Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Strengthening Arab-U.S. Relations: What Is Required?

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Strengthening Arab-U.S. Relations: What Is Required?

Article excerpt

Arab - American Activism

American and Arab speakers called for closer political, economic and cultural ties between the U.S. and Middle East at the 12th annual Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference, held Sept. 7 and 8 in Washington, DC's MarriottWardman Park hotel. The conference, sponsored by the National Council on U.S. Arab Relations (NCUSAR) and the U.S.-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Corporate Cooperation Committee, examined post-9/11 strains now challenging the long-standing relations between the two societies.

In their welcoming remarks at Sunday evening's opening reception, Dr. John Duke Anthony, NCUSAR president and CEO, and Marjorie Adams, president of the National U.S.-Arab Chamber of Commerce, acknowledged the severely weakened Arab-U.S. relationship.

"The relationship is reeling," Dr. Anthony said. "What will it take to repair the increasingly strained relationships between Arabs and Americans? What are the necessary ingredients? For Arab and American policymakers alike, and for those who advise and influence them, 'What is required?' is the quintessential question for this year's 12th annual conference."

The conference attracted a record-breaking number of attendees in search of answers, and perhaps a ray of hope for a better future for Arab-U.S. relations.

In his keynote address at Sunday's reception, Dr. Hussein Hassouna, chief representative of the League of Arab States to the United States, focused on common interests in achieving peace, stability and security, as well as increasing commercial and economic relationships. Perceptions on both sides need to change, Hassouna warned.

The perception in the Arab world, he said, is that the U.S. hasn't been fair in its dealings with them, especially in siding with Israel against the aspirations of the Palestinian people. The U.S. also has displayed double standards when it comes to weapons of mass destruction, he noted, turning a blind eye to Israel, and threatening Arab countries. Hassouna added that the U.S. media has been biased-a foe instead of a friend-in its coverage of the Middle East.

Nevertheless, Hassouna maintained, there is some hope: "For the first time an American president has committed himself personally to a road map, two states living in peace side by side."

Hasssouna warned that Arabs distrust the U.S. push for greater political, economic and social openness in their societies. Reform, he declared, while "long overdue," must originate from within: "There is a difference in calling for reforms and imposing reforms.

"We all want a democratic Arab world," he explained, "but we do not accept democracy imposed upon us. We will always stick to our traditions and to our cultural and religious heritage."

Hassouna also addressed the post-9/11 tendency to "demonize the Arab world and accuse it of being the source of terrorism"-a charge, he said, that "has certainly cast a shadow on our relationship."

The longtime diplomat also condemned U.S. restrictions imposed on foreign exchange students after the Sept. 11 attacks. This must be corrected, he argued, because "young students are the best ambassadors of friendly relations between the United States and the Arab world."

In his keynote address to the reception, retired Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni, former commander-in-chief of the U.S. Central Command and now a special adviser to secretary of State Colin Powell, called for a new Marshall Plan for the Middle East.

"We can't have patchwork policies in the Middle East," Zinni said. "We need a strategic vision. We can't have a separate policy for each issue-the Middle East peace process, a policy and approach for Iraq, or Afghanistan, or how we rebuild our relationships in the region, or how we deal with the energy issue. We need to step back and have something like President Truman and Secretary Marshall had, that strategic vision."

Zinni warned that extremists in the U. …

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