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R.N. Burns: Jewish Material Claims Against Germany

Remarks Before the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany

R. Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary for Political Affairs
Museum of Jewish Heritage
Washington, DC
August 20, 2005

(As prepared)

Thank you very much, Israel [Singer], for that kind introduction and for inviting me to speak at this meeting of the Board of Directors of the Claims Conference. The Claims Conference has a long and distinguished history of assisting Holocaust survivors, and I am honored to have been asked to address you and so pleased to meet leaders of Jewish communities throughout the world who are here today. I would like to acknowledge you, Israel, and Julius Berman, Roman Kent, Moshe Sanbar, and Gideon Taylor for your leadership of this organization. You and your colleagues are well-known and respected in the Department of State in Washington.

I am here, on behalf of Secretary Condoleezza Rice, to recommit the U.S. government to close cooperation with the Claims Conference for compensation and restitution to Nazi victims.

Securing a measure of justice for Holocaust survivors is not a new endeavor for the United States. The U.S. Government has had a long involvement in Holocaust restitution and compensation issues, beginning with our Military Government in post-World War II Germany over 50 ago. Then, as today, the Claims Conference has been a key partner in this effort.

This was particularly true in recent years when the United States supported the Claims Conference in urging a unified Germany to establish an additional fund for those Holocaust survivors who had previously received little or no compensation prior to unification. From 1999 to 2001, the United States Government again played a pivotal role in the creation of additional funds from West European countries, including one in which the Claims Conference has had a particularly large role: the German Foundation "Remembrance, Responsibility and Future." The United States and the Claims Conference continue to sit together on the Board of Trustees, and I would like to recognize our Special Envoy, Ambassador Edward O'Donnell, who could not be here today, but whom you know and who has a close and productive working relationship with you on these matters.

Importantly, we recognize that one open item in obtaining a measure of justice for Holocaust survivors and their heirs is ensuring that all countries, including those in Eastern Europe, enact comprehensive and fair measures for the return of private and communal property lost during the Nazi era. The resolve of the United States Government has remained unaltered. The Governments of Eastern Europe must meet the challenge of enacting -- and implementing -- legislation that addresses and secures property restitution for Holocaust survivors. This remains an outstanding moral issue that must be solved. We shall assist the Claims Conference and other Jewish organizations in working with Eastern European Governments on this issue.

I wanted to take the opportunity to talk to you about those issues on which we are working together directly through the Claims Conference, but also wanted to spend most of my time today talking to you about one of this Administration's most important foreign policy priorities: ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in the Middle East.

There are few goals more important to President Bush and Secretary Rice than helping the Palestinians and Israelis achieve the vision of the Road Map: two states, living side-by-side, in peace and security. In April, President Bush said: "The United States and the state of Israel have a deep and lasting friendship based on our shared values and aspirations for a peaceful world" He said that we are committed to Israel's security and well being as a Jewish state, including secure and defensible borders. We're committed to preserving and strengthening Israel's capability to deter its enemies and to defend itself.

With President Sharon at his side that day, in Crawford, he also said that the we, "support the establishment of a Palestinian state that is viable, contiguous, sovereign and independent." He committed the United States to continue working with the international community to help the Palestinians develop democratic political institutions, build security institutions dedicated to maintaining law and order and dismantle terrorist organizations, reconstruct civic institutions, and promote a free and prosperous economy.

These activities are among our highest priorities. I often say that Secretary Rice has not appointed a Special Envoy on Middle East Peace because she feels that it is one of her most important tasks. She works on this issue every day talking on the phone to both parties, to neighbors and allies and our ambassadors on the ground. As you may know, Secretary Rice is headed back to Israel this week, as part of a trip to Africa and the Middle East.

The weeks ahead are hugely important to peace prospects for the region. We believe that a successful Gaza disengagement is critical in setting the stage for future progress. Aside from daily work by the Secretary and a countless number in the State Department, the United States is working through two outstanding individuals Jim Wolfensohn and General William Ward sent to the region to work hands-on with the Israelis and Palestinians.

The missions of Jim Wolfensohn and General Ward are to help both parties with the hard work necessary to achieve a successful disengagement and beyond. We've engaged other states in the Middle East, as well as the broader international community, and we have the direct leadership of senior levels of the U.S. government in bringing these elements together.

Secretary Rice has been to the region twice, making stops in Jerusalem, Ramallah and in neighboring countries to push for this support, and will do so again this week. She has also raised these issues in international gatherings, from Quartet meetings in Moscow and London to the recent G-8 foreign ministers' meeting in London, where it was a central topic of discussion. And President Bush has placed this issue as a high priority in many meetings with his counterparts, as well.

We believe that these activities are starting to show some results. Israelis and Palestinians are now concentrating on practical issues that we hope will make Gaza disengagement a success.

Security is perhaps the most critical of these issues, and particularly fulfillment of the commitments made by Israel and the Palestinians at the Sharm el-Sheikh meeting in February. They're discussing their concerns with each other, and we're intensively engaged in helping them to make progress.

As we work to ensure a successful withdrawal from Gaza, we're very much aware of the constructive role that most of the international community can and should play in supporting efforts toward peace. Unfortunately, there are also states, such as Syria, whose recidivist support of Palestinian extremist groups is an attempt to block Israeli and Palestinian desires to achieve peace. And Iran, a country out of step with the rest of the region, which continues to deny that Israel has a right to exist.

Notwithstanding these unhelpful efforts, Israel, the Palestinians, the United States and the international community are committed to making disengagement a success. A successful Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and orderly Palestinian takeover there will help re-energize the Road Map, and bring us closer to realizing the two state vision laid out by President Bush.

Disengagement is scheduled to begin in mid-August, just a few weeks time. The Palestinians and the Israelis have begun to work coordination issues through a system of technical committees set up to deal with security and economic issues related to the disengagement. Some progress has been made, but again, more remains to be done. Overall, Palestinian performance on confronting violence has been far from satisfactory, and this is a real shortfall and area of concern.

The main challenges can be divided into two categories: improving the security situation and creating the conditions for growth in the Palestinian economy. In the first category security our work is led by General William Ward, the U.S. security coordinator. He has devoted his full-time effort to the security reorganization of the Palestinians.

The past six months have seen some positive developments on the security front, but a recent increase in violence in Gaza and the West Bank makes it clear that more must be done. The announcement by Secretary Rice, in Jerusalem a little over a month ago, that Israel and the Palestinian Authority agree that Israeli withdrawal must proceed peacefully and without violence was an important one, because both parties have now gone on record that peaceful disengagement is crucial for the success of the entire process.

President Abbas has taken some concrete steps toward security reform, particularly in announcing security consolidation under an empowered minister of Interior, General Nasser Yousef. And General Ward is working intensively with the Palestinians. But, still, complete reform is not going to happen overnight. Under General Ward's leadership the international community is providing assistance that we appreciate. For example, the European Union and Egypt are providing training for security forces.

The second pressing area of concern is development of the Palestinian economy. Here the efforts of the international community are led by Jim Wolfensohn, who is the Quartet's special envoy for disengagement.

He met recently with the Quartet principals, both in Moscow and in London, and with the G-8 foreign ministers. They have endorsed his work and his mission. He's focusing on coordination of the non-military aspects of withdrawal, as well as economic revitalization for the Palestinian economy.

The Israelis and the Palestinians have made progress on two key economic issues in recent months. They agreed together that removal of the existing settler homes in Gaza is the most sensible course of action. They also agreed that an improved flow of people and goods in and out of Gaza and between Gaza and the West Bank is necessary for economic revival.

The United States is not the only country working vigorously with the Israelis and Palestinians in support of peace. The broader international community can also advance the peace process in many ways, including providing economic assistance and helping with security training and reform.

I want to emphasize that the Arab states have a key, unique role to play in promoting peace. They have a special responsibility to provide economic assistance to the Palestinians and to press for continued reform of the Palestinian Authority. But they can also move this process forward by resuming contacts with Israel, reopening trade and representative offices, and abandoning the Arab League boycott. Above all, Israel's neighbors in the region have an obligation to clearly oppose those who would support terrorism or work against the peace process.

Gaza disengagement does hold the possibility of reenergizing the Road Map, which is the only plan on the table. We believe that the Road Map and existing mechanisms, including the Quartet, the missions of Mr. Wolfensohn and General Ward, and of course our diplomatic posts in Tel Aviv and in Jerusalem, are the best avenues for moving the parties forward on both disengagement and Road Map obligations, which for the Palestinians include confronting violence and dismantling the terrorist infrastructure, and for Israel include halting settlement expansion and dismantling authorized -- unauthorized outposts.

We'll continue our work through these channels to promote and ensure peaceful, orderly disengagement, which we hope will trigger progress along the Road Map and move us closer to that goal of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Released on August 26, 2005


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