SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you very much, Ziad, for that very, very kind introduction. It’s a great pleasure for me to be with you this evening. I’m honored that you would ask me to speak at this “Voices of Peace” banquet.
I want to say to my friend Jim, who a few moments ago gave you that cautionary note — (laughter) — that I am not only not your worst enemy, I am your friend. (Applause.)
I am so honored to be here on the occasion of your 20th national convention. And, Ziad, I understand that this is your last day as ADC president, but I also know what you’re moving on to, and I know that this is only the beginning of a new phase of your life as you work for peace, reconciliation and civil rights. So I congratulate you on your magnificent record as head of the ADC, and I give you my warm, best wishes in your new endeavors. Not only Arab-Americans, but all Americans, owe you a great debt of gratitude. (Applause.)
And my congratulations to you for having selected Mary Rose Oakar to serve as your new president. I have known her for a number of years, and she is a great choice for the ADC. (Applause.) I know that under her leadership the ADC will remain a powerful voice for a distinguished community of American citizens. Indeed, Arab-Americans have enriched every facet of American life. Ralph Johns, son of Syrian immigrants, was a pioneering figure in the civil rights movement, and I have benefited from that movement.
This organization is dedicated to erasing discrimination. I know a little bit about discrimination. As an African American, I suffered in this, my own country, and it’s only in my generation have I seen the kinds of improvements that would allow a black man to stand before you as Secretary of State and as former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. So I know all about discrimination. (Applause.)
We are also all privileged to be citizens of and live in a country that is always moving forward to deal with discrimination in any manner in which it manifests itself. Today is Flag Day. We celebrate the flag of our nation. Isn’t it interesting that the Alamo Flag Company, the largest distributor of that quintessential American symbol, was founded by Fawaz “Tony” Ismail. Fred Saidy has brought joy to millions through his movies and his Broadway productions. George Mitchell, our dear friend, senator and peacemaker extraordinaire, is one of today’s most distinguished Americans.
Arab-Americans serve the American people and serve our nation so well in my own State Department, and I am honored to serve in President Bush’s cabinet with Spence Abraham, our distinguished Secretary of Energy. (Applause.)
Our open borders, America’s open borders, have brought us the talents of so many people from around the world. Now in this post-9/11 world, we need to make sure that we keep our borders open to the exchange of people, the exchange of product and the exchange of ideas which have made our nation great. But we have to do it in a way that does not compromise our own security, and this is a difficult balance to reach between having open borders but also secure borders.
And as you all know, in an effort to balance openness and security, the Department of Homeland Security has instituted a system called the National Security Entry/Exit Registration System, or NSEERS. Let me be clear, absolutely clear, about what NSEERS is not. NSEERS is not a way to keep Arabs out of this country, Muslims out of this country. It is not a way to close our borders to anyone with a legitimate reason to come to the United States, to the visit the United States.
What it is is an interim approach to securing our borders while we work out a better long-term solution, and we are working on such a solution. On a regular basis, Secretary Ridge and General Ashcroft and I sit and talk about how we can put this system in place as quickly as possible so that America will always be seen as a welcoming place, a place that wants people to come and visit, to get an education, to take advantage of our healthcare system, our cultural attractions. And when fully in place, the new U.S. system, which is called U.S. VISIT, will replace NSEERS. And we firmly believe the new system will help ensure that all visitors to this great country are received with dignity and with humanity.
Our immigration policies are meant to preserve the diversity in American life that we all cherish, and that this organization, the ADC, works so effectively to preserve. America is truly a country of countries. We touch every nation, and we are touched by every nation. We respect Muslims, we respect Jews, we respect Christians, we respect Hindus — we respect all of God’s children worshipping in the manner that they see fit.
I’m fond of saying to visitors who want to learn more about America — they sit in my office in the State Department. I say to them, “You know, I can walk out the front door, get in my car, and in five minutes I can be at a mosque, I can be at a Catholic church, I can be at an Orthodox church, I can be at Protestant church of any one of a dozen different denominations. I can be in a temple, I can be in a synagogue.” I can be anywhere where God is worshiped in any manner because of the beautiful nature of this land, and how we have found a way to blend this diversity into a source of strength, not a source of weakness.
Ladies and gentlemen of the ADC, you understand this so well, and you are a vital bridge for understanding between Arabs and Americans, at home and abroad. With a foot in both worlds, you have special insights into America and the Arab world, and a special responsibility to share your wisdom across cultural boundaries. And I salute you for doing just that — for speaking out for peace in the Middle East and against intolerance within our own borders. Ziad, I especially appreciated the effort you made to reach out to the men and women of the State Department when we invited you last year and you addressed our Open Forum.
The ADC‘s condemnation of the May 12 terrorist attacks in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, carried an important message to the world. Like President Bush, you have made it clear that our enemies are terrorists and their supporters, not people of any single faith or ethnicity.
Murderers like those who killed the innocent in New York, in Riyadh, in Bali are a threat to the entire civilized world. They make no distinctions of religion or nationality. They kill Muslims. They kill Christians. They kill Jews. Indiscriminately, and without mercy.
They must be stopped. They will be stopped. We are pursuing the terrorists and their accomplices everywhere they plot their murders. We will continue to work with our coalition partners to search out terrorists, smash their weapons, smash their networks, and freeze their finances. There will be no respite, no rest until terrorists and terrorism are defeated. And they will be defeated.
The war against terrorism is vitally important. But, as President Bush has often said, even as we make the world safer, we must also seize the opportunities we see to make the world better. Nowhere is that more true than in today‘s Middle East, where the peoples of that embattled region have their best chance in generations to embark on a path to lasting peace, prosperity, and freedom.
If our Arab brothers and sisters are to travel the road to a more hopeful future, they will need support — support from the American government, support from other friendly governments, and from concerned citizens such as you. I am here tonight to repeat President Bush’s pledge that we will do our part.
As you above all Americans know, the people of the Middle East have for too long been on the sidelines of democracy and the global marketplace. They have for too long been victimized by conflict between Arabs and Israelis. They have for too long been on the outside of hope looking in.
Today, however, the landscape is shifting, the landscape is changing. We are seeing changes that promise to be of great and lasting importance to every man, woman, and child who calls the Middle East home. We are seeing change in Iraq. The Iraqi people have been liberated by the armed forces of the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and other coalition partners. They have been freed from the terror of an outlaw regime that filled mass graves with the bodies of its victims. They have been saved from the grip of a brutal dictator who used the most terrible weapons to kill his neighbors and even his own people.
Now, Iraqis are free to build their future. Make no mistake, it will take time to heal the wounds of decades of tyranny and murder. Normal life cannot simply be turned on like a light switch. But we are already seeing signs of hope and progress.
Even though we continue to see trouble, we continue to see combat, we see other things as well. Parents are returning to work, children are going to school. Power plants are up and running again. Garbage is being picked up. Normal life is returning. The oil will flow again — and this time the proceeds from the oil, the wealth of the Iraqi people, will not be squandered on palaces for potentates, but used to feed and educate children. If the Iraqi people are to turn their new hope into a new Iraq, they will need our support. And we will not let them down.
So Iraq is free. The Palestinians have a new prime minister, Prime Minister Abbas. And President Bush is committed to the cause of peace between the Arab peoples and Israel. We are, indeed, seeing historic change in the Middle East.
President Bush has a powerful vision for a new Middle East, based on two democratic states living side-by-side in peace, security, and freedom. Last week, on the shores of the Red Sea, President Bush moved his vision a giant step closer to reality. In Aqaba, Jordan, he joined with Prime Ministers Sharon and Abbas to pledge their hard work, good faith, and courage to bring peace to the Middle East. It was a remarkable moment, and I was proud and privileged to be there. For the first time, the prime minister of Israel, the Palestinian Authority’s prime minister, and the President of the United States sat down together to talk about how to share the Holy Land between the state of Palestine and the state of Israel.
More important even than the symbolism of the moment are the commitment that these courageous leaders made. Prime Minister Abbas repeated his acceptance of the roadmap to peace, with which you all are familiar. But he did much more. He reached out to the Israeli people by renouncing terrorism against Israelis everywhere. He clearly stated that it was time to bring all suffering, including the suffering of the Jewish people, to an end. He pledged his authority to act against incitement and hatred, and promised to do everything in his power to end the armed intifada.
Prime Minister Sharon stated clearly that Israel wants peace, Israel needs peace. But he also did much more. Prime Minister Sharon accepted that Palestinians must have a viable state of their own. Standing next to President Bush and Prime Minister Abbas, Prime Minister Sharon pledged to restore normal Palestinian life and improve the humanitarian situation on the ground. He promised to begin to remove unauthorized outposts immediately, and they have begun to do so.
Ladies and gentlemen, Prime Minister Abbas and Prime Minister Sharon have chosen the path of peace. They have chosen the way of hope. Now, they need and deserve support — from the Arab world, from the United States, and from all who want peace. Arab leaders have shown that they are ready to do their part. For, the day before the historic Aqaba summit, President Bush met with five Arab leaders in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. There, President Mubarak of Egypt, King Abdullah of Jordan, King Hamad of Bahrain, Crown Prince Abdallah of Saudi Arabia, and Prime Minister Abbas pledged their full support for peace.
These courageous Arab leaders committed themselves to the President’s vision and the roadmap to achieve it. They pledged their support for Prime Minister Abbas’ efforts to end violence, build democratic institutions, and improve the lives of the Palestinian people. And, they promised, in President Mubarak’s words, “to fight the scourge of terrorism ? and reject the culture of extremism and violence.”
We must not let this new momentum toward peace lag. The parties must turn these courageous commitments into peace on the ground. There is no time for parsing promises. The two sides must now perform.
Israel must meet Prime Minister Sharon’s commitments on settlements and begin improving conditions for the Palestinians. In its actions, it must bolster Prime Minister Abbas as a partner for peace.
Prime Minister Abbas must also meet his commitments — first and foremost, his commitment at Aqaba to do everything possible to end terrorist attacks against Israelis. We stand with him, and we expect all freedom loving people to do likewise. But it’s a tough job. Hamas is a major obstacle to peace. Along with Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, it has continued its destructive attacks on Israelis. We must condemn these killings in the strongest possible terms. They are only putting off the day of Palestinian independence. All people who love peace must condemn them as well.
Israel has to defend itself, but it also needs to do so in a manner that does not harm its interests in the long-term pursuit of peace. No effort should be spared to avoid casualties. President Bush has made this point very, very clearly. We must not allow, once again, terror and violence, and the response to terror and violence, to destroy the hope that was created in Aqaba. Only by punching through this latest wave of terrorism and continuing down the path that was laid down at Aqaba can Israel and the Palestinians end the scourge of violence, once and for all. Only in this way can the children of Palestine and the children of Israel live in the peaceful, hopeful Middle East of President Bush’s vision — a vision that we all share.
If peace is to prevail, it needs the full support of all who care about the Middle East, private citizens as well as governments. The ADC has strongly supported President Bush’s vision, and I thank you. Now, as Arab-Americans, you have a unique and vital role to play by lending your powerful voice, your powerful voice of encouragement, to the brave leaders who are working to turn commitments into reality. You can help build peace by taking your own experience with democracy and free markets to the Arab world. We are counting on your continued efforts on behalf of peace, reconciliation, and hope.
The liberation of Iraq and the rekindled hopes for Arab-Israeli peace mark the crest of a new and welcome wave of freedom, openness, and economic reform in the Middle East. From the Straits of Gibraltar to the Strait of Hormuz, we are seeing stirrings of economic and political reform.
Jordan and Morocco have put state-owned industries into more productive private hands. Jordan was the first Arab country to prepare its economy to benefit from a free trade agreement with the United States. Morocco is now beginning that process.
Politically, countries from Bahrain to Morocco are embarking on bold reforms. Qatar has its first woman cabinet minister. Yemenis voted in the freest elections in their history. In Jordan, King Abdullah has urged his people to use next week‘s elections to “promote our democratic march,” as he called it. In Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Abdullah has proposed domestic reforms and offered an Arab charter for enhanced political participation and economic revitalization.
As President Bush noted in his commencement speech at the University of South Carolina recently, “reformers in the Middle East are gaining influence, and the momentum of reform is growing.” The time is ripe for a concerted effort to help our friends in the Arab world achieve their aspirations. They will have our full support. We will not turn our backs on people reaching for hope.
We will work with our Arab friends to harness the engine of trade for economic openness, development, and opportunity. Also in his University of South Carolina speech, President Bush announced a 10-year push to form a U.S.-Middle East free trade area which would lock in economic reform and open the countries of the Middle East to global trade and investment.
Indeed, I will be traveling to Jordan, next week with my colleague Bob Zoellick, the U.S. Trade Representative, to enhance and advance this effort. There, we will meet with government and business leaders to talk about how we can work together to expand opportunity, economic opportunity, for the peoples of the Middle East. The President’s bold free trade proposal builds on our broader push to support the peoples of the Middle East as they build a future of hope.
With the launch of the U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative last winter, we have embarked on an innovative approach to U.S.-Arab cooperation that places us firmly on the side of change, reform, and a modern future for the Middle East. We are committed to engaging with public and private sector groups to bridge the jobs gap with economic reform, business investment, and private sector development. We are partnering with community leaders to close the freedom gap with projects that will strengthen civil society, expand political participation, and lift the voices of women. And, we are working with parents and educators to bridge the knowledge gap with better schools and more opportunities for higher education.
President Bush’s policies toward the Middle East are part and parcel of his goals for America and the world. They are based on supporting the human desire for dignity and well-being. They pledge cooperation with our friends and allies, not only to meet the security threats we face, but also to boost trade and strengthen democracy.
As the President has proclaimed, we are at a time of great and hopeful change in the Middle East. But we need to be realistic. There will be bumps along the road. So I ask for your patience, and I ask for your support, as we work with our Arab and Israeli friends to overcome the obstacles that we all face. The men, women, and children of that region have too much to gain to let peace slip through their fingers once again. They have too much to gain to let terrorists and rejectionists pluck peace from their grasp.
Too much to gain. That should be the mantra of the new Middle East which is being born before our very eyes.
The peoples of the Middle East stand on the brink of a region where Israelis and Arabs can live together in peace, security, and dignity. Where men and women can hold jobs that let them put bread on their tables, provide a roof over their heads, and offer a decent education to their children. And where respect for the sanctity of the individual, religious tolerance, the rule of law, and the politics of participation grow stronger day-by-day. The peoples of the Arab world and the Middle East have too much to gain from the President’s wonderful vision. We must not fail.
Many of you have said to me in the course of the evening, “Is the United States committed? Is President Bush committed?” And I say back to you here now, the United States is committed, President Bush is totally committed to achieving the vision that he laid out last year, a vision of two states living side-by-side in peace.
What is the alternative? What is the alternative? We must take this opportunity for peace and push forward. It will be difficult. Nobody knows how difficult it is than I. Nobody knows more about the difficulties that lay ahead than I do. I have been working on this now from the first day that I became Secretary of State.
But we have no choice but to move forward. If we don’t move forward, if we don’t take this opportunity, if we don’t punch through this current wave of violence, then where are we? We are nowhere, with two peoples killing one another day after day after day.
We can argue about the cycle. We can argue about how to get out of the cycle. But the reality is we must end terror and violence, we must move forward, we must take this chance for peace. And the United States will not get weary. We will not waver. We will not stop. We will not step aside. The President is committed. I am committed. His administration is committed. We will succeed.
Thank you very much.