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U.S., Europe Face Policy Challenges in Middle East

U.S., Europe Face Four Policy Challenges in Greater Middle East

State's Burns' speech on role of transatlantic community in Mideast

Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs William Burns says the members of the Transatlantic Community face four interconnected policy challenges in the greater Middle East -- helping Iraqis build a unified, stable, prosperous country, realizing a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, struggling against terrorists and the state sponsors of terrorism, and supporting political and economic reforms in the Middle East.

"They offer a renewed basis for transatlantic cooperation on a set of challenges that are likely to be as crucial as any that either Europe or America will face in the decade ahead. And they offer a basis for hope -- the ultimate antidote to the despair on which violent extremists thrive," Burns said in Washington November 12 in a speech at a conference commemorating the legacy of former Secretary of State George C. Marshall.

Following is the transcript of Burns' speech:

Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs
November 12, 2003

Assistant Secretary of State William J. Burns
Remarks to the Conference:
The Marshall Legacy: The Role of The Transatlantic Community in Building Peace and Security
"How Can the Transatlantic Community Help Build Peace, Prosperity, and Security in the Greater Middle East?"
Washington, DC
Tuesday, November 12, 2003

Good morning. I deeply appreciate the opportunity to join you today to honor the legacy of one of the truly great statesmen in American -- and transatlantic -- history, General George C. Marshall.

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The legacy of General Marshall has touched my own life in several ways over the years. While I am sure he will not remember this, the last time General Meyer and I shared a stage together was thirty years ago, when he presented me an award at my high school in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and spoke to all of us impressionable seventeen year olds about the selfless example of public service offered by George Marshall.

Several years later, I studied as a Marshall Scholar at Oxford University, the direct beneficiary of a program established by the British Government in gratitude for General Marshall's contributions. While the Marshall Scholarship Fund has survived the minor infamy of its award to me, it had a profound effect on my life, and I'm pleased to be here today in part to honor that gift. I have also had the profound good fortune, both personally and professionally, to work for a number of years for Secretary Powell, whose own remarkable career you will honor this evening as a continuation of the legacy of George Marshall.

Never have the qualities of mind and spirit that Marshall brought to the challenges of the postwar world been more relevant than today. And nowhere are they more relevant today than in the historic challenges posed by developments in the Greater Middle East.

In the simple eloquence of his address at Harvard in 1947, and in the actions which flowed from it, Marshall held out a vision of national security in its broadest sense. It was a vision which combined military means with a deep understanding of the importance of resolving the conflicts and curing the economic and political ills out of which extremism and insecurity grow. It was a vision which aimed above all to restore hope amidst chaos and despair. It was a vision which reflected the critical importance of building on the initiative of those in greatest need, not imposing solutions from outside. It was a vision which at the same time grasped the crucial significance of American leadership and generosity of spirit, in support of efforts at homegrown change. It was a vision which betrayed no hint of naiveté, no underestimation of the difficulties involved or what was at stake. And it was a vision which fully appreciated the promise of transatlantic partnership.

If ever there were a moment or a place in history to apply that vision again, then it is now in the Greater Middle East. Powerful challenges loom on many fronts, from Iraq to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to the global war on terrorism. Many Middle East societies are falling further and further behind in the global economy, and Arab thinkers themselves highlight mounting deficits in educational and political modernization. And underlying all those problems is a crisis of understanding, in which people on all sides are questioning basic assumptions about one another.

The fact that a recent survey by the Pew Foundation found that 94 percent of Egyptians, for example, have an unfavorable view of the United States ought to be a cause for sober reflection. So should the palpable unease of many in the United States about the Middle East and prospects for the future. Recent polls showing a majority of Europeans believing that Israel now poses the greatest threat to world peace are as troubling as they are ill-founded, and equally alarming is the creeping return of anti-Semitism in political discourse. Gaps between Europeans and Americans in viewing many Middle East issues are widening, not narrowing - even as our stake in addressing these issues is growing. If ever there were a time for looking honestly at where we've been together, and for speaking some plain truths about where we're headed, this is it.

I don't mean to suggest that there is a neat path ahead of us. There isn't. And I certainly don't mean to suggest that the Department of State has a monopoly on wisdom on any of these issues. We don't. And if you don't believe me, there is no shortage of people in Washington these days who will confirm that for you.

It seems to me that we face four interconnected policy challenges in the Greater Middle East today. First, the challenge of helping Iraqis liberated from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein to build the unified, stable and prosperous country that they and their neighbors so richly deserve. Second, the challenge of renewing progress toward the two state vision which President Bush has outlined, and which is so deeply in the interests of Israelis as well as Palestinians. Third, the struggle against terrorists and their state sponsors, as well as against the spread of weapons of mass destruction. And fourth, and not least, the historic challenge of supporting efforts at economic and political reform in a region which has for too long known too little of either.

I am not naïve. These are enormously difficult issues, and change will not come easily or quickly, nor will it be risk-free. But, taken together, progress on each of these four issues offers a positive agenda for the Greater Middle East. They offer a basis for making common cause with people and leaderships in the region struggling against the militant minorities who threaten us all. They offer a renewed basis for transatlantic cooperation on a set of challenges that are likely to be as crucial as any that either Europe or America will face in the decade ahead. And they offer a basis for hope - the ultimate antidote to the despair on which violent extremists thrive, as George Marshall understood so clearly in grappling with different problems on a different Continent more than a half-century ago.

Let me touch briefly on each of these policy challenges, on which a new form of transatlantic partnership can be built.


qI returned last night from my third trip to Iraq in the past three months. I came away once again with a sense of how big and complicated a task we and the Iraqi people face, after decades of brutal misrule by Saddam Hussein, and of how powerful the possibilities are before us. As today's bombing against Italian forces in Nasiriyah grimly reminds us, there can be no doubt that security is a daunting and immediate problem. So too are the issues of economic reconstruction and accelerating a political process to return to Iraqis control over their own affairs. But there can also be no doubt that Iraqis are finally free from the terrible atrocities and waste of the regime of Saddam Hussein.

Earlier this fall, I joined Secretary Powell on his visit to the memorial at Halabja, where 5,000 Kurdish men, women and children were gassed to death by Saddam in 1988. Last summer, I visited the mass grave at Mahawil, where more that 10,000 Shia victims of Saddam were executed in 1991. I cannot imagine anyone seeing those places and not understanding the fundamental wisdom of President Bush's decision to act against Saddam, and the fundamental importance of building an Iraq in which such crimes can never again occur.

Step by difficult step, Iraqis are beginning to put their society back together again. Basic services have largely been restored. Iraqi ministers are taking on more and more responsibilities. Ordinary citizens are expressing their views freely, in ways that were simply unimaginable under Saddam.

Of course there is much more to be done. Iraqis need a great deal of help from all of us. Americans and Europeans have had sharp differences in the past over Iraq, but the unanimous passage of UNSC Resolution 1511 and the success of the Madrid Donor Conference provide a renewed framework for cooperation. That doesn't mean that we will always have identical views on how best to support Iraqis in the months and years ahead, or for that matter that among Europeans themselves there won't be divergence of opinion. But we have far more to gain, and the Iraqi people have far more to gain, by steadily expanding the basis for our cooperation - whether through increased contributions from the EU for economic reconstruction, a stronger transatlantic effort to help Iraqis navigate the political transition envisioned in resolution 1511, or perhaps even eventual consideration of a NATO role in bolstering security.

Real transatlantic partnership on Iraq will be hard to build, but immense in its potential. It will have to be a two-way street, in which Americans also listen and adapt, which I know can sometimes seem like an unnatural act for us. But now is the moment to recognize, on both sides of the Atlantic, what's at stake in Iraq. We and the Iraqi people have our work cut out for us, but we're pointed in a direction that can, and must, succeed. We simply cannot afford the alternative.

Israel and the Palestinians

Alongside Iraq, there is a second compelling, complicated and endlessly frustrating challenge on our policy agenda: how to rekindle some sense of hope for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. I hardly need to tell any of you in this audience that hope is in very short supply right now. It is evaporating in the understandable rage of Israelis suffering through horrible acts of terror. It is being swallowed up in the deep frustrations, daily humiliations and wounded dignity of Palestinians living under occupation. And what is being lost in the process is the vision of two states that President Bush offered on June 24, 2002.

The truth is that nothing is more important to long-term transatlantic interests in the Greater Middle East than the realization of the President's vision of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace, security, and dignity. In order for that to happen, both Israelis and Palestinians must see a different reality emerging than the one they see today. Israelis must see an end to terror, and hope for a final end to the conflict and full acceptance in the region. Palestinians must see their dignity respected, their hope restored for an early, negotiated end to the occupation which began in 1967, and the creation of a viable, independent state of their own.

Such a Palestinian state cannot be built upon a foundation of terror and violence. It cannot. On that there can be no concessions, no flexibility, no turning a blind eye. Palestinians will have to be honest with themselves on this point, and they will have to confront those among them who would drag Palestinian dreams further down a tragic dead-end path. As President Bush has emphasized repeatedly, a transformed Palestinian leadership is essential. Ending violence and reforming Palestinian political institutions are not a favor to any outsider - they are deeply in the self-interest of Palestinians, and the only workable path to statehood and the end of occupation.

But the emergence of a Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel is not just a dream of the Palestinian people. Its realization is intimately connected with Israel's future as well, and the kind of Israel that Israelis will pass on to their children and grandchildren.

The demographic picture is very stark. Within the next decade or so, Jews will be a minority in the area encompassing Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. As Israeli settlements expand, and their populations increase, it becomes increasingly difficult to see how the two peoples will be separated into two states. The fact is that settlements continue to grow today, encouraged by specific government policies, and at enormous expense to Israel's economy. And this persists even as it become clear that the logic of settlements and the reality of demographics could threaten the future of Israel as a Jewish democracy.

For friends of Israel, the conclusion is hard to escape. Settlement activity must stop, because it ultimately undermines Israeli as well as Palestinian interests. The course of the security fence remains a significant problem as well - not its existence as a separation barrier between Israel and the West Bank - but because its planned route inside the West Bank isolates Palestinians from each other, prejudices negotiations and, like settlement activity, takes us further from the two state goal.

Just as it is essential to drive home to Palestinians that violence and terror will never achieve their aspirations, so too it is important to preserve the possibility that a viable state can be achieved by a Palestinian leadership committed once and for all to ending terror. That reality underpins the President's continued personal commitment to his June 24 vision, and to the Quartet's roadmap as a means of pursuing it. There is also important work being done today in non-official channels, such as the grassroots efforts of Sari Nusseibeh and Ami Ayalon, and the more detailed proposals in the Geneva Initiative. These are reminders not only that dedicated Palestinians and Israelis can still negotiate with one another, but also that there is something to negotiate about. Such efforts ought to be encouraged, to help keep the two state vision alive, and to help preserve the best and most innovative ideas developed in previous negotiations.

In the meantime, we are left with the hard reality that roadmaps and visions and final status proposals do not implement themselves. They require hard work and hard choices from all of us. The Palestinian Legislative Council is meeting today to consider a new Palestinian government. If it is confirmed, our ability to work with that government will be shaped by its performance, not just its rhetoric. And if there is real performance, especially on security, I have no doubt that both Americans and Europeans will do all we can to help. The Quartet has already proven to be an effective coordinating mechanism. European contributions to Palestinian reform and economic development have been significant and complementary to our own. And there is much that we can and must do together in the future.

Struggle Against Terrorism and WMD

A third critical challenge is our ongoing struggle against terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. I'll just touch on a few of the major issues before us, and how transatlantic cooperation helps us deal with them.

Let me start with Iran, about which not only the United States but an increasing number of other countries have profound concerns. Iran's recent commitment to visiting European ministers and to the IAEA to allow tougher inspections and stop nuclear fuel cycle reprocessing is a positive step. But it is one that we must watch very carefully, against the backdrop of Iran's previous broken promises, and its continuing support for terrorism. Syria poses another challenge. Secretary Powell made unmistakably clear to President Assad last May that the United States, like Europe, remains committed to comprehensive peace, including on the Syrian and Lebanese tracks. But he also laid out candidly the range of our concerns and what it would take to build a more normal relationship. The point is that the Syrian regime can't have it both ways: it can't profess a commitment to peace on the one hand, and with the other support groups like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, who are doing everything they can to explode prospects for peace. That is a message that European governments can effectively reinforce, and that the EU's recent decision to list Hamas as a terrorist organization helped to sharpen.

Libya is a different kind of challenge. Through long and determined diplomacy, backed up by multilateral sanctions and in partnership with the courageous families of the victims of Pan Am 103, we were finally able earlier this fall to achieve Libyan performance on obligations more than a decade old: chief among them, acceptance of responsibility and payment of compensation. In the process, Libya has moved away from terrorism. Those are positive steps. The next problem before us, and it is a serious problem, is Libya's pursuit of WMD programs. We have made very clear to the Libyans that any possibility of movement on our bilateral sanctions, which remain firmly in place today, will depend on verifiable abandonment of WMD programs.

Supporting Economic Modernization and Democratic Change

The fourth element on our policy agenda, intertwined with the other three, is the longer-term issue of supporting efforts from within the region aimed at democratic change and economic modernization. This is an area of particular potential for transatlantic cooperation, given both the depth of our shared stake in progress on these issues and the resources we all have to bring to bear.

I have been an American diplomat for 21 years, through four Administrations. I have spent much of that time working on Middle East issues. It is a fair criticism of all our efforts during those years to say that we have never paid adequate attention to the long-term importance of opening up some very stagnant political systems, especially in the Arab world.

That is not just a matter of American or Western values, or of ensuring basic human rights, crucial as both of those concerns are. It is also a matter of hardheaded American - and European - interests. Stability is not a static phenomenon, and political systems that do not find ways to gradually accommodate the aspirations of their people for participation will become brittle and combustible.

As President Bush emphasized in a speech last week, the Greater Middle East is no more immune from that reality than any other part of the world. I know there are some who argue for a kind of Arab or Moslem exceptionalism on this score, but I simply don't agree. Of course it's true that Arab societies have more than their share of difficulties to work through, but that doesn't mean that they are incapable of gradual democratic change. Assuming otherwise is both flawed analysis and a dangerous basis for policy.

Another plain truth, but one which Americans and Europeans ought to keep carefully in mind, is that enduring democratic change and economic modernization must be driven from within Arab societies. They cannot be imposed from without - any more than Europe's reconstruction and reintegration could be accomplished a half-century ago purely through American prescriptions. The initiative has to be home-grown. But what is encouraging across much of the Greater Middle East today is the extent of self-examination underway, and the tangible steps that many countries are taking toward political and economic reform. The two Arab Human Development Reports issued over the past couple years bear eloquent testimony, from Arab thinkers themselves, about what needs to be done to ease serious deficits in political freedoms, economic openness, educational opportunity and women's empowerment. The hard reality as we enter the 21st century is that countries that adapt, open up and seize the economic and political initiative will prosper; those that don't will fall further and further behind.

From Morocco to Jordan to Bahrain, Arab leaders and emerging civil society groups are beginning to grasp - and act on - that hard truth. Iraq will be a crucial test for economic and political modernization, whose success over time will have far-reaching consequences. So will the course of events in Saudi Arabia and Egypt - two critically important partners for the United States. Both face enormous challenges. But as I saw during visits to Riyadh and Cairo over the past few days with Deputy Secretary Armitage, both are facing up to those challenges. Last Sunday's terrorist attack in Riyadh offered another horrible reminder of the utter ruthlessness of Al Qaeda, whose murder this time around of dozens of innocent Arab and Moslem men, women and children reinforced the threat posed to all of us. But Crown Prince Abdullah made clear that this latest attack will not deter his pursuit of domestic reforms, including opening up the economy and enhancing political participation.

In the last 30 years, a genuine partnership has also emerged between the United States and Egypt. It has been founded not on sentiment or imagined bonds, but on a bedrock of shared interests and aspirations. It has also had its share of setbacks and differences and mutual disappointments - but it would be a serious mistake to forget what it has meant for both of us, and for the hopes of the region.

There are many things that both the United States and our friends across the Atlantic can do to help those in the Greater Middle East committed to creating new economic and political opportunities. President Bush has proposed a U.S.-Middle East Free Trade Area within the coming decade. Our assistance programs are expanding throughout the Arab world, under the umbrella of Secretary Powell's Middle East Partnership Initiative. Europe has a long and admirable record of support for economic and political development in the region, and next month's Euromed ministerial meeting is another important opportunity to deepen that cooperation. There is more we do together to coordinate our efforts and to help those in the region embarked upon an historic task of reform. Again, as in the postwar experience of General Marshall, the initiative must ultimately come from within the region, but we ought to think creatively about what new structures for support we could organize.

In many ways, the challenge of restoring hope and integrating the Greater Middle East into a more peaceful and prosperous world is just as important at the dawn of the 21st century as was the challenge of rebuilding and reintegrating Europe in the middle of the last century. The circumstances are different in many respects, but the historic opportunity is very similar. Certainly no challenge is likely to loom larger for the transatlantic community in the years ahead. That is why it is so valuable today to recall the vision of George Marshall. His remains a model of understanding of national security in its broadest sense; of the importance of making clear not just what we stand against, but also what we stand for; of the need to restore hope and confidence as the best antidote to chaos and extremism; and of the value of generous American leadership and transatlantic cooperation. At this critical moment in history, we would all do well to emulate the example, and the wisdom, of General Marshall.

Thank you.

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