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Egypt Vital to Peace in Middle East, Gates Says

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

CAIRO, Egypt, April 18, 2007 – Security challenges in the Middle East are significant, but can be overcome by Egypt and the United States working closely together in the region, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today.

“I have long considered Egypt one of America’s most important, even indispensable, partners,” Gates said in a speech to the American Chamber of Commerce here.

The secretary is in the Middle East this week to meet with leaders about mutual interests and concerns in the region. He met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and other Egyptian defense officials earlier today and with Jordan’s King Abdallah in Amman, Jordan, yesterday. His next stop will be Israel, where discussions are likely to focus on the Arab-Israeli peace process, Iran and Lebanon, a senior defense official traveling with Gates said.

In his speech, Gates said he and Mubarak agreed on common goals for the region, including:

-- “A unified, stable and prosperous Iraq;

-- “A just and comprehensive peace between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples;

-- “An Iran that does not attempt to dominate the region by subverting their neighbors and by building nuclear weapons; and

-- “Halting the growth and influence of extremist, terrorist networks and sectarian militia organizations that have become, in the words of (Army Gen. John Abizaid) our former theater commander in Iraq, ‘the curse of the region.’”

Gates touted the strong military-to-military ties between Egypt and the United States, and called the Egyptian military “one of the region’s most professional and effective forces.”

He specifically cited the annual Bright Star multinational exercises. “This joint venture is just one example of our commitment to building the capabilities of the Egyptian armed forces,” he said. “In addition to the more than $1 billion in military aid that Egypt will receive from the United States this year, we continue to strengthen and maintain the ties between our military establishments through education, training and exchanges.”

However, the secretary stressed, military cooperation alone does not make for strong allies. Other tenets of national power have to come into play.

“Some of the most consequential progress in our relationship in recent years has not come between our militaries or even between our governments, but as a result of the work many of you here today are doing,” Gates told the Chamber of Commerce members. “The growth of trade has brought Egypt closer to the global marketplace of investment, commerce and ideas, and that is a welcome development.”

Egypt has a long-standing tradition of leadership in the Middle East, Gates said. “To overcome these daunting challenges -- defeating the terrorist networks, securing Iraq, holding Iran accountable, bringing peace to the Holy Land -- geography and history have thrust an important and unique burden on Egypt,” he said. “It is a role well in keeping with Egypt’s historic tradition of providing leadership in the Arab world.”

He noted that many significant developments in this region began with Egypt. “It was this way during the Cold War: with Egypt forming an alliance with the former Soviet Union and then expelling it, in fighting five wars with Israel, and then being the first to make peace,” Gates said. “When Egypt has had the courage and the vision to lead despite the real risks and costs involved, it has benefited not only Egypt, but the people of the Middle East as well.”

Egypt’s unique geographic, economic and political positions in this region make it a vital cog in progress in this part of the world, Gates said.

“It is unlikely that progress can be made on the most pressing issues of today without Egypt’s full engagement, support and leadership,” he said. “But with Egypt providing leadership, it will be possible to open up new possibilities for the peoples of the Middle East.

“After all,” he continued, “we are living at a time when, as never before, people around the globe are demanding and making progress toward peace, political openness, and an economic system that works for themselves and their families.”

Toward the end of his speech, Gates laid out his vision for a peaceful, prosperous Middle East -- “a future:

-- “Where trade, commerce and economic lead to a growing middle class and a higher quality of life for workers and their families;

-- “Where Palestine and Israel are living in peace side by side as viable and independent states;

-- “Where men and women have an increasingly greater say and a greater stake in how they govern their own lives, their own communities, and their own countries; and

-- “Where citizens from Tehran (Iran), to Baghdad, to Beirut (Lebanon) can look forward to a life secure from the assassin, the suicide bomber, and the proverbial knock on the door in the middle of the night.”

Finally, Gates said he is here today to “reaffirm what multiple administrations of both American political parties have concluded: that the relationship between the United States and Egypt is vital and enduring, and that our own security and prosperity is closely linked to the security and prosperity of this part of the world.”

“To build a more secure and prosperous future, we will continue working with other friends in the region, not as a patron, but a partner -- a partner that respects the different histories, cultures and perspectives of the people of the Middle East,” Gates said.

“It is a responsibility we will not abandon, a trust we will not break.”

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Robert M. Gates

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