Thank you for that kind introduction, and my appreciation to the American Chamber of Commerce for the invitation to speak today.
This afternoon, I’d like to discuss the U.S.-Egypt relationship and the security challenges facing us in the Gulf region. These challenges, though significant, can be overcome with leadership and commitment from both of our nations.
I have long considered Egypt one of America’s most important, even indispensable, partners. During my earlier years in government – both at CIA, and at National Security Council – I had a chance to witness the relationship between our two countries being forged after years of animosity. I was here in the late 70s for meetings with President Sadat during the final stages of the Camp David Accords, here again in the mid 80s as Deputy Director of Central Intelligence, and again in 1990 to discuss with President Mubarak our joint efforts in Operation Desert Storm to liberate Kuwait.
The development of our friendship in the 1970s proved to be one of the bright spots in a decade that was perceived to be a very difficult period for the United States in the context of the Cold War – with setbacks in southeast Asia, Latin America and, of course, with the hostages in Iran. It was a relationship that began with shuttle diplomacy and peace negotiations with Israel, and has since evolved into a strong bilateral partnership of its own.
Since 1980, the military relationship between the U.S. and Egypt has been expressed through the Bright Star exercise – a joint training event that now includes forces from multiple nations. This joint venture is just one example of our commitment to building the capabilities of the Egyptian armed forces. In addition to the more than $1 billion in military aid that Egypt will receive from the U.S. this year, we continue to maintain and strengthen the ties between our military establishments through education, training, and exchanges.
Our own military – in particular the American officer corps – has certainly benefited and learned a good deal from working with the Egyptian military, which is one of the region’s most professional and effective forces.
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 of many of you here today. The growth of trade has brought Egypt closer to the global marketplace of investment, commerce, and ideas – and that is a welcome development.
Since Ronald Reagan’s administration, American presidents have benefited from the counsel of President Mubarak, whom I first met during that visit in August 1990. The United States has welcomed the role he has played as a key broker between Israeli and Palestinian leaders in recent years, through the Roadmap, and as a facilitator in the overall regional peace process.
In my meetings with senior Egyptian officials today, I reaffirmed our important military, diplomatic, and economic ties. Together, we reiterated our shared goals on some of the most pressing issues in this region and of our time. They include:
· A unified, stable, and prosperous Iraq;
· A just and comprehensive peace between the Israeli and Palestinian people;
· 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 our former theater commander, “the curse of the region.”
The issue of Iraq continues to dominate the political landscape of the United States, and is uppermost in the minds of the people of the Middle East who have watched developments in that country with growing concern. In recent months, the United States has reaffirmed its commitment to Iraq, and with that, our commitment to protect our allies and longstanding interests in this region. A new military strategy is in its initial phases – a strategy focused on providing basic security to the Iraqi people. It is being bolstered by a new emphasis in the political, economic, and governance areas designed to improve the quality of life for all Iraqis.
The immediate goal is to create the breathing room necessary to allow reform and reconciliation to go forward – steps that will give all of Iraq’s communities, majority and minorities alike, a stake in that nation’s future.
As I’ve said to many of our longstanding friends in recent months, whatever disagreements we might have over how we got to this point in Iraq, the consequences of a failed state in Iraq – of chaos there – will adversely impact the security and prosperity of every nation in the Middle East and Gulf region. There may be some, who, over resentment or disagreements over what happened in the past, might be cheering for failure.
I would respectfully suggest that these sentiments are dangerously shortsighted and self-destructive. The first and secondary effects of a collapse in Iraq – with all of its economic, religious, security and geopolitical implications – will be felt in capitals and communities of the Middle East well before they are felt in Washington or New York. The forces that would be unleashed – of sectarian strife, of an emboldened extremist movement with access to sanctuaries – do not recognize or respect national boundaries.
For this reason, Iraq’s neighbors will need to play a constructive role going forward. The regional talks recently held in Baghdad with Egypt’s support were a good start toward improved cooperation, and our government is open to higher-level exchanges.
We welcome the following meeting in Sharm al-Sheikh and appreciate President Mubarak’s constructive role in organizing it.
We encourage Iraq’s Arab neighbors to use their influence to dampen homegrown insurgency and alleviate sectarian conflict. Other nations, who have not been “good neighbors” to Iraq – such as Syria and Iran – should start becoming part of the regional solution that encourages political reconciliation and reduces violence.
In the case of Iran, it is no secret that, as a private citizen, I advocated for dialogue on some issues. But as we were reminded recently with regard to the British sailors, in dealing with a regime like Iran’s, one has to be realistic.
I remember back to November 1, 1979, when then-National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and I met with the Iranian political leadership in Algiers. We discussed the possibility of continuing the partnership that had previously existed under the Shah – including military assistance to the new government. Three days later came word that 66 of our diplomats had been seized in Tehran, and two weeks later, the prime minister and defense and foreign ministers with whom we had met were out of their jobs.
We should have no illusions about the nature of this regime – or about their designs for their nuclear program, their intentions for Iraq, or their ambitions in the Gulf region.
There is also the threat posed by terrorist networks and their financial and ideological sponsors – a threat that transcends nations and continents.
It is important to remember that in Iraq, the primary victims of Al Qaeda and their affiliates have not been Coalition troops or Iraqi security forces, but tens of thousands of innocent civilians – men, women, and children whose major crime was to go to the market or attend Friday prayers. Where the extremists have seized and controlled territory in the past – in western Iraq, eastern Afghanistan, or elsewhere – the result has been misery, poverty, and fear. We have seen the future promised by the extremists: a dark, joyless existence personified not by piety or virtue, but by the executioner and the suicide bomber.
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 upon Egypt. It is a role well in keeping with Egypt’s historic tradition of providing leadership in the Arab world.
In fact, I would note that many of the most important developments in this region have begun with Egypt. It was this way during the Cold War – in 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. When Egypt has had the courage and 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.
Because of Egypt’s unique position – its geography, economy, and demographics – it is unlikely that progress can be made on the most pressing issues of today without Egypt’s full engagement, support, and leadership. But with Egypt providing leadership, it will be possible to open up new possibilities for the people of the Middle East. After all, we are living at a time where, 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.
For all the difficulties we now confront – and they are daunting, to be sure – I believe that, over time, there can be a very different future – a different narrative, if you will – for this part of the world. A future:
· Where trade, commerce, and economic opportunity 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 to Baghdad to Beirut 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.
Reaching these goals cannot be achieved by any one nation alone – no matter how wealthy or powerful. And they certainly cannot be achieved solely by military means. To do all this, we all – the United States, Egypt, and other key players in the region – must be engaged. And we must lead. And we must work together.
You may read and hear of heated debates in the United States over the course our nation should take in Iraq. I suspect that these debates reflect discussions taking place in coffee shops and in conference rooms across this country and the Middle East generally. Friends and adversaries alike are watching America closely and may have questions about our commitments and intentions – in this region, and around the world.
I am 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 Egypt and other friends in the region: not as a patron, but as a partner – a partner that respects the different histories, cultures, and perspectives of the people of the Middle East. It is a responsibility we will not abandon, a trust we will not break.
Once again, I thank the chamber for the opportunity to spend time with you today, and I look forward to your questions.