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 You are in: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice > Former Secretaries of State > Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell > Speeches and Remarks > 2001 > March

Remarks at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Washington, DC
March 19, 2001

Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. (Applause.) Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you, Tim, for that very kind introduction. It's a great pleasure to be back here to speak to AIPAC. Amazing that it has been ten years. And it is especially charming to be introduced as the son of an immigrant to the United States who entered the shmata business. I haven't heard that in a long time. (Laughter.)

There are many people here who don't know what that means, but I do. (Laughter and Applause.) For those of you who were here ten years ago, you remember that there was a lot of speculation at that time that I was absolutely fluent in Yiddish. (Laughter.) I did nothing to dispel the speculation. And when I was walking offstage to confirm it, I said, "Well, yes, I do understand a bissel." (Laughter.)

But I am pleased to be here this morning, and especially to see so many friends in the room. AIPAC has a long and commendable record of promoting the unique relationship that exists between the United States and Israel. Both countries are better for your efforts, and so I thank and congratulate you for all you have done over the years. (Applause.)

We meet today in a world that is much different than that world of ten years ago, a world that is changing still more every day before our eyes. Ours is a world no longer defined by competition between two rival theological superpower blocs, the red and the blue side of the map; no longer engaged in a competition that had the potential to destroy humankind in a matter of minutes.

Instead, today we find ourselves involved in complex relationships that defy easy, Cold War red-and-blue characterizations of being either friend or foe. And making matters even more complicated is the reality that there are new powerful phenomena that affect the way we interact with each other. Ideas and dollars and drugs and terrorists cross national boundaries at the speed of light with impunity as a result of the information and technology revolutions. Old concepts of borders and political definitions are being shaken by the information and technology revolutions. And all of this presents the United States with an array of new opportunities, but also new and difficult challenges.

The Bush Administration is only two months old, so taking stock of how we are going to deal with this new world is a bit premature. Still, some central aspects of our foreign policy are emerging. As President Bush highlighted in his address to Congress on February 27th, we are committed to doing everything we can to promote freedom and open markets around the world. That is what reshaping this world, the possibility of open markets and freedom reaching into the darkest corners of the world. We are also committed to gaining trade promotion authority from the Congress so that we can expand the horizons and dimensions of world commerce for the benefit of all peoples of the world.

And we are committed to creating a new strategic framework, one defined by lower levels of nuclear weapons and a greater role for missile defense. This is time to change the nuclear equation of mutual assured destruction to a more sensible strategic arrangement. (Applause.)

Little of this can happen if we work alone. President Bush has made it clear that a hallmark of our foreign policy will be the need to consult and work closely with friends and allies. Such collaboration, for example, is at the core of our policy with respect to Iraq. Tim touched on it a moment ago. Iraq is still a challenge which is receiving early attention from the Bush Administration.

Our goal is to strengthen the international coalition that for a decade has helped to keep the peace in this important part of the world. And during my recent trip to the region, I discussed with friends across the region how best to continue to prevent the Iraqi regime from acquiring or developing weapons of mass destruction or the means to reconstitute its military forces.

As a result of those consultations, we are now exploring ways to strengthen the arms control elements of the UN sanctions, while addressing the legitimate humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people. And we believe this can be done and must be done to protect the children and the people of the region from these terrible weapons. We will have more to say about Iraq following the completion of our policy review, and after further discussions with our key partners.

The same holds true for our policy towards Iran. We are studying Iran in considerable depth within the new team. Even now, however, it is apparent that certain aspects of Iranian Government behavior -- the support for terrorism, repression of the rights of the Iranian people, especially those of Jewish descent, unfairly charged and harshly imprisoned -- are of deep concern. (Applause.)

This is of deep concern to the United States and to the American people, and we will not turn aside and ignore this kind of behavior.

We are also concerned about Iranian efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction and to increase its conventional military strength. Indeed, I have gone so far as to raise with senior Russian officials the role that Russia is playing in these dangerous and destabilizing efforts. We will not overlook what Russia is doing to cause this sort of problem. (Applause.)

At the same time, we are aware of the intellectual and political foment taking place within Iran. Things are happening, things are changing, and we will continue to watch these developments closely and hopefully.

Clearly there is a great deal going on around the world that merits our attention, from the Persian Gulf to North Korea, and from Macedonia to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But my focus this morning will be on the Middle East and, in particular, on Israel and on the search for peace. And let me begin with Israel.

As Governor George W. Bush said to your conference a year ago, America and Israel have a special friendship. Ladies and gentlemen, I am here today to reaffirm this friendship. It involves every aspect of life. (Applause.)

From the realms of politics and economics to those of security and culture, this relationship is strong. This relationship between fellow democracies is and will remain rock solid. (Applause.) Thank you.

It is an unconditional bond that is both deep and wide, one based on history, on interests, on values, and on principle. We are dedicated to preserving this special relationship with Israel and the Israeli people. We recognize that Israel lives in a very dangerous neighborhood. So we will work, we will look for ways to strengthen and expand our valuable strategic cooperation with Israel so that we can help preserve Israel's qualitative military edge, and help ensure -- (applause).

Our collaboration in missile defense is one prominent area that comes to mind in this regard. The simple fact of the matter is we believe that a secure Israel within international recognized borders remains a cornerstone of the United States foreign policy. There is no substitute. (Applause.) For me, this is not just policy; it is also personal. I have traveled to Israel on many occasions, as a young general working for the Secretary of Defense, as National Security Advisor to President Reagan, as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for President Bush, and just a few weeks ago as Secretary of State for the latest President Bush.

No matter in what capacity I visited, my reaction was always the same. Israel is a country blessed with men and women of extraordinary talent and vision and courage. From the moment of my first visit, I committed myself to doing all that I could do to make sure that the people of Israel would always have the support they needed from me and from the United States so that they could live in safety. (Applause.)

We meet here this morning ten years after the liberation of Kuwait, and almost ten years since the 1991 Madrid Conference that for the first time brought Israel and all of her immediate neighbors face to face. As then-President George Bush said, "They had come to Madrid on a mission of hope to begin work on the just, lasting and comprehensive settlement to the conflict in the Middle East, to seek peace for a part of the world that in the long memory of man has known far too much hatred, anguish and war."

Since Madrid, we have seen some remarkable achievements. Like many of you, I was there on the South Lawn of the White House in September of 1993 to witness the signing of the Declaration of Principles that laid the foundation for subsequent Israeli-Palestinian agreements, that provided most of the Palestinian people with meaningful control over their own fate, and most Israelis with greater security. I will never forget the famous handshake in that moment of high hope.

Just over a year later, in October 1994, we saw the signing of the Israeli-Jordan peace treaty that ended the state of conflict between these two neighbors and resulted in the opening of embassies. More recently, in May of last year, there was complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon under UN Security Council 425.

These momentous developments were bracketed by two important events: the repeal nearly a decade ago of the odious Zionism as Racism Resolution in the United Nations General Assembly. And in May 2000 -- (applause) -- Israel's joining the Western Europe and Others group, the first time Israel has gained representation in the UN regional grouping. (Applause.)

Unfortunately, as we all know too well, these and other achievements are neither permanent nor sufficient. What has been done can all too easily be undone. This Administration inherited the Middle East situation in which the prospects for peace have dimmed dramatically under a seemingly endless cycle of violence, and an almost breakdown of the trust, mutual confidence and hope that had been built up in recent years. Bullets and bombs have replaced words. Incitement and hurtful rhetoric have replaced quiet efforts to enhance mutual understanding. Negotiations are in abeyance.

It is not my intention to spend time here today theorizing as to how we arrived at this point, or suggesting what could or should have been done by one or another party at any particular junction. What is clear, though, is that the impact on Israelis of failed negotiations at Camp David and the ensuring violence has been nothing less than tragic. Hundreds have been injured, scores have been killed. And for every one of these losses a family grieves. For every one of these losses, a dream is destroyed. The sense of personal security is far weaker. The economy has suffered significantly. The impact has also been tragic for Palestinians. Thousands have been injured. Hundreds have died. And for every one of these losses, a family grieves. For every one of these losses, a dream is destroyed. The Palestinian economy is in shambles, with unemployment skyrocketing and growth absent. Internal and external closures have disrupted normal movement.

The net result of all of this is that Israelis have come to question whether a peaceful arrangement with the Palestinians is possible, and Palestinians have come to question whether peaceful coexistence with Israel is compatible with their own political aspirations.

We must not allow these questions to come to be answered in the negative. We cannot allow the dream of peace to perish. It would be a tragedy for the region. (Applause.)

I have no magic formula. I cannot snap my fingers and make the current situation go away or turn it around. What I can do, however, is to present some basic ideas that will guide the approach of the United States under the Bush Administration as we approach the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian dispute in the future -- a few ideas that we believe can contribute to the prospects for peace.

First and foremost, the violence must stop. (Applause.)

Violence is corrosive of everything the parties in the region hope to achieve. Violence saps the psychological well-being of every child, parent and grandparent. Violence makes every life insecure. Violence provokes armed reaction, not compromises. Leaders have the responsibility to denounce violence, strip it of legitimacy, stop it. Violence is a dead end. (Applause.)

Second, the status quo is costly and, if allowed to drift, will only lead to greater tragedy. Neither Israelis nor Palestinians are served by the current situation. Both sides require a dialogue that will lead to mutually acceptable political, economic and security arrangements -- be they transitional or permanent, partial or whole.

Third, the parties themselves hold the keys to their own futures. Peace will only be at hand when leaders have the courage and the vision to make difficult decisions and defend them to their own publics. (Applause.)

Unilateral actions sure to provoke the other side should be avoided. Turning to the United States or other outside parties to pressure one or another party, or to impose a settlement, is not the answer. (Applause.) Debating and passing new UN resolutions is unlikely to make a contribution. (Applause.)

In the end, there is no substitute for the give and take of direct negotiations. Peace is a cooperative endeavor. At the end of the day, Israelis and Palestinians will either be partners or antagonists.

Fourth, both parties have a stake in the restoration of normal economic life. They need to work to rebuild the level of trust and confidence that had existed. Israelis and Palestinians must each take steps to build confidence with the other to provide one another with evidence that their respective leaders can then point to in order to justify their own compromises.

And fifth, the United States stands ready to assist, not insist. (Applause.) Again, only the parties themselves can determine the pace and scope and content of any negotiations. Each party knows full well what the other values most dearly. Each party knows full well what the other fears most deeply. Progress will only come as statements and behavior come to reflect this knowledge. Here, history has two useful things to teach us: Israelis and Palestinians have the ability to make peace; and peace arrived at voluntarily by the parties themselves is likely to prove more robust and able to withstand the inevitable pressures and setbacks than a peace widely viewed as developed by others -- or worse yet, imposed.

The United States will stay involved. We have no intention of ignoring our responsibilities or the role we have played in the past. The truth is, we could not turn our backs on this part of the world even if we wanted to. Vital US interests are at stake. The United States has a vital interest in the security of Israel. We also have vital economic and strategic interests at stake in the region. And Americans care, care deeply, about the human toll that is the result of violence. We understand full well that these interests and concerns will be served best by a peace that both Israelis and Palestinians can embrace.

For these reasons, the United States will not be silent. We will speak out if we hear words or see actions that contribute to confrontation or detract from the promise of negotiations. We will not strive for some arbitrary measure of even-handedness when responsibility is not evenly shared. (Applause.)

Other states of the region and beyond have a role to play in stabilizing the environment for Israelis and Palestinians. These other states should be voices of moderation, counseling pragmatism and realism, and providing support for acts of statesmanship.

It is also important that they match words with deeds. I note, for example, that no Arab state now maintains a resident ambassador in Israel. This is most unfortunate. (Applause.)

My emphasis today on Israel and the Palestinians does not signal a lack of interest in other potential areas for diplomacy. On the contrary, the United States continues to support a comprehensive peace in the Middle East, one based on UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, and the formula of land for peace. We very much hope that Israel and Syria and Israel and Lebanon will find a mutually acceptable means to resume talks on each of these two tracks.

In the meantime, we strongly urge and have strongly urged all the parties in the tense border areas touching Israel, Lebanon and Syria to exercise maximum restraint and avoid any provocative and destabilizing activities. The Israeli decision to withdrawal from southern Lebanon creates a major opportunity for stability that should not be squandered.

This week, President Bush and I, along with other senior members of this Administration, will have the opportunity to sit down with the new Prime Minister of Israel. I have known Prime Minister Sharon for many years. I look forward to resuming the conversation that began during my recent trip while Mr. Sharon was still the Prime Minister-elect. He now has a government in place, and President Bush will want to hear his views on reinforcing our bilateral relations, on his intentions with respect to peace negotiations, and on regional issues of mutual importance.

In the weeks ahead, several of the most prominent leaders of the Arab world, including President Mubarak of Egypt and King Abdullah of Jordan, will also be visiting Washington. Here again, we look forward to having the benefit of the perspectives of these good friends of the United States.

The United States has no monopoly in wisdom. We are open, indeed anxious, to hear the views of others, to hear the views of all, to take into account the aspirations of all, the needs of all, and to determine what it is we can all do together to promote the prospects for peace in the region.

The need to reverse recent momentum could not be more apparent. It is difficult to speak of the contemporary Middle East and not speak of tragedy. Here we stand, at the dawn of the 21st century, and here with the potential to bring more peace and prosperity and freedom to more people than have ever enjoyed such fruits of life in the history of the world. The Middle East stands out, but hardly in a way to be envied. Too much of today's Middle East is mired in old disputes, too many resources are being devoted to the instruments of war, too many lies are being cut short.

I look forward to the day when the children of this region -- all the children of this region -- can grow up to be full participants in their own societies and enjoy the fruits of globalization. This can only happen when parents and schools teach peace and not hatred -- (applause) -- when people are able to focus on the quality of their lives, a Middle East where normal people lead normal lives, where all the peoples of the region can share in the blessings of the blessed land that they occupy.

Ladies and gentlemen, I try not to make a habit of quoting myself, but I will break this rule today for two reasons: first, I prefer not to end these remarks on so sober a note; and second, some words are worth repeating, wherein the repetition may communicate not only an idea, but the reality that the idea has endured.

With this in mind, I want to go back ten years to March 19th, 1991, when I last had the opportunity to address this distinguished organization. At that time, I said the following: "We have stood with Israel since the day of its founding; we have stood with Israel throughout its history; we have demonstrated again and again that our roots are intertwined, as they are with all nations who share our beliefs in openness and democracy. So let there be no question about our commitment to Israel; let there be no question that America will stand by Israel today; and let there be no question that America will stand by Israel in the future."

Today I am proud to say these words remain true. Today I am proud to stand in front of you, not as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces of the United States, but as the Secretary of State of the United States of America. (Applause.) The Secretary of State has been given the privilege to helping President Bush formulate and execute his foreign policy, and we will have no greater priority than to work with Israel, to work with the Palestinians, to work with all the others in the region to bring peace, a peace that surpasses all understanding of peace that the region needs.

I'm a former person of war, now I will pursue peace for all the peoples of the region. Shalom.



Released on March 19, 2001

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