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Powell IV With Middle East Broadcasting Center

Interview With Aziz Fahmy of Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC)


Secretary Colin L. Powell
Hilton Hotel
Rabat, Morocco
December 11, 2004

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, first thank you very much for taking the time to see us.

SECRETARY POWELL: My pleasure.

QUESTION: There is no doubt that today is a historical day in many senses. What do you feel you have accomplished today?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well I think what we have accomplished is to put reform, the reform agenda, in the center of this part of the world. I was so impressed that leaders from throughout the broader Middle East and North Africa came here today to talk about their reform efforts, what they want to get done. And leaders from the G8 and other nations from far away, such as Japan, part of the G8, came to listen and to see how we could support this reform effort.

Many people have the wrong impression that somehow this was something the United States and the G8 was imposing on the region. Quite the contrary, the region wants reform, the region is reforming. So let's get all these reform efforts put together and see how the industrialized world can help.

QUESTION: The sides of these two issues we are talking about history, and I want to ask a historical question. The sides of these two initiatives the European nations and the North African Middle East nations have been in international conflict over world supremacy for two thousand years; the Roman Empire, Muslim Conquest, the Crusades, the period of colonization. We can dismiss this as history, but the problem is we have people like Dr. Huntington of the Clash of Civilizations predicting and insisting today that the international conflicts of the 21st century is between Islam and the West. And I think today you are here as a testimony to challenge his theory.

SECRETARY POWELL: I do challenge the theory. And what's interesting is that Prince Saud, the Saudi Foreign Minister, in his speech today specifically spoke to this. He says there is no clash of civilization. We are, if we look at our history, if we look at our great religious texts, we all believe in human rights, we all believe in the sanctity of life, we all believe in freedom and peace and reconciliation. So, don't call it the clash of civilizations.

And what we decided to do today is to have civilizations cooperate. Yes, there is a history, but we are always writing a new history every single day. And the history we decided to write beginning today is a history of reaching out to each other, reform, modernization, helping the people of the broader Middle East and North Africa to create better lives for their families and for their young people through empowerment of women, through entrepreneurship, through literacy efforts to make sure that our youngsters know how to read and write, if they aren't able to read and write, how can they participate in a 21st century economy? The United States and Morocco have entered into a Free Trade Agreement. The Millennium Challenge Account, we're going to be providing assistance to Morocco. And each country in the broader Middle East and North Africa has its own history, its own culture, its own state of political development, and we will adjust to that country and its needs and its aspirations.

QUESTION: You mentioned many times and you insist that each country in the region will adopt or design its own reform and pick its own pace to it. This has been a request by the Arab partners for a long time. This fact that there has been a change in the American position made a lot of Arabs feel that now we are starting to get some kind of ownership of this initiative. What's your reflection on this?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think the broader Middle East nations and North African nations do have ownership of this. And the United States never intended to try to impose a single reform agenda on the region. That wouldn't be possible, it wouldn't work. And why should you accept a reform agenda from the United States? Who knows the country better than its own leaders, its own people, its own religious people, its own civic society, its own business groups? So let reform be designed.

Now, we have a lot of experience. We are successful, industrialized nations, so we know quite a bit about entrepreneurship, the creation of capital, the use of capital. We know a lot about trade and investment. And let us help you, but not impose anything on you, because to impose would be going back to the history you talked about, a history that is a very mixed history. We're not going back there. We're going forward as partners.

QUESTION: There is we are interested that the Palestinian reforms has to come first before the U.S. would push for the two-state solution. And we, our leaders, think that the real problem is the lack of political solution in the region. How do you bridge this gap? I talked yesterday to His Excellency Mohamed Benaissa, and he was thinking that we can do the two things simultaneously: reform and the peace process.

SECRETARY POWELL: We have to. Reform stands on its own merits; it is not connected to the peace process. If the peace process was completely successful now and we had that Palestinian state in being, that we hope to see come into being, we would still have youngsters who can't read, who have the same economic and political problems within the region. And so while I understand the importance of the Palestinian issue, it can't be used as a reason not to move forward with the reforms that are going to be needed, with or without the Palestinian problem.

So what Mr. Benaissa was saying, and I agree with him fully, is that we have to move forward in reform. And it's not as if we started reforming today. Reform has been taking place in the region. What we're doing now is bringing the industrialized world together with the reforming nations of the broader Middle East and North Africa region and accelerating it and bringing greater coherence to all the efforts that are underway.

QUESTION: But is the Palestinian democracy a pre-condition for pushing for the peace process?

SECRETARY POWELL: We have been pushing for the peace process for several years. And in the post-Arafat period there is a new opportunity because the Palestinian people are about to elect a new president of the Palestinian Authority on the 9th of January, and that will give us an elected leader that we can deal with. And we are asking the Palestinian people now, the Palestinian Authority now, reform yourselves, get ready to take over Gaza when the Israelis pull out of those settlements, and they are pulling out of settlements in the West Bank. Get ready to get into the Roadmap and reform yourselves so that everybody will see that there are no longer any excuses for not moving forward. Palestinians are reforming, they are putting in place responsible government based on the rule of law. They are putting in place security forces that will deal with terrorists and make sure that they are no longer able to operate freely. And when that happens, then Israel has its obligations. And the United States and the international community, the Quartet, are prepared to have both parties get going on the Roadmap so we can march through these steps, get the final status discussions between the two parties and achieve what we all want, and that's the creation of a Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace with Israel.

QUESTION: Allow me to go to Iraq in relation to democracy. The Kurds formed a Kurdish coalition, and then the Shiites a few days later formed a Shiite coalition. Are you concerned that this could, sort of, put the seeds for dividing Iraq in the future across ethnic and religious lines.

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't think so. That's not necessarily the outcome. There's a lot going on. What's fascinating is that you have all of these individuals and parties and groups in Iraq that are thinking in terms of how do we win an election. Iraqis have never had to worry about his question before. But now you have this political democracy unfolding before our eyes, and the first test of it will be on the 30th of January when the elections are held.

Now obviously, the Shia are the dominant group in Iraq, and I would expect that it would have the majority representation in the transitional assembly in the government, that's to be expected. But the transitional administrative law, which they're operating in a constitution already, protects the rights of the minority. So even though there may be a majority in the government, the minority is protected under the law that has been written in the constitution that we hope will be ratified next year.

QUESTION: The United States achieved the wonderful democracy it enjoys today in 200 years. Europe took 100 years to accept this kind of democracy. And a lot people here have concerns that the U.S. is asking the Arab region to accomplish in a few years what the U.S. accomplished in 200 years. What do you say to those people?

SECRETARY POWELL: It didn't take us 200 years to accomplish the democracy that we enjoy. We started out with a democracy. It wasn't perfect, it was flawed. People such as me, if their skin was my color or your color, you weren't even considered a real citizen. Nevertheless, the documents were there, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and we knew where we wanted to go. And we got started in 1776, and yes, it's taken us 228 years or so to get where we are now, and it's been a struggle all the way, but we started with the basic concepts of a democracy. And why should the Arab world be unable to do this and do it at a faster rate than might have been done 100 or 200 years ago?

Some people suggest, well, Arabs can't be expected to move that fast. Why not? Everybody knows how a democracy works. Everybody understands what free elections are all about. We have the Internet and communications and television and means of educating people. And what's interested is the polling we have done, and the Iraqis have done, suggests that the Iraqi people are fully aware of what an election is all about and what democracy is all about. There are so many examples in the world now of functioning democracies. And so many people can see that the only system that really works now in the 21st century world is a democracy. That this process can go along rather quickly. And there is experience. Take a look at Afghanistan. Three years ago, Afghanistan was the most repressive regime in the world, run by the Taliban and controlled by Al-Qaeda. And just this past October, what did they have? A free, fair, open election. And what did they have a few days ago? The inauguration of a freely elected president of Afghanistan, Mr. Karzai. Now, they did that in three years. And so it can be done.

QUESTION: Okay, last question. The Bush administration did not invite Syria, Libya and Iran to the meeting in New York. Morocco insisted on inviting them. All of them came, except Iran. What's your reaction to this? Were you angry that Morocco insisted on inviting them?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, Morocco was the convener of the meeting, and they invited those that you indicated, and if all of them had shown up, I can assure you that I would have been ready to engage with them. I have done similar events, "Six-Plus-Two" meetings they used to be called with Afghanistan, the Iranians came to that and the Iranians were at Sharm el-Sheikh just about two weeks ago.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, one last question. What do you think people would remember of your legacy in these four years?

SECRETARY POWELL: I tried to do my best for my country, for the president, and tried to do everything I could to reach out to the world and deliver an American message of democratic values, of economic freedom, of the individual rights of men and women. We've done a lot with respect increasing the assistance that we give to the world. We've done a lot to deal with diseases like HIV/AIDS. We've eliminated a couple of tyrants in Saddam Hussein and the Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. And that I tried to do it to the best of my ability.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much. We will miss you.

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you so much.

[End]

Released on December 11, 2004

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