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Recent Developments in the Middle East
Martin S. Indyk
Assistant Secretary of State for 
Near Eastern Affairs
March 10, 1998 
House International Relations Committee
Mr. Chairman, distinguished members of the Committee, I am pleased to
appear before you to review recent developments in the Middle East and
North Africa. I would like to focus my remarks on the most recent
developments in the region and their relationship to our overall
strategy for the Middle East.
It has been nearly 18 months since an NEA Assistant Secretary appeared
before you to discuss a broad range of regional issues. It might
therefore be useful to review the central elements of US policy in the
-- Achieving a just, lasting and comprehensive peace between Israel
and all its Arab neighbors, based on U.N. resolutions 242 and 338.
-- Maintaining our long-standing, ironclad commitment to Israel's
security and well being;
-- Nurturing close relations with our Arab allies and ensuring Western
access to the area's vital petroleum reserves at market prices;
-- Combating terrorism and countering the spread of weapons of mass
-- Ensuring that Iraq complies fully with all relevant UNSC
resolutions, and thereby preventing Iraq from threatening its
neighbors and our interests in the region;
-- Encouraging change in Iranian policies which threaten our
-- Promoting democracy, respect for human rights and for the rule of
law, and
-- Enhancing opportunities for American~ companies.
In the six months since I became Assistant Secretary, we have had to
face some difficult issues. These include, most notably, the need to
deal with Iraq's defiance of the Security Council and its
intransigence toward the U.N.-led efforts to eliminate its weapons of
mass destruction and offensive missile capabilities. In addition, the
President and Secretary have expended considerable effort to rescue a
stalemated peace process.
A potentially positive development, on the other hand, was the desire
for change in Iran as manifested in the election last May of a new
Iranian President, a relatively moderate cleric by Iranian standards,
who espouses the "rule of law" as his guiding principle, and advocates
a "dialogue of civilizations" as a means of reducing tensions between
nations. We are watching to see whether this positive rhetoric will be
matched by positive deeds -- the record of the Iranian government
since Khatami's inauguration last August is still mixed. But recent
unofficial contacts between Americans and Iranians have gone well. We
would like to see these unofficial exchanges accompanied by a
government-to-government dialogue which, in our view, is the only way
to address effectively the serious issues that have divided the U.S.
and Iran for nearly 20 years.
Because of the importance of these issues, I would like to lay out in
some detail where we are now and how we intend to proceed in order to
protect and promote U.S. national interests in this vital region.
On the Middle East Peace Process, we have been engaged since August
1997 in a vigorous effort to put the peace process back on track. This
has been an ongoing effort, its dynamic determined solely by the need
to overcome the prolonged stalemate on the Israeli-Palestinian track
which has stopped all progress in the peace process for more than one
Our approach is aimed at creating the conditions necessary for a fast
track permanent status negotiation; to this end we have been working
for months to facilitate an agreement between the parties on our
four-part agenda. In order to create a sound basis for negotiations to
proceed, the parties need to address the following elements:
-- enhanced security cooperation and intensified and verifiable
efforts to fight terror and its infrastructure;
-- further redeployments in accordance with the existing agreements;
-- a time-out regarding unilateral steps which undermine confidence in
the negotiating process;
-- and, acceleration of permanent status negotiations with a mutually
agreed target date.
These four points are not an end unto themselves, but an instrument to
create the environment for fast track direct, permanent status
negotiatio~ns. Only through accelerated negotiati~~ons on permanent
status will we get the process going again.
There has been some narrowing of the gaps on the four points, but not
enough to get the parties to an agreement.
Because it was apparent that the parties lacked the trust to respond
to each other, the President provided some ideas to Prime Minister
Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat on ways to advance the process, in the
expectation that they would be able to respond to us. The parties need
to make hard decisions soon so that we can achieve our immediate
objective, which is to begin accelerated permanent status talks.
I want to emphasize here that we have no intention of imposing a U.S.
plan." What we are doing is what the parties have asked us to do:
provide ideas and facilitate the process so that they can, very soon,
make the hard decisions themselves and start direct negotiations on
the fundamental issues that will shape the relationship between them.
There will be no US surprises; the parties know what our ideas are and
we have discussed them with both sides in great detail.
But it is also important to remember that we have been engaged in this
particular exercise for more than seven months. The President and
Secretary of State have spent hours upon hours in direct discussions
with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat. We do not believe
that more time, by itself, is going to break the current deadlock.
What is needed now are the hard decisions by both sides that would
allow~ an agreement to emerge, obligations to be implemented, and the
final status negotiations~ resumed. We are now assessing what more we
can do to get the parties to deal with the hard issues that divide
Why do we insist that it is time to move the peace process forward
when influential voices on both sides argue for delay? It is because
of our sense that the strategic window for peacemaking that opened
following the Gulf War and the collapse of the Soviet Union is now
closing. Where once there was hope, there is now disillusion; where
once there was a process of confidence building, there is now growing
mistrust; where once a regional coalition for peace was emerging,
there is now a retreat to the dangerous limbo of "no war, no peace."
It is a matter of history that, when there is no progress toward
peace, a political vacuum develops, which is rapidly filled by
political extremism and violence.
For all these reasons, we believe time is not on the side of the
peacemakers. It is therefore essential that both sides find a way to
move forward now.
We believe that the parties should also advance the process through
implementation of agreemen~ts on the Gaza air and sea ports, Gaza
Industrial Estate and safe passage. This would make a real difference
in the lives of Palestinians and Israelis and go a long way to
rebuilding some of the confidence and popular support for peace that
was lost over the past discouraging year.
Given the centrality of the Isra~~eli-Palestinian relationship to the
entire peace process, we have been concentrating our energy on this
track, but recognize that the Syrian and Lebanese negotiatio~ns are
also crucial to the achievement of a comprehensive peace.
On these tracks, there is unfortunately little to report. We are
exploring with the parties how to close the gaps between Syrian
insistence on picking up talks from the point they left off in 1996
and Israel's position that all issues should be open.
The Israeli government has recently indicated its willingness to
implement U.N. Security Council Resolution 425 on withdrawal of its
forces from southern Lebanon, if it has appropriate Security
The U.S. Supports the implementation of 425. The U.S. wants to see
Lebanon~ free of all foreign forces and its sovereignty and
territorial integrity preserve~d.
We support all efforts by the parties to engage each other on the
issues which divide them. The security guaran~~~tees sought by Israel
would require negotiations~ between the parties. The most effective
guarantor of security, is, of course, a comprehens~ive~ peace.
Turning to the issue of most immediate concern, how to contain the
threat posed by Iraq, it is important to understand the context of the
most recent crisis.
Last fall, as UNSCOM inspections focused on~ facilities critical to
Iraq's WMD programs and the mechanisms Iraq was using to conceal those
programs, Iraq reacted by blocking inspections and creating false
issues of "presidential palaces" and "American spies" to undermine the
effectiveness of the inspection regime. The crisis heated up in
November with the expulsion of weapons inspectors and then again after
their return in January, when Iraq tried to put several categories of
sites off limits to UNSCOM.
The U.S. pursued a dual strategy of active diplomacy --
~ce~~~~~~ntered on the five permanent members and the rest of the
Security Council -- backed by the credible threat of force. That
threat was made real by the deployment of a multinational coalition in
the Gulf, including some 35,000 U.S. military personnel, two carrier
battle groups and 350 U.S. aircraft.
So far, this strategy has proven successful. In the past week, an
UNSCOM inspection team led by Scott Ritter has been granted access to
a series of sensitive sites, including Ministry of Defense buildings
that Iraq previously declared off limits. This is unprecedented access
for UNSCOM. More testing will be required and the presidential site
inspections are still to be undertaken. Nevertheless, the Iraqis have
committed themselves before the world to full compliance with their
obligations to immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access to all
sites, as has been required by multiple Security Council resolutions
of the last seven years. This is the central element of the memorandum
of understanding signed by the U.N. Secretary General and Baghdad,
which the Council endorsed unanimously in U.N. Security Council
Resolution 1154. In that resolution, of course, the Council also
warned Iraq of "severest consequences~~ should it violate the
agreement and once again fail to comply with its obligations."
I want to emphasize that the most important element of the agreement
with Iraq is not its precise wording, nor even the arrangements to~
carry it out, but rather its testing and implementation. If it is
fully implement~~ed, UNSCOM can carry out its mission:
-- First, to find and destroy all of Iraq's chemical, biologic~~ and
nuclear weapons;
--~ Second to find and destroy the missiles to deliver these weapons;
--~ Third, to institute a system for long-term monitoring to make sure
Iraq does not build more weapons.
The key point is that UNSCOM is in charge of inspection~ in Iraq and
has begun the process of testing Iraq's intentions. If Iraq implements
the agreement it entered into with the Secretary General -- well and
good. UNSCOM would be able to carry out its mandate. If Saddam once
again obstructs UNSCOM, the US is prepared with our coalition partners
to take the actions required to reduce the threat of Saddam's weapons
programs and the threat he poses to his neighbors.
Our quarrel is not and never has been with the Iraqi people -- they
are the victims of rulers imposed on them by force. Saddam has chosen
to continue his efforts to retain his weapons of mass destruction
program and to build a series of lavish palaces, rather than to meet
the needs of his people. In contrast, the U.S. supported U.N. Security
Council Resolution 1153 which has greatly expanded the "oil for food
program" so that Iraq's revenues must be used for its people. This new
resolution will allow the Iraqi people to receive the food, medicine
and other humanitarian goods they need, but are being denied by the
Saddam regime. The resolution will also allow the re-building of some
services related directly to the Iraqi people, including schools and
Any expenditure~ under this program will be under close scrutiny of
the U.N., both in terms of scrutinizing the expenditures and
monitoring the distributions of goods in Iraq. The U.N. is still
studying the possibility of allowing some reconstruction of Iraq's oil
production capability. We will ensure that such producti~~on is
sufficient only for the purposes of the resolution and that U.N.
controls are extended to the well-head. With the implementation of
resolution 1153, we can ensure the needs of the Iraqi people will be
One somewhat misunderstood aspect of the latest confrontation with
Saddam is the degree of international support we received. Despite the
impression some might have from the media, the fact is that 23 nations
offered to participate in military operations had they been required,
while many others offered political support. We should especially
express our appreciation for the strong and unequivocal position of
the British, who were the first to join us in deploying forces to the
Gulf. But they were by no means the only ones. Egypt and the countries
in the Gulf were also ready to provide the support we needed when we
needed it.
Mr. Chairman, this latest crisis with Iraq has reminded us how much
better off the Iraqi people, the Middle East region, and the world
would be if a new regime emerged in Iraq with a very different set of
priorities. As Secretary of State Albright stated a year ago, we look
forward to the day when we can work with a different government in
Iraq, one which does not pursue weapons of mass destruction, threaten
its neighbors, and oppress its people. We look forward to the day when
Iraq, under a different leadership, can again resume its rightful
place among the community of peace-loving nations.
We are therefore closely examining ways to reinvigorate our efforts to
work with and support those Iraqis who advocate a democratic,
pluralistic future for their country, one in which Iraq's resources
are spent for the benefit of the Iraqi people and not to maintain in
power a regime that engages in brutal repression at home and military
aggression abroad.
While Saddam's rule of Iraq remains an unfortunately familiar problem,
we have heard the voices of change in Iran. It is unclear yet whether
those voices, represented in the election and continued popularity of
President Khatami will prevail, but we are watching carefully the
signs of change. While our focus continues to be on deeds, not words,
we have sought to respond to President Khatami's calls for a
civilizational dialogue and to encourage the changes in policies that
we seek.
Change in the areas of greatest concern to us -- terrorism, attempts
to acquire WMD and support of violent opposition to the peace process
-- remains the focus of our policy. These are deep-rooted elements of
Iranian governm~~~ent practice and it remains to be seen whether
President Khatami can and will make positive change in these areas. It
will take time to reach conclusions on this score.
Recent unofficial contacts have demonstrated that our two peoples have
no quarrel with each other; in such contrasting realms as sports and
academia, recent American visitors to Iran have found a warm welcome.
We are prepared to take steps to encourage these exchanges which can
help to overcome the mistrust in our relations. But we continue to
believe that official contacts are the best way to resolve the serious
issues of policy between us. The governmen~t of Iran has indicated it
is not ready yet for such discussions.
Before closing with some general remarks about the objecti~~~ves of
our policy, I wanted to mention ~Algeria. The horrendous slaughter of
civilians in that country continues. It is ~~unacceptable and we
unequivocally condemn it. There are solutions for Algeria's problems,
but unfortunately they are neither quick nor easy. President Zeroual
has identified their main elements in politic~~al and economic reform
and progress toward the rule of law. But it is critical that there be
more concrete progress on the ground in implementing these programs.
Clearly, the Algerian government must live up to its
~responsibilities~~~~~ to protect its citizens. But it must do so
within the rule of law, or it will jeopardize the hesitant steps it
has taken toward democratic government. A long term solution to
Algeria's problem~ must include serious economic reform and a
political process that includes all those who renounce violence. We
are ready to help where we can. We are second to none in our
commitment to the fight against terrorism, but Algeria should
recognize that it cannot expect the international community, including
its friends, to stand silently by while atrocities such as those we
have witnessed continue. Algeria needs credibility if it wants support
and it should work to provide greater transparency. There are ways to
do so that do not impinge on Algerian sovereignty. I will be in
Algeria soon and intend to discuss these issues with the government
Recent problems in the peace process and the difficulties of
containing Saddam Hussein have demonstrated clearly that the new
Middle East many of us saw coming into being at the beginning of this
decade is not yet realized. If anything, however, the problems I have
discussed show even more clearly that our vital national interests in
the region, including the security of Israel and the commercial
availability of Gulf oil are best protected in an integrated Middle
East, in which market, not military, forces operate freely and in
which weapons of mass destruction have no place.
As always, I welcome the opportunity to consult with you in the
formation of our policy.
(End text)

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