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07 February 2003

U.S., Egyptian Speakers Say Partnership Must Continue, Expand

(Mutual awareness of strains; unity against extremism) (1430)
By Ralph Dannheisser
Washington File Special Correspondent
Washington -- U.S. and Egyptian officials have pronounced the
relationship between the two countries sound, and vital for future
progress in the Middle East, but acknowledged there are problems to be
overcome.
They outlined their views February 6 during an all-day conference on
the prospects for a continued strategic partnership between the two
nations, sponsored by "Foreign Policy," a magazine published by the
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Some 300 people attending the conference heard Assistant Secretary of
State William Burns declare that - given challenges ranging from
dealing with Iraq, to the global war on terrorism, to the
Palestinian-Israeli conflict - there has never been a time "when that
partnership has mattered more, or been the subject of more debate."
He termed the results of a recent survey showing that 94 percent of
Egyptians have an unfavorable view of the United States "a cause for
sober reflection." Similarly, he said, many in the United States show
a "palpable unease" about Egypt and the prospects for continued
cooperation.
But, citing what he termed "the genuine partnership" that has emerged
between the two countries over the past 30 years, starting with
Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's "heroic visit to Jerusalem" in quest
of peace, Burns said it would be "a serious mistake to forget what it
has meant for both of us, and for the hopes of the region."
Burns said a continued partnership can revolve around joint action in
four key areas: the fight against international terrorism, the effort
to disarm Iraq and reintegrate it into the international community,
establishment of a broad Arab-Israeli peace, and development of
greater economic opportunity and political participation in Egypt.
"Both of us, for all our differences, share fundamentally a vision of
a region in which violent extremists are marginalized and defeated, in
which tyrants who defy the international community are dealt with
decisively, in which the Arab-Israeli conflict is finally resolved
peacefully, fairly and comprehensively, and in which hope for greater
economic opportunity and political participation replaces the despair
on which extremists breed," the State Department official said.
Addressing one sore spot in the relationship, Burns said he is aware
that many in the region are concerned that rules requiring long-term
visitors to the United States to register, effective in 2005, could
"slam the door on the Arab and Muslim world."
But he noted that many U.S. friends and allies - including Egypt -
already have similar registration policies, and he pledged that "we
will continue to do our best to strike an effective and workable
balance between openness and security."
Burns praised President Mubarak's announced intention to spur "more
democracy, more popular participation, and more effective
participation by women and youth." Achieving those laudable goals
"will mean difficult but necessary decisions about the regulation of
NGOs (non-governmental organizations), the press and political
parties," the U.S. official said.
While he devoted substantial attention to the "common concern" with
the danger posed by Saddam Hussein, Burns said that the achievement of
peace between the Arab world and Israel "remains our greatest regional
challenge. He reiterated President Bush's vision of regional peace
based on "two states, Israel and Palestine, living alongside one
another in peace, security and dignity."
Burns stressed that both sides have obligations in giving this vision
reality -- key among them the need for Palestinians to "transform
their leadership" and for responsible leaders to stop terror and
violence that is "a road to disaster for everyone," and the offsetting
need for Israel to "do more to ease the deepening humanitarian and
economic crisis of Palestinians living under occupation" and to call a
halt to settlement construction, "which has a corrosive effect on
Palestinian hopes."
The centrality of the Palestinian issue was highlighted, as well, in
comments by Osama El Baz, a political advisor to President Mubarak.
"It is in the interest of the United States to get a solution to the
problem before it is too late," he said, adding, "Sometimes the lack
of hope in the future can be very devastating."
El Baz insisted that "the Arabs have no animosity against the Jewish
people...and we have no animosity against the Israeli people." Rather,
he contended, "We have certain differences...with the policies and
practices of the State of Israel" that he said block a peace
settlement.
On the issue of terrorism, El Baz chided the United States for not
providing enough early help in the war on terror, which, he said, "we
entered long before you did." Some groups that were later described as
terrorists were viewed by American officials as "former allies in the
war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan... and that, I think,
blurred the picture," he said.
El Baz said he sees a danger in some Americans now "looking at the
entire Arab nation" as part of the terrorist threat. "It would be a
mistake of major proportions to take Osama bin Laden and like-minded
people as spokesmen for Islam. These people don't speak for us," he
declared.
U.S. Middle East Envoy Anthony Zinni focused, in his remarks, on
growing military cooperation under the "strategic partnership" between
Egypt and the United States, one that he maintained "has never been
stronger." He suggested Egyptian concerns that U.S. security
assistance is inadequate are misplaced.
"You will hear complaints (from Egypt of)...'Why can't we be just like
Israel?'" Zinni said. "I wish I had a nickel for every country that
said to me, 'Why can't we just be like Egypt?"
The former head of the U.S. military's Central Command, he called
Egypt "the most important country in the region" in strategic terms.
As for the war on terrorism, Zinni said he backed El Baz's comments
about the United States' late entry. "This region was warning us about
this long before we suffered the blow on 9/11 (the terrorist attacks
of September 11, 2001). Many of us heard that call, and that
alarm...but we weren't paying attention, and we should have been," he
said.
Broadening the focus, former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger,
who served as conference chairman, told the speakers and the audience
that he had a reputation for "putting my foot in my mouth," then
proceeded to make these points:
--The United States is "searching for its role in this post-Cold War
world, and we don't know what it is yet." Americans "worry a great
deal about whether we are being excessive on occasion" as the world's
sole superpower "and I think we have demonstrated that we are, on
occasion." Moreover, the American people "are uncomfortable with
unilateralism."
--The Israeli-Palestinian issue comes up prominently in any discussion
of U.S.-Egyptian relations. "There is an emotional relationship
between the U.S. and Israel that simply cannot be ignored...If you
expect too much of us in terms of the relationship with Israel, you
are always going to be disappointed. There are limits in how far we
are prepared to go, how far we can go...To some degree, at least, if
you're looking toward a productive relationship, you've got to set
that Israeli issue aside."
--"In the end, there is only one nation that is going to be able at
the proper time in the peace process to deliver Israel...and that's
the United States."
--"We have come to the terrorism issue late. No question about
it...(El Baz) was quite right when he said that we had, on occasion,
supported those who later on we wished we hadn't...(A policy based on)
'my enemy's enemy is my friend' is not always correct, and we are
reaping the whirlwind from this right now."
Gamal Mubarak, chief of policy for Egypt's ruling National Democratic
Party, the luncheon speaker, cited progress he said Egypt is making in
reforming its economic and political systems. Despite inevitable
disagreements with the United States on specifics, he said, "I think
we can forge ahead not only on a government-to-government basis, but
on a people-to-people basis, on the business society, on the civil
society, even on political forces."
A continued U.S.-Egyptian strategic relationship "is crucial," Mubarak
declared, "for the stability of our part of the world - the Middle
East - and even for the stability and peace and coexistence in the
world at large."
(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:
http://usinfo.state.gov)



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