Press Briefing in TunisiaMarc Grossman, Under Secretary for Political Affairs
November 5, 2002
UNDER SECRETARY GROSSMAN
UNDER SECRETARY GROSSMAN: Let me thank you all very much for taking time out of your day to visit with me today. This building has great historical connections and we are sad to be leaving it; but we are very proud to be moving into a new embassy. The Ambassador was nice enough to take us on a tour of that facility this morning. I know you will all have a chance to see it. We believe that the creation of this new embassy in Tunis shows our commitment to Tunisia.
My job in Tunis has been to express our appreciation to our Tunisian allies, to remind people how important Tunisia is to the United States and to consult today with the Foreign Minister on a whole range of issues that are important to Tunisia and to the United States. There is obviously a lot to talk about as these relations go back almost 200 years. Tunisia is a model of social and economic development and a steady voice on regional and international issues. I also took the opportunity to thank the Foreign Minister again for all of the help that Tunisia has been in the global war on terrorism. We also had a chance to talk about the now important, but we hope to be growing, economic cooperation between Tunisia and the United States. The United States/North Africa Partnership remains a key part of our policy in this region. And we are very pleased with the recent signing of the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) between the United States and Tunisia. I think that, given the short amount of time, I will stop there and answer any questions that you may have.
QUESTION: Have you discussed with the Tunisian officials the case of Iraq and what is your view of the Saudi position refusing to join any coalition? And of course what is your opinion about the Arab public opinion that is against the war? And does this mean anything to you?
UNDER SECRETARY GROSSMAN: Let me answer all of those questions because they are all very good questions. First, yes, absolutely, we spoke about Iraq this morning with the Foreign Minister. I took the opportunity to report to the Foreign Minister on where things stand on our effort to get a UN Security Council resolution passed on Iraq. We hope to get this resolution passed soon. I reported to the Foreign Minister that the purpose of that resolution is to avoid a conflict. Our argument to our friends and allies around the world is that, if we are smart and if we pass the right kind of Security Council resolution, we can have a strengthened Security Council, Iraq meeting its obligations, and no conflict. Itís very important to remember that President Bushís statement to the UN General Assembly on September 12 was not a declaration of war. It was a declaration of purpose Ė to strengthen the Security Council, disarm Iraq, and do so in a way that is effective. And that is our objective today. We believe that a strong Security Council resolution will allow inspectors back into Iraq under new circumstances and Iraq will be forced to meet its obligations, not to the United States, but to the Security Council. And so to the other two parts of your questions, I think that the statements coming out of Saudi Arabia are answered by me by saying that we do not wish a conflict and that our President has not made a decision about a military operation. And all of those who wish to avoid a conflict should support a strong resolution at the Security Council. Arab public opinion matters a great deal to us. That is why we want the Security Council to be strengthened. That is why we want Iraq to be disarmed of its weapons of mass destruction. And that is why we are working so hard to pass a strong resolution so that we can disarm Iraq.
QUESTION: Will the resignation of the Israeli cabinet affect the effort by the United States for a peaceful settlement in the Middle East?
UNDER SECRETARY GROSSMAN: Obviously, the domestic policies of Israel are Israelís business. And I would have no comment on their domestic politics. What I can assure you, however, is that all of us Ė the President, the Secretary of State, all of us who are involved - continue to pursue the plan for peace that was outlined in the speech by President Bush on June24 of this year. And we believe that a plan for peace that is based on the Saudi plan and the Beirut Arab Summit, the Presidentís speech on June 24, and UN Security Council Resolutions is a way forward. And we intend to pursue it.
QUESTION: We all know that today is a crucial day for the White House? What will change tonight in the White House after todayís elections?
UNDER SECRETARY GROSSMAN: The American people will go today to the polls. And, as I tried to answer the gentlemanís question about Israeli domestic politics, I donít think that as a representative of our country, standing in a foreign country, that I have any comment on our domestic politics either.
QUESTION: As you mentioned earlier, the TIFA agreement has been signed. What is the next step in regards to the countries in the region and in regards to Tunisia?
UNDER SECRETARY GROSSMAN: The next step is to implement the TIFA agreement. After that, the next step will be to increase the amount of American investment in Tunisia. And I pay tribute to the Ambassador for making this one of the highest priorities on his agenda. There are some questions that are involved in why American companies donít invest more in Tunisia. And I think the good news is that it is not about Tunisia. It is a question of a regional market, and most American businesses who want to invest a large amount of money in Tunisia would like to also be part of a regional Maghreb economic development. And so one of the things that the Foreign Minister and I discussed this morning was the need for Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia to work together to create that kind of regional market. And that, of course, is their responsibility. And if we could get more American investment here, more of a regional market, I think that there could be more things that we could do in the economic field between Tunisia and the United States. But donít undersell the TIFA agreement. Itís an extremely important first step.
QUESTION: You just said that Americans seem to be sometimes not very interested by Tunisia because it is a small country. But waiting for the war to happen between the United States and Iraq, Tunisia will suffer a lot economically. Do you really do something for the small countries like our country which will lose a lot in tourism, for instance, and in investments? My second question is the relationship between the United States and Europe. Are you afraid that your strategic partner, which is Europe, -- that you are little by little losing this partner because we see now that in Germany and France, many public opinion is not very happy about what is happening now.
UNDER SECRETARY GROSSMAN: Well let me clarify the first part of your question. I did not say that people were not interested in Tunisia. I said that they would be more interested in the region as a whole. In fact you can see Tunisia as the base for investment in the region. Second, on the question on Iraq, I would answer your question the way that I answered your colleagueís question. Your analysis is based on the assumption that there is going to be a conflict. My analysis is based on the assumption that we will get a strong Security Council resolution and there will not need to be a conflict. And I would say that anyone who is concerned about conflict should get a message out to those members of the Security Council that so far do not seem to want to vote for a strong resolution. Tell them to vote for a strong resolution.
Finally, on Europe, the relationship between the United States and Europe fundamentally is excellent. We sometimes get ourselves caught up in these tactical disagreements and we forget the fundamentals. And I donít mean to give you homework to do, but I will make a suggestion to you. If you look on the website of the Chicago Council of Foreign Relations, there is a very interesting and brand new poll that they did on European and American public opinion. It shows that, among our populations, thereís a remarkable consistency of view. It doesnít say that there are no disagreements, but I think that you will find it interesting. It is absolutely relevant to your question.
QUESTION: I have a simple question on Iraq. Now it seems that the purpose of the United States is to get a resolution that relates more to disarming Iraq. Now does that mean that you have shelved the project of overthrowing Saddam Hussein?
UNDER SECRETARY GROSSMAN: This administration, like the last administration and our Congress, has been in favor of changing the regime in Iraq. The Iraqi people would be better off if Saddam Hussein was not their boss. That remains our policy. I think, as you have noted, the Security Council resolution focuses on the obligations that Iraq has to the Security Council. And that is proper. It is a Security Council issue. What I would say to you, sir, is that, if you look forward a few months and Iraq is being disarmed, it would be a very different Iraq. And I think that the President made this point extremely well in his speech to the American people in Cincinnati on October 7.
QUESTION: There is a course a difference of opinion between the United States and France. Now why does America intend to keep holding to the idea that, "if you are not with me, you are my enemy?"
UNDER SECRETARY GROSSMAN: First of all, French policy will have to be explained by the representatives of France. I would say to you that the Presidentís speech to the General Assembly on September 12 makes, with all due respect, the premise of your question incorrect. The President went in front of the General Assembly and said that this is not about Iraq and America, it is about Iraq and the Security Council. We have been working for eight weeks with other members of the Security Council to get a resolution that everyone can agree with. We have listened to the point of view of every other member of the Security Council, including the non-permanent members of the Security Council. If we had pursued the policy that is assumed by your question, we would have on September 13 thrown down a resolution and said, "Vote for this." And thatís not what we did. We have pursued a diplomatic strategy to try to get a Security Council resolution that everyone can live with.
Thank you all very much. I appreciate it. Thank you.
Released on November 6, 2002