Rice With Egyptian FM Ahmed Ali Aboul Gheit
Remarks With Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Ali Aboul Gheit After Meeting
Secretary Condoleezza Rice
February 21, 2006
(12:35 p.m. EST)
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. (In Arabic.)
(Via interpreter) Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Of course we are very delighted to have Secretary Rice with us. We had a long meeting with Secretary Rice; prior to this meeting, she met with the Prime Minister as well as the group of economic ministers in Egypt and the financial minister as well as myself.
I have met with Dr. Rice for about maybe an hour. During this last hour, we covered a wide range of issues, regional issues as well as the last results of the Palestinian elections as well as the situation both in Iraq and Lebanon as well as we discussed the issue of Syria. So we basically covered a wide range of regional issue.
In addition to that, we also covered range of issues on the bilateral Egyptian-U.S. relations. The Egyptian-U.S. relationship is strong and has a good future. We have agreed that we will return again to the strategic dialogue between Egypt and the United States and to activate and invigorate this dialogue. This is a sign of the strength of the relationship and I believe Secretary Rice has a few words to share with you.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much, Foreign Minister. I've indeed had a very good discussion with the Foreign Minister. I saw the Prime Minister earlier and I will have the opportunity to see President Mubarak tomorrow. It's very good to be here in Egypt again. The United States enjoys and important and strategic relationship with Egypt. I do indeed look forward to a strategic dialogue that allows us to work together on the myriad issues that we face in this region and in the world. We had an opportunity to talk about the region, as Ahmed has said, including the situation in Iran, the situation in Iraq, the situation in the --
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Yes, Iran.
SECRETARY RICE: Iran. You missed Iran. And we did talk about Iran and about the need indeed for the international community to remain united in insisting that Iran take a reasonable course in terms of the development of civil nuclear power.
We did talk about the Palestinian territories and I want to thank Egypt for its leadership in having discussions with the people who will now -- Hamas, who will be the new Palestinian government, to make clear that the international community expects that any Palestinian government will have to meet certain requirements of governing, which means a dedication to peace, a dedication to the agreements that the Palestinians have signed onto before. Obviously, you can't have peace if you don't recognize the other partner, and therefore the recognition of Israel's right to exist. And the need to renounce terror, because Egypt has been a leader in this region for peace, a leader in this region for cooperation among all states of the region, including with Israel, and Egypt is therefore an important voice at this time of choice and change for the Palestinian people.
I want to say just to the Egyptian people that we were all saddened by the tragic events and the tragic ferry incident. Our thoughts and our prayers are with those who lost their lives and their families, and also with those who were injured. These terrible tragedies are a time for mourning. They are also a time to reflect on the importance of faith. And I wanted to just say that the United States stands with you at this time.
Eight months ago, I came here to Egypt to speak in Cairo about reform and about democracy in the Middle East. I said at that time that Egypt, which has so often led this region in times of decision, needed to be an important voice in leading this region again as it faces questions of democracy and reform. Egypt is a great country and I believe fundamentally that Egypt has a great future. It has a young population that I think will insist and demand economic and political change in this country. But it also is a country that has undergone a lot of change in the last eight months since I spoke here. We have to realize that this is a parliament that is fundamentally different than the parliament before the elections, a president who has sought the consent of the governed.
There have been disappointments and setbacks as well, and we have talked candidly about those because the United States comes to discuss these issues as a friend, not as a judge. We can't judge Egypt. We can't tell Egypt what its course can be or should be. But as a friend, we want to see an Egypt that is fully developing politically and along the lines of reform as well. And so we've discussed the future of reform. We will continue to discuss the future of reform. We will continue to discuss candidly problems and progress in that reform. But this is a country of greatness and this region needs this country to be at the center of positive change.
Thank you very much.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Thank you, Secretary. Secretary, let us organize that press conference. I would allow you to ask --
SECRETARY RICE: An American and then you're going to ask?
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Or vice versa.
SECRETARY RICE: Why don't I ask an American and you'll ask an Egyptian?
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Well, if I may say one word. You notice during our discussions upstairs that gender equality on our side was more than yours. Right now it is also the same; gender equality amongst the Egyptians are more than the Americans.
SECRETARY RICE: I'm going to claim a few Egyptian women for our side.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: So I give you precedence. I give you precedence.
SECRETARY RICE: (Laughter.) Thank you.
QUESTION: Mr. Minister, regarding Hamas, do you think that Arab states should refrain from giving aid directly to any Hamas-led government? And Madame Secretary, if different tactics emerge, particularly perhaps over giving aid, how will you maintain a united front in the international community to stick to the principles that you've laid out in the Quartet?
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. Well, first of all, I think that there is remarkable agreement in the international community on a certain practical set of requirements for governing in the Palestinian territories. If the Palestinian -- new Palestinian government lead by Hamas is going to be able to meet the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a peaceful life, for a better life, for a life in which there is economic development, it goes without saying that you cannot have one foot in the camp of terror and the other foot in the camp of politics. You have to renounce violence. You have to be willing to live up to the obligations that Palestinians have taken over the last more than a decade for a cooperative relationship with Israel, and for a commitment to peace.
We are all committed to the roadmap and we expect any Palestinian government to be committed to the roadmap. I think we have very solid agreement on that. We also agree that it is going to be important to try and meet the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people. It's very easy to talk about the governments and the diplomats and all of the things that we're doing, but there are Palestinian people whose lives, in a sense, are in the balance here and we want to be responsive to their humanitarian needs.
And finally, we are going to support the interim government of Mahmoud Abbas until there is a government named and we expect to -- we, I think, agree with Egypt that that must be done.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: You see, the interim government is there and it has to be supported. There are humanitarian needs of the Palestinians and that should also -- the support to them is an essential issue.
We should give Hamas time. I'm sure that Hamas will develop, will evolve. We should not prejudge the issue. We object to whatever policies on the part of the Israeli Government right now that are cutting the right of the Palestinians to receive their dues. So it's only a matter of time on that. We are sure that the Palestinians will recognize the requirements of the situation as they stand today: the roadmap; the need for a political peaceful settlement amongst the Israelis and the Palestinians; they need to see the two states living side by side in secure and recognized boundaries for both. So these are issues that the Palestinians and the government of Hamas, when composed, will have to face such requirements.
Also we have to understand that the President has been elected by the people, President Mahmoud Abbas, and he is the head of the Authority and his powers are still there as stipulated by the basic law.
QUESTION: (In Arabic.)
(Via interpreter) My name is Mohamed Smayeel (ph) with Al-Gomhuria newspaper. It is a very widely spread newspaper and well read in this country. I would like to welcome you very much here in Egypt. I'm delighted that I heard you saying that you are here to speak with the Egyptian Government as a friend and not as a judge. I'm also delighted to hear the Foreign Minister saying that there will be a reviving of the strategic dialogue between Egypt and the United States.
But there are issues here that have been raised among the people and among the public, and I would like to focus on two issues that you basically raised quite a bit. One is reform, the other one is democracy. And I'm not addressing these questions as a government employee. I am a journalist and I'm addressing these questions to you as a journalist. And my aim here really is to have a strong Egyptian-American relationship, but people in this country and elsewhere are asking very clear questions: What kind of a democracy are you trying to promote in this country and in this region? Is it a democracy that basically will depend on NGOs who will get financed by foreign powers and get money from the outside? Is it a democracy that basically violates basic human rights, as we see that it is happening in Iraq, and the democracy of basically torture? Is it a democracy that we see that attacking mosques and churches in Iraq and the bombing of religious sites?
My real hope is really to have a strong relationship between Egypt and the United States. I would like to see this relationship to flourish and to move forward. But I also do not want to see this through the concept of double standards.
SECRETARY RICE: Mm-hmm. Well --
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, something about Hamas?
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Elections of Hamas. Did you mention? And the election of Hamas as a result of a democratic election.
SECRETARY RICE: Okay. Well, there's a long question there, so let me start at the very beginning. The first point that I would make is, yes, Egypt and the United States are friends, but friends also speak candidly to one and other.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: And I think we spoke candidly.
SECRETARY RICE: And we speak candidly always.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Absolutely.
SECRETARY RICE: We also speak candidly. There's no question about it.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Yes.
SECRETARY RICE: But the fact of the matter is that in -- that human beings desire to be able to say what they think, to worship as they please, to be able to have a say in those who will govern them. These are very basic things. And whenever we say somehow there must be some people on earth who don't want those things, I think it is a terrible statement about us. If we really believe that we want to be able to say who will govern us but other people don't, they either aren't ready for it or they don't care, that's a terrible thing.
And so what the President has said in his inaugural is that the non-negotiable demands of human dignity are that people have those rights. We understand that it is a process to come to a political system that opens up from being a closed system to one that is pluralistic, from where there's one candidate to many, where parliamentary elections are completely free. It takes time. We understand that.
But our aspiration is not that people will have an American-style democracy. American-style democracy is for Americans. But that there will be a democracy that is for Egypt or for Iraq or for any other people on this earth because democracy is the only form of government in which human beings truly get to express themselves.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: (Inaudible) -- what you've told us during the Prime Minister's meeting (inaudible).
SECRETARY RICE: Yes, I said that, look, the United States, as much as any country, has no reason to be arrogant about democracy and a reason for humility. It was in my lifetime, and I'm not that old -- in my lifetime -- that the right to vote was guaranteed to African Americans in the South, so we've been through our own struggles with democracy. But however hard the journey is to democracy, it is worth it and it is the only system in which human beings can fully flourish.
Now let me just say a word about Iraq. Yes, the Iraqis are struggling. They're struggling to replace one of the worst dictatorships in modern times. A dictatorship that oppressed people, that used weapons of mass destruction against its own people and against its neighbors, that put 300,000 people in mass graves. It's struggling to overcome that dictatorship and to build a political system built on compromise and political activity. That's hard.
But I can assure you that whatever struggles they're having, whatever problems there have been with human rights -- and there have been problems with human rights -- do not even come close to what it meant to have Saddam Hussein walk into your village one day and simply kill thousands of people and put them in mass graves. That's not where the Iraqis are. They're trying to build a decent democratic political system and we need to support them in what they are doing.
So when we talk about democracy worldwide, it's because we believe that democracy is -- that liberty should be available to all people, wherever they live. And our discussions about how Egypt becomes more democratic, how Egypt makes progress, I think are some of the most important discussions that we have as friends.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: You have Al Jazeera and you have a lot of (inaudible).
SECRETARY RICE: Yes. But I have to call on one more American who's right here and then I'll call -- which one's Al Jazeera?
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: And Al Arabiya, too. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY RICE: Okay.
QUESTION: That's Egyptian TV.
SECRETARY RICE: Go ahead.
QUESTION: First of all, Madame Secretary, you met Ayman Nour here on your last trip and now he faces a prison term after a trial on what appears to be trumped up charges. His party is destroyed. How disappointed are you by that result and what will you say to civil society representatives tomorrow as they struggle to develop under this authoritarian government?
And then for the Foreign Minister, two questions.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: But I have to tell you also that I will respond to that question myself.
QUESTION: Oh, good. But the second thing --
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: I will answer after she finishes her answer.
QUESTION: I look forward to seeing that. But I wanted to follow up on your earlier answer. It sounded as if you were saying that Egypt would support funding of a Hamas-led government beyond the interim period. Is what you said, talked about giving more time for Hamas to develop, and I just wanted to clarify how long you wanted that money to continue.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, Glenn, of course I'm disappointed that this has happened. It's one of the setbacks that I've mentioned and we discussed it. And when I talk with members of civil society tomorrow I will say to them that there has been some progress, but I also want to hear from them how they see events here in the last several months, what more can be done to be helpful to them. And I will encourage civil society to also work on the formation of political (inaudible) parties themselves. There's also -- you know, there was an obligation on the part of opposition to organize itself and to be able to present a case to the Egyptian people, and so I look forward to talking with the civil society representatives and talking about how they see the future course here.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: If I may add to the answer of the Secretary, the due process has been at work on this issue of this gentleman, Ayman Nour. He has appealed the case only the day before yesterday. It's a due process and it is in play.
When it comes to Hamas, I do not think anybody is in the business of penalizing the Palestinian people. There are humanitarian needs and they have to be met and that whatever that is needed to build up the potential of the Palestinian Authority, it has to be effective.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: It is called the Authority and we support the Authority and the Authority is in the service of the Palestinian people. And then we have to give them time to develop their own ideas. It is premature to judge the issue right now.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: I think that it might --
SECRETARY RICE: Not to my knowledge. Not to my knowledge.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: If it might (inaudible).
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
QUESTION: This is (inaudible) from the Egyptian Television. A question for Her Excellency.
Your Excellency, as you know, there are some sensitivities regarding the presence of NATO forces in the region. Does the American (inaudible) to support AU forces in Darfur up till now reflect a will to send NATO forces there?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, in fact, we are supporting AU forces. We are one of the principal supporters in terms of financing and in terms of advising of the current AU mission. I myself was out in Darfur several months ago. I met with the AU mission leadership. We think that the AU mission has done a very good job, but I think everybody believes that there now needs to be a more robust force. And so when we go to a UN force, which we would hope to do fairly soon, there will still be a core of that force that will be the African Union, but of course it is more sustainable to have a UN force. The funding mechanism is in place for a UN force. There's a Peace Building Commission that can help with the generation of forces. And if NATO can be helpful to a UN force in terms of its capabilities, the capabilities that NATO largely alone possesses in the world these days, then I think people would want NATO to be helpful to a UN force.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: (Inaudible) can support.
SECRETARY RICE: To support a UN force. It's not just to replace an AU force or a UN force with a NATO force. It's to have -- what NATO is doing is trying to support now the AU force and, it would be our hope, willing to support a UN force as well. So what we want to do is to protect the people of Darfur. That is the important element here. We are working with the AU very closely on this. We will have, I think, further discussions about this, but you need to understand that NATO, I think, has certain capabilities that could support a UN force, much as it's supporting the AU force.
All right. I promised to call on Al Jazeera in the back.
QUESTION: Thank you (inaudible) Dr. Rice, but actually I want to address my question to the Foreign Minister of Egypt. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY RICE: Best of all worlds. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: (In Arabic.)
(Via interpreter) The question is for the Egyptian Foreign Minister. During your remarks you forgot about the issue of Iran and my question is regarding Iran. It seems like the American position is clear vis-à-vis Iran; however, the Egyptian position seems to be a little bit unclear. Is Egypt prepared to discuss the issue of Iran away from the issue of the nuclear armed forces of the state of Israel? Will Egypt accept any kind of an escalation that might lead to the use of a regional force or American force against an Islamic state and will Egypt accept the policy of isolating the state of Iran as a part of this issue despite the fact that there may be some views on this in the Gulf states?
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: (In Arabic.)
(Via interpreter.) Regarding your questions and the various elements that were involved in that question, Egypt's position is very clear about the NPT and the universality of that agreement. Also, in terms of the Egyptians' views, we strongly believe that the region should be free of weapons of mass destruction and free of any nuclear weapons.
Regarding the IAEA decision, Egypt plays a very important role and at Egypt's insistence there was a reference in that statement that the Middle East region should be free of WMDs. Egypt's position is clear and it has been clear. We do not accept any nuclear presence or weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.
And regarding Israel and these questions, our conversations with them has always been very clear that we are asking Israel to join the NPT and because of the universality of that agreement.
Regarding any military actions or a threat of the U.S. military force, Egypt's position is also equally clear. We support very consistent and systematic diplomatic efforts. Our positions either if this issue will be referred to the IAEA, which already issued one report and the second one will be coming on March 6th, or if the UN Security Council will look into this. So far it is only a report that is submitted to the United Nations Security Council and we are all waiting for the full report that will be presented by Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, the Secretary General of the IAEA, and for the report that will be submitted after the vote on March 6th.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: (In English.) And it is not a referral.
SECRETARY RICE: In fact, it is.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: There we differ. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY RICE: Well, let me go back just for one moment for Iraq and remind that it was not the United States of America that assessed alone that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Seventeen resolutions had passed telling him to cooperate with the world, and he didn't. So the history here is very important because the United States did not stand alone in its assessment of the dangers of Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
As to Iran, I think you only have to look around the world at how people are reacting to the Iranian program, whether it is the reports from the IAEA that they have not yet gotten full cooperation from Iran, or the fact that the Russians when they designed a civil nuclear program with Iran refused to allow Iran to keep the fuel cycle and designed a fuel take-back, or the concerns that have been raised by Dr. ElBaradei about the secrecy of Iranian activities.
Again, there is a general sense in the world that the Iranian program is a problem. Iran lied for 18 years about what it was doing with the IAEA. I assume that they didn't tell the truth for some reason. But the point now is that they have to be confronted with a need to get their program -- if they're going to get a civil nuclear program, to have it be in accordance with what the world can tolerate, and that means that they do not have enrichment and reprocessing capability.
And just on the little issue that -- the formal title or the formal name, as you know, Ahmed, is to report a state to the Security Council, so Iran has been reported to the Security Council. It will be taken up after the ElBaradei report is there on March 6th.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, we all hope that there's going to be a Middle East one day in which the security situation is such that no one has to worry about weapons of mass destruction. The issue right now is that Iran needs to live up to the expectations of the international community.
I want to just make one other point. This is not about civil nuclear power for Iran. Iran would like to make this a debate about their right to civil nuclear power. We're not questioning civil nuclear power. They can have it. They just can't have enrichment and reprocessing capability because no one trusts them with that very important technology which could lead to a bomb.
SECRETARY RICE: The President never takes any option off the table but we are dedicated to a diplomatic course. And I think that with the help of the international community, from Egypt and other important countries, that we will be able to convince Iran that it does not wish to have isolation on this issue.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: We have been always calling for a diplomatic solution for that issue.
SECRETARY RICE: You've got the last question.
QUESTION: Back to the democracy and the friendship between the United States and Egypt, you've said we're not judgmental, we are friends and we speak in a friendship voice. Maybe people hear see that the postponement of the free trade agreement is a punishment to Egypt and the way of coming to pushing Egypt to abide by whatever you're saying. So is it not your friendship more of dictating a policy, so do you have like a deadline of cutting this free trade agreement or it's postponed till you see when?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, we would like very much to have a free trade agreement. In fact, we continue to discuss a free trade agreement and I, for one, believe that a free trade agreement will be important to economic reform and indeed free trade agreements tend to change the very basis of economic life as countries move to international standards in their economies as they sign on to free trade agreements or the WTO or the entire free trading system. And so I think it will be important. The time is not right now for that, but we continue to discuss the free trade agreement and we will continue to discuss it.
Let me go back to the beginning of your question, though. The President made very clear in his State of the Union that the United States would stand for the right of men and women in every corner of the earth to have the same rights and indeed the same responsibilities that we as Americans are fortunate enough to enjoy. And he said that our relations with countries around the world would -- we would engage countries around the world about that principle. And that's what we're doing. I came here to Cairo to give that speech because this is a central, perhaps the central place, in Arab civilization in terms of its history, in terms of its culture, in terms of its scientific progress; and Egypt can and I think will lead this entire region in terms of economic and political reform.
That, I think, is a statement of not just hope but confidence in our friend Egypt. And when there are setbacks and there are disappointments, and there have been in this last year, we will express that we have been disappointed or that we believe there have been setbacks. But we're going to stay on a course of continuing to discuss reform, continuing to discuss the forward move toward democracy, continuing to listen to all voices in Egyptian society, because it is really very critical that Egypt lead in this area.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Thank you very much.