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Round-Table Interview with Rose Al-Youssef

Round-Table Interview with Rose Al-Youssef Magazine

C. David Welch, Ambassador to Egypt Remarks to Egyptian Magazine Rose Al-Youssef Cairo, Egypt January 20, 2003

Rose Al-Youssef: First, we welcome you here to Egypt, Mr. Ambassador of the number one country in the world and a country that is a close friend to Egypt. And we are endearing (i.e. valuing) these relations, which are sounding very healthy relations between the two countries. We have a lot of questions, so we ll try to make it as short as we can.

Why Egypt was included in the list made by the U.S. to subject the Egyptian citizens to the harsh procedures for entering the country and staying in, despite the fact that Egypt was one of the countries that really fought terrorism and have a long experience with that?

Ambassador Welch: Mr. Mohamed, thank you so much for allowing me to come here. I will do my best to answer all your questions. And please feel free to ask me anything you wish. I am grateful for the chance for you to listen to my voice to explain American policy.

You asked about the treatment of Egyptian citizens. First of all, let me say that we welcome people from this country in the United States. Most Egyptians, of course, travel to the United States legally, that is, with a visa and for legitimate purposes. And we are not at all worried about Egyptians. In fact, we wish to open our doors more to people from Egypt.

Today, as compared to before September 11, the number of Egyptians, the percentage of Egyptians who apply for a visa to the United States and who receive it is almost exactly the same. Most people, who apply for an American visa to go to the United States for legitimate purposes, receive it. Recently, we have begun new procedures and controls for those coming into the United States and for those who wish to stay there, perhaps to study, to work, but who are of other nationalities. This is a difficult thing for us to do because, as you may know, there are many visitors to the United States. Here in Egypt you know how difficult it is when you have many visitors because you have lots of tourists. But, by comparison in my country, there are over 30,000,000 visitors a year -- many, many people. Yet, we feel a need to improve our security after September 11th. The job for us is to balance security with openness and a welcome to people. First, we started -- with respect to these measures about which you are asking -- we started with a small group of countries to begin to ask their citizens, when they come to the United States temporarily, if they are going to stay longer than 30 days, that they register with our authorities so we know where they are, if they are doing this for a legitimate purpose. If they re staying less than 30 days, khalass -- no problem.

We are expanding the list of countries to which these procedures apply; and yes, we have now announced that Egypt will be one of those. But, please pay attention to another fact. Within just two, at most three years, every country and its citizens will be part of these measures. Let me pick an example: Brazil, France, China, Pakistan, India; in other words, everybody. I m asked a lot about registration. This is not against Egyptians in particular, or Arabs in general, or even Muslims. May I point out one fact?

Rose Al-Youssef: Yes.

Ambassador Welch: You register people in your country if they are guests, am I not correct?

Rose Al-Youssef: Yes.

Ambassador Welch: Mish Mushkilla huh? These are the laws of Egypt. We respect the laws of Egypt. Last week I gave speeches to the American community in Egypt. I reminded them that it is necessary to carry your identification card when you are in Egypt, because it is the law. This is registration, is it not? We do not feel that we are discriminated against. We wish to observe the law. If we are not observing the law then we should be subject to the laws of Egypt.

Rose Al-Youssef: That s very good. Now we come to a point, the insistence of the United States on the departure of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein as a substitute, instead of waging war, they want to deport him from his country. Don t you see that this is some sort of an intervention in the internal affairs of states, whose people selected and elected the President in a way that they are following and they are content about it. Doesn t this oppose the concept of democracy?

Ambassador Welch: There are several points I wish to address in your question. First, do the Iraqi people enjoy a legitimate choice for who is their leader? I think around this table we are all serious people. We can agree that this choice is not offered to the Iraqi people. They have who they have as their president.

Second point: Yes, the United States is prepared to look at any option that would save everyone from having a conflict. War is not our choice. It is not our preference. If Saddam Hussein were to decide that he should, for the sake of his country and his people, leave that would be a good thing. And yes, we do definitely advocate the removal of this man and his regime from power. But, our purpose right now is the disarmament of Iraq. If that can happen by peaceful means through the United Nations Security Council and the inspection mechanism, then we will be satisfied. I believe you will ask me later on about whether we are satisfied with this situation as it is. Saddam is, for the Iraqi people in my view, my humble view, I m not an Iraqi, but I know many Iraqis and I have been to Iraq several times. He is a nightmare for the Iraqi people, and the majority of them -- 99.9% of all Iraqis -- are decent, want a good future, and deserve better.

Rose Al-Youssef: There are rumors now that there are some sort of secret deals to deport Saddam Hussein to another country and namely Libya was mentioned. Can you confirm this?

Ambassador Welch: I m sorry. I m not in a position -- I honestly don t know the answer to that question. Several senior American officials have been asked about this in recent days and we have expressed our preference, which, you know, the future of Iraq would be better without Saddam Hussein; and if he goes, then that s a good thing. But no one has come to us and made any information available about such an offer. I ve seen items in the international press mentioning moves by Qatar, maybe even Turkey or Saudi Arabia, but to my knowledge, this is just speculation in the media. No one has come to the United States with such a proposal.

Rose Al-Youssef: I think it is confirmed. Now we can see some huge anti-war riots, even in the United States, and particularly the United States. They are saying, not war, not war and there are similar riots raised up in Europe, Canada, Australia, and even the Arab countries. All of them are opposing war against Iraq. Does the United States consider these desires on behalf of the people all over the world?

Ambassador Welch: We are concerned for public opinion everyplace, but of course, especially in the United States, at home; this is the responsibility of our elected leadership to pay attention to the people who vote them into office.

Mr. Mohamed, you mentioned anti-war riots, or actually demonstrations, there have been no physical clashes, so riots is a bit of a strong term.

Rose Al-Youssef: They were arrested today. Washington arrested them today. It was mentioned on the CNN.

Ambassador Welch: Today?

Rose Al-Youssef: Yes. FBI

Ambassador Welch: During the night?

Rose Al-Youssef: I think yes.

Ambassador Welch: Because I didn t see any news from yesterday on this. Is this people who were causing some confrontation?

Rose Al-Youssef: It was said that FBI arrested them in Washington. Of course, that was mentioned on CNN. It was a big story I think.

Ambassador Welch: I think then that there must be some individuals who are involved in confrontation or maybe intending to make some trouble. There were many demonstrators in Washington on Saturday -- peaceful people. And they were not arrested. You saw them on television. They were permitted to make their demonstration.

In America we have a fine tradition of public dissent. In our country we take pride in the ability of people to disagree, as long as they do it peacefully. And, in fact, here in Egypt I don t mind if people disagree with our policy and express themselves peacefully. We do not object to demonstrations near our Embassy if they are peaceful. But it must be done, of course, within the laws of Egypt. This is subject to the authorities here. In my own country, if you ask for permission and it is given, then you can have a demonstration. And as you notice, there were big demonstrations, lots of different views, politicians speaking to them, and this is natural. Again, we want this debate. This is how you test whether public opinion -- how it views the problem. But please bear in mind that there are a large number of people who are not demonstrating, because maybe they agree with the policy.

Rose Al-Youssef: The question raised in the United States now is, why people hate the Americans? And the question is still hanging on inside the United States and they ask in particular why the Arabs hate us. As Ambassador of the United States, in one of the biggest Arab countries, which is Egypt, do you think that there are reports that confirm hatred to the Americans? Have you noticed this inside Egypt? Don t you think that hatred is raised day after day, mainly because of the American policy that is completely biased to Israel?

Ambassador Welch: Well, to be fair to me, maybe I should also ask you this question. Again, as I mentioned for the answer to the last question, I think it is okay to have a disagreement with our policy. I mean I would prefer that you support our policy, and I will argue to you why you should, but at the end of the day if I don t convince you, you are entitled to your own decision. And if you say that one of your conclusions is that you hate this policy, okay, fair enough. You obviously feel strongly about it. I make a distinction between that and this so-called hatred of Americans or America. I hope it is not true that people here hate America and Americans, even if they may do so because they disagree with our policy. This is an important difference, because I don t like some of your policies by the way. But I don t hate you, any of you, because you may support those policies. I respect the people of Egypt. I like them actually. You are a good, decent people. You have a great country. And I think most Americans feel exactly the same way. We don t hate Arabs. We are a little worried and scared these days because of what had happened to us. Such a feeling is legitimate. But we should not allow it for either side, to extend to a wholesale condemnation of people because of where they come from, what their religion is, or what their ethnicity is. This would be a big mistake. And if it is happening, please tell me, because it would be very disturbing.

Rose Al-Youssef: No, no, nobody hates anybody else. We don t hate. But we would like to ask you, Mr. Ambassador, did you receive any warnings from the officials here, saying that the Americans citizens are in danger in this country?

Ambassador Welch: We do not know of any specific threat to Americans in Egypt.

Rose Al-Youssef: You don t feel that?

Ambassador Welch: No, we don t feel that. The authorities here have not warned us about anything in particular. They are very vigilant. Of course, you know, we don t know what we don t know, and I think everybody now is worried that some criminals might do something, whether it s in London, in Bali, in Nairobi, Sanaa, Amman, in New York. You know, I am sorry to say that the terrorists will look for the easiest place to do this or where they can have the maximum publicity, even if the security is very good, and even if the public doesn t support them.

Rose Al-Youssef: Mr. Ambassador, you have stated a few days ago that there are five Egyptian detainees in Guantanamo base. What do you know about these five detainees and do you know the names? Are they members of the Al Qaida organization or what is the nature of these people?

Ambassador Welch: This is a sensitive subject and it is a classified matter between our governments. All the information we have is known to your government. The number of Egyptians in detention at Guantanamo is very small. Sometimes there s a public impression, even in the United States, that that number is higher. Most of the detainees there are from other places. That s good news and it s bad news. It s good news because it s always nice to know that these people who are affiliated with terrorism are not maybe from your country. It s bad news because they are there. I mean, they are meaning to do harm to us.

Rose Al-Youssef: They are everywhere, aren t they?

Ambassador Welch: They are everywhere, unfortunately. Can I answer one more point though, which is not directly related to this question. There are Egyptians in detention in the United States. I don t know the exact number and your embassy in Washington is working very hard to find out who these people are. They re in detention for immigration violations, not for terrorism crimes. This is a very different thing, you know, and there are lots of people in detention in the United States for immigration violations. Be very careful not to confuse these two points. .

Rose Al-Youssef: Very important.

Ambassador Welch: because it harms the image of your country if that confusion is made.

Rose Al-Youssef: Next question is, we have noticed that, Your Excellency, you prepared tours, different tours in the Governorates of Egypt and you are keen to hold seminars and to get in touch, direct in touch, with the people, the Egyptian people. This was not a custom with your predecessors. Do you have a thought on that or your philosophy on this?

Ambassador Welch: Well, I would like your advice on this. I think it is very important for Americans to listen. I think it is very important for the American Ambassador to Egypt to listen to Egyptians. In my first year here, I spent a lot of time, of course, in Cairo, but also Alexandria, I visited the north and south Sinai, some places in upper Egypt; but to be honest with you, I was not satisfied that I was doing enough to get out and feel your country. So, I have been trying in the last six months to do that more. I don t know whether I am succeeding or not. You all would have to tell me.

Rose Al-Youssef: It has been well perceived.

Ambassador Welch: I hope it has been well perceived. I read in some (inaudible) in the press, though, that they don t like it.

Rose Al-Youssef: No, no, no, I feel [it was] a success.

Ambassador Welch: People were commenting about visits I have made to Upper Egypt. There are 10 million Egyptians in Upper Egypt. I think that it would be good for them to see who the American Ambassador is; and I m willing to listen to what they say. I enjoy this. It s good to feel the different places and different atmospheres and hear what the concerns are. You would never understand the United States, ladies and gentlemen, if you spent all your time in Washington, D.C. You would have a very limited idea of what America is like.

Rose Al-Youssef: Yes. I think so. So this is important.

Ambassador Welch: Well, you ll have to tell me if it is working.

Rose Al-Youssef: I think it is. It is very important to know, to feel the true feelings of Egyptians and true needs. I think it is important.

Rose Al-Youssef: We move to the next question about media reports from different countries, speaking about the cool American-Egyptian relations. Do you think that is true and do you see that these relations still are (inaudible) on strategic relations between Cairo and Washington?

Ambassador Welch: We have a friendship that goes back many years. Our relationship with Egypt is a strategic one for the United States; and I believe, from what I know of the comments and declarations of the leadership of Egypt, from President Mubarak on down through the government, that this is also a strategic relationship for Egypt. We would like to make good relations even better. I think I must be honest, though, in saying that in the last couple of years, because of developments in the region, and because of the events of September 11th, our job has become harder. It s harder for America to project a good image in this part of the world, and Egypt in particular, and it s harder for the Arab world, and Egypt in particular, to project a good image in the United States. Some of this is due to some differences we may have from time to time which we can work on. But, as we look at this, we must understand that there s a big challenge in front of us that is how to improve that image, how to improve the communication, and how to be more effective in meeting the interests of both sides -- whatever those are. I don t think it s a good idea to declare ourselves content with a good relationship. I think we must work harder to improve it.

Rose Al-Youssef: I believe that. Regarding the Turk initiative: does the United States encourage this initiative and is it possible to support it by committing itself to give guarantees that they are not going to the, the Americans are not going to judge or try Saddam Hussein in the future as a criminal of war or war crimes or something, if he is to agree to leave the country?

Ambassador Welch: First, on the Turkish initiative, we ve heard about this from the Government of Turkey and some of our friends here in the Arab world, including Egypt. But the initiative is not to invite the United States; it is to invite a discussion among some countries in the region. So, we re not asked to respond. To the extent we understand this initiative, it s designed to make it very clear to the regime in Baghdad that it must answer the international community on their demands. And if that is the intention then, we have no objections. It seems to be a healthy development. But, to be honest with you, I don t know what the response is from those who have been invited. I think the Egyptian response is positive from what I read in the press. But, when I saw the Foreign Minister the other day, he said that Egypt had not made a definitive judgment yet. And I believe that is because they were consulting you, or consulting with Jordan and Saudi Arabia and others about how to respond and what should be the format. And I don t know, to be honest with you, the exact status of this question today.

Second, you asked about what would happen in the event that it becomes a serious idea that Saddam should leave, and that some question is put to the United States about guarantees, for example. I said earlier, we have no serious proposal that I m aware of yet; but our Secretary of Defense, for example, was asked this question yesterday on television in America. And I would like to quote his words, I think that war is your last choice. This is Donald Rumsfeld speaking. I think that war is your last choice. I would be delighted if Saddam Hussein threw in the towel and said the game s up, the international community has caught me and I ll just leave. To avoid a war, I personally would recommend that some provision be made so that the senior leadership in that country and their families could be provided safe haven, provide haven in some other country. I think that would be a fair trade to avoid a war. Now I mention this, not because this is a judgment that our government has made officially, but it is obviously an opinion from a very senior member of our Administration. We will look at any serious idea to avoid a war. Our preference is not for a war. Our preference is to see the disarmament of Iraq, and ideally, Saddam Hussein should go. We don t have the question, yet, about guarantees. If we get some such question, we shall try and answer it. This is a serious matter, rather than just rumor in the media.

Rose Al-Youssef: Apart from the big gap between the American stance regarding the assumed weapons of mass destruction obtained by Iraq, we have a good example here in the Middle East that Israel has real substantial weapons of mass destruction. Now we see that there is a difference between handling these affairs in Iraq and, on the other hand, with Israel and at the same time, we have a big gap, big difference, again, between Korea, North Korea and Iraq. North Korea also obtained this kind, and if we have abstention, weapons of mass destruction, obtained by Iraq that is still negotiable and still unsettled. Do you think this is an even-handed policy or there are things which make this situation different?

Ambassador Welch: This is a complicated question. Of course, we have an even-handed policy that we don t want proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. This is a fundamental in our foreign policy. But, I hope that we could agree that we need to take a careful look at each situation that arises. The tools you may use for one situation may not be the same as the ones you would use for another situation. I think it is very important, also as a fundamental of foreign policy, not to be temped -- always to have the same answer. For example, I always tell the American press when I am speaking to them as I am speaking to you now, that American policy in the Middle East should make a distinction between the countries (inaudible). After all, would you consider that Egypt is like Yemen? That Kuwait and Egypt are exactly alike? Every situation has its own context, its own history, its own background. And we need to be smart in understanding those situations. Iraq is a very special case. Iraq signed agreements that it would not possess weapons of mass destruction -- nuclear, biological, and chemical. Am I correct?

Rose Al-Youssef: Yes.

Ambassador Welch: These agreements go back many years.

Second, unlike every other country in the world, and unlike every country in the Middle East, including Israel, Iraq violated those agreements and worse, used those weapons on its own citizens.

Number three. Iraq invaded and tried to swallow another country. The Security Council, representing the international community, said no, no more. Once Kuwait was liberated, the rules were laid down, making Iraq a very special case. Those rules, and I would encourage you sometime to look at them again, what they are -- the decisions of the Security Council. They presumed that Iraq is guilty -- not innocent. It presumed Iraq is guilty because it violated the previous agreements; it has and has used these weapons, including against its own people; and it started a war and tried to obliterate another nation. The international community said, now look, Iraq must prove it s innocent. It is not up to the international community to prove that Iraq is guilty. It already decided that. And to this day, Saddam Hussein ignores this. Saddam Hussein has never met, in 12 years, never met the chief inspector of the UNSCOM or UNMOVIC. Will Mr. Hans Blix meet Saddam Hussein today? You know why? Because Saddam Hussein could give a damn, excuse my French, about this. He does not intend to respect his international obligations. Iraq was asked to pass a law, a simple thing, make a law; after all, all the members of the Iraqi National Assembly we know are freely elected, independent thinking. They were asked to pass a law making it illegal to work on weapons of mass destruction. Have they done such a thing? They have had 12 years to do so.

The list goes on and on. And even now, we see examples of his arrogance. He made a speech and they told us it was going be to apologize to Kuwait for what he did. But what did he say in his speech? He said, Kuwaiti people, I am sorry for your situation. You cannot be to blame for what your leadership and the Americans have done. Till this day, he accepts no responsibility for what happened. He says he wants to explain his position now to the Arab world. So he sends Tarek Aziz to North Africa; and who does he ask to send to Egypt? Do all of you know who the man, Ali Hassan Mejid, is? Ali Chemowi (laugh), the man who dropped these weapons on the people of Iraq. The man who was made governor of Kuwait, after the regime tried to swallow Kuwait and make it the 19th province. And Saddam Hussein, what message is he sending to the Government and people of Egypt when he says, please accept my envoy? I will leave it to you to decide whether this is diplomacy or an insult.

Rose Al-Youssef: Do we understand from this that Washington is supposed to make the Middle East a free zone from weapons of arms?

Ambassador Welch: We think the objective of Middle East that has no weapons of mass destruction is a very good and positive goal. We, as I said, have as a fundamental of our foreign policy to prevent the further proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. And in answer to your earlier question, we do not accept that such weapons should be in anyone s hands. This is an issue that should concern all of us. We believe that in the context of peace between Israel and its neighbors, we should come to this topic on the agenda and address it. Israel, too, should become a member of the Nonproliferation Treaty. We believe in the universality of the Nonproliferation Treaty. This is why we re concerned about North Korea s withdrawal from the same treaty. It s not something that should be taken lightly. It is a serious matter for everybody.

Rose Al-Youssef: Well, the following question is that the experience of India and Pakistan assures that when it comes to a matter-of-fact or obtaining weapons or arms of mass destruction, at this point, neither Washington nor the whole world do anything. They just leave the thing as it is.

Ambassador Welch: Well, I have to disagree with you on this question. We are very concerned about the situation between India and Pakistan; and we made a lot of effort to try and prevent the tension from growing. We re deeply worried about the possession by both sides of nuclear devices and about the developing potential that they have to deliver those devices using missiles. This is something that can t be taken lightly, given the history between these two countries and the potential for further tension. So I don t agree that we ve ignored it. The question is how best to deal with it. And there, we believe that a process of negotiation, including with international involvement and our diplomatic help, is necessary. I think, actually, the situation in India and Pakistan reminds of us precisely of how important this problem is and how we can not ignore the risk; because, given the history between these two countries where there have been wars before, there s a big risk that events get out of control, and we must avoid that, because now they are in possession of weapons that are potentially very, very damaging to their people.

Rose Al-Youssef: What happened? Nothing was done to them.

Ambassador Welch: Oh, I think the Pakistanis and the Indians would both disagree. I think they would characterize American performance on this as probably more heavy-handed (laughter). I think both sides were quite upset over the sanctions that we put in place and also concerned about our effort to gather further international pressure on both regimes.

Rose Al-Youssef: But still, that leaves the situation with Iraq as unique of all the other nations that already possess

Ambassador Welch: That s true and rather than disagree with that, I will agree with it 110%. I would ask you to examine the reasons why it is unique, and why it has been judged to be unique. And this was not an individual judgment of the United States -- it was a collective judgment on the part of the Security Council, arrived at many times, and including positive votes by Arab members of the Security Council.

Rose Al-Youssef: Well, that brings us to the question about the Security Council. It says that some states like Russia, France, Saudi Arabia, have asked for new resolution from the Security Council to approve waging war against Iraq. Washington confirmed that it does not need any resolution. Does this mean that waging a war on striking Iraq does not really need a new resolution from the United Nations?

Ambassador Welch: As a general matter, we take the position, traditionally the United States takes a position, that we do not need the authorization of the Security Council in order to act. In this specific case, that of Iraq, we are confident that there is going to be a discussion in the Security Council. I think Secretary Powell addressed this question yesterday. He mentioned that he expects some debate. We re not sure of what the debate will be about, what positions the various members of the Council will take. We don t know the context at the time. Events are moving very quickly. What we say today may be different two weeks from now. We don t know what Mr. Blix and Mr. Baradei will report. When we have that information we shall examine it. I m sure all the other members of the Security Council will examine it, too. In the past, the Security Council has taken such decisions. It may do so in the future. In the past, the Security Council has not been able to take such decisions. For example, in Kosovo, it was necessary to act in Kosovo. We will see what this situation is like. I don t think we can answer this question right now.

Rose Al-Youssef: Well, that brings us to the last question which is that this current situation between Washington and Iraq would have been as such if the 11th of September event didn t take place, or is it because of these events that this situation is becoming very tough and very complicated?

Ambassador Welch: Iraq is a very special, unique case, and we were quite concerned about Iraq before September 11th. However, your question is a smart one. I think after September 11, certainly Americans, but not only Americans, are really very concerned about their security; and we believe that we have a responsibility to our people to minimize the risk wherever we can. Perhaps that means a change in our views about unique situations such as Iraq. I think, I would hope, that you can put yourselves in the shoes of Americans and try and understand what it means for our country to have happen what happened on September 11. We now have some time to think about it -- more than one year. Perhaps other people in the world are used this kind of terrorism, and you had very bad incidence of terrorism in Egypt. But we re not used to it. Somebody does what they did, the way they did it, I think it affects a lot of people in the United States. To this day, they want to have a greater sense of their own security. They re demanding that of the American leadership. And we are a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. It s our responsibility to protect them.

Rose Al-Youssef: We wish all the best for the American people and the United States

Ambassador Welch: May I ask if your colleagues have any questions?

Rose Al-Youssef: Yes, of course.

Rose Al-Youssef: It s obvious that you don t adhere from [agree to] Ali Chemowi or Ali Mejid. Whom do you think is the proper envoy that should be sent and be accepted by the Americans?

Ambassador Welch: It s not our decision about Ali Chemowi. I just told you, if I were Saddam and I were trying to do this more seriously, it s easy to pick a different person. I think there is a message for you in the selection of this individual. Maybe I m wrong. Maybe you don t agree with me.

Rose Al-Youssef: Perhaps he s seeking advice as what to do with his Chemowi. (Laughter).

Ambassador Welch: But you know, Tarik Aziz (inaudible) his job. They have a foreign minister. It s not a very sophisticated move (laughter). But it is not our decision. It s up to Saddam and it s up to the Government of Egypt what they do.

Rose Al-Youssef: (inaudible). But the other question from our colleague here was saying: if the international inspectors were to confirm that Iraq does not possess weapons of mass destruction, would this (inaudible) imminent war against Iraq?

Ambassador Welch: It s not the job of the international inspectors to confirm that Iraq is disarmed. You have to be very careful on this point. Iraq was asked to disarm and it must prove it. When Resolution 687 was passed, it said, within 15 days you will declare everything you have and then the UNSCON will verify its destruction. So the job of the inspectors from the start was not to confirm what Iraq said; but instead to say with confidence that they re sure that they did it. What did Iraq do? Four thousand days later it has still not made an honest declaration. And you don t have to take my word on this. We have our information, but you don t have to take my word. You can look. Every international examination made by the Security Council and others, is Iraq declaring everything, or not, and it s not. What do we think it still has? That information is there. It s written. It s a public document. And still, even this latest declaration didn t answer those old questions. These are the simplest ones to answer because they are written there. They can start from this. It s been there for 3 years. They can start from that and make an honest answer. They don t want an honest answer. They prefer to have the weapons of mass destruction, even if it s great cost to their people. If the inspectors were suddenly to receive an honest answer, and they were to be able to say, this is the truth then Iraq would be disarmed and there would be no war. But I don t think that Saddam Hussein has that intention, although I don t know what is in his mind.

Rose Al-Youssef: Actually, I don t believe he has weapons of mass destruction.

Ambassador Welch: If he doesn t, he could do a much better job of proving that he doesn t.

Rose Al-Youssef: Well, it s a false feeling of pride. That s what it is.

Rose Al-Youssef: May I have permission to ask you one question please. Your Excellency, don t you think this war will destroy the economies of the Arab countries?

Ambassador Welch: First of all, if I have given you a feeling that there is a war coming, I don t mean to do so. We prefer to avoid a war. The best solution for everybody, including our economy, is that there is no war. But we are not prepared to accept the risk of living with Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction. If there is a conflict, it will have some economic effects. How big that effect is depends on too many things that we cannot answer right now. But I don t believe it s going to be as big as everybody is worried.

Rose Al-Youssef: (inaudible).

Ambassador Welch: I don t know, but my feeling is that perhaps not.

Rose Al-Youssef: You have opened the appetite for more further questions so

Ambassador Welch: I want to be fair to everyone. I assume you collected the questions from everybody but

Rose Al-Youssef: Yeah, but still they need more (laughter). They are never satisfied. Now, while you are asking about the case of Aboul Abbass, which I don t know, why the United States have asked to hand him over to Washington from Egypt? They asked this from Egypt, despite the fact that his case was closed by an American court.

Ambassador Welch: Very interesting case. His case is not closed. He is under indictment in Italy. Aboul Abbass and the people who work for him in the Jebha are terrorists and they should be brought to justice. The crime was committed on an Italian ship and they have the indictment against him. I imagine they still want him. If he ends up in an Italian jail, that s fine by me. I don t think there s any desire on the part of the Government of Egypt to deal with a person like this. We have our concerns about him.

Just on the side, I ve known this group for a long time. I was posted in Syria when the Achille Lauro hijacking took place, and Mr. Leon Klinghoffer, a disabled man, old man sitting in a wheelchair, was murdered by these people and then thrown overboard from the ship. His body came ashore in Tartus. Do you all remember this?

Rose Al-Youssef: Yes.

Ambassador Welch: My wife was serving as the Consular officer there, and we have to, under our law, we have to identify the body. And she was the one who identified this poor man -- shot in the head at close range, sitting in a wheelchair.

Rose Al-Youssef: It was said that Washington would like to strike the dialogue, the Palestinian dialogue, taking place in Cairo now. Is this true and the United States does not approve of this dialogue?

Ambassador Welch: We believe that the necessary first step is to achieve security and stability between Israel and the Palestinians so that there is no violence and no terrorism. That is an essential beginning. It s not sufficient to solve the problem, but without security and stability, you can t even begin the process of serious negotiations. The Egyptian Government has shown creativity and leadership under difficult circumstances, dealing with this problem. We have had many discussions with them about a ceasefire negotiation. We wish them luck. It s not easy. I believe that answers your question.

Rose Al-Youssef: Yes.

Ambassador Welch: Off the record for one minute on this point. (Recorder turned off, then back on)

Rose Al-Youssef: was these people and we are looking forward for another meeting in the future, whenever you see or we see that it is essential or necessary. Thank you so much.

Ambassador Welch: Thank you very much. Thank you for the questions and for listening.

Rose Al-Youssef: Thank you. [End]

Released on March 10, 2003

© Scoop Media

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