotts of American goods and just recently supported our efforts to maintain balance in the Security Council. We anticipate broad consensus in our discussions on the current situation with President Mubarak when he is in Washington next week. And where there are disagreements, such as in our assessment of grievous incitement by some elements of the local Egyptian press, we anticipate candid and open discussion so that we might find common ground.
The other issue of particular concern is Iraq. In previous testimony to Congress, Secretary Powell said that when he took office he found Iraq policy "in disarray," including a sanctions component that was "falling apart." Iraq has been a high priority interest of the Secretary and it has been a high priority of mine. This was one of the major issues the Secretary dealt with during his February trip to the Middle East. It continues to be the focus of frequent policy meetings at the highest level here in Washington.
We are comprehensively reviewing all aspects of our Iraq policy: Sanctions, regime change, and our military posture. As part of the review, we have been consulting closely with leaders in the region and member nations of the UN Security Council. We have found widespread agreement that the current Iraqi regime would pose a serious threat if it were given unrestricted freedom to develop its Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) programs and military, and if the United States was to abandon its military position in the Gulf. There is also broad support on the need to counter that threat by focusing international efforts on controlling Iraq's ability to reconstitute its WMD capabilities and rearm its military forces.
What our friends in the region have been concerned about has been the economic sanctions on civilian goods. These are seen by many as punishing the Iraqi people and strengthening the regime's grip on power, while doing little to diminish Iraq's threat. The plight of the Iraqi people, particularly its poorer segments, is real. The responsibility for that plight is largely attributable to Saddam Hussein, who finds bribery and grand gestures to the poor of other countries to be more pressing than the needs of his own people. We are looking at ways to minimize the extent to which the sanctions adversely affect civilian conditions in Iraq. Unless we take urgent steps to do all we can to alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi people, international concerns about the impact of civilian sanctions will continue to hamper the cooperation we need to clamp down on Iraq's ability to acquire WMD and weapons-related supplies.
We are working with other nations to change the rules and procedures to give free access for the Iraqi people to humanitarian and civilian goods. At the same time, we hope to solidify a regional consensus on strengthening the controls over Iraq's access to military, WMD, and dangerous dual-use goods, and substantially reduce Saddam Hussein's access to uncontrolled revenues to use in supporting his security apparatus, in procuring weapons systems and WMD components, in bribing officials, and in blackmailing those who refuse to cooperate. To facilitate the support and cooperation of regional states, we are exploring ways to protect their economic interests in the event that they are confronted with Iraqi economic retaliation or blackmail.
We remain committed to UN-mandated weapons inspections. UN inspectors have stated their readiness to conduct preparatory work in Iraq and carry out inspections, although Iraq continues to bar their way. Our overall approach, however, will not be dependent on whether or not Saddam Hussein accepts or bars inspectors.
We are mindful of the continued need to protect Iraqi civilians from the threats posed by the Iraqi regime. We are also dependent, as is every country in the Gulf, on the military advantage the southern no-fly zone provides our forces in the south, should Saddam Hussein make good once more on his threats to swallow Kuwait. The difference that the southern no-fly zone makes is the difference between stopping Saddam at the Kuwaiti border or having to pry him out of Kuwait City once more.
We are also looking at our options to work with those who oppose the current Iraqi regime, to ensure that our efforts will contribute as effectively as possible to a change for the better in that regime. We will continue to work aggressively with the INC [Iraqi National Congress] and we will look to other groups and opposition elements as well, both inside Iraq and outside. As we communicate and cooperate with Iraqi opposition groups, continuing economic support will help to build their credibility, capabilities, and military effectiveness. Our long-term vision for Iraq is a united, undivided country, governed in a way that respects the rights of all Iraqi citizens and that lives in peace with its neighbors,
Let me conclude my opening remarks with a few words on Iran and the Arabian Peninsula nations. Iran is a country of both great challenges and great potential. Its proximity to Iraq, Afghanistan, and the newly independent states of Central Asia and the Caucasus make it a nation that must not be ignored. At the same time, Iran's support for terrorism and its human rights record also cannot be ignored.
In recent years, Iran has been undergoing a dynamic internal debate as to what kind of nation it wants to be. While the headlines focus on dramatic political maneuvering in Iran, we see a continued drive by the Iranian people for government accountability, greater personal freedoms, and more contact with the outside world. We must consider both our concerns and these desires when we look at Iran. We need to continue responding to immediate threats to our national interests, while looking for ways to engage Iran constructively on issues of strategic importance to us all.
Our Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) allies continue to provide critical support for the defense of our shared security interests in the region. Recent regional developments include the successful conclusion of a long-simmering border dispute between Bahrain and Qatar, two longstanding friends of the United States. We congratulate their leaders for resolving their dispute by accepting the March 16 ruling of the International Court of Justice. Several Gulf countries are also taking steps toward liberalizing political participation. Most recently, Bahraini citizens approved a national referendum that will restore parliamentary life within the next three years.
In Yemen, U.S. investigators have been working steadily with their Yemeni counterparts since the October 12 attack on the USS Cole. Last November we and the Yemenis adopted "agreed guidelines" to govern the joint investigation. Although our investigative systems differ markedly, cooperation has been positive and Yemen is committed to pursuing this investigation to its conclusion.