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Joint Press Availability with
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and
Moroccan Foreign Minister Mohamed Ben Issa
on the Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative

New York, September 24, 2004

SECRETARY POWELL: The Foreign Minister and I apologize for being late. But frankly, we had a very excellent set of discussions in the room across the way, and more and more member of the delegations asked to speak as we got toward the end of our meeting.

It was a very successful preparatory meeting for the Forum for the Future. I'm happy to give you the highlights of our meetings and take a few questions with the Minister. And, of course, as you know, we have put out a Chairman's Statement, which will describe our work in greater detail.

The Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative aims at supporting regional efforts for reform and modernization and responds to the region's own efforts to strengthen democracy and public participation. We all recognize that reform must originate within the region. I am pleased that we have agreed to establish a Forum for the Future, and that Morocco has agreed to host the first meeting of the Forum later this year in Morocco, and I extend my thanks to my colleague and to His Majesty, King Mohamed, VI.

We see the Forum for the Future as an extremely promising opportunity for the G8 partners and countries of the region to work together on political, economic and social reform. These efforts have great potential to improve the lives of people throughout the region, which is good for all of us throughout the world.

My colleague, I thank you for co-chairing with me today, and I invite you to say a few words.

FOREIGN MINISTER BEN ISSA: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I, too, would like to share with you the general feeling we have had as an outcome of this very, very successful meeting. I think today, we have made departure, the step one in a new partnership, which is going to find its own mechanisms and will strengthen further the cooperation between countries, both of the region and also countries of the industrialized G8.

I believe the success, of course, of this meeting is due mainly, I must say, to the leadership of Secretary Colin Powell, and his ideas that he has put forward with his introductory remarks set the tone and the form of the future action we have to undertake together.

I will just finish my very quick remarks by saying that we in Morocco, we insist that we should go further, but we should do better, because the quality should not precede, the speed should not precede the quality.

Thank you.

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you very much.

MR. BOUCHER: Okay. Glad to take questions. We'll start down here, then.

QUESTION: (Inaudible), Al-Jazeera Television. Mr. Secretary, is there a realization that the situation in the Middle East, and whether it's between the Palestinians and the Israelis, or in Iraq is bloody, actually, the cycle of violence, and all the events that are happening Iraq. I mean, how does this go along, this initiative, how does this go along with what's really happening on the ground.

(In Arabic, via interpreter.) And Mr. Secretary, if you can answer the same question in Arabic.

SECRETARY POWELL: There's a clear realization that we must achieve peace and security throughout the region if we want our modernization reform efforts to truly be successful. We didn't shrink from this reality. And it is the feeling of the group that just met that we need to see peace and democracy in Iraq, in Afghanistan. We had a presentation on the upcoming elections in Afghanistan from the Foreign Minister of Afghanistan. We also know that we have to do more to achieve peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians; that is a problem. There are other areas of instability in the region. Kashmir was mentioned.

But we can't not move forward while we are waiting for these difficult problems to be solved. And in fact, the region is not standing still, even in the presence of this kind of problem. We heard a number of presentations this morning on successful reform and modernization efforts that are taking place now, and what we hear this morning is that the nations of the Broader Middle East and North Africa know that they have to move now and not wait for some time in the future to think about moving.

One of the most powerful presentations we had this morning was from the business sector, the business dialogue, and the ticking time bomb in the Middle East, the presenter said, is unemployment. And unemployment leads to all kinds of other problems: poverty, lack of economic development, disaffected youth who start looking in other directions, not helpful directions, not healthy directions.

And so unemployment is a ticking time bomb. What do we do about unemployment? You create jobs. How do you create jobs? You create a better economic climate that will attract trade and investment. You make sure you've rooted our corruption and you have a solid foundation in rule of law.

And so, while we are very mindful of the problems that you raise, we also know that, while dealing with those problems and trying to solve them, we cannot let reform not move forward or stand still.

FOREIGN MINISTER BEN ISSA: I am going to speak in Arabic —


FOREIGN MINISTER BEN ISSA: (In Arabic, via interpreter.) I believe, first of all, the position of the Kingdom of Morocco regarding the issue of reform. It was very clear in the statement by His Majesty, King Mohamed, VI, during the last Arab League in Tunisia. And it was very clear also during the final communiquĊ½ issued by the Arab League in Tunisia regarding the issue of reform in the Middle East and North Africa.

Today, we are talking about cooperation that we should establish among ourselves for the purpose of the necessary reforms that should take place. It is true that there are tragedies, very harsh realities that exist in the Arab world, and we have said that on every occasion and I say that this morning. But we cannot really activate a cooperation and a partnership in the area of economic partnership or carry out reforms, as it was mentioned in different documents without putting an end to the Palestinian tragedy and to the war waged against the Palestinian people, and without putting -- without looking at the security situation on Iraq on the basis of Iraq independence and territorial integrity.

MR. BOUCHER: Okay, let's go to Reuters.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, did the Libyan Foreign Minister, in your meeting yesterday, or has the Libyan Government, prior to your meeting yesterday, done anything to allay your concerns about the allegations that the Libyans plotted to kill Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah?

SECRETARY POWELL: We discussed the matter, and I conveyed to my Libyan colleague that it was an outstanding issue, it required continued inquiry and investigation, and that it would be a problem in our relationship and in the roadmap as we go forward, until the matter is cleared up.

But he did not have any information for me that advanced my knowledge of the subject or removed the problem.

MR. BOUCHER: Okay. Let's go down here to Tammy.

QUESTION: If I could ask about the -- oh, sorry. If I could ask about the Iraqi elections. How can elections that are billed as likely being imperfect be seen as legitimate?

SECRETARY POWELL: What the Prime Minister said yesterday is that if elections were held today, 15 of the 18 provinces would have not the slightest problem in conducting those elections.

The elections are not being held today. They are being held at the end of the year or the end of January. And we are fully aware that we have to take political and military and security and police action to bring these three additional provinces firmly under government control and to create conditions where people will be free to register, and free and able to vote when the time comes.

So, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, he is determined to have a full, free, fair election at the end of January of 2005, at the latest. And there's no reason why that shouldn't be the case.

Will there be places where it might be more difficult than other places? I'm sure there will be. We just heard from the Afghan Foreign Minister, where he expects in Afghanistan, as we get closer to the 9 October election date, for violence to increase and for people to try to stop the free exercise that the people want to participate in of voting for their own leaders.

But we can't allow those who would take us back to the past to succeed, and so we will all be working hard over the next several months to create conditions of security and firm government control throughout all of the provinces of Iraq so that a full, free, fair, open election can be held in the presence of danger and in the presence of those who don't want to see democracy move forward, who want to drag the nation back to the past. The people of Iraq want to move into the future, not go back into the past.

MR. BOUCHER: Let's try the gentleman on the aisle here.

QUESTION: Jerry Nadler, Associated Press. I'd like to ask two questions, if I may. They'll be brief.

The Chairman of the African Union, who is also the President of Nigeria, yesterday said —

SECRETARY POWELL: I'm sorry, I'm unable to hear you. You have a speaker there, but I don't — I don't have a speaker up here. So try again.

QUESTION: Try again. Oh, speak up? Could you hear me now?

SECRETARY POWELL: A little better. Go ahead. Go ahead.

QUESTION: The Chairman of the African Union —

SECRETARY POWELL: Chairman of the African Union.

QUESTION: — said yesterday that the African Union is prepared to move 3,000 to 5,000 troops into Darfur, but they need money.


QUESTION: Millions of dollars to deploy these troops, to help move them.


QUESTION: Is the United States prepared to help them?

The second question is, yesterday the Russians circulated a proposal to make it easier to extradite terrorists who have attained asylum in countries under, for instance, the Convention of Refugees.

SECRETARY POWELL: I've got it, sir.

QUESTION: The former foreign minister of Chechnya is now in the United States. Is the United States prepared to extradite him?

Thank you.

SECRETARY POWELL: On the first question, I met with President Obasanjo last evening and told him that what we had to do, working with the African Union and the European Union and others, is to get a firm handle on what would be required to move these additional troops into Darfur, what logistics sustainment would be necessary. And I indicated to him the United States would certainly be willing to contribute money to this effort and other nations have already started to contribute money to the effort.

I think the international community understands the importance of this effort and the money will be forthcoming, but we have to have a good handle on how much is needed, what capabilities are needed, and what will it take to put this force into the field and to sustain it.

With respect to the Russian proposal, I haven't had time to examine or study it yet. The individual who has gained asylum in the United States gained it through our judicial process. It is not a matter for the State Department or even the Department of Homeland Security. It is a matter that has been dealt with by our judicial system, and he has been granted amnesty and enjoys that amnesty. And the Russians understand the nature of our system and how it came about.

MR. BOUCHER: We've got time for one or two more, if they're short. Cam.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, the Secretary General is obviously very committed to having the UN play the vital role in Iraq that's envisioned in 1546 but, obviously, hasn't been able to get enough people on the ground yet.

Two things. What level do you think they need to be involved in order for there to be credibility and legitimacy in the elections? And second, how do you balance the desire to have the UN vitally involved versus the shadow of August 19th that's still over UN Headquarters here in New York?

SECRETARY POWELL: First, the Secretary General and I had a number of conversations about the need to build up quickly a UN presence in the region. Keep in mind that the elections are really going to be run by the Iraqis, with assistance and empowerment and technical advice from the UN.

And the Secretary General wants to get more people in and we are working with the Secretary General's staff to determine how best to provide the security that these additional personnel will need to be able to do their job. And we're deeply engaged in that now with the multinational force and with other nations that might provide funding assistance to help the UN build up its presence in the country.

The August tragedy last year that killed Sergio de Mello and so many other dedicated and wonderful people was a shock to the international system, to the UN system. And the Secretary General, of course, has an obligation to continue to do the work of the UN but, at the same time, provide a reasonable level of protection for the people who are asked to perform that work. And he is now balancing those two issues and we're going to help him with the protection issue so that we can get these people in to do their work.

There are dedicated, committed UN personnel who are anxious to go into Iraq, knowing the importance of the work to be done, and we have an obligation to make sure that they are reasonably well protected in the pursuit of that work.

MR. BOUCHER: Last question to CNN.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, how do you respond to critics who say that, on the one hand, this Administration is making the pursuit of democracy, especially within the Middle East, a cornerstone or at least at the center of your policy and yet, on the other, when you and President Bush meet with the President of Pakistan and the President of Russia, you tread very lightly on big steps backwards that both of those governments are making in democracy?

SECRETARY POWELL: I see both Pakistan and Russia moving forward. We better go back to where we started. There was a Soviet Union some 12 years ago that had no democracy whatsoever. We now have a Russian Federation that has moved significantly in the direction of democracy, elections of the type that had not seen in the old Soviet Union, an economy that is more market oriented than it ever had been, of course, in the old Soviet Union.

And so Russia has been moving forward toward democracy. On those occasions where we see something take place within the Russian Federation that give us some concern, we have not been the least bit reluctant to point out those concerns to President Putin and to his colleagues, and we point it out to them as friends, as partners, as somebody who is interested in nothing but the best for the Russian people and for the Russian Government and for Russian democracy.

I have done it regularly over the past year. You will recall I went to Moscow at the beginning of the year and I did an op-ed piece for Izvestia which laid out some of these concerns. And in the last ten days I have spoken to this, as well as the President speaking to it. So we express our concerns.

With respect to Pakistan, let's also see where we were three years ago. Three years ago this month, Pakistan was certainly tolerating, if not directly supporting, and was directly supporting in many ways, the Taliban regime. We had a very strained, difficult relationship with Pakistan. And in a bold, strategic move, President Musharraf decided, in a phone call I will never forget on about the 13th or 14th of September, that he would move Pakistan in an entirely new direction.

He has done that. And he has taken action to fix his school systems. He has taken action to deal with his economic problems. He has taken action to satisfy concerns that we had and presented to him with respect to nuclear proliferation on the part of Mr. A.Q. Khan and his network. He has taken other actions with respect to empowering a prime minister and getting a parliament up and running and functional. And so there are other steps that I know he'll be taking in the days and months ahead.

There are critics who say he should be doing more or he should be taking other steps right now, today, with respect to his own status. We are in the closest touch with President Musharraf. We talk to him on a regular basis. He knows that we believe it is in the interest of the Pakistani people to continue to move down a path toward full democracy.

But these are complex issues and so we want to be good partners and friends to Pakistan and Russia, just as we want to be good partners and friends in the reform and modernization efforts that are going to be taking place within the Broader Middle East and North Africa.

This meeting would have been unthinkable five or six months ago when we first started out. People said, you know, the United States and the G-8 are lecturing to the Broader Middle East and it isn't going to be acceptable, it won't work. And when we finally made the point and got agreement with our friends that we're not here to lecture, we're here to help, we're here to partner -- reform has to come from each of these countries as an individual matter based on their state of political and economic development, their history, their culture, the desires of their people, and the commitment of their leaders -- and the G-8 is standing by, ready to assist these reform and modernization efforts. But as was mentioned a couple of times in there, you don't use a cookie-cutter. You adjust the help you're willing to give in a manner that makes it supportive of what that country is trying to do.

That is also our policy with all of the newly independent nations of the former Warsaw Pact and Soviet Empire, our friends in Latin America and Africa and elsewhere. Not all move at the pace that I might like to see. What's important is: Are they moving. And when they slip back a little bit by our standards, do we express our concerns?

We do it in many ways, by public commentary, by our Trafficking in Persons Report, with the Human Rights Reports that we put out, the Terrorism Reports that we put out. And so we will continue to act in that manner, but in a manner that shows that we are working with these countries as friends and partners.

MR. BOUCHER: Last word from the Moroccan Foreign Minister.

FOREIGN MINISTER BEN ISSA: Just a word in order not to be misunderstood. I just want to extend Morocco's welcome and to say how we are honored to have the first meeting of the Forum for the Future taking place in Morocco. Of course, we look forward to the participation of all countries of the Broader Middle East and North Africa as well, of course, as countries of the G-8. And we hope that this can make another departure from very far the angle of the Middle East and North Africa — that's Morocco.

Thank you.

SECRETARY POWELL: I would also thank the Minister and His Majesty for their willingness to host this first big meeting, and a number of nations at the meeting volunteered to host the next one. A week ago, that was not the case. I think we have buy-in and this process is alive and well, it's been launched well here today, and it will produce results.

Thank you.

Source: U.S. State Department

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