Egyptian Diplomatic Reaction
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ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And joining me is Nabil Fahmy, Egypt’s ambassador to the United States. Thanks for being with us, Mr. Ambassador. I’ll give you a chance to responsible to Ambassador Ivry’s comments about the downgrading of relations in a minute, but first what was your reaction to the President’s speech?
NABIL FAHMY: Well, we looked at it very carefully, and we looked at it in the context, as well, in terms of what had been said previously and what’s being said now. Needless to say, there are some parts of the speech where… with which I would not agree, frankly. I don’t think that it is particularly helpful to place the blame on one side more than the other.
I don’t think it’s particularly helpful to place the blame on Chairman Arafat. That being said, I think that the concern that President Bush had regarding the cycle of violence is justified, and I support his objective of ending that cycle of violence. And I also think that what’s very important in the speech is that he is now talking about how to actually end it, and in so doing, he talks about the immediate measures that have to be done, specifically withdrawal of Israeli forces, cessation of hostilities.
He talks about the larger context that has to be provided, in other words, implementation of Resolution 1402 of the Security Council, and his own vision of peace in the Middle East. Furthermore, he provides an operational mechanism for doing that by assigning a mandate to the Secretary of State to go back to the region and fulfill those objectives. So while there are things, which I would have said differently, I think overall it’s a step in the right direction.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And did the President’s remarks, and especially the ones that you just talked about, in some ways reflect what President Mubarak had asked President Bush to do in these two letters that I understand he has written over the past couple of weeks… or the past several days?
NABIL FAHMY: President Mubarak and President Bush have been in touch through letters, through phone calls, repeatedly. In many cases, I think they’ve been more frequently in touch than I’ve seen any two Egyptian — American Presidents being in touch over the last few years.
That being said, yes, President Mubarak did highlight the urgency of the matter in the Middle East and also the importance of dealing with issues comprehensively. But I do believe that President Bush came to this decision through consultations among his own parties, but if we had any contribution to that effect, I’m happy for that.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Mr. Ambassador, please explain the downgrading of relations and respond to what Ambassador Ivry said. He said it’s very bad what the Egyptian government did.
NABIL FAHMY: Well, let me put it this way: First of all, if you read our peace agreement with Israel, not some of the paragraphs, but the whole treaty, it talks about this being a step in the direction of a comprehensive peace with other partners in the Middle East. It talks about working together for peace.
Nothing that Israel has done in the territories over the last few weeks is reflective of a desire to achieve peace in the Middle East. What they’ve done towards the Palestinian leadership is in complete contradiction with the desire to achieve peace. And furthermore, what you see day-to-day in terms of occupation of land already withdrawn from pursuant to agreements reached with the Palestinians is contradictory to their own obligations.
All of that being said, we are not violating our obligations in the peace treaty. We have said specifically that we have frozen government-to-government contacts that do not relate to the peace process but diplomatic relations continue, and we will continue to pursue peace. We were the pioneers of peace. It is our commitment, and we will work forward towards peace with the United States, with the Israelis and with the Palestinians.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The President called on all governments in the region to do certain things — for example, to deliver a clear message to terrorists, blowing yourself up does no help to the Palestinian cause; also, to stop glorifying suicide bombers as martyrs and to condemn an act against groups like al Aqsa, Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Are these things the Egyptian government could do?
NABIL FAHMY: We have, first of all, been at the forefront of those calling for an end to the cycle of violence, whether it is the provocation or the reaction to the provocation, to deal with the cycle of violence, which will include dealing with attacks against civilians on both sides.
These are not attacks restricted from one side. They have occurred on both sides. To deal with that, we have to deal with the fundamental core issue, which is the occupation and peace between the Palestinians and Israelis. The increased frequency of suicide bombers has been a reflection of increased frustration.
When they have responded… excuse me — when they have targeted intentionally civilians, we have condemned that. We also condemned Israeli operations that have targeted civilians or have gone into civilian dwellings.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And did he ask the Israelis to do as much as you think he should have?
NABIL FAHMY: I think if you look at the speech in its entirety and you compare it to previous statements, I see an evolution, a positive evolution in the United States’ position because I believe today that the President is even more engaged in the process. I feel he understands that it is a comprehensive process, where you cannot deal only with security issues, and I feel he understands the urgency. And that is why he has complemented General Zinni’s mission with one by Secretary Powell.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Ambassador, do you think this speech is going to make a difference? For example, will it make a difference to the demonstrations in Egypt, and are those demonstrations very destabilizing?
NABIL FAHMY: Let me start by the end of that question. I don’t think that they are stabilizing in the sense that the demonstrations are reflective of an anxiety and a concern that the government itself shares. So there’s no contradiction between the demonstrations themselves and the government position.
That being said, needless to say any government is concerned when you have public demonstrations in large measures — and when you feel a sense of anxiety that exists. And so in that sense, we are concerned, not because of destabilization. The speech in itself I would look at it as a step in the right direction, one which I hope and I feel confident that the United States will pursue wholeheartedly and sincerely.
It is now substantially different to have President Bush personally mandate the Secretary of State, define his mission, say that he should try to implement resolutions…Security Council Resolution 1402. These are all very powerful statements from the President himself. The prestige and the influence of the United States is now right there before us all. We intend to work with this for peace for everybody, Arabs and Israelis.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Ambassador Nabil Fahmy, thanks for being with us.
NABIL FAHMY: Thank you very much for having me.