Syria and the Assad Regime: Another Missed OpportunityJ. Scott Carpenter, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Near Eastern Affairs
Remarks at Foreign Press Center Roundtable
April 19, 2007
MODERATOR: I'm just going to go through quickly a couple of quick requests. Everyone, either -- if have your cell phone, either turn them off completely or vibrate them. That would be much appreciated. When we get to the session of the Q&A session, if you could please introduce yourself and the publication you're representing, that would also be appreciated.
And without further ado, I'd like to introduce Deputy Assistant Secretary Scott Carpenter. He will be addressing the Syrian election issue, specifically "Syria and the Assad Regime: Another Missed Opportunity" is the topic of the roundtable briefing.
Without further ado, Scott.
MR. CARPENTER: Okay. All right. Thank you. As billed, I'm here to talk about the missed opportunity that this process that the Syrian Government calls elections represents. As you know, the Syrian Government and its ruling Baath Party periodically go through this motion of holding what they call elections, but the regime continues to use authoritarian rule as established by its emergency law, its all-powerful security forces, and its monopoly control over the legal process and framework to ensure that the election, the so-called election doesn't in any way reflect a democratic process.
Both the Syrian constitution and the election process have heavily favored the Baath Party and the National Progressive Front, ensuring the continued domination of Syria by a single political force. The U.S. is deeply concerned about this process, given the absence -- complete absence of the fundamental political reforms that Assad has repeatedly promised to his own people, including a much-needed new elections law.
The U.S. and the international community would like to see a democratizing Syrian Arab Republic, truly democratizing Syrian Arab Republic that respects human rights, is at peace with its neighbors, and is a responsible member of the international community. I think the Syrian people have the right to elect parliamentary representatives who are able and willing to represent them and to fight, effectively, corruption. We urge the Syrian Government to support the holding of free and fair elections, including allowing international monitors and nonpartisan domestic observers.
Democracy is about choice -- about choice. The Syrian process does not allow any meaningful choice. Every candidate that is being put forward has to be 100 percent loyal to Bashar and the Baath Party. They have to be vetted by the Baath Party. And so it's no wonder that turnout is expected to be extremely low because without choice, why participate?
We regret the Syrian regime's refusal to have an open, transparent, and fully participatory political environment and process. That would include opposition voices and parties, an unfettered and independent media, and the strong participation by civil society. Syrian legislative representatives have so far failed to deliver on their responsibilities such as ensuring basic education, fighting unemployment and corruption, and even as you -- as I've seen on Jazeera and Al-Arabiya and other news sources, this is not just the United States Government. I've heard of -- you know, Syrians themselves kind of mocking the campaign processes, the campaign slogans, and the campaign platforms of many of these candidates who more likely come from the established elite than from people who are actually looking to address the needs of the Syrian people.
The election process itself -- you know, elections are typically used to confer legitimacy. If you have a process that is open and transparent, easily observed, where there's real political competition, then the results are deemed to give the winner legitimacy and clearly, that's something that the Bashar Assad regime craves. This process cannot afford that sort of legitimacy because it is not open or transparent and it does not allow for true competition.
Even the ability to -- right to vote; according to statistics, there are about 12 million people in Syria who would be -- would have the right to vote in the country, but only 4-point-something million actually have the voter cards that will allow them to vote. This and many other instances, examples indicate just how far from a truly democratic process these elections are.
So with that, I'll stop and take questions.
QUESTION: Nadia Bilbassy with Al Arabiya TV. You know, for a while -- this is the confusion as to what the U.S. policy towards Syria -- is this really reforming the regime as they're now calling on election and accountability or is it really overthrowing the regime and looking for a new thought in Syria? And whether you actually think the opposition is a credible alternative to Assad currently?
MR. CARPENTER: Well, I think as this has been billed, it's a missed opportunity. We continue to stress that we are interested in seeing the regime moderate and change its behavior.
Look, Bashar promised as he came to power that he would be a reforming president and he has not been. And I think the people of Syria themselves have been interested in seeing real reform and greater openness in the economy, in the education system, and also in the political system. They have seen none of that. And I think that's why he doesn't want to have a freer, open process because any voice that has stood up and said within the Syrian parliament -- people like Riad Seif, who was an elected member of parliament, who stood up and said things are going in the wrong direction, are punished and thrown in jail.
And so it's become -- there is a clearer emphasis on ensuring the complete loyalty of whoever is on the list so that once they get into parliament, they won't oppose in any way the regime. So our clear policy is that we want to see, as I've said, a democratizing, reforming Syria that is also an international partner that can be relied upon, so I don't think there's any confusion in our policy. This is a missed opportunity.
In terms of the opposition -- you mentioned the opposition -- I don't know. They're not given a chance, so how would you know? How would anybody know? I was meeting with representatives of the National Salvation Front the other day and I don't know whether or not they could be successful in a truly open democratic process, but we don't know that they couldn't be, because there is no such thing as an open political process.
QUESTION: If I could follow up; but didn't you think that your call is actually pointless if you are not engaged with Syria in any dialogue? So why would they listen to you when you ask them to reform themselves?
MR. CARPENTER: I don't -- they don't have to listen to us. I mean, it's their country, it's their policy. The government has clearly made its decisions about how it wants to run this process. What we are doing simply is setting out the international standards for what is an elections process and judging it by those international standards, if those -- by international standards, this election does not constitute a truly democratic process. That's simply an assessment. It's not demanding anything of Syria.
QUESTION: Sorry. Roula Ayoubi from the BBC. In what capacity are you assessing these international standards?
MR. CARPENTER: There are international standards from the UN. There are the Copenhagen criteria for international election standards. There's an effort underway to establish international election standards as a convention. These standards are well known and recognized. These are the same standards under which international observers from around the world gather to assess elections.
Even in Egypt, okay, a country which has recently moved in terms of its presidential elections to a more competitive process, allowed for domestic observers to report and domestic observers also reported on the referendum process. These are the Egyptians and non-governmental organizations that come together to simply report on the process. They're not participating; they're reporting and observing the process. And the standards that they use to assess whether or not the process is free and fair are consistent with those standards.
And if you look at -- I'll just give you another example. I mean, look at Yemen. I mean, even in Yemen where you had elections that were from the European Union's political observers, Arab election observers and other election observers all agreed that that process, regardless of what the outcome was, we're not saying, you know, this person should person win or not win or -- but the process have integrity, that it was clear that candidates could register from all political -- from across the political spectrum. There was real pluralism. The media had a real role to play and the process itself was conducted in a way that was -- that met those standards and so we're prepared to say it whenever those standards are met.
In an election that we, the United States gets a lot of criticism for -- what our policy was afterwards -- the Palestinian elections. The Palestinian elections were perhaps the best run elections in the Arab world and they met every international standard. They have an independent election commission. The media again played an extremely helpful role and there was meaningful competition. There was meaningful competition in those elections. All of those things are absent from the Syrian process.
QUESTION: Yes. Joyce Karam with Al Hayat newspaper. If I am Syrian, living in Damascus, I'd look at Iraq. Hopes for democracy there are obviously tarnished by the violence today. I'd look at Lebanon, the democracy is leading -- a government which is as Welch said yesterday, totally paralyzed. What are the guarantees that opening the path for democracy in Syria won't lead to another Baghdad or Beirut? And what leverage are you using on the Syrian regime to push them to open up more?
MR. CARPENTER: Well, I think the answer to the first part of your question, Joyce, is that it is -- for us to sit outside and to characterize what the Syrians themselves want for themselves based on anything. I know that this is Bashar's argument to his own people: Do you want Iraq? If we have democracy in Syria it will look like Iraq.
Well, I don't think most Syrians believe that. I think they want a real opportunity to express themselves. And if he's right and if he was so self-assured of that point, then why fuel a more open and democratic process? Because clearly then the majority of people would say, we want you to be there and we want the Baath Party to be there because you guarantee stability or whatever the question would be. But that should be a determination that is left to the majority of Syrians. And clearly this process will not allow that to happen. So I think that if you ask anyone in the Arab world, do you want your country to look like Iraq, the answer will be no. If you ask the question: Do you want to live in freedom, do you want to have a voice in who your leadership is, do you want to have the choice of having a job or getting a decent education for your child or having a house in which to live? I think the answer would be yes. And I think that it's a bit of a red herring to put that argument forward. I think most people want to have a say in their lives.
QUESTION: Tarek Rashed from the from the Middle East News Agency. I'd like to ask you why the U.S. is so scrambling to reach out your process that hasn't yet healed its (inaudible)? Why don't you get the independent (inaudible) to come out first and then judge the process, whether it was correct or not correct? And why didn't we see that in (inaudible) in judging a (inaudible) in the test already materialized in Egypt where we have seen results and that the outcome was disappointing not only to the people but to the outside world?
MR. CARPENTER: Well, first of all, elections -- an electoral process culminates in election day, right? But the election day is not the be all, end all of the electoral process, right? The legal framework for the elections has to be set. The method for which candidates are nominated and able to participate in elections must be set. The role of the media and the access of the media, the supervisory process for the elections, whether there's an independent election commission or what the role of the ministry of justice is, what the appeal process is, all of those things we can look at now and see that they're deficit. So whatever happens on election day, you know, whether you turn out and you have transparent ballot boxes and you see people putting the ballots into the boxes, no one's going to be fooled by that on election day because of everything that preceded it. And so that's why we don't hesitate now to say that the process is deeply flawed and so the election day won't have any meaning because you can't have a flawed process -- a completely flawed process.
Now, in the case of Egypt, we have expressed our disappointment with those elections both in terms of the deficiencies in the presidential elections, our concerns over the violence in the second and third round of the parliamentary election, as well as the deficiencies in the most recent referendum. But at least there, there is an established set of rules. There was opposition participation, the media did have a role, there were domestic observers. There were a number of things -- where we're not saying that the process was perfect there by any stretch of the imagination, but it's certainly not at the same level as the situation in Syria.
QUESTION: So you mean they need a new election road to reform. The old election law from 1974 prevent free media or observers and the Syria opposition are calling for a new election law that will make it open.
MR. CARPENTER: Right. I mean, that's why I'm saying it's a missed opportunity. If you were serious about getting legitimacy for the regime, then you would have a truly democratic, transparent process. You know, think about this. If the governor of any province has to vet a candidate, so the governor says -- so you say I want to be -- I'm going to represent my people, I want to represent my local community. I think I have the stature. My family is well known. I have ideas that I want to bring. And so I want to represent my people in such and such a village, such and such a town. You have to go to the governor and they have to accept you. Not a very open or transparent way of selecting candidates.
QUESTION: Joe Macaron, KUNA [Kuwait News Agency]. From the information you have so far regarding situation in Syria, how you assess the (inaudible) of decision making now from what you know?
And my second question who are you in contact with among the Syrian opposition (inaudible) and would you accept if the (inaudible) Muslim Brotherhood came to power in Syria? Would you accept this outcome or would you be still in response like in Syria or in Egypt (inaudible)? What so far is the only possible sort of (inaudible) for the regime?
MR. CARPENTER: How do we know that? Everybody keeps saying that. Everybody keeps saying --
QUESTION: Well, everyone who has any insight about Syria and Egypt will know that it's the most powerful social (inaudible) talked about (inaudible) which is good. He became known now. But I mean, it is (inaudible) social base (inaudible) problem. But my last question is you talked about a missed opportunity. Why do you think it was really missed (inaudible) now looking back?
MR. CARPENTER: It was missed six, seven months ago now to -- whenever the parliament -- I mean, the electoral law was not -- is it promulgated finally? I mean, the electoral law wasn't promulgated till right before the elections, taking everybody by surprise as to what was in it. I think there were expectations and hopes that it would have some real change in it.
Again, what we're talking about here is about process, not outcome. I think that if there were a truly open, democratic process in Syria, we would accept the outcome. But that doesn't seem to be an eventuality. And again, I challenge people when they say that if you open the electoral process, you know, the Muslim Brotherhood would take over everywhere. Well, how do we know that? It's a risk that a lot of people don't want to take. I understand that. But you know, in poll after poll after poll around the region, Islamists get about 20, 22, 23, even 24 percent. Right? So --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) conduct the polls?
MR. CARPENTER: Various agencies around the region do the polls. And so I --I mean, obviously there is a part of society that these groups represent. I think they -- the reason that they appear to be so strong is because they're the only opposition in a way in some countries. But in any case, in terms of -- we meet with many different members of the Syrian opposition. Most recently I met with representatives from the National Salvation Front.
QUESTION: Good afternoon. Samir Nader [Radio Sawa] --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) my first question, which was the internal inner circle decision making now, how much you are -- you know, it's (inaudible) information at this (inaudible).
MR. CARPENTER: I think there's always a temptation when you're dealing with regimes like this to try to figure out who's up and who's down within the inner circle. Right now, I want to talk about a process that the government itself is saying is important but they have done nothing to make it relevant. So I'm not going to comment on the inner circle of their regime.
QUESTION: My name is Samir Nader with Radio Sawa. Can you tell us anything about your meeting with the Syrian Salvation Front (inaudible)?
MR. CARPENTER: Well, you know, again, it's an opportunity to exchange information and views, and they were sharing with me their concern that we not give too much credence to this process that the Syrian Government is calling elections. They -- as you know, the opposition has called for a boycott as a way of demonstration their lack of -- their view that this process is not a legitimate one, and so they were talking about their views of this process.
QUESTION: There's a new element in this election that the government's presenting now, glass boxes for transparency. (Laughter.)
MR. CARPENTER: This is my point exactly. This is my point exactly. So I get to see --
QUESTION: Here's your -- the U.S. glass boxes, is it (inaudible)? (Laughter.)
MR. CARPENTER: You know, there was a video that I saw of a -- and I don't know if it's true or real or anything, but it made me smile. But it was a -- it was on YouTube and it was circulating around the internet on -- related to the Egyptian elections -- and again, I don't know if it's true, but it just made me smile -- where this one guy was signing yes votes, you know, sheet after sheet after sheet, and he's getting tired, so he asks another guy to come up and he says, look, you have to do some of these, too.
And so then they take them all and they put them in the transparent ballot boxes. You know, this is -- that's what I'm saying. I think we can't -- the election day of any election is only the end point of an entire process. How long is the campaign? Does the opposition have access to the airways to make its point and case? Does it have money with which to conduct its campaign? All of these elements are part of an election process that is -- that can convey legitimacy. If you don't have those things, then you can't say, "Well, clearly we're legitimate. You're not legitimate."
QUESTION: Follow up. My name is Talha Gebriel from Al-Sharq Al-Awsat. My question, when did you see this position in the -- the Syrian opposition and what is your impression about the -- do you think they are pro-democracy in their country or whether they are now in the opposition?
MR. CARPENTER: Well, I met with them yesterday and you know, I can only judge by their platform at this point because they've not had an opportunity to demonstrate, by action, their role. But I take it as a significant sign that one of the other things they were telling me about is their commitment to holding internal elections for their leadership. You know, you can't talk about democracy unless you practice it. And so to the extent that they're able to have internal democracy and selecting their own leadership to demonstrate, for instance, to the Syrian people that they're not the same, I think is important. But again, it's not for us to judge. Ultimately, it's for the Syrian people to judge. But I'd take that as an encouraging sign.
QUESTION: How far have you gone with the foundation of a future and the freedom fund and the people (inaudible) you don't hear about them till now?
MR. CARPENTER: Before we talk about that, I want to continue on the Syrian track -- yeah.
QUESTION: I want to ask you, how else are you helping the opposition? There were some stories that regular meetings occur at the State Department to review the -- you know, how to help the democratic forces and Syria. Are these meetings still going on? It was in Time magazine.
MR. CARPENTER: Yeah. The Time magazine story was greatly exaggerated. If you look at -- what they were talking about was observing -- helping to find ways to help civil society within the country observe the elections, monitor the elections. I mean, how subversive is that to monitor elections? It's the same thing that was happening in -- you know, domestic observation was taking place in Egypt, domestic observation in Morocco, domestic observation in Bahrain, in Yemen, in Palestine. So that was basically it. There's no nefarious plot as the Time magazine story tried to convey. But routinely, we'll meet with Syrian opposition.
QUESTION: Other than meetings, any concrete steps? I mean -- you know, they obviously need more help than, you know, sitting with them. I just don't even -- you know, we'll support you.
QUESTION: What they are asking --
MR. CARPENTER: No, they haven't asked for anything. I mean, you can't -- you know, for the Syrian opposition to remain credible in Syrian eyes, we recognize that their proximity to us can sometimes be nonproductive or counterproductive. So no, what they're looking for is, I think, moral support and, you know, to say that the United States is, you know, monitoring the situation closely.
QUESTION: Could we know some names of these?
QUESTION: They are on the (inaudible).
MODERATOR: You haven't asked.
QUESTION: Mayssa Zeidan, Al Mustaqbal newspaper. I'm really confused. It's been almost two or three years since the American Administration start to say that the Syrian regime should change their behavior.
MR. CARPENTER: Right.
QUESTION: I mean, are you seriously considering that Bashar Assad will wake up someday and tell the Americans, "Okay, I got it now and I will change?" I mean, what's your concrete (inaudible) change Syrian regime or to change their behavior? It's just talk.
MR. CARPENTER: Well, no, I don't think it's just talk. I mean, the United States has done a great deal to put as much pressure on the regime as we can, including our own sanctions. We've put sanctions on individuals and of course, we continue to push very hard for the special tribunal in Lebanon, which I think is the thing that the Syrian Government clearly most fears. And we are working with the Government of Lebanon and other Security Council members to do what we can to ensure that that tribunal is established.
No, we don't necessarily -- we're not Pollyannaish about the notion that Bashar will wake up one day and say, you know, I need to do something more. But I think it's important to continue to make the principles clear, make the principles for our engagement clear so that confusion is not sown. I mean, as you know, and if you read American newspapers like The Washington Post, their assessment of Speaker Pelosi's visit to Syria was extremely negative because it sent a confused message to Syria and not only Syria. And so our -- the Administration's policy is clear. We are seeking behavior in the -- change in the behavior of the regime. So far, we've seen no evidence that they're prepared to change their behavior.
QUESTION: Are you going -- and are you going to wait --
MR. CARPENTER: And we can -- we're putting as much pressure as we can.
QUESTION: Are you going to wait for them to change their behavior or are you going to the next step, meaning changing their regime?
MR. CARPENTER: We're going to continue to put as much pressure --
QUESTION: For how long? Is it an open end pressure -- open ended pressure? Or -- I mean, people want to see something.
MR. CARPENTER: (Laughter.)
QUESTION: You are the super power of the world. (Inaudible) just before his (inaudible) he meet with -- he met with the American official. And he's still in prison and --
MR. CARPENTER: And it's outrageous. It's outrageous.
QUESTION: Yes. So what we do? (Inaudible.)
MR. CARPENTER: We will continue to apply as much pressure as we can. We will continue to work with governments in Europe and elsewhere to also put as much pressure as they can on this regime in order to change his behavior.
QUESTION: If I may follow up on this question, do you expect another (inaudible)? Do you expect maybe a change of behavior just like what happened to Muammar Qadhafi? Would that happen one day to Bashar Assad or it's different?
MR. CARPENTER: How and whether Bashar will -- this is a decision that that government has to take. If it wants to be an active participant in the international community, if it wants to fully realize the potential of its own citizenry, then clearly, things have to change in the country.
QUESTION: Do you think Qadhafi changed? I mean --
MR. CARPENTER: He -- what we do know is that Qadhafi gave up weapons of mass destruction and ceased to fund terrorist activities. There are serious deficits there, as we all know, in the areas of political openness, et cetera and there are no illusions there. But clearly, he has changed in the sense that he gave up a program: nuclear, chemical and other weapons of mass destruction programs and he has ceased to fund global terrorism, which is an extremely important thing. Those are a couple of the things that we have asked the Syrian regime to do and even that, they have not yet done.
QUESTION: Do you know why --
MR. CARPENTER: I think there's a question here.
QUESTION: I'm sorry.
QUESTION: I'm just following up on -- my name is Mahmoud Hamalawy with Al Jazeera channel. You talk about exerting pressure and -- as well as an example of other countries in their elections. I'm just wondering how are you conveying your message directly to the Syrians, if at all? Is that charge' acting under your recommendations? Is he speaking with anyone on the Assad regime side?
MR. CARPENTER: We are not -- we are no longer talking directly with the Syrian regime. We don't have to. We have talked to them ad infinitum until we realized that we are talking to a wall. And so if after you talk to somebody for so long and you can tell that they're not listening, it's not worth your breath anymore. They know, the regime knows, the government knows what it is that the United States Government expects. And that hasn't changed. It's been a constant and that's why we're continuing to increase the pressure as we can, but -- so there's no new information to convey. They know what they -- they know what we've asked and they know what the Arab governments have asked.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on the follow-up and it might be a futile attempt any -- and we're not going to go anywhere, but again, logically, why would the regime be formed if it's going to lead to its demise? Logically, you were saying that if they're going to have an election, a fair and free election, they're not going to be elected, the chances are one in a hundred, so why would they do that? What's the purpose for them to do that?
MR. CARPENTER: Well, I think the issue is legitimacy. And that's the point here. If they're going to point -- if Bashar is going to try to point to these elections and say, "See, the Baath Party is legitimate in the country, we're supported by the Syrian people" --
QUESTION: But it is.
MR. CARPENTER: This -- what is?
QUESTION: It is supported by the Syrians.
MR. CARPENTER: Who -- what is?
QUESTION: They go -- and they go and elect them.
MR. CARPENTER: Who does?
QUESTION: Syrians, the Syrian people.
MR. CARPENTER: Yeah. Look -- (laughter) -- the point is that it's a -- you know, we can say it -- the issue for -- again is that what we know for sure is that evolution is better than revolution. Evolution is better than revolution. And you know, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but at some point, the people are just going to be so fed up that they're not going to take it anymore. And the problem then is that you have a situation in which there is no predictability in that.
So what we want to see is the beginning of a process that begins to change the regime from the inside. If that process doesn't happen, then the long term security for the regime is not going to be there either. So we believe it is in their interest to open up. They may make a different conclusion. But we believe that the Syrian people would like to have a choice and voice in their own leadership.
QUESTION: If I may switch to another subject?
MR. CARPENTER: Well, I think there's still some more -- there's still some more questions. I'll say Joyce.
QUESTION: No, that cannot happen and now we'll have a transcript and I forgot my question.
MR. CARPENTER: All right, we'll come back to you.
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.
MR. CARPENTER: She will.
QUESTION: There is this concept of time that's always played by some regimes in the region that time is on their side. One administration comes here, one administration goes and there might be change of policy. And you know, between one day and another, the democracy agenda, poof, it's normal under -- you know, under White House agenda. And in the light of Pelosi's visit where she didn't -- I didn't hear her mentioning the word "democracy," do you think -- I mean, after 9/11 and all what's happening in the region, the Hariri assassination and the two parties in the U.S. have come in terms to realize that to push for democracy is as an essential part of the interest of the U.S. in dealing with Syria?
MR. CARPENTER: Yeah. I mean, if you look at, just generally speaking, Joyce, if you look at the first bill that was passed by this new Congress in the House of Representatives --
MR. CARPENTER: Yeah, and not only Syria, even before the Syria embargo, that was the next one, but it was the bill that was designed to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. And there was a specific reference to advancing democracy in the Arab world. If you look at the Council of Foreign Relations Report from last year that was -- which was headed by Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State, Democrat, in their report that the Council of Foreign Relations put together, which was co-chaired by Vin Weber, who is a Republican, that report made very clear that it is critical to continue to push for an advance reforms -- economic, political, social reform in the Arab world.
If you look at the key people on Capitol Hill and the appropriations committees or in the House or Senate Foreign Relations Committees, all of these people continue to support this effort. If you look at any presidential candidate that's out there right now, no one is saying that political and economic reform in the Arab world is not something that we should continue to pursue.
So I think there is an illusory hope amongst some regimes that when this Administration goes away, this whole agenda will go away. I think that they're miscalculating.
QUESTION: I know that Syria (inaudible) using national (inaudible) people behind and that is the occupation (inaudible). Why don't you pressure (inaudible) to resolve this issue as much as you are exercising international pressures on Syria to follow the international norms or standards for this democracy or whatever?
MR. CARPENTER: We think that Israeli elections meet international standards?
QUESTION: No, I mean -- (laughter) -- you know what I mean. The Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights, which is being used by the Syrian regime to rally -- that gets people behind it and say that we have a national cause and all what they are saying now on pressuring us to do is just a kind of (inaudible) to forget about our national -- our main issue that -- the occupation of land. Why don't you pressure Israel on Golan as much as you are pressuring Israel -- Syria on democracy and other issues?
MR. CARPENTER: Look, as part of the Arab Peace Initiative, right, that was just recently reaffirmed in Riyadh, there was a call for Israel to look seriously on that initiative. Olmert said he's prepared to meet with Arab governments and now, as far as I understand, yesterday or today, the decision has been reached to appoint Egypt and Jordan as the kind of first foray into that to begin to discuss the outstanding issues. There is a process going on. And I think some are concerned that that process might actually gain traction, because after all, what happens if -- what would happen -- let's hypothetically envision that the Golan Heights were returned. What then would be the rallying cause that would allow Bashar to say we don't -- we can't have elections in a more open system? We'll see.
MODERATOR: We have time for one more question.
QUESTION: Yes, I wanted to have --
MR. CARPENTER: You've already had five. (Laughter.) You had four the first time and now he's got one-and-a-half --
MODERATOR: One quick one and then a follow-up.
MR. CARPENTER: No, no, you've had plenty. (Inaudible) only has one.
QUESTION: Four-and-a-half again, but soon, very quickly. How do you think the special tribunal will affect the regime of (inaudible), the survival of the regime? And speaking of the Israeli election, I know it's not the topic, but how do you assess the -- overall, the prosecution of the (inaudible) the Israeli Deputy (inaudible). Do you have any comment on this?
MR. CARPENTER: Okay. What was the first question?
QUESTION: How the tribunal affect the (inaudible) regime, you think, on the (inaudible)?
MR. CARPENTER: You know, I don't know. I don't know why they're so afraid of it. If there was nothing to fear in terms of the investigational process and nothing to fear from the prosecution, then why wouldn't they embrace it? What it seems to me is that there is, because of the depth of concern, that there is -- that it would have some real impact on this inner circle that you were talking about before. I don't know that, but I can't -- it's very difficult to understand why there is such resistance.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you. This is the last question. I want to switch to -- you mentioned that (inaudible) Muammar Qadhafi has been changed. I think yesterday, he refused to meet with Deputy Secretary Negroponte. Have you any comment on that?
MR. CARPENTER: No, I do know that he did not meet with Deputy Secretary Negroponte, but I don't have any comment and I don't know how to assess that. Again, our relationship with Libya is one of, again, evolution. We were out of contact for a very long period of time and we welcome and recognize the decision of the Libyan Government and Qadhafi to give up weapons of mass destruction. We have removed Libya from the state sponsor of terrorism list. We've lifted sanctions and we are doing what we can to engage with the Libyan Government on other issues of substance and concern to both sides, including these issues that we're talking about here.
But it's often -- it's not a process that has been smooth and it has not been a process that has -- for either side. But we will continue to work with the Libyan Government to see what we can meaningfully achieve together.
All right. Thank you all, everyone.
Released on April 19, 2007