Thank you very much for your kind introduction, Mr. Swelam. I’m glad to be here with all of you today at the International Economic Forum and Yale World Fellows program.
It is a particular honor to be sitting next to His Excellency, Mr. Ahmed Maher, with the former foreign minister. I’m glad to see Ambassador Maher and the former Deputy Secretary of State. I realize, just looking around the room, this is a large group of very distinguished representatives from Egyptian business, academic and others.
I think it is really fitting to respond and to offer thoughts that are based on President Obama’s recent speech here in Cairo. He certainly didn’t provide all the answers to problems in a region of the world, but he did provide a very well-developed framework for identifying where the sources of tension are and putting forward specific beliefs so that we can go forward to constructively confront some of these very serious issues.
He came here talking about a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world based upon mutual interest and mutual respect. He tried to be very clear that one speech alone doesn’t solve all the problems, but he did want to start a conversation, not just between the United States and the Muslim world, but within the Muslim world and within America and the West – and between all of us to address these sources of tension. He did challenge us all to take up the responsibilities that we all share and he called for “a sustained effort to listen to each other, to learn from each other, to respect one another and to seek common ground.” He called frequently upon inspiration from the Holy Quran, reminding all of us of our obligation to “Be conscious of God and speak always the truth.”
I believe this discussion and this conference are very much part of the effort the President called for: an effort to listen to each other, and to try to learn and understand each other. I think it is a part of a conversation that has been taking place throughout Egypt since the President’s speech.
We’ve seen a lot of debates and discussions in the newspapers, on talk shows and the Internet, with business leaders and other students. In my own conversations, people have said they particularly value the President’s message of peace and his call for all sides to face the sources of tension and to do it together. He told us, “Whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners to it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; our progress must be shared.”
Today, I look forward to the thoughts of the minister and the audience, to look at the seven sources of tension, because, like I said, they do provide a good framework for focusing discussion on the challenges. I would be interested to hear how people in this group believe that we can in fact create effective partnerships to address these issues.
I will go very quickly through the list—I think we all are aware of it—and return to the Foreign Minister.
The President spoke about violent extremism, making clear that the United States never has been— and never will be—at war with Islam. He talked about what the United States is doing to assure that our confrontation with extremism does not alter American principles, including the unequivocal prohibition of the use of torture by the United States and ordering the closure of the prison in Guantanamo Bay by early next year.
He addressed the issue of the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world, reaffirming that the United States will align its policies with those who pursue peace, including Israelis and Palestinians who deserve to live in peace and security in two states. He left no doubt about his firm belief that the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. Also, he repeated that the United States continues to believe that the continued construction of Israeli settlements undermines efforts for peace.
At the same time, he called on Palestinians to abandon violence and called upon the Arab states to do their part, and called particularly upon the Arab Peace Initiative as an important initiative that also is a process to be invoked.
He reaffirmed his commitment to discuss many issues between the United States and Iran, talking very much about how there is a shared interest in the rights and responsibilities of all nations with regards to nuclear weapons.
He also spoke about the issues of democracy and human rights, making it clear that the United States does not believe that there’s any particular system of government that should be imposed upon one nation by another, but that the United States will support human rights everywhere. The ability of people to speak their mind, to have a say in how they are governed, to have confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice, of course are certain elements of this. The president believes that governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable and successful states.
He also spoke on the issue of religious freedom, declaring that people in every country should be free to choose and live their faith, based upon their persuasion of their mind, their heart, and their soul.
He also spoke to the issue of women’s rights, observing that countries where women are well-educated are more likely to be prosperous—noting that our daughters can contribute as much as our sons to solving problems that we have.
Finally, he addressed the issue of economic development and opportunity, noting that education and innovation are “the currency of the 21st century.” He undertook to expand U.S. educational exchange programs, increase scholarships, and look for ways to improve in the area of economic development and business and commerce, as well as within education, offering to launch a new fund to support technological development in the Muslim world.
The issues that the President raised will not be easy to address. They certainly can’t be resolved after just one speech or after one panel discussion, but I think what he was trying to do was to get us to start thinking about the real issues at the core of our disagreements and of our mutual interests. In that respect, I think his speech clearly succeeded, and I am sure we will have a lively discussion, hopefully about many of these issues.
Please allow me one last reference to the President’s speech. At the end of his remarks, he spoke of “the world that we seek – a world where extremists no longer threaten our people, and American troops have come home; a world where Israelis and Palestinians are each secure in a state of their own, and nuclear energy is used for peaceful purposes; a world where governments serve their citizens, and the rights of all God’s children are respected.”
These are our mutual interests. This is the world I believe we can, and should, seek. I thank you very much for inviting me to this event, and I look forward to our conversation.