UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!



29 September 2003

State's Burns Describes Four Challenges in the Middle East

Speech to U.S.-Arab Economic Forum in Detroit Sept 29

Nothing is more important for the United States today in the Near East than "getting Iraq policy right," says Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs William J. Burns.

Burns addressed the U.S.-Arab Economic Forum "Renewing Hope: An American Policy Agenda for the Near East" in Detroit, Michigan September 29.

Burns acknowledged the existence of serious obstacles in the path ahead in Iraq, but he said it would be "foolish to underestimate what's at stake." He noted the Bush administration's request to Congress for $20 billion to help rebuild Iraq's infrastructure, and said the effort "will require a steady widening of international support," through agreement on a new U.N. Security Council resolution, as well as through the Iraq donors conference planned for October in Madrid.

On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Burns said a Palestinian state "cannot be built upon a foundation of terror and violence. It cannot. On that there can be no concessions, no flexibility, no turning a blind eye." Palestinians, he said, "will have to be honest with themselves on this point, and they will have to confront those among them who would drag Palestinian dreams further down a tragic dead-end path."

But he also criticized Israeli settlements policy. "The fact is that [Israeli] settlements continue to grow today, encouraged by specific government policies, and at enormous expense to Israel's economy," Burns said. Settlement activity, he said, continues "even as it becomes clear that the logic of settlements and the reality of demographics could threaten the future of Israel as a Jewish democracy."

"For friends of Israel," he said, "the conclusion is hard to escape. Settlement activity must stop, because it ultimately undermines Israeli as well as Palestinian interests."

Following is the text of Burns' prepared remarks, in which he also discussed terrorism, and economic and political reform in the Near East region:

(begin transcript)

Department of State
Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs William J. Burns
Address to The U.S.-Arab Economic Forum, "Renewing Hope: An American Policy Agenda for the Near East"
Detroit, Michigan
September 29, 2003

Thank you very much, Ahmed (Ahmed Chebanni), for that kind introduction. I'm honored to be here in Detroit today. I deeply admire the work that you and your colleagues and Amre Moussa and the Arab League have done in organizing this conference. I only hope it is the first of many such events.

There are many different strategies for addressing an audience as distinguished and well informed as this one. Mark Twain, one of my favorite American authors, said his approach was to "keep talking until I have the audience cowed." I'll try to spare you that particular strategy this morning.

Instead, I hope my remarks can be part of an ongoing dialogue between my colleagues and me in the American government, and all of you, both in the region and here in the U.S., who have thought so long and worked so hard on the profoundly important issues of dealing with a rapidly changing Near East. I know this may shock you, but the Department of State has no monopoly on wisdom on any of these issues. If you don't believe me, there is no shortage of people in Washington these days who will confirm that fact for you.

Never has there been a time when the relationship between the United States and the societies of the Near East has mattered more, or been the subject of more debate. This is a critical moment in the Near East, with important challenges looming on many fronts -- from Iraq to the global war on terrorism to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. And it is also a moment when many Arabs and many Americans are questioning our relationship.

The fact that a recent survey by the Pew Foundation found that 94 percent of Egyptians have an unfavorable view of the United States ought to be a cause for sober reflection. So should the palpable unease of many in the United States about the Near East and prospects for the future. If ever there were a time for looking honestly at where we've been together, and for speaking some plain truths about where we're headed, this is it.

It seems to me that four interconnected challenges frame the American policy agenda in the Near East today. First, the challenge of helping Iraqis liberated from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein to build the unified, stable and prosperous country that they deserve. Second, the challenge of renewing progress toward the two state vision which President Bush has outlined, and which is so deeply in the interests of Israelis as well as Palestinians. Third, the struggle against terrorists and their state sponsors, as well as against the spread of weapons of mass destruction. And fourth, and not least, the historic challenge of supporting homegrown efforts at economic and political reform in a region which has for too long known too little of either.

I am not naive. These are enormously difficult issues, and change will not come easily or neatly or quickly. But, taken together, they offer a positive agenda for the region, and for American interests and values. They offer a basis for making common cause with people and leaderships struggling against the militant minorities who threaten us all. And they offer a basis for hope -- the ultimate antidote to the despair on which violent extremists thrive. Let me touch briefly on each of those four challenges.


I've just returned from my second trip to Iraq in the past month. I came away with a sense both of how big and complicated a task we and the Iraqi people face, after decades of brutal misrule by Saddam, and of how powerful the possibilities are before us. There can be no doubt that security and the restoration of basic services are daunting and immediate problems. So too are the issues of economic reconstruction and accelerating a political process to return to Iraqis control over their own affairs. But, there can also be no doubt that Iraqis are finally free from the terrible atrocities and waste of the regime of Saddam Hussein.

Two weeks ago, I joined Secretary Powell on his visit to the memorial at Halabja, where 5000 Kurdish men, women and children were gassed to death by Saddam in 1988. Last month, I visited the mass grave at Mahawil, where more than 10,000 Shia victims of Saddam were executed in 1991. I cannot imagine anyone visiting those places and not understanding the fundamental wisdom of President Bush's decision to act against Saddam Hussein. Saddam's "republic of fear" is gone, and it will never return.

Ambassador Bremer and our coalition partners are hard at work with Iraqis to shape a more hopeful path. 46,000 Iraqi police have been rehired, and Jordan has agreed in principle to host training programs for thousands more. Essential services are being restored, with electricity generation nearly back to prewar levels. Jobs programs are in place to employ Iraqis in rebuilding transportation and municipal infrastructure.

The Iraqi Governing Council and new Iraqi Cabinet Ministers are taking on more and more responsibility for national policy. A legal framework for a truly independent judiciary has just been announced. The Governing Council has recently endorsed new tariffs and world-class reforms to open the country to productive foreign investment. The process of drafting a constitution or a democratic Iraq has already begun. Elections will follow, as part of a clear, orderly and rapid plan for restoring full authority to Iraqis themselves. The Arab League has taken an important step in accepting Iraqi representatives, underscoring the vital role that other Arab countries can play in Iraq's re-emergence as a stable and constructive force in the region.

It would be foolish to underestimate the obstacles on the path ahead. But it would be equally foolish to underestimate what's at stake. Continued progress will take enormous effort and resources, as the President's request to Congress for $20 billion to help rebuild Iraq's infrastructure makes clear. It will require Iraqis to retake ownership of their own future as rapidly as possible. And it will require a steady widening of international support, through the new UN Security Council resolution now underway in New York as well as the donors conference in Madrid next month.

Nothing is more important on America's agenda in the Near East today than getting Iraq policy right. We and the Iraqi people and our partners in the international community have our work cut out for us, but we're pointed in a direction that can, and must, succeed. We simply cannot afford the alternative.

Israel and the Palestinians

Alongside Iraq, there is a second compelling, complicated and endlessly frustrating challenge on our policy agenda: how to rekindle some sense of hope for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. I hardly need to tell any of you in this audience that that hope is in very short supply right now. It is evaporating in the understandable rage of Israelis suffering through horrible acts of terror. It is being swallowed up in the deep frustration and daily humiliations of Palestinians living under occupation. And what is being lost in the process is the vision of two states that President Bush laid out on June 24, 2002.

The truth is that both sides must see a different reality emerging than the one they see today. Israelis must see an end to terror, and hope for a final end to the conflict and full acceptance in the region. Palestinians must see their dignity respected, their hope restored for an early, negotiated end to the occupation which began in 1967, and the creation of a viable, independent state of their own.

Such a Palestinian state cannot be built upon a foundation of terror and violence. It cannot. On that there can be no concessions, no flexibility, no turning a blind eye. Palestinians will have to be honest with themselves on this point, and they will have to confront those among them who would drag Palestinian dreams further down a tragic dead-end path. As President Bush has emphasized repeatedly, a transformed Palestinian leadership is essential. Ending violence and reforming Palestinian political institutions are not a favor to any outsider -- they are deeply in the self interest of Palestinians, and the only workable path to statehood and the end of occupation.

Arab states have a critical responsibility to encourage such an approach, and to fulfill their pledges at the Sharm el-Sheikh Summit last June to cut off funding and other forms of support for extremist groups. The rest of the international community has responsibilities too, and the recent decision by the European Union to designate Hamas as a terrorist group is a welcome step. All of us must act decisively and be willing to take risks for peace if hope for a two-state solution is to be preserved.

But the emergence of a Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel is not just a dream of the Palestinian people. Its realization is intimately connected with Israel's future too, and the kind of Israel that Israelis will pass on to their children and grandchildren.

The demographic picture is very stark. By 2020, Jews will be a minority in the area encompassing Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. As Israeli settlements expand, and their populations increase, it becomes increasingly difficult to see how the two peoples will be separated into two states. The fact is that settlements continue to grow today, encouraged by specific government policies, and at enormous expense to Israel's economy. And this persists even as it becomes clear that the logic of settlements and the reality of demographics could threaten the future of Israel as a Jewish democracy.

For friends of Israel, the conclusion is hard to escape. Settlement activity must stop, because it ultimately undermines Israeli as well as Palestinian interests. The course of the security fence is a significant problem as well -- not its existence as a separation barrier between Israel and the West Bank -- but because its planned route inside the West Bank isolates Palestinians from each other, prejudges negotiations, and, like settlement activity, takes us further from the two-state goal.

Just as it is essential to drive home to Palestinians that violence and terror will never achieve their aspirations, so too it is important to preserve the possibility that a viable state can be achieved by a Palestinian leadership committed once and for all to ending terror. That reality underpins the President's continued personal commitment to his June 24 vision, to the Quartet's roadmap as a means of achieving it, and to holding all parties accountable for performance of their obligations. The simple fact remains that roadmaps don't implement themselves. There can be no substitute for hard work from all of us, for a willingness to face up to hard truths about what is required to rekindle hope, and for hard choices by all the parties -- Palestinians, Israelis and Arab states alike.

Struggle Against Terrorism and WMD

A third policy imperative for the United States in the Near East is the ongoing struggle against terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. I'll just touch on a few of the major challenges we face in this area.

Let me start with Iran, about which not only we but an increasing number of other countries have profound concerns. The IAEA has painted a very troubling picture of Iran's nuclear program, and its non-compliance with its NPT responsibilities. We are determined to bring maximum pressure to bear against Iran's continuing pursuit of WMD programs, as well as its continuing support for Hizballah and the Palestinian extremist groups bent on destroying hope for any workable peace process. And we will continue to encourage the Iranian people in their calls for democracy, human rights and economic reform -- goals which they richly deserve to achieve, and which the current clerical regime will never bring them.

Syria poses another challenge. Secretary Powell made unmistakably clear to President Assad last May that the United States remains committed to comprehensive peace, including on the Syrian and Lebanese tracks. But he also laid out candidly the range of our concerns and what it would take to build a more normal relationship. I reinforced the same message in Damascus last month. The point is that the Syrian regime has some tough choices to make. It can continue to harbor and support groups like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and engage in behavior that threatens our interests in other areas. Or it can act in ways that reflect new strategic realities in the region and help restore hope for a resumption of the Syrian-Israeli track, encourage the emergence of a stable Iraqi neighbor, and create a better economic future for Syria. But it can't have it both ways.

Libya is a different kind of challenge. Through long and determined diplomacy, backed up by multilateral sanctions and in partnership with the courageous families of the victims of Pan Am 103, we were finally able earlier this month to achieve Libyan performance on obligations more than a decade old: chief among them, acceptance of responsibility and payment of compensation. In the process, Libya has moved away from terrorism. Those are positive steps.

The next problem before us, and it is a serious problem, is Libya's pursuit of WMD programs. We have made very clear to the Libyans that any possibility of movement on our bilateral sanctions, which remain firmly in place today, will depend on verifiable abandonment of WMD programs.

Supporting Economic Modernization and Democratic Change

The fourth element on our policy agenda, intertwined with the other three, is the longer-term issue of supporting efforts from within the region aimed at democratic change and economic modernization. Let me offer a few observations on prospects for political reform, and then talk about what we're doing to help open up economic opportunities throughout the region.

I have been an American diplomat for 21 years, through four Administrations. I have spent much of that time working on Middle East issues. It is a fair criticism of all of our efforts during those years to say that we have never paid adequate attention to the long term importance of opening up some very stagnant political systems, especially in the Arab world.

That is not just a matter of American values, or of ensuring basic human rights, crucial as both of those concerns are. It is also a matter of hardheaded American interests. Stability is not a static phenomenon, and political systems that do not find ways to gradually accommodate the aspirations of their people for participation will become brittle and combustible.

The Near East is no more immune from that reality than any other part of the world. I know there are some who argue for a kind of Arab or Muslim exceptionalism on this score, but I simply don't agree. Of course it's true that Arab societies have more than their share of dilemmas to work through, but that doesn't mean that they are incapable of gradual democratic change. Assuming otherwise is both flawed analysis and a dangerous basis for policy.

When I and other American officials talk about the need for gradual democratic change in the Near East, some people may try to interpret our use of the word "gradual" to mean just cosmetic or constantly postponed changes. That would be a mistake. Democratic change in most Arab countries will necessarily be gradual given the host of challenges they are facing, the accumulated political pressures, and the sheer difficulty of building democratic societies and governments anywhere. But though I speak of gradual change, I am still speaking very much of the need for real change.

There's no single path by which countries achieve democracy, no one size-fits-all prescription. But some general challenges are clear enough.

Arab states will need to expand the space for institutions of civil society -- independent media, citizen's advocacy groups, women's organizations, and many others -- to organize and actively carry out their work. States need to improve their basic practices of governance. This means reducing corruption and cronyism. It means responding better to the daily demands that citizens place on their governments, and building genuinely independent judicial systems. Arab leaders must also take on the hard work of making elections more inclusive and more fair, and giving more power to those institutions whose members are chosen through open elections, like the many parliaments that are now slowly gaining credibility and power throughout the region. As all of you know as well as I do, elections alone do not a democracy make. Yet without regular, free and fair elections, no country can call itself a democracy.

These are ambitious tasks; ones that countries all around the world have struggled with in their hard climb to a better political future. But to hold Arab states to any lesser standard is to insult the tremendous capacity for learning and development that the Arab people have demonstrated throughout history.

Without urgent and significant economic modernization, it's hard to imagine how societies in the region will find the space within which to shape stable, evolutionary democratic reform. It will be hard enough even with a renewed sense of economic hope. As things stand now, the economic outlook for many Arab regimes is far from hopeful. Per capita incomes are stagnant or dropping; 45% of the population of the Arab world is now under the age of 14, and the population as a whole will double over the next quarter century; and unemployment hovers at 20%. That is not exactly a healthy environment for constructive political change, and it underscores the significant challenges the region will face in opening up economic opportunities as well.

Another plain truth, but one which we as Americans ought to keep carefully in mind, is that enduring democratic change and economic modernization must be driven from within Arab societies. They can't be imposed from without. What is encouraging across the region today is the extent of self-examination underway, and the tangible steps that some countries are taking towards political and economic reform. The 2002 Arab Human Development Report has become a kind of touchstone on this topic, but constant references to it only underscore the eloquence of its authors' argument that gaps in economic openness, political freedoms, educational opportunity and women's empowerment obstruct the realization of the vast human potential of the Near East. The hard reality as we enter the 21st century is that countries that adapt, open up, and seize the economic and political initiative will prosper; those that don't will fall farther and farther behind.

Across the region, there are signs that some leaderships and civil society groups grasp that hard truth. Women voted and ran for office in Bahrain's elections last year. Qataris approved a new Constitution, and a woman has been appointed Minister of Education. King Mohammed of Morocco, with whom President Bush met in New York last week, has launched an impressive reform program.

So has King Abdullah of Jordan, with whom President Bush met at Camp David earlier this month. Reform is making a difference for Jordanians. One statistic that I like to cite, as a former Ambassador to Jordan, is that Jordan's exports to the United States have increased from barely $10 million in 1998 to over $600 million this year. That is no accident. It is the result of bold Jordanian decisions to reform, and the creative use of U.S. policy tools, particularly Qualifying Industrial Zones and the bilateral free trade agreement that we concluded in 2000. And the rise in exports to the U.S. has created new jobs for Jordanians -- as many as 40,000 in recent years, many of them for women who had never been able to work before.

Saudi Arabia and Egypt remain critically important partners for the United States. Both face enormous challenges. Especially since the terrorist attacks in Riyadh last May, Crown Prince Abdullah has acted decisively to strengthen counter terrorism cooperation. He has also begun to offer a vision of gradual domestic reforms, and proposed a broader "Arab Charter" for enhanced political participation and economic revitalization.

In the last 30 years, a genuine partnership has emerged between the United States and Egypt. It has been founded not on sentiment or imagined bonds, but on a bedrock of shared interests and aspirations. It has also had its share of setbacks and differences and mutual disappointments -- but it would be a serious mistake to forget what it has meant for both of us, and for the hopes of the region.

There are many things the United States can do to help those in the region committed to opening up economic, political, and educational opportunities in their societies. President Bush outlined a number of ambitious new ideas in his May 9 speech in South Carolina, including a U.S. Middle East Free Trade Area within the coming decade. Secretary Powell earlier launched the Middle East Partnership Initiative, and several innovative programs are already underway to encourage reforms. One good example was last week's judicial reform conference in Bahrain, where Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and jurists from throughout the region exchanged views and experiences.

As that Bahrain conference made clear, success in these endeavors requires real partnership. That means a two-way street, in which we in the U.S. government actually listen to advice and criticism and proposals from the region -- something which I know seems like an unnatural act for American officials.

That also means tapping into the enormous energy and expertise and talent of all of you in this room from outside the government. You know better than we ever will how to make the private sector work and build a sense of entrepreneurship. If all people in the Near East hear are pronouncements and prescriptions from U.S. policy officials, Americans will wind up on the region's "do not call" list. We have to get beyond a conversation that is focused only among government officials and regional political elites.

Expanding that conversation will require striking the right balance in America between protecting our borders and our citizens from new threats in the post-September 11 world, and remaining the open society on which so much of our sense of national purpose and identity depends. I know that many in the region fear that counter-terrorism measures at the U.S. border will slam the door on the Arab and Muslim worlds. We must not let that happen. We cannot afford to lose contact with the next generation in the region.

This is a momentous time in the Near East. As I said at the outset, I have no illusions about how big the challenges and difficulties will be. But courageous thinkers and leaders in the region -- many of you in the audience among them -- have begun to chart a path of hope and opportunity. President Bush is determined to do all he can to help. If we can apply American power with a sense of purpose and perspective as well as humility... if we can press ahead vigorously on an agenda that includes Israeli-Palestinian peace; a unified, stable and prosperous new Iraq; defeating the terrorist groups who threaten us all; and supporting home-grown efforts at economic modernization and political reform ... if we can understand the connections between those issues and what's at stake for American interests for many years to come ... then a time of crisis can become a turning point, a turning point in which hope begins to replace the despair on which violent extremists breed.

Thank you.

(end transcript)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list