U.S.-United Arab Emirates Relations – TV Interview
U.S.-United Arab Emirates Relations – TV Interview
C. David Welch, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs
Interview on Abu Dhabi TV With Nasreen Sadiq
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
March 29, 2006
Welch: Well, first of all, thank you for the opportunity to have this interview and to appear on Abu Dhabi Television. My visit here is to continue the bilateral dialogue about the issues of national security interests in both of our countries, the United Arab Emirates and the United States. Yes, it does come after the controversy of the Dubai Ports World issue, but our friendship with the UAE goes beyond a business transaction. We have a lot of common interests and the stresses and difficulties in this region as well as the opportunities are there and we have an obligation to work on them with our friends. Let me add, finally, that Secretary Rice had a very successful visit here not so long ago and this shows the continuing high-level dialogue that we have with the Emirates. We also expect visits by senior members of the government to the United States in the near future to continue to expand our relationship in all the areas of interest to both of us.
Question: You talked about strong and growing friendship with the UAE but maybe the government did not accept or expect what happened in the Congress especially since President Bush threatened to use his veto against any voting against it.
Welch: Well, in truth, neither government really expected this reaction and we should we learn from that, both my government and the government of the Emirates. But it doesn't mean that our countries have a problem in their friendship. Americans have a concern about foreign investment in certain types of activities in the United States and we need to work on and improve that process as an administration. But the President spoke from the heart when he addressed this question. He really does believe in this friendship, and it will last beyond this immediate problem which happily is on its way to solution.
Question: Will it affect FTA negotiations?
Welch: No, I don't think so. This is a very important and growing economy in the area. We want an FTA with the UAE. We've been working very hard, both sides have, on trying to see progress in these negotiations. Our free trade agreements are ambitious as you know, and so it is a complex negotiation but we'll move forward in that.
Question: So why this Arabphobia and Islamphobia, if we can say, in a country that says it's a democratic country and not an ethnic one?
Welch: Well, I wouldn't interpret it that way. People in the United States have some concerns about their security and those are quite legitimate. I'm confident that the governments in this area have the same sorts of issues at times about their own, about the protection of their own national security. It doesn't mean that people dislike us or that we dislike them. These are things that there needs to be more public discussion of and less fear of them, frankly. And that's what happens in good relationships. We'll work through that, and we'll restore the same quality in tone to the friendship in the future.
Question: Ok, so I'm moving to Iraqi issue.
Question: Civilian victims and abductions continue. It has been three months since the parliament elections and yet no government has been formed. When will this political issue end?
Welch: Well you are quite right to say this situation is difficult. I think government formation is an urgent issue here. We've been working very hard, and so have others, to see that the political process moves forward and moves forward quickly. We think that any Iraqi government should be one that stresses national unity that is not, let me be candid, sectarian in character. That doesn't divide Iraqis, it heals the wounds this country has suffered for the last four decades. And we believe that it's an important national responsibility not just to advance the political dialogue, including to form a government quickly, but also to work on these security and economic issues. The desperate fact about Iraq today is that innocent people are dying. Innocent people are dying sometimes at each other's hands, sometimes because foreign terrorists come and conduct operations in order to stir the hatreds. This is a very, very serious problem. I think, finally, if I may just take one more minute, I believe there's a new sense of responsibility among the Arab countries to address these issues inside Iraq. If we were having this conversation a year ago for example, the amount of discussion in the Arab Summit was minimal on what the Arab states could do. This time you see much more discussion about Arab responsibilities in the economic area, in the area of broadening the relationships. I think that's a good thing. It'll help the Iraqi people in this hour of need.
Question: Talking about sectarianism in Iraq, did America fail in choosing her allies, I mean, those persons who are opposing the Saddam regime?
Welch: Well, we
Question: Because they are now everyone is reaching either for ethnic or sectarian issues and
Welch: Well, Iraq is a complex country but we didn't pick among people there. We picked the Iraqi people. We thought the Iraqi people deserved better than they had under Saddam Hussein, and as you know there have been now three national-level elections in Iraq in one year. This is a sign that the people actually have a voice, and they're the ones whose interests should be protected not individuals or parties. We call upon the individuals who are involved in politics and the political parties there to get together and solve these problems and to do so quickly because this is an urgent and serious problem.
Question: Is it urgent because of the Coalition and the Americans or because it is urgent for the Iraqi people?
Welch: It's urgent because every single day innocent people are hurt and killed. It's urgent because Iraq is a strong country with good resources and that could easily have a better economic future. And finally it's urgent because people need a sense of confidence in their political leadership and that can only come if they have a serious government that is addressing their difficulties.
Question: Now the United States and Iran are willing to talk about Iraq to resolve security issues so is it an admission that the United States is not able alone and without the political support of Iran to stabilize Iraq and push to a breakthrough?
Welch: Well, the Iranians may be admitting that they have some involvement in Iraq by agreeing all of a sudden to have this conversation with us. As you know this idea has been on the table some months now. And for some reason the Iranian government did not till very recently accept it. We want to have a conversation about (UNINTELLIGIBLE) . Conversations on the nuclear question are being conducted in New York.
Question: The Iranian president said that recently the U.S. administration is pushing against the Iranian nuclear project just because she wants to stay the only first producer and seller of nuclear arms.
Welch: The United States produces and sells nuclear weapons? Well, you know President Ahmadinejad All I can say about that is his statements have become more bizarre every single day. We do not sell nuclear weapons. We in the United States have engaged in a long process of trying to reduce the number of nuclear weapons that we have in cooperation with Russia. I think this is kind of an absurd statement, in all honesty.
Question: Iran yesterday answered to the Russian position that she will not stop its research and development technology. She wants an international side, something like that, in Iran. What will the American administration do about that?
Welch: You know, in principle, we think any country that wants to have a peaceful nuclear program can have one, subject to all the international agreements and safeguards as appropriate for those countries. The problem in the Iranian case is they signed all those agreements years ago, and they violated them. This is a big problem. In other words, they used the principle of access to peaceful nuclear energy as a way to hide their nuclear weapons effort. This is why the international community is concerned.
Question: But could they be telling the truth? Iraq showed that there's no weapons of mass destruction contrary to the intelligence reports.
Welch: Well, if they're telling the truth then there would be no harm to implementing all these agreements in full, subject to the concerns to the international community. The problem is that they're not telling the truth and it wasn't the United States who caught them at this lie; it was the International Atomic Energy Agency, a respected international institution. That's why we're having this discussion today.
Question: Would they accuse the United States of having a double policy on this issue?
Welch: Yes, we have one for people who tell the truth and one for people who lie. That's definitely a double standard.
Question: So is Israel telling the truth about the nuclear sites?
Welch: This is a different issue entirely. Israel has a responsible government. We're not discussing that matter. We're discussing the Iranian violation of all their international commitments.
Question: Things are mixed together in the region. Iran knows the part she can play in Iraq and Lebanon and also Palestinian territories and America knows that. And now Iraq (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
Welch: interfering in either Iraq or in other places like Syria or Lebanon. We offered to have talks with the Iranian government on issues involving Afghanistan and Iraq. Those are neighboring countries to Iran and we understand they have interests there. We would expect them to pursue their interest in a responsible way. I think, regrettably, the case in Iraq is that they have not done that, and we want to bring this matter to their attention. This is a serious problem. Innocent people are dying as a result of it and this cannot be ignored. Maybe they would prefer not to have the conversation. I would point out that there's a lot of talk about these talks, but so far no talks have taken place.
Question: In the same sense of talking with Iraq, why doesn't the American administration talk with Hamas? The American administration considers Hamas a terrorist organization, but why not hold talks with Hamas, now Hamas is the government?
Welch: Well, Hamas will assume its position of responsibility in the Palestinian government, very, very soon. If they want to have a dialogue with the international community, I think they have to do so on the basis of certain principles. Those principles are very simple. They have to accept that there'll be a two-state solution to a negotiation. They have to accept that this negotiation would proceed in an atmosphere free of violence and terror and, number three, there are lots of agreements and understandings and initiatives worked out between the international community, between Israel and the Palestinians, between certain Arab states and Israel and by the Arab League. To this day, unfortunately, Hamas doesn't accept any of these things, so on what basis are we going to have a conversation with a group that's terrorist, in other words, that is committed to terrorism and violence as a way to pursue their interests, that does not accept that there's a two-state solution and that so far has not recognized any of these international agreements? It's their problem to find the answer to this question, not ours.
Question: This terrorist organization, as you described, can the government through democratic elections (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the democracy that America holds its flag?
Question continued: Why don't you give them the opportunity, you know, nobody can turn out from his program all of a sudden?
Welch: Well, actually, they are going to have the opportunity. We have not contested the elections. The election was free and fair. We accept the result of the election. But like any election, it can, it has somebody who won and somebody who lost and it doesn't mean that we need to agree with the policies of the Hamas people who won this election. We don't agree with those policies. Period. End of story. Now, they have a responsibility in government to their people. To deliver for the future of the Palestinian people who want peace and security, who want to live their lives in prosperity and safety, and that's their responsibility. Let's see how they do with it.
Question: Now Mr. Ismail Haniya said that he's ready to hold talks with the current administration. Will you give him that fortunately and what will be outcome? Will you hear him, what he is saying?
Welch: Well, he's saying a lot of things and I listen to them all the time. What I don't hear yet is yes, yes and yes.
Question: What about Kadima who won the Israeli elections? Will you support the plan to define the boundaries of the Israeli state that Olmert plans to implement, and isn't that a step in the peace process?
Welch: Well, the Israeli election has just been held, we congratulate the Israeli people on yet another example of their exercise of democracy. Israel will now proceed to form its new government. This is the first few hours after the election so we don't know what shape that will take and we don't know what platform it will have but I believe the Israeli people would like to have peace with the Palestinians and would like to have peace with all their neighbors, in fact. I think they'd like to find a responsible, credible Palestinian partner with which to negotiate. Unfortunately, we don't know what the answer from Hamas is to this proposition.
Welch: Well, yes but, you know
Question continued: It's from one side, you know?
Welch: It's just not just a matter of, you know, two governments. This is a matter of two peoples and, you know, I think the Palestinian people want peace. How Hamas will reconcile their policies with the aspiration for peace and an end to occupation, which all Palestinians have, is their problem and so far we don't see any answer to that.
Question: But Olmert has the American support because he promised he will win the support.
Welch: Well, Israel is a friend of ours and it has our support. We will see what direction the new government in Israel wishes to take. But I believe that the options are pretty clear. On one hand you can have a negotiation toward a two-state solution if you can find a partner for the negotiation, and on the other hand you have to do things that protect your security. It's a responsibility of the government. Again, we'll see what they wish to do.
Question: On Lebanon, how do you see the solution towards their presidential issue?
Welch: Well, you know, the political institutions of Lebanon are a matter for the Lebanese to decide. This country has been pressured for a long time from the outside and maybe one of the good things, one of the only good things that can come out of the horrible murder of Rafik Hariri and many of his friends and colleagues last year can be real change in Lebanon. One aspect of that is to revive and strengthen the political institutions of the nation. The presidency right now seems to be an institution that isn't a national one, that doesn't have the character of leadership looking to the future that it should have. Again, this is a matter for Lebanese to settle but from our part
Question: The administration is excluding Emil Lahoud from any contacts and meetings. Even you, when you visited Lebanon you did not contact the President and why did not the administration (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
Welch: We, when Secretary Rice first visited Beirut, she did meet with President Lahoud and we did so for a very simple reason: to declare our interest in seeing this country move forward. It appears that President Lahoud doesn't share the same devotion to the future of the Lebanese people and their political institutions. Again, we look for a presidency that can unite the nation and move it into a new phase of development, and maybe people should rethink who is in that office.
Question: Do you agree with Mr. Larsen's position and do you support the merging of the military personnel of Hizballah with the army?
Welch: I think Mr. Larsen is doing a good job in his effort to see all aspects of Resolution 1559 implemented and somehow, someday Lebanon has to have a solution to the question of armed groups within the country, especially the Hizballah militia. There's no reason for Hizballah to have the militia. Lebanese land has been "liberated."
Question: Not all the Lebanese land has (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
Welch: Well, I realize that there are some Lebanese who think that that's the case. In our judgment, that's an artificial issue. There is no credible evidence any place that Sheba farms is Lebanese, and that conclusion is not an American conclusion, it's one that was arrived at by responsible cartographers from the United Nations. What's the justification for having a large armed group, a state within a state? That's it. It's a problem that we believe is appropriate for Lebanese to solve. We call for a solution and we are patient about arriving at a solution, but not about ignoring the issue.
Question: But some of them at least think it is resistance.
Welch: No, resistance against what? For what?
Question: To have all the Lebanese (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Why don't you pressure (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?
Welch: Well, we don't agree that Sheba farms is Lebanese.
Question: You do not agree?
Welch: No, and actually we're not the only ones who don't agree.
Question: OK. Regarding Syria, will there be any procedures against Syria, or some analysts say a secret deal has been made with Washington and Damascus including securing the borders with (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
Welch: Well, there are no secret deals between us and Damascus. There are not even any public deals between us and Damascus. What was the first part of your question, please?
Question: It is will there be any procedures against Syria like the war in Iraq (UNINTELLIGIBLE), for example, and punishments against Syria?
Welch: Well, we have some very serious concerns about Syrian behavior, and as a result we have a number of sanctions in place against the Syrian regime.
Question: Will you be going more and more in this action?
Welch: Well, it depends, for example, on the results of the investigation into the murder of Rafik Hariri and others. In that there could be further international attention to Damascus in respect of that investigation, but it's premature to say where that's going.
Question: To what extent will you support the Syrian opposition?
Welch: Well, we believe that Syria's citizens should have the freedom to express their views, whether they're in the opposition or not. It's puzzling that in this country there's such internal pressure for keeping everybody silent. Maybe that's what worries Syria about Lebanon. In Lebanon, you can go next door and everybody can say what they want. A free and open place.
Question: But now we're seeing outside a form of opposition, serious opposition. Will the administration support it financially or politically?
Welch: Well, we want to give everybody a voice but we're not involved in supporting them financially. I think they meet outside and have their discussions and make their declarations outside because they can't meet inside.
Question: Regarding Morocco, Morocco recently said it has a new proposition to solve the issue of the Western Desert (UNINTELLIGIBLE). What do you most hold to be accepted, not rejected like the previous one, which was presented to (UNINTELLLIGIBLE)?
Welch: Well, we think that it's a good idea for Morocco to look at how autonomy would be expressed with respect to the Western Sahara. It is important that this be a credible and well-grounded proposal and that it get the attention of the people in the area. Then it can perhaps be part of the UN process to address the future of the Western Sahara. I met last week with a Moroccan delegation to discuss this. His Majesty the King, is traveling, has been traveling in the area. His political dialogue (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Morocco. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) despite (UNINTELLIGIBLE) bring the matter to the attention of the Moroccan people (UNINTELLIGIBLE UNTIL COUNTER 10.9).