|Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright,
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Israel David Levy, and
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania Ahmed Ould Sid'Ahmed
Remarks at Ceremony on Signing of Diplomatic Relations
Washington, D.C., October 28, 1999
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I am honored, on behalf of the United States, to host Israeli Foreign Minister Levy and Mauritanian Foreign Minister Sid'Ahmed as they announce the decision of their countries to establish full diplomatic relations.
That dry diplomatic phrase can mean a great deal in the daily life of two nations. It opens the door to commerce and cultural exchange and, just as important, to contact and understanding.
It doesn't mean that two nations have settled all their differences. It does not mean that they see eye to eye on all questions.
But it does mean that they have chosen to explore the possibilities of cooperation, and of finding ways to identify and advance mutual interests.
Mauritania's history and culture make it devoutly Muslim. Its geography makes it a bridge between the Arab world and Africa. And today, the vision of its leaders makes Mauritania a force for regional reconciliation and peace.
Mauritanian President Taya and Foreign Minister Sid'Ahmed have shown courage and determination in supporting the Middle East peace process. Those qualities, and this new opening, will bring real benefits to the Mauritanian people.
Israel, too, stands to benefit as walls of fear are replaced by flows of information and commerce. Prime Minister Barak and Foreign Minister Levy, and their Palestinian partners, have done a great deal to renew the momentum for peace and improve the climate for regional cooperation.
The groundwork has been laid for permanent status negotiations, with the goal of reaching a comprehensive agreement next year. But we have a great deal of hard work ahead. The parties must find the courage to make difficult choices, and their neighbors and friends must sustain them in that effort.
This weekend, I will accompany President Clinton to Oslo, where we will remember Prime Minister Rabin and lend our encouragement to Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
One month ago, I met with the representatives of countries from the Middle East, Europe, Africa, the Americas, and Asia at a Partners for Peace Ministerial in New York. I asked those nations to give thought to ways they could contribute to the Middle East peace process.
Mauritania has responded decisively to that call. I hope that today's ceremony is the first of many such openings we will see in the months ahead. I am certain that it will contribute to a better future for these two nations -- and for the Middle East as a whole. And I pledge that the United States will do all it can to see the promise of this moment brought to fruition.
And now I am pleased to yield the floor to Foreign Minister Levy.
FOREIGN MINISTER LEVY(through interpreter): Ms. Madeleine Albright, for the benefit of the two nations and what is broadcast to everybody in the Middle East and every place else, of an era of peace on the moment of willingness that we shouldn't miss.
At this moment, Israel is making great efforts in order to advance the peace with the Palestinians. After the peace has been achieved with Jordan and Egypt, we are looking to the future and we hope it will not be far away. I hope it will be soon for the beginning of the talks with Syria and Lebanon we are facing peace.
What Mauritania has done today is very wise and courageous and it broadcasts to all the nations of the good spirit that must exist in our region.
We know to appreciate the vision, the wise vision and courageous vision of President Taya, the spirit of peace should not have any limits. The borders, the limits, that were based on alienation and hate, these borders are disappearing in order to bring a meeting between the nations that are committed to look on tomorrow that will be better so that we will no longer know wars.
I would like on this occasion to bring through you to your nation the best regards of the Nation of Israel, which values greatly their relations that we have commenced and, thanks to this common effort -- and thanks to the contribution of the United States and dear Madeleine Albright and the team of her workers, we have reached this moment. This picture should be a broadcast and a message to all the others, the time to shake hands, a time to integrate together the forces.
And we will learn from one another and we will be assisted by one another for what the peace has brought fruits to our nations. And when we have such a partner, the United States of America, with the values that are holy to all of us, which brings about former enemies together to bring us together to be neighbors tomorrow, it is pride to be a friend of this great nation.
Between us there were no borders. We have hope and we have a lot to do together in peace, in full peace, in full relations and common values and mutual respect. I am very happy at this moment. This will be a milestone that we are doing together and others will follow us.
FOREIGN MINISTER SID'AHMED (through interpreter): In the name of God the Merciful, the Gracious, may His blessings be on His gracious prophet.
In the framework of the meeting held in New York, on September 24, 1999, at the initiative of Mrs. Madeleine Albright, Minister of the U.S. State Department, in which many Arab and non-Arab countries participated along with the two sponsors of the Middle East process in the Middle East, the attending parties expressed their optimism that the peace track will continue moving on in the new spirit.
They demanded, at the same time, that work would continue seriously to support those efforts for peace. And this is in line with the permanent stance of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, supporting the efforts of the parties directly concerned with the establishment of a comprehensive, just, and permanent peace in the Middle East region, which would guarantee the Palestinian people regaining their full rights and the restoration of all the Arab-occupied lands.
After consultations between the governments of the two countries, with the help of the government of the United States, it has been decided that the diplomatic representation between the Islamic Republic of Mauritania and Israel to be updated to the level of embassy. On this occasion I would like to express my deep thanks to Mrs. Albright for the great efforts made in this regard in order to come to this conclusion.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, I am sorry to switch to an unpleasant area, but obviously Armenia is in great distress. Despite your urgings, the Russians are still pushing in Chechnya; Dagestan is seeing troubles. Are we seeing, really, an extended turmoil in the former Soviet Union and these various republics? Do you have any advice -- any prescription for stability?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, let me say again how saddened we were by the events in Armenia yesterday. I spoke with President Kocharian this morning to offer my personal condolences and sorrow over the violence, and I emphasized our strong support for Armenia at a very difficult time.
I also asked Deputy Secretary Talbott to return to Yerevan briefly, after he finishes his work in Moscow, to express personally the President's and my condolences and support for Armenia.
I have to say that, clearly, this is a very difficult period in an area where peace is so necessary. I think that, as you point out, there is a great deal of turmoil, both in the north and the south of the Caucasus.
As we have looked at the devolution of the Soviet Union, we are watching something that we -- most of us -- have only read about, which is the devolution of a major empire with all of its various huge variety of ethnic groups and languages and time zones. I think that we have to see what we can do to lessen the pain of those who are involved in terms of the numbers of refugees and to see what the international community can do about that and, at the same time, try to make sure that it does not become an area for terrorists -- which threaten us all -- and do what we can to push and turn and suggest to Moscow to go in the right direction.
We have been troubled by some of the steps that they have taken and have said that some of them are ominous, and we keep discussing this issue with them. Mr. Talbott is going to be in Moscow; I will see Prime Minister Ivanov in Oslo; and this is an ongoing discussion.
QUESTION: To Mr. Ahmed, I would like to ask you, we are already hearing protests from Syria, from other Arab countries, against your action today. Is it deterring you? And for the Secretary of State on the same subject, does this strict approach of Syria make you believe that the chances to renew the peace on the Israeli-Syrian track are now more slim?
FOREIGN MINISTER SID'AHMED: I'd like to say in response to your question that the decision which we took, which has been now put into effect a few minutes ago, is a sovereign decision taken by Mauritania as a sovereign state.
We certainly hope -- and I said this privately -- that this decision will -- this step will foster the efforts which are being carried out to arrive at a solution to the Middle East problem and that it will also open the way for forward-looking decisions and initiatives. And we certainly look forward to seeing the negotiations go ahead on both tracks, including the Syrian and Lebanese track.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Let me also say that we obviously have been and will continue to work for a comprehensive peace, and the Syria track is very important and we will continue to urge action in it. And we have been working in parallel with both parties to try to bring that about. We'll continue to do so.
QUESTION: To the Foreign Minister of Mauritania --
FOREIGN MINISTER LEVY (through interpreter): Can I add one thing? The peace, from our standpoint, is a value and is a designation on which we make a great effort and a lot of hope for peace. You cannot force a foreign people; peace you can make through faith. Israel believes in peace. Until we reach this point, there will be many difficulties and tests, and a lot of great price was paid for it.
Thanks to what we're doing today, I am sure -- as my nation is sure -- that all we knew in wars will prevent our children and the children of the region. This act is not a matter that advances through pressure or threat. First of all, it is our interest -- the nations of the region and the interest of Israel -- to reach peace and, in this assistance, to encourage the sides.
The United States is leading in wisdom, in friendliness, and in faithfulness on the opinion of the all the parties. This work -- if all the parties will want to obtain this peace, I believe that there was never an hour which was better than this hour.
Therefore, the relations we have today, I can already speak as a signed fact with Mauritania, did not come out of pressure. As my counterpart has stated, it came out of a correct, free decision of the two nations. We believe that this step will impact favorably not only on the process in the Middle East, but also on others that will join this path -- the path of life.
QUESTION: In your statement that you made earlier that the Palestinians' rights have to be fully implemented and all Arab -- occupied territories to be returned, many Arab countries are criticizing you that these two conditions have not been fulfilled. Why are you now taking this step; why has it waited since '95 when you had the mutual recognition with Israel? What's in it for you, as Mauritania?
My question to you sir: What is the status now with the Syrian track? How close are we to holding talks with them between the Syrians and the Israelis? Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER SID'AHMED: Thank you, sir. On your first question, I'm afraid I don't have much to add to what I said earlier; that we hope -- and I said this only a few weeks ago at the United Nations in my speech -- we hope that we can arrive at a comprehensive settlement of all the problems in the Middle East. And we certainly haven't changed our position on that, and that was clearly stated in my statement at the United Nations.
FOREIGN MINISTER LEVY (through interpreter): The first question I'll also -- whoever threatens our nations that come into the recognition that they have a relationship of friendship between them in order to strengthen the peace, I do not know if it does it out of the depths of its heart or if it sees the future as tomorrow as a believing person has to see it.
But I can only say that it is a bit strange there are representatives, official representatives, of our neighbors that come to Israel, and we go to them and our flag is in their nation and their flag is in our nation. Of course, this cannot threaten the step that Mauritania has taken and which does not have a border with us, and there is a paradox here. But we'll leave it alone. This will pass by -- sometimes maybe after the thunder comes the rain -- and we hope that we will all have rain.
As to the second question, in regard to Syria, we did not adopt a path -- or neglected the other track. We want to advance on all tracks. We have stated it and it appears also in the charter that is between the Knesset and the nation. We have patience. We do not get disappointed and we do not put out ultimatums or conditions. We are waiting -- not as a poor man at the doorstep, but as a people with faith who want to reach a comprehensive peace and also in which also the Syrians' response will come.
I can say what a great man has stated before -- my teacher, Menachem Begin, his memory be blessed: "We have to do everything to avoid wars. You cannot prevent peace; it will come."
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: We are going to Oslo to celebrate another one of the great Israeli leaders, Yitzhak Rabin, and his brave steps that he took in risks for peace. We are seeing now that the Israeli Government wants to move forward in trying to get a comprehensive peace.
I have believed that it would be better if the climate were such that Israel did not feel isolated in taking these risks, and the steps that Mauritania has taken are so important because it shows the goodwill and the desire to end a sense of isolation, creating a climate.
I would hope very much that other Arab countries would follow suit very quickly, and I would also hope that the Europeans would decide to take Israel into their midst and show the necessity of not having Israel be isolated so that it is prepared, with its partners, to take the risks for peace.
QUESTION: Could I ask the Foreign Minister from Mauritania and the Secretary of State, one, were any incentives offered to Mauritania for taking this step on the part of either the United States or anybody else, and; second, where will the Mauritanian embassy in Israel be, in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem? Where will the Mauritanian embassy in Israel be, in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem?
FOREIGN MINISTER SID'AHMED: I think I'll let the Secretary respond to your first question.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I didn't hear the first question. I'm sorry.
QUESTION: Were there any incentives?
FOREIGN MINISTER SID'AHMED: As for your second question, it hasn't yet been decided. Thank you.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that the incentive is the one that I have mentioned: that we made quite clear that we would be very appreciative of countries that came forward. We had a meeting. The Mauritanians, I must say, have been very good partners with us in dealing with issues of terrorism and have understood the important role that they can play. The incentive, I think, is in the act itself.
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