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U.S. Department of State

Department Seal Edward S. Walker, Jr., Assistant Secretary
Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs

Press Conference, U.S. Embassy Sanaa, Yemen
February 14, 2000

Question: The Yemen Government has said that there is a lot of pressure exerted on it to normalize relations with Israel and at the same time to solve the border issues with Saudi Arabia. What can the United States offer to normalize relations with Israel?

Walker: Well, there is no pressure on anyone to do anything that would be against their own interests or their own desires. We think that in the course of events as we move forward in the Peace Process, and as we make it possible for Israel and Syria to reach an agreement, and as we move forward in the Palestinian negotiations, it will become a natural thing for the countries in the region to normalize their relations over time. We think this will be a constructive move for the peace process and will indicate that the peace process has a wider impact, which we believe it does, on the region, and it will be a natural outgrowth of a successful peace process. And since we are very committed to pursuing and engaging and concluding a successful process, starting with the President of the United States, we would hope that in this period there would be a closing of ranks with the Arab world and some improvement of relations. But as I said there is no pressure.

Regarding the relations between Saudi Arabia and Yemen, it is certainly our hope that there will be an agreement on the border. We have been in favor of such an agreement for many years. I remember when I was in Saudi Arabia back in the mid 80s. We were encouraging both sides to move forward, but again, this is something that will have to be decided by the sides themselves. So anything we can do to help in the process, we will be happy to do. And we certainly hope that there will be a resolution because clearly good relations between the countries of this region help in the area of stability and make it easier for economic development and growth. And a whole lot of good things will come from this. So we would like to see this problem solved.

Question: Compared to other countries, how do you evaluate the implementation of the demining program by the Yemeni Government?

Walker: This is a real success story. This is a program that has gotten the cooperation of the Government of Yemen, the Government of the United States, a number of European countries, and others: all coming together with one objective: to clear the mines. And I must say we think that it has been an extremely successful program and one that will work to the advantage of Yemen. I think there was a ceremony today regarding this down in the south. We are very pleased with the progress and hope to see continuing cooperation along these lines.

Question: First of all, you are very welcome to the Republic of Yemen. What is the significance of your visit to the Republic of Yemen and how do you evaluate the outcomes of your talks with the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister?

Walker: Well. I have been in my job, my new job, for 3 weeks, and I thought it was extremely important for me to come to the region and to consult with the various countries in the region, particularly in the peninsula, for several reasons. First, so that I could get a good impression or understanding of what the concerns of the countries, including Yemen, are in the region, and second, so that I can seek their advice and counsel on our own policies to see if these policies need amendment or readjustment. And I can tell you that it has been a very profitable visit every place I have been, but I was particularly pleased with the intensive conversation that I had with the President. It was certainly very useful for me to get his impressions and his advice, and I will take that back and will take it very seriously as we develop our policies in the future.

Question: How do you assess and evaluate the democratic process in Yemen?

Walker: I think it's very encouraging, the process that is going on in Yemen. It is never easy to move in the direction of democracy. There are always complications and difficulties. I think it exhibits a great deal of courage and strength that the Government of Yemen is moving in this direction. We were pleased to see the election process, the fact that this is a process that is continuing. And I think in the long run it will be to the great advantage of Yemen that this process is going on. I would say that it is equally important that the economic growth and the economic reform process also continue, and I hope that we will be able to help in this process. It will lead to a greater growth in Yemen and a better standard of living for all Yemenis.

Question: In addition to the democratic process in Yemen, there are other issues, especially regional ones, and especially the situation in the Horn of Africa. Yemen is trying to reduce the economic pressure on it which is mainly exerted by the refugees and the influx of refugees from the Horn of Africa, and all the economic problems that are caused by that by trying to play a role in the Horn of Africa? What can the United States do to help Yemen reduce such a pressure that it faces from the problems and situation in the Horn of Africa?

Walker: As you know, the problem in the Horn of Africa is a highly complex one and it's been in existence for some time. There are a number of countries that are engaged in trying to improve the situation. We certainly welcome the efforts of Yemen in trying to bring about a peaceful resolution to these problems, to reduce the problems of refugees, smuggling, and other problems that have occurred largely because of the instability and the conflict that that is going on and/or is threatened in parts of the Horn of Africa. I think that one of the things that we might be able to assist on more directly is in helping Yemen to develop a coast guard which is capable of securing Yemen's borders. We will try and work with the government here to develop such a capability. So both in the context of defense and in the context of helping the African countries through our efforts and those of Yemen to resolve their differences, perhaps we can succeed in reducing this pressure.

Question: Going back to the border issue with Saudi Arabia, do I understand from what you are saying that you support a bilateral solution instead of arbitration?

Walker: The mechanisms for resolving this problem--and there are a number of mechanisms for resolving this problem--certainly includes bilateral negotiations. Arbitration is a mechanism that has been used in other cases. It's really up to the parties themselves to decide what's the best mechanism for them. In some cases both mechanisms have been used simultaneously. I do not want to prejudge at this point what is the best answer for Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Let the discussions between you continue, and hopefully those will lead to a positive conclusion.

Question: Why do you think the flow of the American assistance to Yemen is so slow although Yemen is supporting American policy in the region.

Walker: I want first to say that we welcome the support that Yemen has given us in the region. We value that support very greatly. We hope that we will be successful this year in moving a resumption of the aid program through our Congress so that there is no break in the aid program, and that we will be able to move forward with additional assistance in the future. We are quite confident that we will succeed in this. We also have a number of other programs that we hope will be of assistance to Yemen. As I mentioned there is the possibility of assisting in the development of the coast guard. We would hope to have the ability to help train some of the military. We have additional funds that are available to help in the process of developing democracy. We have moved and changed our assistance programs from a largely AID-denominated one to one of many pockets. So we will be reaching into all of these various pockets to try and help the government here in its economic and social development.

Question: The demining program in Aden, some say that it is only a cover-up to implement a number of programs including the construction of a military base. How true is this?

Walker: Not true at all. There is no hidden agenda. There is just simply our increasing concern worldwide about the proliferation of mines and the incredible damage it does to such innocent people, often children, who run into a field and are blown up when they play with a mine, and so on. We are trying to help in a worldwide program of clearing mines in a number of countries. And one of the countries which needs that help is Yemen. That's why we are doing it here.

Question: The Israeli Prime Minister Barak had actually called, there is reports that Prime Minister Barak called the U.S. Administration before the recent attacks on Lebanon and he was given the green light from the U.S. Administration. The other part of the question is why the United States has done nothing to stop the Israeli attacks on Lebanon. The second question regards Egyptian mediation between Sudan and the U.S.

Walker: To answer the first question, nobody ever called the United States and asked for permission. Second, I have never known Israel to ask anybody's permission to clear this kind of action. So this would be a major change in their policy if they did ask for permission. We are trying everything we can to get this violence stopped. You know, one of the tragedies is that it seems to be that always it's the Lebanese that pay the price for other people's problems. We do not like that any more than you do. We are trying very hard to get both parties back to the Israel Lebanon Monitoring Group, to calm the situation because the only real answer to this problem is a peace agreement between Israel and Syria, and Israel and Lebanon. Unless we can calm the situation, we won't be able to get back to those talks. Those talks have to be the primary goal of all of us. So that is what we are trying to do. Regarding the situation between Sudan and the Egyptian efforts, it's not just the Egyptian efforts. A number of people have come to us to suggest that we take a hard look at what Bashir is doing in Sudan now that Turabi is out or at least on the margins. We will do that. We want to see how the situation develops. We hope that it will develop in a positive way. Certainly, I know the Egyptians hope that and so do many other countries in this region. After all, it was President Mubarak himself who suffered personally from the regime that existed before. We have high hopes for the future, but we want to see some actual evidence on the ground as to where and the direction they are going to go. In the meantime we welcome the efforts of the Egyptians. We welcome the other efforts that are going on in the region to resolve some of the problems that are taking place in that part of the world.

Question: The American military presence in the area is still a major concern, for the Arab states and the Arab people in general. What is the future of the American military presence in the area, and at the same time, does the U.S. policy still aim at toppling the Iraqi regime?

Walker: The U.S. military presence in the region came about because of the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq. That presence was necessary along with our allies, including the Syrians and the Egyptians. We were able to succeed in pushing Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. Unfortunately he has never given up his objectives and has repeatedly restated both publicly and privately his desire and intention to take over Kuwait. Our forces are in the region for one reason only and that is to make sure that our friends stay secure and safe. The minute we no longer have a problem in securing, or they no longer have a problem with security, we will not maintain large-scale forces in the region. Unfortunately, that is not the situation today. Our belief is that Iraq is a country that deserves far better leadership than it has. We think that Iraq would be a great country and a strong member of the international community under different leadership. We deplore the situation of the Iraqi people, who we feel are bearing the burden of the mistakes of their leader. Therefore, unless there is a massive change in the approach of the leadership of Iraq we cannot see a normal situation under the current circumstances. But we would welcome that change if it took place.

Question: The Yemeni Government has requested that a deadline be fixed for completing the negotiations with regard to the borders with Saudi Arabia. Did you discuss this issue with President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Yemeni Government, and do you think that a deadline is good for resolving the problem?

Walker: I did discuss the issue with a number of the officials with whom I met. It was important for me to understand the position of the Yemeni Government, and the state of play within the negotiations. I will also talk about the issue with the Saudi Government but it is not up to me to make a judgment as to whether or not there should be deadlines in these negotiations. I prefer that this kind of discussion take place between the Government of Yemen and the Government of Saudi Arabia.

Question: My question is about the Islamic communities in the United States. Do they have the same rights as the other religions? And what about their role in American society?

Walker: You know it is interesting because a lot of people do not realize that the fastest growing religion in the United States is Islam, and it has a growing impact in our country. It has all of the rights of the other religions and its rights are all protected by the constitution of the Untied States, by our courts, and by practice. It is having an increasing impact in the United States, and a very positive one. So we welcome the growth of Islam in the United States and we look forward to cooperation among the religions to enhance the moral and the ethical standards of the United States in the future.

[end of document]

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