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U.S. Department of State

Department Seal Thomas R. Pickering
Under Secretary for Political Affairs

17th National Convention of the America-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
Washington, DC, June 9, 2000

Thank you Naila (al Asali.) I very much appreciate the invitation from you and the Board of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee to address your annual conference.

At the State Department, we frequently talk about democracy--particularly about how we can help support it overseas. We also talk about how to inspire a greater interest among Americans in foreign policy.

It is thus a great privilege to be here with you who are so active within our country and engaged in issues around the globe.

You have brought together an impressive group of people, including international political leaders, writers, artists, and thinkers. They--and I--recognize the significance of the Arab-American community as an integral and increasingly active part of the United States.

A recent edition of the Foreign Service Journal, a magazine for foreign affairs professionals, bears on its cover the title: "Arab-American Connections: A Growing Community Makes its Voice Heard." This cover, and the journal's articles, are further proof of your increasing visibility and influence.

I share with you a deep interest in the Middle East. For me, as for you, this interest is not only a matter of geo-politics. It comes from a deep appreciation of the history and cultures of the region.

During my tenures as Ambassador to Jordan and Israel, my wife and I had the opportunity to meet with fascinating people and to indulge one of our favorite avocations--archaeology.

When you are digging on your hands and knees in the sands of an excavation site, time takes on a slow, evolutionary hue. In that light good borders, as important as they are, seem to matter less than overall peace and cooperation among all people in the region--a region whose trade routes and empires have been so fluid over the centuries. I am hopeful for that part of the world--not only because of its rich past and vibrant cultures, but because of the possibilities for the future.

The overriding objective of the United States is to have a peaceful, stable, and prosperous Middle East that is fully involved in the modern global economy and family of nations. This is in our interest, and it is in the interest of the people who live in this vital region of the world.

Too often, people talk about the Middle East in different terms, as a place of violence, with a tumultuous present and an unchanging future. That perception is wrong. It is based on simplifications and stereotypes.

The Middle East of 2000 is a region of influential satellite television stations, Internet cafes, and an increasingly educated and active citizenry. It is a region in which cooperation among countries is steadily growing.

The American journalist and humorist, Kin Hubbard, said "The world gets better every day--then worse again in the evening." Meeting as we are at midday is thus the best time for a careful and balanced review of where we are and where we would like to be.

U.S. policy in the region has many components. These include:

--Achieving a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace;

--Ensuring regional stability and the security of all regional partners;

--Stemming the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction;

--Reducing trade barriers and creating free market conditions;

--Encouraging sustainable development; and

--Expanding political reform and adherence to international norms for human rights.

Each of these issues is worthy of a full discussion, but time is short, so I would like to focus on two areas of particular concern to ADC members: the Middle East Peace Process and Iraq.

Speaking out for Peace

No single foreign policy issue has engaged more U.S. administrations for longer than achieving a just and lasting Arab-Israeli peace. This administration, as others before it, is committed to helping the parties reach agreement.

On May 21, Sandy Berger, the National Security Advisor to the President, spoke eloquently of this quest at Tel Aviv University. He said, "Peace seldom speaks for itself. One of the most common mistakes is to assume that the argument for peace is self-evident. It is not. For those who enjoy it, its benefits are taken for granted. For those who do not, its benefits are viewed as distant and illusory."

We here today must speak for peace. We must make clear that peace is possible and encourage all parties. Much already has been achieved.

Egypt, Jordan and Israel are at peace. Peace between Israel, Syria, and Lebanon is now conceivable, especially since the withdrawal of Israeli troops from south Lebanon.

So often when we speak about change in the world--and particularly in the Middle East, we speak of situations which have deteriorated or have grown more bleak. I am pleased to be able to say to you today that the situation in Lebanon has changed dramatically for the better.

The Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon has been completed and the United Nations is now working to confirm that withdrawal and restore effective Lebanese authority over all of southern Lebanon.

On Wednesday, Secretary Albright noted the constructive role played by Syria in ensuring the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 425.

A brighter future is now on the horizon for all Lebanese citizens--a future which sees the return of the rule of law and respect for international standards of human rights and an end to the destructive cycle of confrontation and violence which has plagued the Lebanese people for far too long.

Meanwhile, Israelis and Palestinians have committed themselves to reaching a comprehensive agreement on all permanent status issues by September 13.

We are pleased that both parties will be sending their negotiators back to Washington to resume talks early next week, and we will be welcoming Chairman Arafat at the White House next Wednesday. Tomorrow, Aaron Miller, our Deputy Special Middle East Peace Process Coordinator, will give you a full briefing on the peace process.

Crunch time is coming for both sides as they face decisions on the most difficult issues: borders, refugees, settlements, water, and Jerusalem. Both Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat are working within the constraints of political realities.

As Secretary Albright said earlier this week in Cairo, "Clearly, the Israeli-Palestinian process is a challenging one and tough decisions are required, but this is a rare opportunity to reach an accord and we cannot let it slip away."

Although the leaders of the two sides realize they cannot expect to get 100% of what they want, pressure is building on each to get the most in exchange for the least. Neither Barak nor Arafat can dictate decisions on the critical issues of peace to their constituents.

We are doing everything we can to help, but Israelis and Palestinians themselves must decide the terms on which they will co-exist. They must continue to speak--and work--for peace.

Helping Iraqis

Another area in which our policy is of great concern to the Arab-American community is Iraq. Let me be clear: we share your concerns. We need to continue containing Saddam Hussein, find ways of providing humanitarian assistance to the people of Iraq, and work with Iraqis who are committed to bringing about a new government that respects the rights of its people and its neighbors.

When Saddam Invaded Kuwait and declared it the nineteenth province of Iraq, he brutalized the citizenry, stripped Kuwait of its property and resources, and burned its oil.

Just days ago, the Foreign Ministers of Egypt, Syria, and the Gulf States again called on Iraq to recognize that these acts were violations of Arab and international conventions. But despite this call and his defeat in the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein is still not prepared to live peacefully with his neighbors.

As you know, the UN Security Council passed resolutions requiring Iraq to cooperate with UN weapons inspectors in declaring and destroying its chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons; return stolen property; account for missing POWs; and end human rights abuses.

Some 9 years later, Iraq still has not complied with the United Nations Security Council resolutions, and he refuses to declare fully and destroy his weapons of mass destruction.

He has not returned stolen property, accounted for missing POWs or stopped repressing his own people.

That is why it is critical for sanctions to remain in place. If Saddam had access to the $20 billion in revenue from the sale of oil this year, he would find a way to import all the weapons he wants, and I can assure you that no one in the region would be safe. That's not only our view, but the opinion of Saddam's neighbors, who know better than anyone the danger that he represents.

Lifting sanctions would not lead to a dramatic improvement in humanitarian conditions in Iraq. Those who advocate this course overlook several critical factors:

First, there is no limit on the amount of oil Iraq can export for food, medicine, and other help for the Iraqi people.

Second, the most recent report of the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights noted that the gravity of the human rights situation in Iraq has few parallels since the end of World War II.

Third, sanctions deprive Saddam Hussein of the financial resources he needs to pursue his WMD programs. Finally, lifting sanctions would free Saddam to rebuild his military and WMD programs, but would not guarantee more money or a better life for the average Iraqi.

We are very concerned about conditions in Iraq. UNICEF reported that in the heavily populated southern and central parts of the country where Saddam, not the UN, is in charge of distributing food, children under 5 are dying at more than twice the rate they were 10 years ago.

The contrast in the North of Iraq, where the UN, and not Saddam, is in charge of the oil for food program is stunning. There, the under-5 mortality rate is now lower than it was before the Gulf War, and before sanctions were imposed.

So what is the problem in the areas Saddam administers? The UN has reported that Iraqi applications submitted for the food sector are insufficient. In particular, Iraq long ignored repeated UN calls for ordering high-protein biscuits and therapeutic milk, until UN reporting and media attention embarrassed Iraq into ordering them--although still not in the quantities recommended.

In addition, Iraq refused to distribute medicines from its warehouses until public pressure was brought to bear. Iraq still has not instituted supplementary feeding programs for vulnerable groups, as recommended by the United Nations, nor has it put in place a national pediatric immunization program as UNICEF has urged it to do.

The United States will continue to work to improve conditions, despite the Iraqi regime's obstruction. With the United Nations, we have taken a number of steps to improve humanitarian relief for the Iraqi people, and we are committed to doing more.

First, by making the record clear, we can through public pressure for telling the truth, push the Iraqi authorities into buying and distributing adequate stocks of foodstuffs, dietary supplements, and medicines to the Iraqi people.

When we and the UN have made the point stick that Saddam bears responsibility, he has increased his rate of ordering. Saddam Hussein bears responsibility for conditions in Iraq. The willingness of well-meaning people to ignore that fact simply reinforces his inclination to trade on the suffering of his people by withholding supplies.

Second, we can make the oil-for-food program work better. We amended the regime last winter through UNSCR 1284. We took the cap off of oil sales so that there is no limit on the financial resources available to purchase humanitarian supplies.

During the most recent 6-month period alone, Iraq earned over $8 billion. The annual rate is close to $20 billion. We now have in place lists of goods that can go to Iraq without being subject to review by the UN sanctions committee. The Committee now reviews all other oil for food contracts within 2 days. And we are reviewing our own internal procedures to reduce the number of contracts on hold to those that pose the most serious risks, and to reduce our processing time.

We already have released over $760 million worth of contracts. Last night, the Security Council renewed the oil-for-food program for the 8th time, broadening and deepening the improvements begun under Security Council Resolution 1284. It will take a little more time for the full impact of all these changes to become apparent but they should demonstrate that the United Nations is doing all it can to get needed goods to the Iraqi people. The only one not "with the program" is Saddam.

ADC's Important Role

Our government encourages other nations to accept the values of democracy and modern civil society. But we need to "practice what we preach" back home.

ADC is doing just that by organizing American citizens of Arab descent to speak their minds, express their views, and work to achieve political, cultural, and social objectives.

Each of you is a bridge between the United States and the Arab world. The theme of this convention sums it up: "Arab Americans: Truly Arab, Fully American."

You can help Americans understand the complexities, diversity, and cultural richness of the Arab world. You also have the ability to explain the values, virtues, and shortcomings of America to Middle East contacts. As an American official, and as an American citizen, I welcome and appreciate your efforts.

And I want to encourage our younger citizens to consider a career in the U.S. Foreign Service. We are determined to do all we can to improve the State Department's record on diversity and equal opportunity. We are recruiting hard, but women and minorities--including Arab-Americans remain under-represented. We want and need your help to do better.

I appreciate the help you have provided, including by sponsoring a recruitment event last month with the George Washington University Arab Student Union, and ask your continued help in urging young people in your communities to think seriously about becoming part of America's foreign policy team.

The entrance exam is offered once a year, but there are also internships available for students who would like to try us out before they graduate. The State Department has set up a recruitment exhibit at this conference, which I encourage you to visit.

Thank you very much for spreading the word, and for all that you do for our country. I look forward to your questions.

[end of document]

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