U.S. Policies in the Middle East
Thank you, Rocky. It's a pleasure to be here, among old colleagues and friends
who share a common experience and appreciation for the Middle East. In this
regard, allow me to pay special tribute to the work of the Middle East Institute
and its supporters. Allow me to pay tribute, too, to your prescience. Who but
you would have known that October 16, 1998 would land smack in the middle of the
most important period for the Middle East peace negotiations in several
years...and thus the most important Middle East weekend of the year, and more.
Current events in the region are testimony to the foresight of Ambassador
Christian Herter and the Institute's founders, who recognized the importance of
the Middle East to American interests and appreciated the need for greater
mutual understanding. Since its establishment over 50 years ago, the
Institute's programs, publications, and library have served us well by educating
the public and opinion leaders on the region's complexities and their relevance
to the United States.
I have been asked tonight to speak about those complexities and to examine some
of the problems and opportunities for U.S. policy in the region.
In some ways, the problems of the Middle East are not distinct from those that
we face throughout the world. With an average population growth rate of 3%,
the region is beset by the same demographic explosion which is putting dangerous
resource demands and social and political pressures on countries throughout
Africa and Asia. The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their
delivery systems is a global threat, which concerns not only the Middle East,
but Europe, South Asia, and East Asia, as well. As the Embassy bombings in
Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam so horrifically demonstrated, terrorism represents an
international scourge, which is not confined to a single geographic area. The
accelerating evolution of an interdependent global economy makes Middle Eastern
markets vulnerable to the fiscal and trade upheavals now affecting Russia and
several of the Asian tigers.
The Middle East is no longer the isolated, exotic enclave romanticized by the
likes of Doughty, Lawrence, Thesiger, Philby, and Bell. Rather, it is a modern,
vital member of the complex web of international institutions, information
linkages, and transnational relationships euphemistically referred to as "the
global village." But also a modern region with a venerable and vital history
which touches all Americans.
The Middle East thus presents unique challenges. Many of its more intractable
problems have their roots in the region's long history and require special
consideration. Foremost among these, of course, is the Arab-Israeli dispute.
Its antecedents date back thousands of years. The common traditions of the Gulf
states have allowed for decades of interdependence and a close and cordial
security relationship with the United States. Saddam Hussein uses history by
invoking the legacy of the Babylonians to legitimize his aggressions and Iraq's
persistent refusal to rejoin the family of nations. Across the Middle East,
radical movements exploit religion for political ends, positing a false
dichotomy between Islam and the West. Even moderates in the region speak of a
"clash of cultures" when discussing relations with the U.S., and chastise us
for what they perceive as double standards and an anti-Islamic bias. Huntington
is perhaps more in vogue in the Middle East than the Middle West.
The truth is that Islam is one of America's newest, but fastest-growing
religious faiths. In mosques across the country, millions worship as part of
the complex web of American life, respected by friends and admired by neighbors.
Americans are beginning to understand that Islam, Christianity, and Judaism
share much in common and honor a single god. Indeed, each was born and found
favor in the Middle East, the common crucible of our religious heritage.
The history of the Middle East has also given the region's political
institutions a distinctive character, which influences how we deal with them.
The Free Officer and Ba'athi movements, the creation of the modern Gulf
sheikdoms, Hashemite and Saudi rule in Jordan and Central Arabia, respectively,
and the political structures in North Africa were all in a direct and material
way influenced by the outside and by colonial experience, whether Ottoman or
One of the more distinctive characteristics of the region, in this regard, is
the unusual longevity of its regimes. Most of its leaders have been in power
for over 20 years. King Hussein has led Jordan since 1952. King Hassan
ascended to the throne of Morocco in 1960. The UAE has had only one leader
since independence. In 1970, Sultan Qaboos came to the throne of Oman, and
Hafez al Assad seized control of Syria. Colonel Qadhaffi took power in Libya in
1971. Next year will mark the 20th anniversary of Yemen's Ali Abdullah Saleh
and Iraq's Saddam Hussein as heads of state. With only 17 years as Egypt's
President, Hosni Mubarak, is one of the Middle East's more junior leaders in
time of service, but certainly not in terms of Egypt's enormous prestige and his
leadership role in the peace process.
This continuity in leadership has resulted in a remarkable degree of internal
stability. Alternatively, you could argue that it graphically illustrates the
degree to which the region's political institutions are underdeveloped. Either
way, it poses a particular challenge in planning for the future. In some cases,
such as that of Jordan and Saudi Arabia, the path for succession, when it comes,
is clear. In others, such as Syria and Iraq, the politics of regime transition
are anything but obvious or certain.
We must manage these myriad issues with due regard to both their global
character and special regional considerations. Our policies combine continuity
and innovation, multilateralism and American leadership. I should also point
out, especially to a group such as you, that these issues require of us policies
which are not only consistent with American interests, but also take into
consideration the views of our allies in the region and the social and political
forces which influence their decision-making. Virtually, every issue of common
concern with the countries of the Middle East has a cultural dimension to it.
To be effective in the region, we must understand and take these dimensions into
account, not necessarily to the point where they determine our actions, but at
least so that our decisions are not made in an intellectual vacuum or dispensed
to a misunderstood public or leadership. If you examine our policies in any
number of areas, I think you will find that we are making a special effort to
accommodate these sensitivities and political realities.
Some parties, for example, have argued in a fit of oversimplicity that our war
against terrorism is a war against Islam. Nothing could be further from the
truth. We view terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction
as transnational threats which require a multilateral approach. While America
must lead, we cannot adequately protect ourselves by acting alone. Only by
working together with our international partners and through international
organizations can we hope successfully to contain the spread of missile
technology, nuclear and chemical weapons, or acts of terror.
That being said, if and when American interests are under direct and imminent
threat of attack, we will not, and should not, hesitate to act. Such was the
case last August, when we had compelling information about operations planned by
Osama bin Laden and his associates, directed against American embassies abroad.
Despite Sudanese claims to the contrary, the evidence implicating the al Shifa
factory in the manufacture of chemicals for use in weapons of mass destruction
was clear and convincing. But for political reasons, Sudan continues to argue
for an international mission. May I say that there is more than a little
cynicism in Sudan's request, now that the rains have begun to wash the soil.
However, let me be clear: we would welcome Sudan's return to the international
community. I have spoken with the Sudanese foreign minister and made clear
that Sudan should demonstrate its seriousness of purpose by signing the Chemical
Weapons Convention. At that point, its sites would be open to investigation in
the same manner as other signatories. Signing CWC would be a step toward more
responsible behavior. Our strikes against the factory and bin Laden's camps in
Afghanistan were a firm but measured response to this threat, one that had to
balance our respect for the Arab people and Islam with our concern to protect
our own citizens from exposure to attack and the possible use of chemical
weapons. The strikes were not directed against the people of Sudan or
Afghanistan, and they were confined to specific, limited sites. It is important
now that we look to the future and work with renewed vigor to strengthen the
bilateral and multilateral cooperation necessary to contain the threats of
international terrorism and chemical weapons.
Multilateral diplomacy is our preferred means for dealing with Iraq, as well.
The United States remains as determined as ever to ensure that Iraq never again
presents a threat to its neighbors and the international community. This is a
commitment made by the Bush Administration to which we continue to adhere. Our
goal is full Iraqi compliance with its obligations under all UNSC resolutions.
To that end, ensuring the effectiveness of UNSCOM and the IAEA, and maintaining
Security Council unity and the broader international coalition in support of
sanctions, are the focal points of our efforts.
Saddam's aims are twofold: to end the sanctions regime and to retain his
weapons of mass destruction capability. In the face of this challenge, the
international community must remain steadfast and resolute. We are working
through the UN Security Council to ensure that the full extent of Iraq's wmd
program is accounted for and disarmed. Until that is the case, sanctions will
remain in place. The periodic controversies over UNSCOM access to inspection
sites and Iraq's refusal to cooperate with UNSCOM and IAEA do nothing to alter
this fact. We will not be drawn in to playing his game, to responding to his
every provocation. For all its bluster, Iraq remains contained within the
limits imposed as a result of Saddam Hussein's folly 7 years ago. As we look
ahead, we will decide how and when to respond to Iraq's actions based on the
threat they pose to Iraq's neighbors, to regional security, to vital U.S.
interests, and to the Iraqi people, including those in the north.
Rest assured that while we continue to give every preference to a diplomatic
solution, through the work of the Security Council, the Secretary General, and
other members of the international community, we retain in the region the force
necessary to back our diplomacy. As he has shown in the past, Saddam
underestimates that threat, because he doubts that we are ready to use the force
deployed to protect our interests. The lesson now, as it was in the past, is
that it is high time to come into compliance with UN resolutions. The bottom
line is that if Iraq tries to break out of its strategic box, our response will
be swift and strong. We will act, but on our own timetable, not Saddam
Our friends in the Gulf have been steadfast and reliable partners in this
endeavor. Security cooperation with the Gulf states, much of which goes back
for many decades, has been instrumental in successfully confronting Iraq's
aggression and containing its regional ambitions. Beyond the question of
security, however, the Gulf states have been at the forefront of economic
liberalization, protection of intellectual property rights, and regional
integration, which makes them among the most progressive and modern in these
areas in the Middle East.
Special mention must be made of our efforts to help the Iraqi people. The
intent of economic sanctions against Iraq is to deny Saddam Hussein the means to
threaten his neighbors and the region. They are not directed against the
innocent citizens who are victims of their government's misguided policies.
Saddam Hussein has cruelly and cynically exploited the suffering of his people
to raise international support for the lifting of sanctions. Many countries,
including most in the Arab world, have been vociferous in their criticism of
sanctions as unjustly punishing the Iraqi people for the decisions of its
leadership. We believe that such criticism is not well-founded. In point of
fact, the international community is doing more to care for the people of Iraq
than their own government is or has. After 5 years of Iraq's refusal to accept
UN programs to assist its people based on permitted oil exports, Iraq negotiated
for 2 years and then accepted the UN's proposal. The United Nations, led by the
United States, has undertaken the largest humanitarian effort in its history to
minimize the negative impact of sanctions on the people of Iraq. Under the oil-
for-food program, and upon the recommendation of UNSYG Annan, we have now
authorized Iraq to sell up to $5.2 billion worth of oil every six months. A
portion of the revenue from these sales will ensure that the people of Iraq are
provided with the food, medicine, and other humanitarian supplies which its
government has been deliberately denying them in order to exploit their
suffering for propaganda purposes.
The Washington Talks at Wye River are another example of our continuing
commitment both to long-standing American policies in the region and to the
needs of the people in the region. Building on what was begun in Madrid and
shepherded through Oslo, these talks are the culmination of a long period of
hard work. The President, Vice President, and Secretary of State are deeply
engaged in completing a process built on American proposals and opening the door
to final status negotiations, where more difficult tasks lie ahead: resolving
the divisive questions of Palestinian statehood, resettlement of refugees, and
the status of Jerusalem. However hard we may work to advance this process, we
cannot want peace more than the parties themselves, and it is they who must make
the tough decisions.
The atmosphere at Wye has been constructive and pragmatic. The purpose of these
discussions is to make as much progress as possible on the interim issues. It
is not designed to address permanent status issues. The setting brings together
experts and political leaders. Their proximity to each other over the course of
a long weekend is facilitating interaction.
Throughout this process, the Secretary of State has made it clear that there
should be no doubting the Clinton Administration's commitment to Israel's
security and its people. That commitment has been unshakable and has been
demonstrated repeatedly--in our joint struggle against terrorism, in the
assistance to Israel that the American people have so long and so generously
provided, and in the steps we have taken to ensure Israel's qualitative military
edge. At the same time, we have agreed with Israeli leaders from Prime
Ministers Ben Gurion to Begin to Rabin to Netanyahu that the key to long-term
security for the Israeli people lies in lasting peace. That is why we have been
working so hard to resolve the present impasse. We cannot assert for ourselves
the right to determine Israel's security needs. But we can continue to assert
our belief that peace is the best guarantor of security.
Parallel to our diplomatic efforts to bring peace to the region, the number of
Palestinian and Israeli victims of violence continues to mount. Last week's
demonstrations in Hebron, the recurring random attacks against individuals, and
the ever-present threat of a large-scale terrorist incident remind us of the
fragility of this process and the urgent need to address the pressing demands of
the people on the ground.
The real measure of peace is the stability and prosperity it brings to people's
lives. Israelis and especially Palestinians who suffer more economic, political,
and social disadvantages, must be free to realize and actually see concrete,
material gains from peace--increased trade, free markets, improved standards of
The interim agreement expires May 4, 1999. It would be in the interests of all
involved--and especially of the people in this region--for the parties to make
the most of this period. It is a matter of history that when there is no
progress toward peace, a political vacuum develops, which can give rise to
political extremism or violence. The parties must move quickly to stay one
step ahead of events and bring into fruition the long-awaited final status
talks. The present talks have narrowed the issues and brought the sides
together. They alone, with our help, can determine the outcome. The results
will make a large difference to the area and its people.
Let us not forget that the peace process is more than just talks between the
Israelis and Palestinians. It consists also of the Syrian and Lebanese tracks.
Although we have been concentrating our energy on the Israeli-Palestinian
relationship, we recognize that the Syrian and Lebanese negotiations are also
crucial to the achievement of a comprehensive peace, and we are eager to re-
energize them. 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
indicated its willingness to implement UN Security Council Resolution 425 on
withdrawal of its forces from southern Lebanon, if it has appropriate security
guarantees. The U.S. supports the implementation of UNSC Resolution 425. We
want to see Lebanon free of all foreign forces and its sovereignty and
territorial integrity preserved.
The ever-present potential for conflict in this region has been dramatically
demonstrated over the past several weeks in the dispute between Turkey and Syria
over the latter's support for the PKK. Turkey's threat to use of force should
Syria continue its support of the PKK set off alarm bells in capitals throughout
the region and beyond. We are relieved that for the moment, thanks to the
skillful efforts of leaders such as President Mubarak of Egypt, diplomacy has
prevailed and conflict has been averted or dampened. This incident is a
reminder, however, that dangerous flash points in the region can erupt on short
notice and that we and others must be prepared to contain them quickly through
responsive and forceful diplomacy.
The outcome of the efforts in the peace process will affect our policy on a wide
range of other regional issues, giving Arab governments more space for dealing
with other pending issues. The political map of the region is clearly changing.
Secretary Albright's Asia Society speech this June was one initiative designed
to respond to some of the opportunities these changes present. Since the
election of President Khatami, we have noted a shift in Iranian thinking about
its relationship with other countries, including the U.S., and we have made an
effort to respond in a similarly positive way. After two decades of hostility
and estrangement, it is time to work toward better relations. In addition to
more cultural and academic exchanges as a means of building greater confidence
between our peoples, we are ready to explore other ways to build mutual
confidence and avoid misunderstandings, and we are prepared to do so as soon as
Iran is ready.
As we work toward that goal, it is important that our two nations communicate
directly, openly, and frankly with one another. In his September speech to the
Asia Society, Foreign Minister Kharazi said that Iran would adopt policies based
on the "guiding principle of replacing confrontation and tension with dialogue
and understanding." While we agree with the Foreign Minister on the need for
international cooperation on Afghanistan and narcotics, we believe his criticism
of American policies reflects misunderstanding and the long divide that
separates our two peoples and cultures, especially over the last 20 years. At
this point, the United States would like to go beyond the exchange of rhetoric
to address the substance of our relationship. We have proposed a process of
parallel steps to build a new relationship, and we are ready to engage in such a
In our relationships with the countries of the region on the full range of
issues which I have discussed this evening, the United States is very sensitive
to the charge that it is hostile toward Islam or harbors cultural biases toward
the Arab and Islamic world. Our critics in the region are often quick to
characterize our actions as the reflection of a clash of cultures. This was the
refrain heard in the aftermath of the strikes in Sudan and Afghanistan, echoed
by Hamas militants opposed to the peace process or apologists for Saddam
Hussein, and taken up by radical political movements throughout the region.
During the Bosnian conflict, we often heard the criticism that our response was
too slow because of our indifference to the suffering of Muslims at the hands of
Christian aggressors. This theme is being taken up again in the context of the
fighting in Kosovo. Our firm and determined response to Serbian aggression
there should serve to refute the charge of indifference and to reassure our
friends in the Middle East the we are not insensitive to the suffering of
innocent victims, whatever their religion may be, at the hands of a harsh and
President Clinton and Secretary of State Albright have spoken forcefully and
frequently of our country's respect for Islam and the people who practice this
faith. Islam has now established firm roots in America and is a religion whose
moral teachings we admire and recognize as a source of inspiration and
instruction for hundreds of millions of people around the world.
As I hope my remarks have made clear, the perceptions of bias by Muslims both
abroad and at home is something we can neither belittle nor ignore. We must
recognize that these perceptions can adversely affect our objectives in the
region. For this reason, the issue of mutual understanding is an important
element of our policy, as exemplified in our attempt to build a new relationship
with Iran and to increase the level of people-to-people exchanges as part of an
interim agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. If we are to overcome
decades of mistrust and suspicion, we must do a better job of understanding one
another. This is not for academic or altruistic reasons, but for reasons of
This brings me full circle. I began by noting that your organization contributes
greatly to building this mutual understanding. Long may it be so. It is in the
best interests of all in the region, whatever their nationality or religion. It
is truly in the best interests and best traditions of this country. All of us
engaged in the foreign policy of this country thank you for it and wish you a
good year ahead, and many others to follow. It has been an honor to speak here
tonight. Thank you very much.
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