At the 42nd Annual American-Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference,held in Washington,D.C.,in his first public address on foreign policy since taking office as U.S. secretary of state,Colin Powell assured Israelis of the United States' support and called for an end to the violence.
“As Governor George W. Bush said to [the AIPAC] 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,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.”
Security was the focus of Powell's speech,noting that Israel “lives in a very dangerous neighborhood,” and because of that,collaboration between the two nations,especially in regards to military strength and missile defense,was important.
“The simple fact of the matter is we believe that a secure Israel within [internationally] recognized borders remains a cornerstone of [U.S.] foreign policy.”
But for Powell,the issue of Israel is more than just policy. “I've traveled to Israel on many occasions…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,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 [us].”
Powell went on to mention Israel's neighbors and their progress over the years in resolving conflicts. One example was the signing of the Declaration of Principles on the South Lawn of the White House in September,1993,which,for him,“provided most of the Palestinian people with meaningful control over their own fate and most Israelis with greater security.”
Powell also spoke of the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon,and Israel's United Nations representation under a regional title that includes Western Europe. Though Palestine is of great concern to the Bush administration,according to Powell,they aren't going to ignore others in the area.
“President Bush has made it clear that a hallmark of our foreign policy is the need to work closely with friends and allies. Such collaboration…is at the core of our policy [towards] Iraq…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…The same holds for our policy towards Iran…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 to the United States and to the American people.”
While he stressed that U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East was still under review,he did outline ideas that the Bush administration feels would contribute to the peace process.
“First and foremost,the violence must stop. Violence is corrosive of everything the parties in the region hope to achieve…Violence makes every life insecure. Violence provokes armed reaction,not compromise…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…Turning to the United States or other outside parties to pressure one or another party or to impose a settlement is not the answer…In the end,there is no substitute for the give and take of direct negotiations.”
While downplaying the role the U.S. should play in the Middle East peace process,Powell emphasized the Bush administration's involvement.
“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 U.S. interests are at stake. The U.S. has a vital interest in the security of Israel…And Americans care…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.”