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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Global Response to President Obama's Speech in Cairo

FPC Briefing
Senior State Department Officials
Foreign Press Center
Washington, DC
June 5, 2009

Date: 06/05/2009 Location: Washington DC Description: Senior State Department Officials speak about the Global Response to President Obama's Speech in Cairo at the Washington Foreign Press Center. © State Dept Image

10:00 A.M.
[picture - left to right - Vali Nasr, Senior Advisor to Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke; Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Patrick Moon; Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman; Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Australia, New Zealand, and Pacific Islands Glyn T. Davies; and Assistant Secretary , Bureau of African Affairs Johnnie Carson]


MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center, and I also welcome our colleagues in New York who are joining us today for a discussion on President Obama’s speech in Cairo.

We have with us today Vali Nasr, who is a Special Assistant to Ambassador Holbrooke, and we have Patrick Moon, who is the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South Central Asian Affairs, Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, and the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Glyn Davies, and Ambassador Johnnie Carson, who is the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs.

I’m going to ask each of our guests to make a few brief remarks and then we’ll go into your questions. I would like Assistant Secretary Feltman to make the first remarks since he’s just returned from Cairo in the early hours of this morning.

MR. FELTMAN: Sure. Thank you, Gordon. I had the privilege of being in the hall yesterday when President Obama delivered his speech to Muslims around the world. The atmosphere in the hall, as you probably saw in news coverage as well as (inaudible) was quite positive. The audience was extremely diverse ranging from Egyptian Government officials, Egyptian members of Parliament to representatives of Egyptian civil society, students, etc. And the response was extremely positive to the President’s remarks. And there were a few themes that seemed to resonate in particular with the audience there in the hall in Cairo. Of course, the speech was directed to a much broader audience than was there at the hall, but it was interesting to see what seemed to resonate with the very broad spectrum of Egyptian society.

The President’s references to respect and honesty got a lot of attention both in the hall as well as in the meetings we had with civil society groups afterwards in Cairo yesterday. Of course, this follows with the President’s themes in his inauguration speech, his Ankara speech, his Nowruz speech to Iran.

The idea of partnership also seemed to have broad appeal, that we the United States will work with others, that the United States cannot impose solutions on others, should not impose solutions on others because others must make efforts, rule through consensus not coercion, and we will be there to be in partnership with them.

The idea of rights and responsibilities was a theme throughout the President’s speech as you saw yesterday. It’s something that the Egyptian audience focused on, rights and responsibilities, vis-à-vis Iran, vis-à-vis Hamas, vis-à-vis the Arabs, the Israelis, the Palestinians.

Of course, there was a large section of the speech -- one of the seven themes -- was the rejection of violent extremism and the rejection of violence as a means to an end.

Finally, of course, being in Cairo the audience there talked a lot afterwards about the President’s commitment to pursuing peace in the region and the fact that the President defined this as not only as something that he sees as best for the Israelis and Palestinians and the broader Arab world but something that’s in the U.S. interest.

Overall, again, the atmosphere in the hall yesterday in Cairo was extremely positive despite the fact that the audience in the hall was quite wide-ranging.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Ambassador Carson.

MR. CARSON: Sure. Thank you very much. I’m very pleased to be here this morning to report on African reaction to this as seen through the press and through our embassies. There was widespread interest throughout Sub-Saharan Africa about the President’s speech not only because of the President’s father having been a Kenyan but also because one-third of the 800 million people who live in Sub-Saharan Africa today are of Muslim religion and faith, one-third.

Some 11 of the 48 states in Sub-Saharan Africa have Muslim majority populations and three of the largest African states in three of the largest states in Africa have substantial Muslim populations. Nigeria, 150 million people - largest country in Africa - has a Muslim population of some 70 million people, which makes that population substantially larger than any Arab state in the Middle East.

Ethiopia - population of roughly 70 million people - has a Muslim population of roughly 33 million which compares to the larger numbers that are in the Arab world.

A great deal of interest across the continent. A very positive reaction to the President’s message and themes. Of the four issues -- four of -- the President outlined several -- seven themes toward the end of his speech. Four of those themes resonate very, very strongly throughout Africa. One is the call and respect for democracy. Many African countries are increasingly embracing democratic reform and respect for rule of law. This theme resonates with civil society and throughout Africa where democracy is taking deeper root.

The President’s talk about respect and rights and empowerment for women also resonates throughout the continent where African women are also trying to take their rightful role as responsible citizens in the development of their own countries becoming more active in both the political and economic life.

The President’s themes about economic opportunity are also important throughout Africa. Africa remains one of the poorest continents in the world and the need for more investment in that part of the world, particularly to jump-start the economy is important. His comments on economic empowerment, economic opportunity resonated around the continent.

And then the fourth theme that was increasingly important to Africa is violent extremism. Although we associate with this many other parts of the world, Africa has also experienced violent extremism. We have seen it in the destruction of our embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in August of 1998, the al-Qaeda terrorist attack against Israeli interests in Kenya in November of 2002, and we saw it on May 31 just several days ago when al-Qaeda in the Islamic lands of the Maghreb executed a British National who had been held hostage for some six months. Africans are also fighting against this extremism.

The President’s themes were applauded, respected. News coverage and media attention to this from South Africa up to Ethiopia and across to Abuja and Lagos, very intense and very interested. Africans are also interested in seeing how they could take advantage of some of the programs the President outlined, particularly the expansion of educational exchange programs with Muslims around the world, particularly in Africa.

They were interested in seeing how they could benefit from the support to technological development and, of course, they were particularly interested when the President said that he was going to initiate centers for scientific excellence including in Africa.

As I started to say, one-third of Africa’s population in sub-Saharan (Africa) is Muslim. The interest was high in this speech. It was also very laudatory and they look forward to being a part of this new dialogue.

MODERATOR: Mr. Moon, would you please.

MR. MOON: Thank you. President Obama’s speech (inaudible) the new beginnings for U.S. engaging with Muslim communities in South and Central Asia, and within the area we have marked several new beginnings through revitalized bilateral relationships in the region. Starting in particular with India where we have strengthened our relations with the government and the people of India over the last number of years and we look forward to working with the new government there. And of course, India has the second largest Muslim population in the world.

We will be engaging with India next week when Under Secretary for Political Affairs William Burns travels to India for talks in New Delhi and Mumbai. He will be following up on the very successful elections there. The largest democracy in the world conducted a very smooth election, very little violence, and returned the Congress party to power.

The return of democracy -- democratic government through elections has also been marked in a new milestone in Bangladeshi history as well. And one of the issues the President highlighted in his speech yesterday was addressing women’s rights, and he named Bangladesh, among other countries where we have seen Muslim-majority countries elect a woman to lead. I would note again -- here as well that Bangladesh has about the fourth largest Muslim population in the world.

Sri Lanka is another country where we look forward to new beginnings. The main focus has shifted from combat operations there with a defeat of the terrorist organization the LTTE, the Tamil fighters, and we’re now focusing on humanitarian operations for those citizens which have been misplaced by the conflict.

As Sri Lanka begins a new chapter in (inaudible) relations, we believe the U.S. can play a constructive role in fostering peace and reconciliation going forward.

Just in terms of specific reactions in the region, South Asia has over a billion Muslim citizens, and the audiences -- the reactions we’ve seen so far have positively received the speech. Many viewers in the areas we saw the speech appreciated the President’s desire for engagement and dialogue between the U.S. and the Muslim world.

In India, in a meeting today, a senior Indian official strongly praised the speech in a meeting with our Chargé d’Affaires. It was carried -- the speech was carried on several channels in India very widely. And the press -- the American Press Center Program was packed with journalists and academics and featured a post-speech panel, an audience interaction which was upbeat and appreciative.

In Bangladesh, two TV stations carried the broadcast live and three others planned to carry it by tape over the weekend. So it will be -- it has been and will be further widely received and viewed in Bangladesh.

In Central Asia reactions were more low key. It was not carried live by many stations in Central Asia, but it was carried as American embassies did put on programs and it was seen in some countries by satellite televisions, which is not widely available in many of the countries.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Mr. Nasr.

MR. NASR: Thank you very much. The -- there is no doubt that is a very important speech, and it was perceived as such not only in Afghanistan-Pakistan region but across the Middle East. I think the very first points of reaction was that the clearness with which the amount that the President has invested in this engagement process beginning with his interviews and his speech in Ankara. But in this speech in particular I think one of the most important reactions is the understanding among Muslims everywhere of the seriousness of the President regarding this process.

To build on what my colleagues said, I think the extent of empathy showed, the respect that he showed and the steps he took in his speech regarding the question of trust, building trust between the U.S. and the -- and Muslims everywhere was -- is quite important.

And I also -- another point of reaction is that it’s very clear the President discussed some of the issues that are familiar and are ongoing but with a very new tone and with -- in a very new context and that, again, has prominent in many of the reactions.

Another point that was very clear from the speech and the reaction to it was the approach to Muslims everywhere as being members of the global community and being partners and being part of the process that the United States sees going forward.

I think most important -- from the reactions I’ve noted what is most important was the clarification of how the President and his administration see the world, how they see the Muslim world, how they view Islam, and how he sees also America’s role in the world in dealing with the specific questions and issue areas that the United States is engaged in in the Middle East and South Asia, and also what he expects of Muslims and their governments in this process going forward in partnership with the United States.

Now, in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, in particular what he says was germane in the sense that this is an important area of ongoing contact and engagement between the United States and the Muslim world that the U.S. is involved obviously in terms of a major effort in Afghanistan and now increasingly in Pakistan is in building a partnership with the government in those countries and confronting extremism. What the President said about extremism, how he defined extremism, how he separated extremism from the general religious beliefs of the population were very well received.

And also issues he raised, which were not directly related to Afghanistan-Pakistan, particularly on issues of women’s rights which has been an important issue on the ground given the Taliban’s position in both Afghanistan and Pakistan and why that matters and should matter to the general population as well as issues of democracy were very important and well received particularly in Pakistan which only recently has come to a democratic process and is still trying to consolidate this (inaudible) there. The President’s emphasis on that issue was seen as an important part of the partnership.

And also the President’s explanation about what the U.S. objectives and intentions are in Afghanistan and Pakistan were important in terms of clarifying engagement with Muslims everywhere at a time where the United States is also engaged in a conflict in that region.

MODERATOR: Mr. Davies.

MR. DAVIES: Thank you very much. The Asia-Pacific region is the largest region in the world and so it’s difficult to generalize about reactions from Japan all the way down to Australia, from Burma over to Northeast Asia. But in general the reactions were very much as described by the other members of the panel. Commentators and those that are embassies and consulates spoke to praised the candor, the sincerity, the tone of mutual respect of the President. I think it was across the region greatly appreciated that the President made a vow to speak the same truths both publicly and privately diplomatically. His use of Islamic readings and quotations from the Holy Koran I think resonated particularly well in the very large Muslim majority parts of the greater region and here, of course, I’m talking about Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Philippines. And in particular, of course, because it’s the largest Muslim majority country in the world, Indonesia, we paid a lot of intention to how Indonesians reacted. There were very, very positive early reactions. What was interesting was, of course, a strain of that from Indonesian commentators was, you know, why didn’t he come here to give the speech, and when will he come to Indonesia? And I think in the press conference immediately after the speech or the press roundtable there was an Indonesian journalist and of course the first question he asked was “When are you coming to Indonesia?” And the President said he would hope to get there very quickly.

I think the call for women’s rights resonated very positively. One interesting comment from an Imam in Melbourne, Australia, who called the speech a Marshall Plan for improving U.S. relations with the Umrah (ph)*, which is the Muslim community of the world back again in Indonesia. I should note that the Secretary of State on her first trip anywhere in the world went, of course, to East Asia, traveled to Jakarta, and I think kind of the themes that she was talking about when she was in Jakarta that Indonesia is a model of moderation, a new democratic country which is trying to take its pluralistic society and bring it together, forge it into a nation where all can co-exist peacefully. These types of themes that the President struck reinforced what the Secretary said.

I might also mention a couple of other interesting quotes. There’s the senior official of the Fiji Muslim League - so you’re getting out into the middle of the Pacific Ocean - said I can say with great confidence we can trust this man. He may be Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Armed Forces, but I see him as a peace maker. And interesting commentary from Singapore from Channel News Asia where it was claimed that President Obama has laid a golden bridge between the U.S. and the Muslim world. And then one young man in Surabaya at an event that we hosted there had a very interesting reaction. He said that he enjoyed the speech very much, but how can we, the young people of Asia -- of Southeast Asia, turn the President’s seven principles from words into actions. So even though many commentators were saying -- and this was typical across the press and the public, these are nice words. Now we need to see more actions on the part of the United States. There was one young man who said, “How can I help make this happen?” So that’s about it.

MODERATOR: Okay, thank you. We’ll go to your questions now. We have about 30 minutes. We’ll also be inviting our colleagues in New York to ask questions. As we have such a wealth of wisdom and experience on the panel, I would please ask you to direct your question to a specific person, otherwise I will have to offer everyone the chance to respond and we might get one or two questions in that way. So please remember to direct your questions.

Please, Joyce.

QUESTION: Yes, hi. Thanks for doing this. Joyce Karam with Al Hayat Newspaper. My question is to Assistant Secretary Jeff Feltman. It’s actually regarding the elections in Lebanon happening on Sunday. I wonder if you have any message to the Lebanese head of the elections. And what point will the U.S. administration stop the aid to Lebanon? I know you mentioned that the composition of the new government will be a parameter to decide that, but if you can elaborate a little bit on that. Is it if Hezbollah members or (inaudible) take the defense or the Foreign Ministry?

MR. FELTMAN: Joyce, thanks. I’d like to start off addressing your question about Lebanese elections by going back to the speech yesterday if I may. The President’s speech yesterday was, of course, not about Lebanese elections. It was a message about a new beginning with Muslims around the world. And as we’ve heard, the Muslim population is quite varied and spread across a large portion of the globe. But I also hope the Lebanese voters yesterday, whether they were Christian, Jews, Sunnis, Shia, I hope the Lebanese voters also listened quite carefully to the President’s words. Again, they were not about Lebanese elections, but I think there were some important messages there for Lebanon as well as for others in the region and beyond.

For example, one of your politicians I think is trying to suggest to Lebanese voters that the United States is fickle, the United States is not engaged. I think that the President’s speech yesterday was very, very clear that the United States is committed to working with the Middle East. The United States is sincerely committed to achieving peace in the region that would benefit all the peoples in the region including the Lebanese. So I hope that the Lebanese voters heard that.

One of the other messages that the President gave yesterday, of course, is the rejection of violent extremism, the rejection of using violence to try to achieve political goals. He said just simply it will not work.

I hope that the Lebanese voters look at the platforms of some of the political parties and some of the political parties that are also malicious and think about this, that you have the President of the United States saying that we are committed to peace because it is in our interest that violence is not going to achieve those sorts of goals. These are messages that I hope the Lebanese voters take into account when they go to the polls on Sunday.

Ultimately, it’s the Lebanese voters who will decide who are the members of the next Lebanese Parliament. It’s the Lebanese’decision who are the members of the Lebanese Cabinets based on those elections. But it’s the United States’ decision to decide how to deal with that Cabinet based on what are those positions, what are the policies that that Cabinet is going to adopt.

I would hope that a Lebanese Cabinet would take into account the President’s words, the President’s commitment, the involvement of the United States in the international community in providing assurances for Lebanese sovereignty and independence.

MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. We have a questioner at the far --

QUESTION: Wafaa Jabai, BBC. Actually, you question is for Mr. Feltman, too. I have two questions. First, on Iran, how do you see the Iranian decision not to broadcast the President’s speech, not even a part of it? And the second one, about the Israeli reaction, we’re talking about a positive reaction from them? What about the Israeli very negative reaction from the Israeli yesterday? Thank you.

MR. FELTOMAN: I hope that the Iranians were able to find access to the President’s speech through other means. I’m sorry that it was not broadcast by some of the major media in Iran, but I hope that the Iranian people were able to hear the President’s words, hear the President’s message, hear the President’s sincerity through other means because, you know, there are a variety of ways to get access to the President’s speech yesterday because I think his message to the Iranian people, the Iranian Government, of course, was an important part of his message to the Muslim world more generally.

His talk about rights and responsibilities was a very strong message. He referred specifically to Iran’s right to have peaceful civil nuclear energy as long as Iran lives up to its responsibilities as well under the Nonproliferation Treaty. Given how savvy the Iranians are in access to the Internet and other things, I’m fairly confident that Iranians who wanted to hear the President’s words would have had access somehow.

The Israeli reaction -- there have been positive reactions from the government about the statements, but Israel has a very active democracy, very strong position of freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and you’re going to see debate in Israel about what does this speech mean. I think that’s natural. I think that’s healthy. You’re going to see debate elsewhere about what does this speech mean.

Any particular audience may have said oh, I wish he said more about this particular issue, but it was a 55 minute speech. As the President said, you’re not going to solve all the problems in one 55 minute speech.

The President made a very strong message from Cairo, the heart of the Arab world, that the United States’ friendship and alliance with Israel is unbreakable. I think that was something that Israeli commentators all picked up on that he picked that location to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to Israel.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Question just here in the front. And then we’ll --

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. My name is Ben Bangoura with Africalog, and my question is to Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs having to do with the situation in Guinea. Two questions actually. As you may know, the country has been under military rule since December. But under international pressure, that military junta has agreed to hold elections in December. Do you think that election will go ahead? Otherwise, what political and economic support is your administration willing to provide? And that’s the first question.

And second question. There’s a process I mean underway since yesterday having to with narco-trafficking. If you have any comments?

MR. CARSON: Yes. Thank you very much. Two very brief comments. We are extremely concerned about the coup d’etat that took place in Guinea Conakry. We strongly oppose military interventions and military coup d’etats. When they occur in Africa it is a setback for democracy, civil liberties and for the rule of law.

We join the AU and other African sub-regional organizations in condemning the coup. And also we also have cut off any assistance outside of humanitarian aid to that government until there is a return to some form of democracy and constitutional rule.

We will continue to encourage elections, free and fair, observed by international monitors. And we will continue to work with the AU and others who are encouraging the same steps.

With respect to narco-trafficking, it has become an enormous problem throughout West Africa, particularly in the neighboring state of Guinea Bissau where we have seen just in the last 24 hours another senior political leader, a presidential aspirant, killed in that country. Several months ago both the President of Guinea Bissau and the Commander of the Army were both assassinated within a 24 hour period. Those deaths were alleged to have been related to narco-trafficking, money laundering and the problem of drugs in that area.

West Africa is increasingly under pressure because of the growing influence of narco-trafficking and the use of ports and airports in that region by traffickers coming out of Central and Latin America. It is a upsetting and dangerous trend. We will continue to work with all those governments in the region to combat the spread and rapid rise of drug trafficking in West Africa.

MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. I believe we had a question. Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: Thank you. This is a question for Mr. Feltman. Christine Bergman, (inaudible) International Radio. Coming back to Iran and the reception of the President’s speech there, do we have any reaction either from the public or the officials from Iran? And do you think the President’s speech will have any impact on the upcoming Presidential election in Iran? Thank you.

MR. FELTMAN: Thanks. I think you’ve probably seen some of the reactions from some of the Iranian leadership that says okay, fine, words are one thing but we want to see some action. In fact, they made a -- the Iranian -- some of the Iranian political leaders made a comment like that even before the speech was made.

But you know, I -- the Iranian leaders would have I think seen a theme of respect, of outreach that the President has emphasized since his inauguration. And as he said again yesterday, he’s prepared to open dialogue, open channels to the Iranians without preconditions. However, there is a very time-sensitive subject on which we need to talk to the Iranians quite soon and that’s the nuclear file, and he also made that quite clear yesterday.

Of course, like Lebanon Iran faces elections in the near future where the Iranians will have the opportunity to elect their next President. I don’t have enough insight to know if this -- if a speech will influence the Iranian electorate, but we do look forward to an Iranian response to the P5+1 or the E3+3 offer to sit down as soon as possible. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you. And I would encourage you all to put all of our panelists to work here. We’ll do one, two and three. New York, please, if you have a question, we haven’t forgotten you.

QUESTION: Yasmin Alamiri from the Saudi Press Agency. Actually, just a very quick question. How much did it factor in, do you think, that the President didn’t go to Israel as part of this trip and he tacked on Saudi Arabia as a little surprise? Does that -- and also there was some reaction after the speech to -- I guess it was negative reaction to the fact that he had talked about women’s rights with regard to wearing the hijab and it was somewhat seen as overstepping his boundaries, like he shouldn’t have spoken about it. It’s a very personal issue I know, and especially in Egypt it’s an issue of much contention. So was there any reaction in the region? Do you see that?

MR. FELTMAN: On the latter part, I didn’t see the reaction. Of course, he was talking about women’s rights more generally. On specific issues also talking about issues in the United States, you know, that we’re not going to have laws about what people should and shouldn’t wear that that’s people’s freedom of choice. But I didn’t hear any reaction to that, but again it’s only -- I just stepped off a plane frankly. So you may have heard -- you may have seen things that I haven’t seen having just stepped off a plane.

In terms of, you know, the President’s itinerary, the President’s been in office a few months. He’s not been able to go everywhere he wanted to go. Like my colleague, Glyn, noted the desire of Indonesia for him to go to Indonesia, he saw Prime Minister Netanyahu here recently. Our alliance with Israel, our friendship with Israel is, as he said, unbreakable. I would not simply over-analyze where he went on this trip.

MODERATOR: Can I use my prerogative as a moderator? Vali, can I ask you for something on custom, religious practice and the President’s remarks?

MR. NASR: I think the President used the term the hijab to underscore the fact that the United States is not inherently opposed to Islam in the sense that even institutions of the U.S. Government have supported the rights of women to wear hijab in this country, and I think that was the extent of it. It was not meant to direct a comment at the Muslim world as to how women ought to dress in the Muslim world. It was rather underscoring the sincerity of the United States’ statement which he was putting forward that the United States has no inherent opposition to Islam and he does not see Islam and America as exclusive as he put it. And the hijab was used as proof of that statement.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Yes, the next question here in the center.

QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Talha Musa from Ashara Al-Awsat Newspaper. Actually, my question is for you all because it’s concerning the Muslim communities. President Obama said that the administration’s intent to increase scholarship for students from Muslim communities. Could we get that you are going to facilitate issuing visa for Muslim students since the problem is the visa nothing except the visa?

MODERATOR: Who would like to be the visa expert? I think actually I can address the (laughter). We’ll take the question and get you an appropriate answer on student visas. But as you know, the visa process is not only one that is handled by our embassies around the world but is also something that has to be coordinated here with the Department of Homeland Security because it is a two-step process. Visas are issued by U.S. Embassies, but they are -- people are allowed into the country by the Department of Homeland Security. So as the President has made the initiative, I have some degree of certainty that the organs of government will respond to the President’s request.

Yes, next question.

QUESTION: Hi. My name is Zaher Imadi from Syrian Radio and T.V. My question to Secretary Feltman, obviously the -- what the speech of President Obama implies and focused on is not only his desire or his administration’s desire for more efforts towards peace in the Middle East but it is also, in my opinion, it reflects the world community’s desire. And that is reflected in the UN Resolutions 242, 338 and also the Quartet and the Annapolis meetings. I mean this is a world desire. But we don’t see any mentioning of these resolutions of the United Nations. I don’t know if this is intentional or policy of the United States or it’s just passing -- just not (inaudible) information that this is a UN desire also to bring peace to -- based on Madrid Conference, peace for land.

The other question I have is that there is no mention -- there is a lot of focus, of course, on Palestine, but there are other lands that are occupied also and need to be included in the talk about peace. For example, in Lebanon the city of Golan Heights, that is suffering under occupation. The people in there are really under great stress from the Israeli occupation. How would you address that, please?

MR. FELTMAN: To answer the question, I would note that peace was one of seven themes yesterday in a 55 minute speech. Of course, it’s a very important theme because it’s so important to the people not only who are directly affected by the conflict, Israelis, Palestinians, Arabs, but it’s also an issue for the broader international community, the broader Muslim world as you yourself noted. The President couldn’t go into a lot of detail yesterday since he had other themes to cross, but he put down some important markers.

The President has made it clear since he’s come into office that he’s committed to a comprehensive peace. Comprehensive means peace with all of the parties. That includes Syria. That includes Lebanon. It’s not simply the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. It’s a comprehensive peace.

On his second day in office he appointed Senator George Mitchell, a very able negotiator, senior statesman, in order to take on the pursuit of a comprehensive peace that includes all of the states and the peoples in the region.

The President yesterday made reference to the fact that all states have obligations, obligations -- that these obligations are incorporated in the Roadmap, for example. They’re incorporated in Security Council Resolutions. All states have obligations. The President made that clear.

But he also made it clear, and he was very diplomatic in how he put this, nobody should be passive here. People shouldn’t wait for the United States to come and say this is the solution. It’s in the United States’ interest that there be a solution, but the United States needs to see all the parties in the region moving toward that solution.

He made reference to the Arab Peace Initiative, which is an extremely important initiative that was announced in Beirut in April 2002. It came out of then Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia’s bold thinking. But he noted this isn’t the end, this is the -- Arab Peace Initiative is the beginning, that all parties in the region need to start working now toward that comprehensive peace that would benefit the regions, implement the Security Council Resolutions that you’ve mentioned.

MODERATOR: We have time for, yes, two questions. We’ll go here and here, and I think those will have to be our last two.

QUESTION: Hisham Melham from Al-Arabiya. Now what happens next? What would you like to see as diplomats happening in the region beyond the hope that this historic speech should change or influence the political discourse in the region? Obviously, there were states in the region that were not comfortable with the speech, Iran, to a lesser extent Israel, non-state groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah.

The President didn’t engage in introspection, self-criticism. I don’t expect these leaders to engage in introspection or self-criticism, but would you like to see them do? I think the President said we will meet you half-way. But what is required of these parties to meet the President half-way? Somebody mentioned everybody expects the President to bring in the solution to all of these problems.

As diplomats, what are you going to do? I mean how do you think the speech will influence the engagement with Iran? How do you think the speech will be helpful or can be helpful to revive the Arab-Israeli Conflict? I mean this is essentially addressed to Ambassador Feltman but also to Professor Vali Nasr because although his portfolio is South Asia, but his Iranian expertise is -- would probably be called upon here into play.

MODERATOR: Well, I’ll exercise my prerogative again as moderator and open it up to the panel and allow each to say how they would like to see this implemented in the regions on which they’re expert. We can start with Mr. Nasr and we can go straight down the panel. We’ll still get to the final question.

MR. NASR: Well I think, first of all, there are different issue areas have different set of problems. For example, in Afghanistan and Pakistan we already have policies in place. And I think what this speech will do is help much more realize the idea of partnership on which our entire Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy is built on. You know, there’s requirements of greater cooperation with governments in the region and also much more public support, particularly in Pakistan, for the U.S. effort.

I think in the past perhaps this was one of the issues we had to -- we had difficulty with. But if the Pakistani public, which is the case, watch the President, trusted what he said, appreciated what he said, there is much more likelihood that they would also trust and work with the U.S. policy, and that would make it much easier for us.

I also think not just with Iran but with all of these issue areas, one of the problems we’ve had is that when you look at opinion polls in the Muslim world or in the Middle East and you saw very negative numbers particularly when it comes to the issue of trusting the United States, it makes it very difficult for allies or adversaries to take risks that re necessary for solving very complicated problems.

And I think what the President has done, not just in this speech but also in Ankara, an interview with you, and his Nowruz message on YouTube, he has now I think built trust that he is serious about it. He’s invested substantial amount of time in this and that he’s changing the tenor of the discussion and that would make it much easier to then -- for not just the United States but others also to come up with new policy initiatives that would allow us to solve this issue. I think the biggest gain is right now in establishing that room for everybody to maneuver.

MODERATOR: Mr. Moon, Central Asia, Sub-continents moving forward?

MR. MOON: Well, in Bangladesh certainly our objective is to strengthen political stability and democracy in that country. We need the main leaders in the country, which happen to be women, to commit themselves to a democratic future for Bangladesh. And with that, we believe that economic growth and prosperity will follow.

In India, we’re seeking to broaden and strengthen our bilateral relationship. As I said, we have certainly made great strides with India as it has opened up to the rest of the world and particularly to the West, and the new government gives every prospect of strengthening that trend.

We want greater economic exchange with India. We want to see -- to broaden the access for academic institutions in India. We want to improve our defense relationship with India. And while the Muslim population is a minority population, it is a very important part of the Indian political spectrum, and we will be working with all parts of the Indian political spectrum in strengthening this relationship.

In Central Asia our main objectives are to promote democracy, respect for human rights, freedom of the press, and these are themes which are -- which you see in the President’s speech, and we are certainly working to reinforce those in our bilateral relationships with each of the five countries of Central Asia.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Ambassador Feltman.

MR. FELTMAN: I would go back to the theme that, you know, others have touched on. We talked about this with our Syrian colleagues, a partnership. The President has reached out in partnership respect and honesty. We would hope that this would be met with the spirit of partnership and not passivity, not simply people waiting saying, okay, we heard the words; now let’s wait for the actions.

No, this is a real partnership that the President is proposing, a sincere partnership. Work with us on these issues whether we’re talking about advancing the status of women, whether we’re talking about democracies, human rights, civil society, whether we’re talking about peace, whether we’re talking about comprehensive peace. Is the -- be with us -- be with us on this is sort of the message the President is saying. We cannot impose a solution. We don’t have all the answers but we do have some principles that we think that people across the world share.

On peace, is it Hamas’ way that’s going to get to the comprehensive peace? Is it Hezbollah’s way that’s going to get to the comprehensive peace? The international community has said it’s time for peace. The United States is on record as saying we want to move toward peace as urgently as we can. We hope that there are partners in the region that will work with us on these goals.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Mr. Davies.

MR. DAVIES: Just I think very quickly for the Asia-Pacific, in particular Southeast Asia, the title of the President’s speech was “A New Beginning.” And what’s fascinating about at least the Southeast Asian region is they’ve begun already a new beginning. Over the last generation they’ve begun to make changes, democratization, development, reconciliation of different aspects of society has already started.

I spoke briefly about Indonesia. I cited the example of the student in Surabaya who said now what can he do. And this is exactly the kind of resonance, exactly the kind of response we’re looking for. I would say that, and perhaps this is true in other regions of the world as well, I think what the United States would like to see is a debate, a conversation, consideration.

I mean, yes, this is partly about America’s relationship with the world, America’s relationship in my case with Asia, Southeast Asia, but this is also about developing a conversation and exchange a debate about some of these principles that the President discussed. But in Asia, in Southeast Asia, we’ve seen great progress. We’ve seen it Malaysia against extremists, in the Philippines, in Timor, in Indonesia. I think this new beginning has already in that part of the world begun.

MODERATOR: Ambassador Carson.

MR. CARSON: I’ll be very brief and hopefully not too repetitive. I think in Africa, where the President already enjoys enormous respect and where the United States continues to enjoy high regard, that the President’s words will encourage all of those who support and are fighting for greater democratization across the continent.

We hope his words will inspire those who are seeking to promote economic development and greater opportunity. We hope his words will encourage greater opportunity and respect for women’s rights and opportunities across the country. And we hope his words will also be heard by those in several parts of the continent who are engaged in conflict and who need to seek peaceful solutions to the answers to the problems that they face. His words and the trust that they inspire we hope will lead and serve as a catalyst to others to follow them not just listen to them, act on them not just applaud them.

MODERATOR: Even though that’s a brilliant place to finish, I did promise one final question.

QUESTION: Ai Awaji, Jiji Press Japanese News Wire. My question is for Mr. Davies. If the Secretary Steinberg is planning to travel to Japan, South Korea, China to discuss (inaudible) again, North Korea. And do you have a better sense now how to go about the nuclear situation? Are you considering tougher financial sanctions against North Korea? And also, do you have any updated information about the trial against two American journalists in North Korea?

MR. DAVIES: Well, let me start with the last question about the American journalists. We don’t have anything further because, of course, there’s been no diplomatic or press access granted to that trial. Our very excellent Swedish Protecting Power in Pyongyang, which is -- these are diplomats who have worked around the clock to try to gain access to the two journalists and gain access to the trial was unable to do that. So we are at this point waiting to see what the results are of that.

QUESTION: (Off mic) Do you know for a fact that the trial (inaudible)?

MODERATOR: Microphone.

MR. DAVIES: Why don’t you go ahead and repeat -- she asked whether we know for a fact that the trial has happened. No, we don’t. We haven’t -- there’s no courtroom t.v. in North Korea. So we don’t know if the trial has happened.

Your broader question about Deputy Secretary of State Steinberg’s mission, according to the reports we’ve received, it’s been very successful. I think he wraps up today in Beijing, having visited all of the partner states with the exception of Russia. The action by North Korea is at the United Nations in New York, and I think I’ll leave it to Ambassador Rice to comment on that.

MODERATOR: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for attending. Thank you to our panelists. I have certainly enjoyed our discussion today. Thank you to our colleagues in New York, and good day.

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