Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Bridging the Desert: The Middle East in the Coming Decade

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Bridging the Desert: The Middle East in the Coming Decade

Article excerpt

THIS YEAR'S World Affairs Councils of America (WACA) conference, held Feb. 1 to 4 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, DC, brought together high-level officials, diplomats and policymakers to discuss "Bridging the Desert: The Middle East in the Coming Decade." Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Ambassador C. David Welch opened the conference with a policy briefing on "The United States and the Middle East." He described a challenge between "democracy and popular legitimacy in the Middle East versus exclusionary forces" which has "important national security implications" for the United States.

After classifying the states of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region with titles such as "good" and "bad" countries, Ambassador Welch delineated U.S. interests in the MENA region as being the Israeli-Palestinian-Arab dilemma, Iran, Lebanon and Iraq. According to Welch, the Bush administration wants to implement United Nations Resolution 242 and the road map for peace. After the Palestinians prevent terrorism, Welch declared, Israelis, shall "mindfully reduce their military outposts and expansions."

In the administration's view, Welch continued, Hamas has "failed to govern" and "ignored the basic demands of the international community." As a result, he said, "financial help was withdrawn." When asked why the U.S. withdrew support from a democratically elected government, Welch responded, "I did not say they were not democratically elected...But we don't have to pay their rent."

Turning to Iraq, the ambassador, acknowledging that the administration recognizes the war's enormous cost to America, nevertheless argued that "the new Iraq strategy is the best chance to isolate enemies and give a chance for development."

Following his remarks, Ambassador Welch, citing time constraints, took only three audience questions.

The following morning Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs, discussed "U.S. Strategic Interests in the Middle East-the Military Dimension." Offering a candid look at U.S. military interests in the MENA region, Kimmitt stressed that it did not matter how the U.S. had gotten to this point. The key, he said, was to understand the risks associated with each option-none of which are good. …

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