Testimony by the Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs before the House International Relations Committee, Washington, DC, June 8, 1999.
I welcome this opportunity to appear before you again to discuss United States policy toward the Middle East.
In the Middle East, as in the rest of the world, we stand on the threshold of a new millennium. But this region finds itself caught between its turbulent, conflict-ridden past and a future of greater peace, stability, prosperity, and popular participation. It is not yet clear which direction the Middle East will take because the indicators are mixed.
The difficulties in the Arab-Israeli peace process on all tracks over the past 2 1/2 years had the effect of dramatically slowing the momentum toward positive change in the region, and it reduced the hopes of many that a comprehensive peace would usher in a new era of coexistence and regional cooperation. Last month, however, the Israeli people voted for change, and Prime Minister-elect Ehud Barak now has a strong mandate to continue the search for a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace.
Saddam Hussein's defiance of the UN Security Council threatens to destabilize the Gulf while exacting a heavy price from the Iraqi people. But the Iraqi tyrant has emerged from the Desert Fox campaign weakened and isolated and less capable of creating trouble for his neighbors.
President Khatami's election in Iran and the recent local elections there have made clear that a significant majority of the people of this great nation support political liberalization, respect for the rule of law, and a constructive role for Iran in regional and international affairs. But this evolution still faces strong and sometimes violent opposition from some quarters inside Iran. Moreover, Iran's determined development of ballistic missiles to enable delivery of its weapons of mass destruction over long distances has the potential to trigger a new and dangerous arms race across the region.
Extremism is now on the defensive in Algeria and Egypt after years of bloody confrontation. Across the Arab world a gradual struggle for political liberalization and economic reform is taking place. In Morocco, the opposition has become the government; in Qatar women have voted for the first time in a GCC state, and Kuwait has decided to permit women to vote as well; and the Palestinian Authority is being held to account by an elected Palestinian Legislative Council. Developments in the recent Algerian elections were a disappointment to us, but the people's desire for political and economic reform is manifest, and President Bouteflika is beginning to make clear his intention to respond to their aspirations. Meanwhile, Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco have implemented significant and far-reaching economic reforms.
Finally, King Hussein's untimely death has underscored the fact that a process of succession is underway across the region after decades of unchanging rule in most Arab countries. The transitions in Jordan and Bahrain have been encouragingly smooth, but these may be the exceptions rather than the rule. And we must remain cognizant of the fact that over the next decade, leaders who have built up credibility and legitimacy over many years will be replaced by a younger generation who will take some time to establish itself.
Because the Middle East is a region of vital interest to the United States, we are committed to helping it achieve a better future in the 21 st century than what it has experienced in the last half of the 20th century, when the Middle East was often a synonym for trouble and hopelessness. Above all, we have an intense interest in preventing it from backsliding into another era of extremism and conflict, marked by a new arms race in ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction.
In confronting these challenges, we have sought on the one hand to contain those governments or political movements that use violence as a matter of policy to advance a hostile agenda. At the same time, we have mounted a steady and determined effort to expand the breadth and depth of our partnerships with friendly governments in the region to promote the peace, stability, and prosperity which remain our abiding vision for the Middle East. We have also sought to encourage states in the region that have developed the bad habit of acting outside of international norms to change in ways that would permit their reintegration into the international community. As a consequence, this always crisis-prone region has seen a marked decline in violence and conflict in the past 6 years and now has the potential for a significant deepening of peace and stability.
As we look to the future of the region, the question before us is: How can we widen the circle of peace while countering those who would oppose the promotion of a more normal existence for all the people of the region? The answer in our minds is clear. We must broaden the scope and depth of our relationships with those states that share our commitment to a more peaceful and prosperous region, working with them to achieve our common vision. At the same time, we must enforce our ability to overcome those forces that threaten our interests.
Arab-Israeli Peace Process
Looking back in time, enormous progress has been made in realizing the historic goal of a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace. Some 20 years after the Israel-Egypt treaty--which remains the bedrock of all subsequent progress--peace between Israel and all of her neighbors is in sight.
In the 6 years since the signing of the Declaration of Principles in Washington, we have witnessed the signing of a peace treaty between Jordan and Israel, the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreements, the Hebron Protocol, and the Wye River Memorandum. The PLO has revised its charter, and Arafat has pledged that there will be no return to violence. The Likud-led Government of Israel took a historically important step by agreeing to redeploy from parts of the West Bank, thereby resolving an ideological debate decisively in favor of the principle of …