September 11, 2001 : Attack on America
Press Conference William Burns Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, U.S. Ambassador Ronald Neumann's Residence Manama, Bahrain; January 12, 2002

Press Conference William Burns Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs
U.S. Ambassador Ronald Neumann's Residence Manama, Bahrain January 12, 2002

Assistant Secretary Burns: I'd just like to say at the start that this is my second visit to Bahrain as the Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs in the last four or five months, and I'm delighted to have the opportunity. Ours is a very strong partnership, and that's been demonstrated even more clearly since the events of the 11th of September.

I conveyed to His Highness the Amir the appreciation, not just of the leadership of the United States but of the people of the United States for the solidarity that has been shown to us by the Bahraini people. I think there's a great deal we can accomplish together. We remain admirers, as I said before, of many of the changes that His Highness the Amir, and the Bahraini leadership are undertaking in your country, in the political realm, the economic realm. And I think it's a demonstration of real vision and courageous leadership, and we will continue to encourage that.

There are many things that we are working on together, not just with regard to the campaign in Afghanistan against the Al-Qaeda terrorist network and the Taliban, but also to create a better future for the people of Afghanistan, because one thing that I believe that you will find, and I know President Bush is very determined on this score, is that we will finish what we've started in Afghanistan. And by that I don't just mean a military campaign, I'm also talking about trying to do everything that we can, working with friends around the world, to create a better future for the people of Afghanistan. They've had an extraordinarily difficult last quarter of a century, dominated by violence and strife, and this is an opportunity to improve the situation economically, socially, politically. It's not going to be easy. We don't have any illusions about that. But I think, working with our friends in Bahrain and many other parts of the world, we can contribute to that. And we obviously have many other issues to discuss while I'm here, whether it's the Arab-Israeli peace process, whether it's with regard to other issues. So I'd be delighted to try to respond to any question you may have.

Question: How far do you see the changes in the atmosphere in accepting the American campaign against terrorism in Afghanistan? If you compare the atmosphere now to that in the early days, we feel that there is a change, that there is more understanding of the facts and more understanding of the situation, especially after these events. So do you feel that that atmosphere is there, and how do you see the impressions of His Highness the Amir and other leaders?

Assistant Secretary Burns: Yes sir, it's a very good question. I think we've sensed that as well, and I think there are probably many different factors that contribute to that. One, to be honest, is the quite visible reaction of the people of Afghanistan themselves. When you see pictures of women and children and men who have been repressed, who aren't able to live their lives as people around the world should be able to live them, and when you see the relief and the joy with which they've greeted their liberation, I think that's been one positive factor. Second, we've demonstrated real seriousness of purpose, not just the United States when I say that, but working with other countries around the world. We've managed to help form a very strong coalition of countries with a common purpose. Third, to get back to what I said before about reconstruction in Afghanistan, I think we've also been able to make clear to people that what this is about is not just a military campaign, but also a determination to create a better future and to help Afghans develop an economy that can create opportunities for their children in the years ahead.

And the last point I would make is that we tried very hard from the beginning of this campaign since the 11th of September, to emphasize that what happened in New York and against the Pentagon was an attack not just on the United States, but on civilized people around the world. We've emphasized that that kind of thing cannot be tolerated and that we all have an interest in combating that. It has taken some time for that point to become clear. At the same time we stressed that the campaign that's followed those attacks is not about the United States or the West against Islam or against the people of this region or any region. It really is a struggle between small groups of extremists who practice violent means, whose agenda is essentially a destructive one, and the vast majority of people and leaderships in the world who have a much more positive agenda. So I'm sorry, it's a longer answer than I intended to your question, but I think all of those issues are important to focus on.

Question: Do you plan to ask the leaders of the region here to participate in the reconstruction of Afghanistan? Financially?

Assistant Secretary Burns: It's something that we hope leaders from this region and many parts of the world will seriously consider. As you know there's an international conference on the reconstruction of Afghanistan in Tokyo in about ten days time. Secretary Powell and the American Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. O'Neal will be representing the United States. And we will, first, certainly do our part in contributing to Afghanistan's reconstruction. But we will also continue to urge our friends in Bahrain and elsewhere in the Gulf and in other parts of the world to contribute in any way in which they can. Bahrain is contributing in many ways already, through contributions to humanitarian operations in which the American military is engaged along with other coalition partners. But we would certainly welcome any further steps that could be taken.

Question: How do you view the ongoing standoff between India and Pakistan, and U.S. efforts to ease the tension, and the Secretary of State is due there in two days time. How do you view this situation?

Assistant Secretary Burns: Well first of all, I would say that it doesn't fall directly within my area of responsibility, but I'll offer an observation, and that is that I think all of us share an appreciation of the complexity and the seriousness of the situation. And I think the United States, like our friends in Bahrain, shares an interest in a peaceful resolution of differences there, because it would be in no one's interest for the situation to escalate further. And so what Secretary Powell and President Bush have tried to do is to encourage both parties to look at political means to address their differences. It is clear that there is a problem of terrorists and extremists who in a sense threaten both leaderships and both peoples, and so our hope is that they'll find common ground in dealing with that issue, and then looking at some very difficult political problems diplomatically.

Question: Mr. Burns, during your stay in this region, traveling to these countries, have you been discussing the Middle East Peace Process?

Assistant Secretary Burns: Yes.

Question: Today the Israeli government announced after the meeting that there are zero chances of reaching any agreement with Yasser Arafat. How do you view this situation?

Assistant Secretary Burns: All I can do is speak for the United States. As President Bush said again a couple of days ago, we're determined to do our part, we're determined to stay engaged diplomatically. We have no illusions about the difficulties that exist right now between Palestinians and Israelis. But we also see no alternative to a peaceful resolution of those differences. What President Bush did in New York in the fall, and what Secretary Powell did in his speech in Louisville, Kentucky in November, was to try and outline what we believe is a fair, honest vision in which two states, Israel and Palestine, can live side by side. And we believe that as difficult as that will be to achieve, it's by far the best way for the peoples of Israel and Palestine to live in security and to have a chance for prosperity. We're also convinced that that vision can only be achieved through diplomatic means, through a political process. It cannot be achieved through violence or terror or the use of force.

And so our immediate challenge has been, and what General Zinni has worked very hard on and will continue to work on, is to try and bring about a ceasefire between the two sides, and improve the security situation, not as an end in itself, but as a means of recreating a serious political process. And then ultimately, as difficult as it seems today, to realize that political vision. So again, I'm sorry that's a long answer to a very good question, but I think that's what our sense of purpose is.

Question: Sir I think that the demolitions, the acts the Israelis are displaying in demolishing many houses in Gaza, it's most unfortunate that what we have heard from the public here, is that your country rather than criticizing that, they are supporting it actually, and saying that it is part of the defense against the shipment, something like that. So why should Israel demolish houses for innocent people, rather than for only two or three persons who have contributed on this ship. You didn't condemn that.

Assistant Secretary Burns: We've said quite consistently that the demolition of homes, of Palestinian homes, has not been helpful in creating an atmosphere in which people can move toward ending violence and restoring a political process. And it's very much in the interests of both peoples to stabilize the security situation, to bring about a ceasefire, and to fight terror and violence.

And that imposes obligations on both sides. For the Palestinians we've been very clear in emphasizing the obligations the Palestinian Authority has to make a maximum effort, a one hundred percent effort, against violence and against terror. And that's the only way in which the aspirations of the Palestinian people are going to be realized. On the other hand, it is very important as we've said consistently in public, for Israel to look at ways in which it can create an atmosphere in which people can look seriously at reconciliation and at resuming a political process, and to look for ways in which the suffering of Palestinians, in which the difficulties under which they live in the West Bank and Gaza can be eased. Especially the economic pressures that they live under.

And so it's in that light that we've said, I think quite clearly and consistently that home demolitions are not helpful in that process.

Question: After your visit to Kuwait, certain reports and some observers mentioned that there was some sort of pressure or pushing of the government or the institutions there as regards to funding the charities and some such things.....

Assistant Secretary Burns: Well I'm glad you asked that question, because as I said publicly just as I was leaving Kuwait, our purpose here is to help governments in the region develop systems and regulations which ensure that charitable contributions go where they are intended. When the U.S. government has identified concerns and questions about individuals and organizations, it's directed at that aim.

Charitable contributions, whether they come from people of this region or people of the United States, are perfectly honorable things and they are obviously an important part of any society. We've had problems in the United States with charitable organizations which misuse those funds and which cheat people and defraud them. And in the course of the last several months, we have identified some of them. We looked at ways of tightening our regulations. We are also determined to work with our friends around the world to try and cut off the flow of funding to terrorist groups. In the case that you mentioned in Kuwait, we have evidence, we have concerns, that organizations and individuals based in South Asia have cheated widows and orphans out of money that was intended to go to them. And so what we've done is raise some questions with the government of Kuwait and we look forward very much to working with them in what is, again, a shared interest.

It seems to me that many governments around the world can benefit by strengthening regulations and having a system of oversight and transparency with regard to charitable organizations. As I said, we've had our own experience with that in the United States. We don't have a perfect system either, but we have tried to find ways in which we can tighten up and I think we want to share the benefit of that experience, provide whatever kind of technical expertise we can, to our friends in the region. And so it's in that kind of practical, quiet, cooperative spirit that we believe we can work together on these issues.

Question: Do you feel, does America feel that Iraq is still a potential threat to the peace of this region?

Assistant Secretary Burns: Yes. The United States certainly continues to have serious concerns about the behavior of the Iraqi regime. I don't think those concerns are unique to the United States. They are shared by many people in the region and around the world. Obviously Iraq has continued to refuse to comply with its obligations under U.N. Security Council resolutions, both with regard to issues of inspections and weapons of mass destruction, and with regard to issues like the question of Kuwaiti prisoners. And so the United States for its part is determined to hold the Iraqis to those obligations. As the President and Secretary Powell said, we continue to watch the behavior of that regime very, very carefully.

Thank you very much for your time.

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