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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 > 2003 > December

Press Availability in Tunisia

Secretary Colin L. Powell
U.S. Embassy
Tunis, Tunisia
December 2, 2003

SECRETARY POWELL: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Forgive me for being a little late, but President Ben Ali and I had a very, very excellent and extended conversation. In the course of our meeting, I extended to him once again President Bushís invitation to visit the United States in February. And, of course, weíre looking forward very much to the Presidentís visit, which is now scheduled for the 17th of February of next year. My visit to Tunisia has been filled with the past and inspired by the future. Tunisia and the United States have an excellent partnership.

I was reminded today in visiting the American Cemetery how some sixty years ago American soldiers shed their blood to defeat tyranny here in North Africa just as we have done in Iraq. Together in this modern age, Tunisians and Americans fight terrorism, pursue peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and work to open up opportunities for our two peoples. I have particularly appreciated Tunisiaís regional role in encouraging the economic and political integration of the Maghreb. Recognizing this important role, we are opening up, here in Tunis, a regional office of our Middle East Partnership Initiative to support political and economic reforms. Tunisia has already accomplished much through its own reforms by recognizing the rights of women, modernizing its education system, resulting in one of the highest literacy rates in the world, opening up a private radio station, and recently releasing a journalist from detention. I have encouraged Tunisian leaders that I have met with today to continue this process of political reform and economic change so as to bring new opportunity to the people of Tunisia. In order to spur progress, we signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement and held an excellent inaugural round of negotiations recently that I think will ultimately result in a Free Trade Agreement.

In sum, I came to tell President Ben Ali and the other Tunisians that I spoke to that we look to Tunisia as a partner, as a strong friend. It is a relationship that has existed for many, many yearsÖone that I look forward to building on in the months and years ahead. Thank you very much and I would be delighted to take a few questions.

QUESTION: Arshad Mohammed of Reuters. Mr. Secretary, what did President Ben Ali say to you about his willingness to engage in broader democratic and human rights reforms here? And Israel has today been quite critical of the idea of your meeting with the co-authors of the Geneva Agreement. Do you plan to meet them and how do you feel about the Israeli statement that meeting them would be a mistake?

SECRETARY POWELL: On the first issue, we had an extended discussion of what has been accomplished under President Ben Aliís leadership over the last fifteen years. We talked about the right to an education, the right of women to enter all aspects of society. We talked about the right of health care and other rights. But we also talked about the need for open press, open media. I had a good candid conversation with the President that Tunisia has accomplished so much that people are still expecting more to happen, with respect to political reform and with respect to openness in the society. He is committed to that and certainly said he wanted to move at a pace that he believed was consistent with the aspirations and desires and expectations of the Tunisian people. And I told him it was an area that he and the President would have an opportunity to discuss when they were together in February.

With respect to what the Israeli government has been saying in recent days about meetings that I might have with individuals who have come forward with various peace proposals, I meet with lots of people who have different sorts of proposals. The proposal that we are supporting and the only proposal that we believe is operative at the moment, that both sides have agreed to, and will show us the way forward is the Roadmap. And so we are not stepping back in any way from our commitment to the Roadmap. And we hope that circumstances and conditions will permit resumption of progress on the Roadmap in the near future.

At the same time, I do not know why I or anyone else in the United States government should deny ourselves the opportunity to hear from others who are committed to peace and who have ideas with respect to peace. And so, as the American Secretary of State, I have an obligation to the American people and to the President and to my colleagues in the Administration, to listen to individuals who have interesting ideas. This in no way undercuts our strong support for the state of Israel. This in no way undercuts our support for the Roadmap.

On behalf of the Administration, we welcomed these two initiatives that are much in the press right now. We didnít adopt them. We just welcomed the fact that there were new ideas. And I will meet with who I believe it is appropriate for me to meet with as Secretary of State in the fulfillment of my responsibilities and duties to the President and to the American people.

MR. BOUCHER: We are pressed for time. We will do two more.

QUESTION: (In Arabic) Basmah Dasdouf. ERTT. Regarding the Western Sahara, does the United States believe that now is the time for a solution and what is the role that Tunisia can play in this issue? Thank you.

SECRETARY POWELL: I believe this is the time for a solution. We stand solidly behind the proposals put forward by former Secretary of State James Baker. We believe this is the time for Morocco and Algeria to enter into serious discussion with one another as to how to move forward. I am sure that this will be the source of conversations Iíll be having in Morocco and Algeria tomorrow.

MR. BOUCHER: OK. Letís go in the back. The lady in the back.

QUESTION: (In Arabic) Fatmay Karray. Ash-Sharouq. Mr. Secretary, Iíd like to ask you, a man with a military career, a strategist, and also as a diplomat and a politician, youíve said before and you were before the Iraqi war, controlling the Gulf War through remote control policies. And you were able to achieve what is in the interest of the United States which basically provided you from having any casualties like what we see in Iraq. What is new in the U.S. policy that leads you to take your forces, your military, and actually go to the region? What is so powerful that requires you to take all those troops that are subject to all kinds of harms every day? Mr. Secretary, I do not want to hear you saying that you are here for democracy because one of your decisions in Iraq was to close an Arabic satellite station in Baghdad as a request from Ambassador Bremer, the actual ruler of Iraq.

SECRETARY POWELL: The United States and its coalition partners went to Iraq to deal with a dictator who had refused to comply with twelve years worth of UN resolutions, to deal with a regime that had used weapons of mass destruction against its own people and against its neighbors, a regime that we are convinced still had such capability and was certainly intent on developing additional capability. We regret the loss of life inflicted upon our soldiers and other members of the coalition. We regret the fact that Iraqis are dying right now at the hands of other Iraqis who donít realize that their day has passed. And while we are sorry that lives have been lost as a result of this continued resistance on the part of these feddayeen losers, we are pleased by the fact that no longer will tens of thousands of Iraqis be killed and put into mass graves as they were under the regime of Saddam Hussein. A terrible person is gone. A person who was an insult to the region, an insult to the faith he claimed. The region is better off without him and without that regime.

And the United States and its coalition partners are now working hard with Iraqis to help Iraqis put in place their own government, answerable only to their own people with a basic law initially that will ultimately lead to a constitution with a transitional government and a transitional assembly that will ultimately lead to a government that is elected by the people on the basis of that full constitution. We are helping with reconstruction. We are opening schools. We are opening hospitals. We are building roads. We are repairing the water systems. We are putting in place the electrical system. We are repairing the oil infrastructure that was neglected for so many years as Saddam Hussein developed weapons rather than developing the natural resources of his country. And we are giving all of the Iraqi people an opportunity to participate in this dialogue that is now taking place as to how they wish to be governed in the future.

We believe that what we did was right for Iraq and the Iraqi people. It was right for the region. It was right for the world. And the President has made it clear, as have other coalition political leaders, that we will stay the course until the job is done, until these remnants of the old regime have been defeated and any terrorists who come to make trouble, and until the day comes when we can hand over sovereignty to an Iraqi government. We want this to happen as quickly as possible, but we will only hand over responsibility to a government that in itself is responsible and answerable to the Iraqi people.

I think that we have time for just one more question. Iím sorry, Iím running about an hour and a half late, and I have to get onto another country.

I think that I didnít answer the second part of your question. The station in question Ė the concern was not that they were covering something but that they may actually have been participating in what was going to happen. And that was of concern. They may have had foreknowledge of something that was going to happen. That was of great concern to our authorities in Baghdad and that was the reason for the action. The network, to the best of my knowledge, is still hard at work and still covering Iraq and other areas of the Middle East of interest to its viewers.


QUESTION: (In Arabic) Lotfi Haji. Realites. To what extent can we consider your visit to North Africa is a step that sees the 5+5 meetings, and maybe this is a form of a competition between the Maghreb countries and Europe?

SECRETARY POWELL: No. No competition whatsoever. I know that President Chirac will be here tomorrow and the day after. And I know there will be the 5+5 meeting. This was pure chance that my schedule permitted me to visit the Maghreb during this period between two European conferences that I have to attend. I am not in competition with the 5+5 Group or the French. It is very good, I think, that Tunisia has good relations with the United States, with France, and all of the other members of the 5+5 Group that will be assembling later this week. Thank you.

MR. BOUCHER: Thank you very much.

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