Statement by Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs William J. Burns to the House International Relations Committee, Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia; October 17, 2001

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to thank you and the members of the Committee for the opportunity to appear once again before you to review the Administration's policies in the Middle East region. The focus of our attention clearly has been sharpened as a result of the events of September 11, and my remarks this afternoon will center on what we have done in the region in the campaign against terrorism and on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Let me emphasize at the outset that the attacks of September 11 on the United States have not altered our fundamental policy objectives in the region: achieving a just, lasting and comprehensive peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and indeed with all Arabs; ensuring Israel's security and qualitative military edge; maintaining strong and constructive relations with our Arab partners; and, securing peace and stability in the region. Our efforts to pursue these goals have deep roots in American interests and values, over many years; they began long before September 11, and we must not be deterred or diverted by anyone in pursuing them.

In our campaign against terrorism, we have been able to count on very effective cooperation and support -- in words and deeds, some of which are not well publicized. As Secretary Powell has stated, Arab states have been "very responsive" to our requests. Many countries have provided overflight, landing and bed-down facilities to our forces. We're getting law enforcement cooperation and good information sharing in the investigation of those we believe are part of the Al-Qa'ida network, and support for blocking financial flows to terrorists. Governments in the region are also looking to improve their financial monitoring capabilities in order to help dry up the terrorists' financial resources.

Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have been especially supportive. The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) has issued repeated statements, offering condolences, condemning terrorism and repudiating any conceivable connection between acts of terrorism and the teachings of Islam. Important steps were taken by the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in severing ties to the Taliban. We have advised all of these countries that we will need to continue this level of cooperation.

We understand that political sensitivities exist in some of these countries, and the U.S. must take this into account. But bin Laden's extremism also threatens them, and they are well aware of the need to confront this challenge firmly and jointly. The President and the Secretary have repeatedly emphasized that this is not a battle against Islam or against Arabs; rather, it is a broad international campaign against terrorists who seek to destroy peace, foment instability and sow hatred. In doing so, these terrorists are prepared to target anyone and everyone not on their side. We and all of our friends and allies in the region are in full agreement that we cannot permit this to happen.

Israel is very much our partner in this fight against terrorism. As President Bush has made clear, Israel has no better friend than the U.S. Our commitment to Israel's security is unshakable. Nothing about the events of September 11 has changed our position. As Secretary Powell said publicly last week. Israelis should have no concern that the U.S. would trade away Israel's security.

This Administration continues to work intensively to bring an end to the violence between Israelis and Palestinians and to move into implementation of the Mitchell Committee recommendations, as a bridge back to political negotiations. And in this regard, I want to offer our sincere condolences to the Government and people of Israel over the assassination of Minister Zeevi today. We strongly condemn this act of terror.

The Palestinian Authority has also spoken out against this attack and pledged to bring those responsible to justice. Words are not enough; there must be strong action against all terrorism and violence. This is essential if Palestinians and Israelis are to continue the positive steps they have recently embarked upon to improve the situation and begin to restore some measure of cooperation.

They must not allow the terrorists to shape their agenda or declare victory. They must both seize the moment to put an end to violence, implement the Tenet and Mitchell plans, and resume direct political dialogue. And as they do so the U.S. will be engaged for as long as it takes to bring about a just, lasting and comprehensive settlement to the Arab-Israeli dispute. As you know, Secretary Powell is in virtually daily contact with Prime Minister Sharon, Chairman Arafat, and Foreign Minister Peres in support of their efforts to end violence, rebuild trust and resume a political process.

Before concluding, I want to comment on the extraordinary work of our missions abroad at this critical and difficult time. The Americans and Foreign Service nationals who staff our Embassies -- your Embassies -- are carrying out their duties to build the coalition, stop terrorism, encourage movement on the peace process, enhance our bilateral relationships, and pursue all the other U.S. objectives with which I know you are familiar. However, in many cases, they are doing so having to hunker down against threats of terrorist attacks. We have had to strengthen security, close operations to the public at times, stagger work hours, and enhance security awareness of American citizens in these countries. But I want you to know that they are continuing the work that you, the President and the nation want them to do. They and we will need your continuing support to get the job done.

As I stated in my previous appearance before the Committee, Mr. Chairman, we have our work cut out for us in the Middle East. That work, of course, took on added significance on September 11. We will look for the continued counsel and cooperation of the Congress as we pursue our vitally important interests in this region.

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