Remarks With Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit After Their Meeting
Secretary Condoleezza Rice
October 3, 2006
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: (In Arabic.) Would you like to --
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I will most certainly speak in English. So thank you very much. I very much want to thank my colleague Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit for arranging this meeting here in Egypt. When we met in New York, he said that when it was arranged on Egyptian territory that indeed we would have great hospitality. I think that was perhaps --
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: We didn't say to you --
SECRETARY RICE: Yes, you did not. I think that was perhaps a comment on the fact that in New York I served water and candy. Tonight instead we had a wonderful Iftar dinner prior to our continued meeting, and I'd like to thank you very much for that hospitality.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Yes, but you have to tell them what I said, because at the time I said, "Is this American generosity? "
SECRETARY RICE: That's what he said.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: "Come to Egypt and we'll show you." (Laughter.)
SECRETARY RICE: That's right. And he was right. The next time I'll have to do better.
We had an extensive discussion of a number of issues. Obviously this is a challenging time for the region, and we want to consult with friends, with states that can influence the region toward a more peaceful and prosperous future. We discussed the full range of issues, Lebanon, Iraq, support for the Iraqi Government. We discussed the situation in the Palestinian territories. And as Ahmed has said, we have expressed our great concern for the violence there and for the innocent Palestinians who are caught in the crossfire.
I was very pleased to hear a broad discussion of the challenges facing the Palestinians and ideas as to how we might support Mahmoud Abbas because, of course, tomorrow I will go to Ramallah to talk with President Abbas. And I would hope that he knows how admired he is and how respected he is in this group. There is a great desire to help him to help the Palestinian people. The Palestinians need a government that can represent the interest of the Palestinian people and that can be committed to their well being, and it needs a government that can engage the international community, and that will have to be a government that, of course, is in accordance with the broad consensus in the region that a two-state solution is the answer to the desires of both Palestinians and Israelis.
We did have a discussion of Darfur. I was very pleased that this subject was addressed in some detail. As you know, we are quite concerned about the deteriorating situation of the camps in Darfur, the humanitarian situation, the violence, and we agreed to work together to try and find a solution to the situation in Darfur. I expressed the very strong view of the United States that we need to move forward on the UN Security Council resolution that would allow a UN peacekeeping force to help protect the people of Darfur. This is not a challenge to the sovereignty of Sudan. That is certainly respected. But we need to deal with the terrible humanitarian situation there.
So all in all it was a very good discussion. And I think we had a good exchange of views. And I hope that we will again in the near future. Now we'll take a few questions. Maybe from two from each side.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Two from each side?
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Let's three from each side?
SECRETARY RICE: All right, three from each side.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: We are in Egypt, three from each side.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Minister. A question to both ministers, please. What do you think now the Egyptian nuclear -- peaceful nuclear program is starting and is the United States willing to help Egypt in this technically? And you mentioned, Mr. Minister, that it's not a coalition, a new coalition or anything, but it's said that the United States is trying to start a new coalition to face Iran in the Middle East. How do you think of that?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, we have been friends of the GCC of Egypt and Jordan for many years. This is not a new coalition by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, I think we have had GCC meetings for decades with the United States. Adding Jordan and Egypt, I think, adds the voices of states that can -- that have a lot to say about how to resolve the problems of the region peacefully. These are two states that have themselves resolved their differences with Israel and are a model for how peace can be brought between old adversaries and obviously two states that are also extremely involved in helping the Palestinians, Egypt and Jordan.
And so I think together this is a group of states that will have a lot of answers to many of the problems that are facing the Middle East. But this is a positive forward looking group that wishes to promote an environment of peace and promote an environment in which a Palestinian state can be founded and promote an environment in which extremism and terrorism are fought and fought vigorously.
As to the Egyptian nuclear program, and I understand that Egypt is still discussing this and has not yet taken a decision, you may know that President Bush said some time ago in a speech at the National Defense University that states that are in good standing in the NPT, Nonproliferation Treaty, should have access to civil nuclear power. Civil nuclear power is critical to diversifying energy resources and we want to pursue -- help with states that are in good standing and wish to do that. The President has suggested that the way to diminish proliferation risk is to have the provision of fuel for states from outside so that there's not enriching and reprocessing on the territory. But we are supporters of states that may wish to go this way and we would be pleased to discuss this with Egypt, as Egypt develops its plans, but I don't want to get ahead of the Egyptian Government.
If I may just mention, I neglected to mention I also provided an update for my colleagues on where we stand in the Iranian nuclear talks. And by the way, reiterated there that the access of Iran to civil nuclear technology is not the issue. Iran should have access to civil nuclear technology. It is a question of enrichment and reprocessing.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: (In Arabic.)
SECRETARY RICE: Barbara Slavin.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, Madame Secretary, Mr. Foreign Minister. While you have been talking, the North Koreans have once again been threatening to stage a nuclear test. The U.S. has said it will meet this threat with an appropriate response. Could you please clarify what more can the United States do? It's already imposed sanctions. Are you considering military action? What leverage is there against North Korea if they do carry out a test?
And then a question about the domestic Egyptian political scene. Madame Secretary, you once put off a visit to Egypt because Ayman Nour was in jail. You gave a big speech about democracy a year or so ago. Since then, according to what I hear, Egypt has gone backwards in terms of reforms. How disappointed are you and are you reconciled to the notion that Gamal Mubarak will succeed his father? Thank you very much.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: May I answer also, why don't you address the question to the Egyptian Foreign Minister, the concerned party? (Laughter.) Very well then and you will receive an answer.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes. First of all on the North Koreans, of course, this is not a matter for the United States alone. There is a resolution at the time -- there was a resolution at the time of the North Korean missile test, Resolution 1695; that was 15-0, concerning North Korean behavior. And I think you have heard from most states, including by the way when the South Korean President was with President Bush, that a North Korean nuclear test would be qualitatively different -- would create a qualitatively different situation on the Korean Peninsula. I think you would see that a number of states in the region would need to reassess even where they are now with North Korea
Certainly I think the United States would have to assess what options we have. But I just want to note it would be a very provocative act by the North Koreans. They've not yet done it, but I think it would be a very provocative act. And I just want to remind that this is not just an issue for the United States but an issue for the entire neighborhood and I think a quite serious issue for the entire neighborhood.
As to the reform and democracy in Egypt, I've been very clear that the United States continues to take an interest in democratic reform and progress in Egypt. I've also been clear that we were disappointed in the parliamentary elections. The presidential elections, I think were a breakthrough, that you had competitive elections here for the first time. And I think that Egypt has made a step that will not actually be undone in having had those competitive elections.
This is -- the process of democracy has its ups and its downs and any state going through it will. But the United States will continue to speak about the importance of democracy, about the importance of a great nation like Egypt leading the move to democracy in this region. We do so in a spirit of friendship and respect. We can discuss these issues openly. We have discussed issues of reform today. I suspect we'll continue to discuss them. But you must know that when President Bush said in his inaugural that we expect a lot from our friends, we do and we consider Egypt a friend. And so it remains a part of our agenda. Ultimately we believe that a democratic Middle East is going to be a more peaceful Middle East.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Yes, I have to tell you --
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, it is absolutely going to be up to the people of Egypt who is the President of Egypt.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Absolutely.
SECRETARY RICE: This is not something on which the United States should, will or can have an opinion.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Now, if I may respond to the question --
SECRETARY RICE: I've spoken about Ayman Nour at each time that I meet with my Egyptian counterparts.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: May I -- you didn't raise it today.
SECRETARY RICE: I will Ahmed. I'm certain. You can be certain I will.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: The issue you raised. First, and I will be very honest with you, the Secretary didn't -- didn't lay off a visit to Egypt in February of 2005. The Secretary postponed a visit to the region. It wasn't only Egypt. It was the whole region. So that is a point that we have to ensure. Am I right?
SECRETARY RICE: You are right about that.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: I think I am. Yes.
Then the second issue of Egyptian reform. I would host you for a month. I would host you for a month -- and I challenge you on this -- to allow you to go everywhere in this country and to see how vibrant the society is and how eager the society for development and it is developing. This society is taking off. Next year, 2007, would witness major, major amendments to Egyptian constitution. Not everything is done in haste in this country and not everything is done in one day. We will move surely. We will move on our pace. But development is there and we will be there, I assure you.
QUESTION: (In Arabic.)
SECRETARY RICE: I am very happy to give you a clear answer. The United States is going to stand for certain values. We always have and we always will. It is not a matter of interference in Egypt's internal affairs. How Egypt conducts its internal affairs will, of course, be up to Egyptians. But the United States, as a friend of Egypt and as a party with a great stake in the future of the Middle East, believes very strongly that it is important to stand with those who are looking to greater freedom for their people, who are looking to what the President has called the non-negotiable demands of human dignity, which means the right to choose those who will govern you, the right to worship as you please, the right to educate your girls and your boys, the right to be free from the arbitrary power of the state. These are universal human values, not American values. By the way, many of these values and the basis for them come right out of the UN Charter, so this has been around for a while.
Now, as to the activities of nongovernmental organizations -- NDI, IRI, the Organizations of the National Endowment for Democracy -- we are concerned that they should be allowed to operate as they are allowed to operate in many, many countries around the world not to interfere in the choices that Egyptians make but to help civil society develop the capability to give Egyptians choices. And so I hope that you will understand that the United States will continue to stand for these values. We will continue to speak for these values. I think it's especially important that we speak for these values with our friends and in a respectful way. When it is necessary to bring up issues or cases, we will do that. But it is always done with respect and it's done in large part because if this region is to make progress toward democracy, Egypt is going to have to be one of the leaders in that progress.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: A final question, an American question.
SECRETARY RICE: An American question. Sylvie.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, the Iranians launched today a new idea of enriching uranium in Iran with the help of France, an idea that Javier Solana found interesting. And Russia said that they want to solve this issue through negotiation. Are you still confident that all six countries are prepared to act on sanctions during your next P-5+1 meeting which is I suppose in the next few days?
And I'd like a question to Mr. Gheit or so. Is this new moderate group of Arab countries prepared to join force with U.S. against extremists in the region like Hamas or Hezbollah?
SECRETARY RICE: Sylvie, what was the last part of the question, I didn't understand it.
QUESTION: Is this group prepared to join forces with U.S. against the extremists in the region like Hamas and Hezbollah?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, as to the matter of Iran, the idea of a consortium is actually an old idea. It has been around for a while and the Iranians have floated it before. There is a consortium idea that the United States supports, which is the consortium that the joint venture that Russia has proposed, which would be a joint venture but with no enrichment and reprocessing on Iranian soil. Because the issue here is that Iran should not be in a position to acquire the technical expertise to enrich and reprocess, which is then the most important step to knowing how to develop a nuclear weapon.
Now if the Iranians have ideas about how to come to a agreement about what they may be able to do in a civil nuclear program, the way to propose this is to suspend enrichment and reprocessing as has been demanded in the Security Council Resolution 1696, and then to come to the table with their ideas. But I fear that this may instead, therefore, be a stalling technique because we don't want to get to the basic issue which is that Iran has to suspend its enrichment and reprocessing in order to begin negotiations.
I just want to underscore, this is not and was never the demand of the United States. This goes all the way back to the Paris agreement. It was put forward in IAEA Board of Governors resolutions. It was then put forward in Security Council Presidential Statement and then Security Council resolutions. So I know that the Iranians would like to make this a test between the United States and Iran. But in fact, there is a Security Council Resolution 1696 that speaks to this and that resolution was adopted without objection.
So I hope that there is still room to resolve this. But the international community is running out of time because soon its own credibility in terms of enforcing its own resolutions will be at -- will be a matter of question.
And if I could just on your second question before we turn to -- I know that the six parties are committed to the logic of Resolution 1696 or they wouldn't have voted for it. And if you read Resolution 1696, it says that if the Iranians are not willing to suspend their enrichment and reprocessing activities, then the Security Council will take appropriate action under Article 41 of Chapter 7, and that's the logic under which we are operating. And we -- you know, we've been at this for quite a long time. The two years of the Paris negotiations, then a year hiatus, then the resolution of July 12th, then the resolution of -- that gave until August 31st.
It's now a month past August 31st. The Iranians have had plenty of time to find a way to suspend their enrichment and reprocessing. And just on the question, if I could, of Hezbollah and Hamas, what we discussed is how to strengthen the Lebanese Government against the state within the state that is the activity of Hamas -- of Hezbollah that lead to the conflict this summer, how to help the Lebanese Government fully implement 1701, we talked about how to help Abu Mazen in terms of a Palestinian government and a Palestinian Authority that is fully committed to the Quartet principles. That is really the issue here. Hamas has a choice. If they can make that choice, then it would be all the better for the Palestinian people.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Yes. If I may respond to your question. The issue is how to make peace. And in order to make peace, you have to identify the problem, the cause of whatever that is happening in this part of the world. And we think and we claim and we keep telling everybody that it is the Palestinian problem and the lack of a settlement for the Palestinians. The Palestinian problem is the scourge of this region. So the idea is to meet, to discuss, to consult, to exchange ideas and to see how we can push the process forward. It is not aimed at any particular party or against any particular party. It is to build enough understanding amongst ourselves and to help the parties to make that peace and to allow that situation to subside.
SECRETARY RICE: Did you say --
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Two or three?
SECRETARY RICE: No, one there and one there.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: You make your choice from the Egyptians.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes. The lady here.
QUESTION: I want to ask about your vision, about the new Middle East. Can you explain to us your vision about new Middle East exactly?
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah. I think that the -- let me call it the future Middle East -- a Middle East in which there is a peace between old adversaries, one by the way a process that Egypt and Jordan have lead by showing how that can be done, of a Middle East in which there is a democratic Palestine living side by side in peace with its Israeli --democratic Israeli neighbor, a Middle East in which the people of the Middle East enjoy the freedoms and liberties that every human being should enjoy. I enumerated them earlier about the relationship of the individual to the state which is so key.
Let me be very clear. The form that many of these -- that the governments will take will differ. It's going to differ from culture to culture, from state to state. Questions about the relationship of religion to politics - that will differ from state to state. Questions about what form of government - that will differ from state to state. Questions about social norms will differ from state to state. There are as many forms of democracy throughout the world as there are states. And the United States has no desire to see any state in the Middle East look like the United States. In fact, it would never work because you have different histories and different cultures.
But what is certain to me is that every human being wants to have a say in how he or she will be governed. And that is the basis of democracy and that people want choices about how they will be governed. Now it takes time and it's hard. The United States, if anything, will be and should be humble about how hard democracy is. After all, when our founding fathers in America drafted our Constitution and adopted our Constitution, I don't know if you know this but my ancestors, American slaves, were of course not considered people. They were three-fifths of a man in counting.
In my own lifetime, in my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, it was a matter of -- it was in my own lifetime that black people were assured the right to vote. My father had trouble voting in Birmingham in 1952. And I'm not that old that this should have happened in my lifetime.
And so we understand that it's hard, but it is right that people have these rights and you have to continue to struggle toward it and you have to continue to move toward it and you can't be afraid of it because it is really the only way that human beings reach their full potential.
Finally, I would hope that it would be a Middle East in which there is a full understanding that certainly the United States, but I think the world, really respects Islam. This is a great religion. We respect Islam so much that we do not believe that the violent people who blow up innocent children in a school in Russia, or who blow up innocent people at a bus stop in Madrid, that they are somehow representative of Islam. Islam is a peaceful religion. How could these people be representative of Islam?
We respect Islam so much that in the United States Islam is one of the fastest growing religions. If you go in any community in America, many communities in America, you will see a mosque not too far from a church or not too far from a synagogue. Muslims are contributing Americans, they are Muslims and they are Americans, fully Americans. How can we not respect Islam when it's so much a part of America?
And finally, we respect Islam so much that we do not believe that there could possibly be any conflict between Islam and democracy. Of course Muslims can have democracy. And so I would hope that in that future Middle East there would also be a basis for understanding that would bridge what are now really quite dangerous differences as people misunderstand each other and don't talk to each other and only yell at each other. That's the future Middle East that I would hope we would see.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Now a final question.
QUESTION: It's political --
SECRETARY RICE: It's not geographic.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Now a final question, and as the host we will give it to the Egyptians.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, the Americans are going to be very upset.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Well, but we are the host. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY RICE: All right. You'll let the host take the last question.
QUESTION: (In Arabic.) (Laughter.) (In Arabic.)
SECRETARY RICE: Okay, let me just take Darfur on the list. The United States is not the source of information about what is going on in Sudan. I would ask you just to listen to the reports of the UN Human Rights Coordinator about what is going on in Sudan. There are tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of people, that they cannot reach, cannot reach with food and water. Women who go out for firewood are regularly raped. These stories have been told and told and told. And villages are attacked by militia, by rebels and by government forces. This can't go on.
The United States is not a newcomer to Sudan. It was the United States that helped to broker, to negotiate, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between northern and southern Sudan that ended decades of civil war that had resulted in 2 million deaths. We are devoted to a unified Sudan that is a peaceful Sudan.
Now, Darfur broke out shortly after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement for the North and the South was completed and it is the United States that has led the effort to have a peace agreement for Darfur. In fact, my former Deputy went to Darfur, went to Abuja and helped to negotiate that. So we're very devoted to the peace process in Darfur. But we also know that the African Union forces are overmatched for the challenges that they face. There are 7,200 of them with very little mobility in an area the size of Texas. A UN peacekeeping force that has the infrastructure, that has the financial support and that can draw from a range of countries, I would hope principally from countries that are Muslim countries, that are African countries, that are from regions like North Africa or from perhaps Asia, a force like that would be able to secure the people of Darfur and to move on then to a true peace between the people of Darfur and their government so that you can get back on the road of building a unified Sudan that can actually govern. But the international community does have a responsibility to protect the most vulnerable and what is going on in Darfur now can no longer be tolerated. We need to work urgently to have the government of Khartoum accept what is now a UN Security Council resolution that there be an international force in Darfur.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Thank you very much.
Released on October 3, 2006