|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 7, 2004
Press Briefing by a Senior Administration Official
11:13 A.M. EDT
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good morning. I had anticipated that we were going to start with a broader briefing from another member of the White House staff on the entire program for the summit, which I guess we'll have to do later. I'm going to focus just on the Middle Eastern part.
Starting last year, the President, in his speeches at the National Endowment for Democracy at Whitehall Palace in London, and then most recently at the Air Force Academy, discussed the need for reform and for democratization in that region. As Dr. Rice said earlier, the President turned away from what you might call a generation of policy that took the view that stability was the main goal. And that policy, he said in those speeches, did not bring democracy and it did not even bring stability, and it was time to adopt what he called "a forward strategy of freedom."
In the G8 meeting, there will be two documents agreed, one of them a political statement or declaration, and the other, what we are calling a plan of support for change. The declaration announces the Partnership for Progress and a Common Future, and the plan of support is programmatic and discusses specific ways in which the G8 countries and other countries, working with them, can help reform in the Middle East. The plan of support is actually called The G8 Plan of Support for Reform.
From the beginning, we have seen democracy, freedom, as a critical need in the region. For reasons that, actually, I can't fully explain, we've seen an awful lot of news stories suggesting that the -- that goal of democracy, discussion of freedom and human rights, has somehow been compromised in the final documents. As you'll see when the final documents emerge on Wednesday, that's just not so. The political statement is full of mention of democracy and freedom and human rights. The first paragraph mentions democratic reform, and the second paragraph mentions freedom, and the third paragraph mentions strengthening freedom and democracy. And the fourth paragraph mentions freedom and democracy and rule of law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And on and on it goes, concluding with a paragraph on human rights and fundamental freedoms, free exchange of ideas and building democracy. So it is all there.
We also mention the governments and peoples of the region. There had been a desire on the part of some governments in the region that the G8 work with and mention only governments. But of course, in some cases governments are the engine of reform and in other cases governments are attempting to hold reform back. And the real energy is coming from civil society, from NGOs.
We've seen a lot of energy. In the last six months, Dr. Rice mentioned the Alexandria Library Declaration. There have been about half a dozen. There's also the Arab League Summit. So it's been both civil society and governments. And the emphasis on supporting civil society and civil institutions is not a weakening, it is a strengthening of the message of reform, because we are reaching out not only to governments, but directly to peoples and to societies in trying to promote reform.
There is also what is called the Democracy Assistance Dialogue. In the foreign aid area, economic aid, the Development Assistance Committee, the DAC of the OECD, is a coordinating mechanism where donors from OECD countries get together to try to figure out how to make their aid more effective and how to coordinate it. But we don't do anything like that in the area of democracy promotion. We have the National Endowment for Democracy and the Republican Institute, Democratic Institute. In Germany, the have very well-established party foundations -- the stiftung for the three major parties. In Europe, the Westminster Foundation in England; there are party foundations in many countries in Europe. There's no coordination among all of these democracy promotion institutions of the sort that there is for the promotion of economic development. So we thought it's an obvious missing link, and one that we want to fill.
And, in fact, the G8 will adopt this democracy assistance dialogue as a mechanism for the democracy promotion institutions from G8 countries, and, we expect more broadly from EU countries as well, to get together and coordinate their democracy support activities. So this is -- this theme of promoting democracy is a key theme throughout the documents that will be adopted on Wednesday.
We've had a great deal of cooperation from governments in the region, because a number of governments, and you'll see them on Wednesday, are deeply engaged in various forms of reform -- political, economic and social throughout the region.
Each country is unique and is moving at a different pace. That is absolutely inevitable, and it is not something that we were forced to acknowledge -- the fact that reform must be indigenous and that each country will be different, and that reform will look different in each country, and that democracy will look different in each country as it develops over time.
These are points that the President made last year in his initial comments on reform in the region at the London and National Endowment for Democracy speeches. So it's been a little bit odd to see some of those presented as concessions on the part of the United States. They are accurate descriptions of the way reform would develop in any region of the world -- Latin America, Asia, Europe, Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union -- and the statement that the G8 will adopt clearly says, clearly recognizes that that's a factual statement about the nature of reform.
The statement also refers to the Arab-Israel, or particularly the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. But it states very clearly that neither the diversity, the uniqueness of each country, the fact that each country will develop differently, nor the gravity of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, neither of those is an excuse or justification for a failure to reform. Neither of them can be presented as an obstacle or excuse for efforts to reform.
So, taken as a whole, we are very pleased with the documents that are just about in final form, perhaps in final form now, and you will see the final version on Wednesday.
I think I should stop there and just take questions.
Q The ideas you're talking about, you're saying the Middle East and these statements, in terms of encouraging democracy, is still seen by majority in the Arab world as something to choose. You know, you encourage some other Arab governments or regimes to carry on while they are famous for their dictatorship, and you are prepared to be patient with them, in terms of when you say that they have asked you to address governments, not NGOs or civil right organization. How far you're going to listen to them on these fronts?
The other thing, taking the Palestinian case as an example, we found that the Prime Minister, which was fully supported by the U.S. government, was completely isolated, because people want the change to come from inside, not from outside. So how you are going to adjust and take a lesson from this experience?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The goal of the United States in this is to support reform that's taking place, to support reformers who are calling, in many cases, for more reform, faster reform, to work with civil society institutions that are promoting reform, to work with governments that are promoting reform, and to try to persuade governments that are not, or not very much, that they should do more.
The President has said from the very beginning, and the G8 documents also reflect a G8 consensus that this is the work of a generation. No one has any allusions about the G8 adopting a statement and some programs about reform and, by the end of this year, why the whole world will look different. It took decades after the adoption of the Helsinki Final Act for there to be the kind of change it envisioned in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. When the President says, this is the work of a generation, he means it. This kind of change is extremely difficult for any country.
So I don't think it's reasonable to say, in a sense, what will change from this week to next week. The question is, how can we promote change over time in a way that will bring stable and peaceful democracies to the region. Now, there are a variety of opinions in the region. There are some people resisting reform. I think sometimes that some of the statements that the G8 statement is all watered down and it really doesn't press for democratic reforms, are wishful thinking on the part of people who had hoped that it would be possible, in fact, to water it down and make it go away. But that has not happened.
We are cognizant of the fact that sometimes foreign support for reform and reformers can be helpful, and sometimes it won't be. No reformers like to look as if they are responding to foreign rather than domestic pressures. But I think when you look at these statements, Sana, Alexandria, Beirut, and most recently Istanbul, the Arab Forum, the Arab Business Council in Aqaba -- these are all indigenous. Westerners were not signatories of any of these statements. These are all from within the region, and show, we think, a very substantial push toward reform.
Let me suggest it in a different way. One thing that virtually every country in the region has in common is a high birth rate and, therefore, a very large number of young people entering the job market every year. Not enough jobs are being created for all of those young people. In any country, including Western countries, in any country the existence of large numbers of young people who cannot find productive work is politically, economically and socially destabilizing. So it's reasonable to say to the nations of the region, this is essentially an economic point, but it has social and political ramifications. How are you going to meet this challenge? What are the reforms? If you look back five years, not enough jobs are being created in just about every country in the region. So let's look ahead five years and 25 years. What changes will be undertaken that will start providing enough jobs? It's a very important challenge.
When we did our first draft of the proposals that will emerge on Wednesday, which was done about six months ago, we discussed them with people in the region, in NGOs and in governments, and one of the first comments we got back was, there's not enough emphasis on job creation, which, they said, is absolutely critical for us in the region. Final documents actually have much more of an emphasis on job creation. So we have been listening.
Q You said an absence of an agreement between the Arabs and the Palestinians should not be an excuse for holding up reforms. But don't you have to make some progress there, as a confidence-building measure across the region?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Between Israelis and Palestinians. Progress toward peace between Israelis and Palestinians should be pursued for its own merits. It should be pursued because it will improve the lives of Israelis and Palestinians and reduce tensions in the region. What we are not accepting is the notion that that is an excuse for the failure to reform elsewhere -- that is, whether there is or is not the kind of rapid progress that we would like to see -- and maybe we will see in the coming year on that score with the withdrawal from Gaza and part of the West Bank -- whether there is or is not, that should not provide an excuse for some government 500 or 1,000 miles away to arrest a newspaper editor or to put in prison an opponent of the government or close down a opposition political party, because 1,000 miles away or 500 or whatever, 300 miles away, progress has or has not been made on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. That's really what we are saying.
We would like to see the progress, we devote a great deal of time and energy to trying to make progress, and we hope that the withdrawals that were approved by the Israeli cabinet yesterday are a real step toward that kind of progress. But that rate of progress, slow or fast, should not be allowed to be used as an excuse. And the people who tell us this, above all, are Palestinians, who never say to us, when we meet with them, you know, we're holding progress in the Arab world hostage because of our dispute with Israel. Rather, they say, that they know sometimes Arab governments use them as an excuse for unwillingness to reform. So they're not calling for this and, of course, we're not accepting it.
Q Can you say in what practical way the presence of Prime Minister Allawi at Wednesday's summit will help give a boost to these efforts? And in what way does it --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think it's symbolically very important. We're talking about political, economic and social reform in the region, efforts to create free economies, more open societies, and particularly more open political systems, including free elections as the means of choosing a government. And that is really the program for the coalition in Iraq, and the program for the new government of Iraq. One of its main responsibilities, of course, is to organize free elections for about, what, six months from now. So his presence is, I think, very appropriate for the message that's being delivered here about democratic reform in the region.
Q Could you tell us exactly whether or not the Middle Eastern countries who are invited will have input, or have had input into the statement? And also, we know that Saudi Arabia and Egypt were invited and couldn't come. Have there been other Middle Eastern nations that were invited and couldn't come?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Our first draft of this came out about six months ago and was very promptly leaked, so people had an opportunity to see the initial documents at that point in -- linked to Al Hayat in London. And more recently, we've had a series of documents leaked, so that people have had a good opportunity to see our ideas develop over time. And we've had a lot of input from nations and -- from governments, that is, and from NGOs in the region. We've talked to a lot of people and as well, obviously, as the G8 partners.
This document is a G8 document. We have not asked any other government to endorse or to sign this document. It is a G8 document. Needless to say, we will be happy if governments in the region and if reformers in the region who are not in governments look at this document and say, this is a good thing, this is a real step forward, we appreciate this. But as with any G8 document, they're not being asked to sign on.
There are a number of countries that were invited and can't come. I just mentioned two. I mean, President Mubarak was just in the United States, and the Kingdom of Morocco is about to come to the United States. So those were two examples where those governments said that they were not going to be able to make the additional trip.
But you'll find, for example, that, to take the case of Morocco, that they're actually participating in one or two of the programs that will be announced in the Plan of Support. So I think you cannot say that the key difference between who is attending and who isn't attending is that supporters are attending, non-supporters are not attending. It doesn't break that way. And when we announce the participation of different countries in different projects, you will see that often, what happened was that there was a reason why the head of government could not come.
We were only taking the top person. That is, this was not a case where people could say, well, the president or the king or whatever can't make it, so we'll send the foreign minister. That's not the way G8 summits work. So if the leader was unable because of other travel or impending travel, or because in some cases the leader is not in good health, then it was not possible for the country to participate.
Q Will Pakistan be --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. We are, I think, generally in the G8 viewing Pakistan as part of the subcontinent rather than as part of the Middle East or even of the broader Middle East.
Q What do you say to those who say that the United States benefits from the lack of democracy in the Middle East; that if you truly had governments in the Middle East that reflected the views of their people, you would have a far more anti-American government in places like Saudi Arabia and Egypt?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That was the American view for a very long time. It was a bipartisan view and it lasted for decades, that it we would be better off promoting, "stability." But as the President has been saying now since last year, this turns out to be an historic mistake.
First of all, the greatest strength of the United States is our association with the cause of freedom. The people who admire the United States admire us first because of American society internally -- the democratic system we have inside the United States; and then, secondly, because of our support for democracy in the rest of the world. We saw some of that in Normandy.
So the President's view is that this is a very mistaken policy to believe that in the long run, we are -- we can possibly be better off by supporting nondemocratic governments. Now, when we say that this is the work of a generation, we're not proposing that we think there can be radical change overnight, nor is it necessarily the right thing to engage in radical changes, because the goal is democracy, the goal is a stable democratic system, one that lasts election after election. You know, it isn't -- the old expression was, "one man, one vote, one time." We've seen that happen in a number of countries, and that is obviously not what we are in favor of. We're in favor of promoting reform and backing reformers and pushing toward stable democratic systems of the sort of that have developed, for example, in Eastern Europe, in the former Soviet Union, as those governments changed, or as has happened in a lot of Latin America, where you have not, in fact, I think it's fair to say, seen a military coup unseat one of the democratic governments that developed in the course of -- basically the 1980s.
So it is certainly the case that we may come up against democratic governments that oppose American policy on one thing or another. But as you can see from the negotiations in the context of the G8, that's something that we face all the time, and that's something that we deal with among democracies. We deal with public opposition, we deal with official opposition, but democracies do that successfully all the time and bring a much higher degree of stability and progress to the people of their own countries, as well.
END 11:39 A.M. EDT