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Karen Hughes Press Roundtable United Arab Emirates

Press Roundtable

Karen Hughes, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs

Dubai, United Arab Emirates
February 20, 2006

Under Secretary Hughes: We've had a great visit and one of the things I've tried to do as I travel around the world is to reach out and listen, because I view public diplomacy as very much a conversation, which means that I'm not just coming into talk with people but I'm coming to listen to people and to take that opinion back to the United States and to share that with Secretary Rice and President Bush and other policy makers in my country. And so we've had a very good discussion last night with a group of very articulate women. I was delighted to see people expressing themselves very openly and freely and speaking out and speaking up here um both with the women last night and with the students this morning. In conjunction with my visit, we're announcing a couple of initiatives that the Embassy here is going to be doing. The UAE has been selected to host a business women's summit that will take place later this year. I think this is a great place to host that summit because you have a group of women here who are very dynamic and involved in the business community and so I know our Embassy is very much looking forward to that. We are also announcing a new program through our Middle East Partnership Initiative, a technology training program that will help train 800-1,000 women with cutting edge business and technology tools. The Embassy has more details on all those programs and I'm delighted to be able to announce those here today in conjunction with my visit. With that I'll be glad to answer your questions.

Question: Hi, welcome to the UAE.

Under Secretary Hughes: Thank you.

Question: There's been some trouble with the Dubai Ports World and the P&O purchase, I'm sure you've heard about it. I'm not sure you've spoken on it yet. There was an editorial and op-ed today in one of the papers that said that it smacked of Islamaphobia. That there was little other reason that the U.S. lawmakers are urging President Bush to oppose it, or investigate it deeper, other than a fear of Arabs running American posts. They said they had no problem with British running the posts but as soon as the idea comes there is going to be some Arabs perhaps involved in running the ports, all of a sudden there is a hue and cry and that there is some talk of it sounding more like Islamaphobia than anything else. I was wondering if you could talk about that?

Under Secretary Hughes: Well I certainly hope that's not the case and I don't believe that's the case. What I've seen in quotes from our lawmakers are questions about security and concerns in light of the fact that a couple of the September 11th hijackers did come from the UAE. Now, as Secretary Rice has said, our government has conducted a thorough security review and determined that the sale can go forward and go forward safely. I think perhaps you have to understand in my country there is a very open environment for debate and so members of Congress are questioning and debating and discussing and Secretary Rice has said that the Administration will be happy to share with them additional information about the very thorough interagency security review that was done which did determine that the sale could go forward safely. We have a longstanding friendship and alliance with the UAE. We are partners in the War Against Terror and the Administration has concluded that this sale can in fact go forward, and will be very safe and secure. And so I hope that the people of the UAE and the government here will understand that in a democracy there is a process of debate. Secretary Rice said perhaps we need to go to Capitol Hill as the Administration does and explain a little more fully the thorough review that was done and we will be glad to do that and the administration will be doing that I'm sure in the days ahead.

Question: The idea was that there was an objection that there wouldn't have been, there wouldn't have been, there was no objection if the Brits were running it, if the British company was running it, but when it gets transferred to an Arab company there is a, there is a sort of double standard, that there is an objection to Arabs but not to Brits. As you are probably well aware, there have been some suicide bombers and terrorists that were of British nationality and this never came up in the discussion. That is one of the things that the papers were mentioning.

Under Secretary Hughes: Well again, as I said, I hope that is not the case and I don't believe that it is. What I saw quoted was several representatives that represent families who have lost loved ones in September 11th and who were expressing concerns based on the fact that a couple of the September 11th hijackers did in fact come from the UAE. And again, since that time and over the period of a number of years the UAE has been a long standing good friend and ally. The government has been a strong partner in the War Against Terror and we have conducted, the Bush Administration conducted a very thorough interagency review, led by Secretary Snow, Secretary of the Treasury, that concluded that this sale could go forward safely. And so one of the things that I believe is important in my role, and I said this in Doha at a speech at the U.S. Islamic World Conference, is that we need to work very hard to foster greater understanding between America and the Arab world and the wider Islamic world. And that's one of the things that I'm working to do. I met with a group of students this morning, who told me how well received they were in America. As you know, many Muslims live and work and worship freely in my country. Arab Americans are very much a part of life in America and are very respected in America and so I would just hope that that's not the case.

Question: Lots of people are calling you adept at repairing the image of the United States in the region. You are doing this very well.

Under Secretary Hughes: It speaks of friendship and respect.

Question: I was just wondering. The U.S. Islamic Forum in Doha. Did you manage to meet any Islamic leaders, for example Hamas or from the Brotherhood in Egypt or any leaders that are taking a position back to Arabic countries?

Under Secretary Hughes: Well I met with a number of different leaders; I don't believe I met anyone from Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood. Of course, as you know, my government does not recognize terrorist organizations. But I did meet a number of leaders. I thought it was a very constructive conference; I enjoyed the dialogue with people there very much. I think that's what we need more of. We need dialogue, bringing people from different countries and different cultures and different faiths together to talk about how we can..

Question: Only on the level of society? No political leaders?

Under Secretary Hughes: Oh no, these were political leaders at the conference. There were a number of different leaders I met with. I sat next to numerous foreign ministers from, I saw Foreign Minister Abdullah from Afghanistan, I sat next to the Foreign Minister from Bahrain. I spoke with a minister from Malaysia. I met numerous leaders. I sat next to the Grand Mufti from Bosnia. I had a wonderful conversation with him, talking about how we need to work to respect one another. We were talking in the context of freedom of speech and I explained to him how in America, we have freedom of speech, but we also understand that with that comes responsibility. "Ma..", let me see if I remember this. (In Arabic: Mahuriyya masolia). With freedom comes responsibility. I'm trying to learn a little Arabic, not doing so well, but I'm trying. So, I get an A for effort, right? We had a wonderful conversation, where he talked about, he said something that really stuck with me. He talked about, there's no law in the books, but there is a law on the heart to treat each other with respect and civility. And so we had some wonderful conversations with various leaders there at the forum.

Question: What about Secretary Rice coming to the region? What about Hamas?

Under Secretary Hughes: Secretary Rice is coming to consult with leaders throughout the region. To listen, to share ideas, to talk about broad regional issues. This is an important time in the region. There is a great deal happening. Iraq is forming a new government. It is a very important time in Iraq's transition to democracy. No matter how individuals in the region felt about our decision to go into Iraq, I think we all can agree now that it is in the region's best interests, as well as the Iraqi people's best interests, that Iraq emerge as a stable and unified and democratic nation. She'll be consulting with leaders throughout the region as to how countries in the region might help with this process. She will be consulting on the future of the peace process and next steps, particularly in light of the elections in the Palestinian Territories. She will be consulting on Iran and about the concerns of the international community. And I want to underline the international community, because there is broad concern throughout the international community about the situation in Iraq and the concern that Iraq is further isolating itself. That Iraq moving forward and attempting to gain a nuclear weapon would be very destabilizing to the region. I'm sorry Iran. Did I misspeak? Iran. I'm tired. Jet lagged. Iran gaining a nuclear weapon would be very destabilizing to the region, you all know that certainly in the UAE, which is very close in the neighborhood, and a threat to the world. And so she will be consulting about a broad range of issues and this is frankly in response to what we're hearing. One of the things I hear as I travel is that countries in this region want the United States to consult with them. They don't want the United States to come in and say here is what we're doing, come along or not. They want the United States to consult, and to engage in dialogue and to listen to their points of view. I hear that as I travel. I've communicated that back to Washington, and the Secretary is very committed to doing that. That's why she's coming.

Question: [Question in Arabic] Question is about the U.S. double standard in this part of the world. Two issues, one with Iran - The U.S. is trying hard to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, but at the same time, what about Israel? And again the U.S. tried to pursue democracy in this part of the world, but the Palestinian people chose Hamas. The U.S. is not talking to Hamas and not giving Hamas a chance.

Under Secretary Hughes: I'm going to make a couple of points about that. First of all, we congratulate the Palestinian people on a free and fair and open election. The Palestinian people clearly want change. They want an end to corruption and we certainly understand that. And the Palestinian people voted for change; they voted for an end to corruption and as I said, we are concerned about the Palestinian people. The Palestinian people want a better future, and we want them to have a better future. We want them to be able to live in peace, side by side with the state of Israel. The international community, and I notice you said American, this is a matter again on which there is broad consensus throughout the international community. The Quartet, which is the United Nations, the European Union, Russia and the United States, all agree that in order for the government, the Hamas government to live up to its promises and obligations to the Palestinian people, that Hamas has to reject terror, recognize Israel's right to exist and recognize the commitments the Palestinians have made in the peace process, to the peace process including the roadmap. We are, the United States and many nations of the world community, are democracies too, and we have laws and rules that we have to abide by too. And one of those is that we cannot fund terrorist organizations. And so we believe, it is very important. Hamas has a choice. It is Hamas' choice. Hamas can choose not to respond to the apple. We believe that the best path for the Palestinian people, that Hamas wants to represent, the path to, the only path to a better future is a two state solution. The Palestinians have recognized that and the Israelis have recognized that, and the world community supports that. So we feel that it is very important that Hamas, we believe, as an international community, that Hamas, in order to fulfill its responsibilities to the people that elected it, needs to take those steps.

Question: Why is the U.S. opposed to Iran developing nuclear capabilities?

Under Secretary Hughes: Again, going forward, the international community. You know, my country for many years was involved in an arms race with the Soviet Union, where everyone tried, we tried to match each other. The international community has decided that proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is not a good thing. And we need to work very hard to, going forward, prevent other states from gaining a nuclear weapon. And the international community feels very strongly, for Iran to gain a nuclear weapon would be very destabilizing to the region, and a threat to the world.

Question: What is the opposition?

Under Secretary Hughes: I just explained the opposition.

Question: [Questions in Arabic] 1) It seems like the U.S. military hijacked U.S. policy in dealing with this part of the world. Especially when they are interfering in the internal affairs in this part of the world. 2) Will the U.S. stop being addicted to foreign oil? Where will this part of the world market their oil?

Under Secretary Hughes: Well, what the President has said, is that as the world's largest energy consumer, the United States has a responsibility to use energy resources more wisely. There is a large market throughout the world for energy and there will continue to be a market. The President is showing leadership in showing saying that the United States needs to use energy more responsively. As to the actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, I would urge you to look at what the people of Afghanistan say. I saw a recent poll where more than 80 percent of the people of Afghanistan, now that is a stunning number, more that 80 percent of the people of Afghanistan feel that they are better off without the Taliban, and that they welcome the presence of international forces in their country to help them achieve peace and security. I've been to Afghanistan a number of times, and what people there say to me universally, women have said to me numerous times, they say 'thank you' and please help us live in peace. Afghanistan is very hungry for peace. They've had 30 years of war. They had a brutal tyranny under the Taliban. And I will remind you that we went into Afghanistan because, from Afghanistan, Al-Qaida launched a massive, unprovoked terrorist attack on my country that killed thousands, of not only Americans, but citizens from throughout the world. When the Taliban regime refused to turn over the leaders of Afghanistan we went into Afghanistan, and the people of Afghanistan feel overwhelmingly that, according to this recent poll.. I like to point out that the people of Afghanistan, are the people who know the agenda of the violent extremists best, because they were forced to endure it. And remember what life was life in Afghanistan under the Taliban. Little girls weren't allowed to go to school or learn to read. Women weren't allowed to leave their homes to go to the market freely. Music was banned. Watching television was banned. Laughing out loud was banned. Kite flying banned. Cultural icons were destroyed. I don't believe the vast majority of people in the world, in the Islamic world, in Europe, in America, want to live like that, and that is the type of society that the violent extremists that we are up against want to impose. I feel that our actions in Afghanistan were again to go in to remove a government that was harboring and supporting the people who launched attacks on my country.

Question: I wonder if you could help us understand American policy towards Syria. Five million dollars to promote democracy in Syria. That is not much. We are not sure what the United States is up to. Are you interested in a change of regime?

Under Secretary Hughes: Our policy towards Syria has been actually quite clear. And our policy has been that the Syrian regime needs to change its behavior. The Syrian regime needs to stop interfering in Lebanon. It needs to control its borders and it needs to stop exporting terror. That's our policy on Syria. I think again, it's very clear.

Question: Not to change regimes?

Under Secretary Hughes: We believe the Syrian regime needs to change its behavior and that's our policy.

Question: Do you plan a visit to Syria?

Under Secretary Hughes: I have no visit plans. Not at this time.

Question: We are wondering about the consultations in the region, is this persuasion? Will you meet with Al-Jazeera?

Under Secretary Hughes: I met with Al-Jazeera while I was in Doha. And I met with Al-Arabiya here. I meet with journalists around the world, just like I'm meeting with you. Part of that is they ask me questions and I try to respond to the best of my ability. Part of that is discussion. In the case of Al-Jazeera, as I met with them, I talked with them about their coverage and in all cases I talk about coverage. First of all, I'm a former journalist myself. And I believe very strongly in the role of a free press. And I believe that it's important that people hear a variety of perspectives from a press that is objective and professional and covers a full range of opinions, and offers a full range of opinions, and doesn't only offer one perspective. Because that's not the role of the press. The role of the press is to offer a variety of perspectives. I believe that that's very important to what I'm trying to achieve, because, I want, we want, people's minds to be opened. We want people to be able to decide for themselves. We want people to be informed about a variety of point of views so they can make their own judgments and make up their own minds. I happen to believe that when people listen to a variety of points of view and have the ability to make decisions for themselves, that they will chose freedom over tyranny. And they will choose the rule of law over the secret police, and they will chose tolerance over intolerance and diversity over rigid conformity. My goal is to foster the kind of environment throughout the world in which people have an opportunity to hear a variety of perspectives and a variety of different points of view.

Question: Do you have any words for countries in Europe in the middle of this cartoon row, and various arguments over freedom of expression and freedom of the press?

Under Secretary Hughes: Well first of all, let me say that the cartoons are offensive and I can understand why Muslims are offended by them. We believe, America believes very strongly in free speech, and with freedom comes responsibility. I said at the conference the other night, that in my county, there are certain words that we choose not to use. Most civil people choose not to use, because in a large, diverse, multicultural country, we have to respect one another. We don't use racial epithets in America. We don't use ethnic slurs. We choose not to. Not because any law tells us not to; we have freedom of speech, but because we respect one another. People's faith convictions are very precious to them. So I think we are a diverse and tolerant society. I think that can be a model. There is no law that says you can't use certain words. And there is certainly no law that prohibits newspapers from doing so. But as a tolerant society, as a civil society, we try to treat each other with civility and respect. I said the other night that in a free society we have a right to say whatever we want to and a responsibility to try our best not to offend one another.

Released on February 27, 2006


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