These remarks were delivered at the 63rd Annual Conference November 10, 2009.
Wendy Chamberlin: Good morning. We are thrilled to see so many people turn out so early in the morning. For those of you who were not at our dinner last night, not only is the Middle East Institute thrilled with the turnout for the dinner but we have over seven hundred people registered for this conference today – breaking a sixty-three-year record for the Middle East Institute. So welcome and thank you all very much for your interest. It is going to be a little cramped but we have a terrific program and I think your interest shows that. I do apologize to those that we had to turn away; we had to close the registration. But if you see your friends and they could not come, we are covering this on our own podcasts and C-SPAN is covering three of the four panels. We will have transcripts on our website so there will be other opportunities, you can tell your friends.
Last year, when we began thinking about organizing this conference, we chose the theme “Rewriting the Middle East Agenda.” We were anticipating a new administration headed by President Obama and a new approach to the region. We weren’t disappointed. President Obama has immediately changed the mood of our relations in the Middle East, one towards American engagement. That was an essential first step. But not surprisingly, intractable issues have proved to be just that: very, very difficult. We have certainly seen some significant developments taking place relating to our shifting relations with Iran, Iraq, the parties of the peace process, and we look forward to analyzing all of those issues by some of America’s and the region’s best experts throughout the day in this room. You will be participants in that.
By the way, it is very important for us as we hold these conferences year after year to improve them each year. So you will find in the packet on your seat a card that we hope you will fill out, offering us suggestions on the topics that we have selected, on the organization of the conference. Please give us your feedback; that’s how we get better and that’s what we want to be able to do next year, to offer an even better conference for you.
The Middle East Institute has been organizing this conference for over six decades. We believe that as an old organization, one of the first in Washington totally dedicated to the Middle East, that we are aging pretty well. But in doing that we have got to keep up with the increasing competition in Washington and also technological changes. While we are waiting for Undersecretary Burns, let me tick off some of the new elements of the Middle East Institute, as we have adjusted to new technologies, that provide a better product for you. Our Language Institute, for example: we offer evening instruction for adults in Arabic, Turkish, Hebrew and Farsi. We are now accredited so we can offer you college credit courses, for courses that are taken there. MEI has several new faces among our forty-five scholars.
We have a new revamped website – please go to it, I think you will like it. On that you will find all of our publications, podcasts of our programs, a Twitter, and transcripts and new publications – Viewpoints, which are basically anthologies on different issues. The Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center and our summer series of Garden Cultural Events have added a new dimension to the Middle East Institute and attracted new audiences with regards to culture; we are very happy with that. The Middle East Institute is now up on YouTube – you can see it in different segments. This has transformed our programs into global happenings. Now anybody, anywhere in the world, can tune in on YouTube and see our programs as well as download audio from our podcasts. This has given us a huge and global footprint.
Take a look at our blog site – it is run by the editor of The Middle East Journal, Dr. Dunn. It is growing exponentially in readership and commentary. Back issues of The Middle East Journal are now available electronically, which also gives us global reach – all sixty years of back issues, providing an important historical document for historians around the world. We estimate that somewhere in the world every four minutes somebody is downloading an article from The Middle East Journal. And by the way, The Middle East Journal is on sale in the Holman Room, the room behind where you registered this morning. You will be able to purchase, if you are not already a member and subscribing to The Middle East Journal, you can purchase our latest edition, which features several articles on Turkey and trends in new Turkish identity. It also includes some very interesting articles on the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.
Take a look and you will also find in that room examples of the Policy Papers and our Viewpoint publications. This year, with our Viewpoints, we have focused on the important year in Middle East history and politics of 1979. And you will find several books on sale, some from our library but also some not related to the Middle East Institute but projects that we support, like the Middle East Youth Initiative (a joint project between the Wolfensohn Center for Development at Brookings and the Dubai School of Government). The Middle East Institute is very much focused on youth in the Middle East. So in your spare time please go down to the room and check it out.
While you are there, we welcome you, we urge you, we encourage you to join as a member of the Middle East Institute. We are a membership organization; we are supported by our membership contributions. We see that you are interested in what we do. Please support us by becoming a member. With your membership you will get a subscription to The Middle East Journal and a ticket to this conference next year.
I should point out that when our founding fathers established the Middle East Institute over sixty years ago, they had the wisdom of making it very broad. We extend from Morocco through Pakistan – we know Pakistan and Turkey are not part of the Middle East but we have always covered those areas. This year, about six months ago, we established a Center for Turkish Studies and a Center for Pakistan Studies, given the increasing importance of those two regions to US policies and the changes in those areas.
Enough said about the Middle East Institute. I am really thrilled and honored to be able to introduce our keynote speaker, a man who is a personal friend of mine. I first met Undersecretary Bill Burns in 1982 when we were both very junior officers. He was on his first tour in Amman, Jordan. I have to tell you, even then it was very evident to all of us (and me in particular) that this was an officer who was going straight to the top in our career service, and he has. Bill’s career is chockablock full of accomplishments. I will mention only a few because he is here and we are all waiting to hear him and not me. Ambassador Burns was a key player on Secretary Baker’s inner circle of advisors during the Madrid talks in 1991. He has served twice as ambassador to two challenging countries, Jordan and Russia. He was Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs from 2001 to 2005. Bill provided exceptional leadership to NEA, which those of us career officers that have served in NEA affectionately call the Mother Bureau. He maintained that tradition well as its leader.
Ambassador Burns was promoted by the last administration to the highest position that a career foreign service officer can aspire to in the Foreign Service: Undersecretary for Political Affairs. As a tribute to his accomplishments and his talents, Secretary Clinton asked him to stay on in that position when the administrations changed and he is now one of her closest advisors. Secretary Burns has a great deal to share with us this morning, including I hope his reflections as the senior-most American official who has been dealing face-to-face with Iranians on some of the trickier issues that we face. Bill, it is our honor to welcome you here today.
Undersecretary William Burns: Thank you very much, Wendy, for that very kind introduction. Thank you for this opportunity to speak again at the Middle East Institute, for whose leadership, membership and mission I have enormous respect.
There are a lot of different strategies for appearing before a group as formidable and well-informed as all of you are. Mark Twain, I’m told, had a simple approach: “It is my custom,” he said, “to keep talking until I have my audience cowed.” Another of my favorite authors, George Bernard Shaw, was an advocate of a less long-winded strategy. Hosting an event in London one day, Shaw was approached by the first speaker, who asked how long he should speak for. Shaw replied that he should probably limit his remarks to about twenty minutes. The speaker looked at him in horror and said, “Twenty minutes? How am I supposed to tell them everything I know in twenty minutes?” Shaw paused and replied, “In your case, my advice would be to speak very slowly.” In my case this morning, you don’t have to worry about me going much beyond twenty minutes even if I speak very slowly. So I will spare you Mark Twain’s strategy, try my best to emulate George Bernard Shaw, and offer only a few brief thoughts on America and the Middle East in the new era unfolding before us.
In my checkered career as an American diplomat I have divided my labors mostly between two nice, boring areas: the Middle East and Russia. Given my extraordinary track record of achievement in those two areas, you should probably be worried about where they might send me next. But in the course of my professional efforts I have learned a few things, sometimes the hard way, about America and the Middle East. I have certainly learned that we do not have the luxury of ignoring a part of the world that holds some of our closest friends, two-thirds of the world’s oil reserves, several of the world’s most poisonous regional conflicts, and violent extremists who feed on the region’s bitterness and alienation.
I have learned that a little humility goes a long way in the exercise of American power and purpose in the Middle East. We come by that humility honestly through many trials and many errors. Winston Churchill, a lifelong admirer of America, once said that the thing he liked most about Americans was that they always did the right thing in the end – they just liked to exhaust all the alternatives first. The latter describes much of our historical experience in the Middle East; the former is an outcome to which we always aspire.
I have learned that America can lead more effectively through the power of our example than through the power of our preaching. I have learned that other people and other societies have their own realities, not always identical or hospitable to ours. That does not mean that we have to accept them or indulge them but it does mean that understanding them is the starting point for successful policy.
I have learned that stability is not a static phenomenon. To borrow an analogy used by one of your very deserving award winners last night, both political systems and peace processes – like bicycles – tend to fall over if they are not moving forward.
I have learned that the Middle East has many good and decent people who seek dignity and a better life for their children, and a few great leaders – like the late King Hussein of Jordan, a man of uncommon courage and vision who died shortly after I began my tenure as ambassador in Amman more than a decade ago. I have learned too that the Middle East is a region of deep discontents and powerful grievances, many of which roll to a rest (rightly or wrongly) at the doorstep of the United States.
I have learned that there is no substitute for determined American leadership in the Middle East aimed squarely at addressing the problems at the core of some of those real or imagined grievances and serving as a catalyst for making common cause with others. I have learned that we must be clear not only about what we stand against but also what we stand for. In his speech in Cairo last June, President Obama spoke far more eloquently than I ever could about what America stands for in this new era. He called for a new beginning based on mutual interest and mutual respect. We have been working hard, starting well before that historic speech, to translate the president’s compelling vision into practical policy, to begin the long and difficult process of turning rhetoric into results. That is not easy. It never has been in the Middle East, a land where dreams are regularly shattered, where good intentions regularly run aground, and where pessimists rarely lack either company or validation.
Progress means applying mutual interest in a way that builds on common ground wherever it exists but does not shy away from dealing plainly with our differences wherever it does not. It means translating mutual respect into an approach that does not patronize or pretend to a monopoly on wisdom, that shows that listening is occasionally something other than an unnatural act for Americans, but that also shows no hesitation in speaking honestly to both our friends and our adversaries about the importance we attach to universal human rights. It means exercising our responsibility to lead, to set a good example, to help resolve regional conflicts, to help build coalitions in support of a new and positive agenda. But it also means that others in the region and outside it must live up to their responsibilities, whether in upholding nonproliferation norms or taking risks for peace.
Progress is possible toward realizing the president’s vision, toward realizing a positive agenda for the Middle East. Such progress is the ultimate antidote to the fundamentally negative agenda of violent extremists, who are much better at describing what they want to destroy rather than what they want to build. America’s contribution to a positive agenda has many parts and today I will highlight only a few of them. They include building peace between Israelis and Arabs; supporting the emergence of a new Iraq at peace with itself and its neighbors; dealing with the challenge of Iran; and building economic and political hope in a region which for too long has known too little of either. This is not an à la carte policy menu. We cannot successfully neglect one priority in the pursuit of others. Progress will inevitably be uneven but it is important to connect the dots among issues and pursue a comprehensive strategy. Let me touch briefly on each of the four priorities that I mentioned.
If there is one issue that should keep us humble, it is the elusive quest for Arab-Israeli peace. While not a magic solution to all the many ills of the region, no other issue cuts closer to the core of what drives emotions throughout most of the Middle East. It is a truism that the parties themselves must make the difficult decisions for peace and it is an historical fact that most of the biggest breakthroughs – from Sadat in Jerusalem to the secret negotiations in Oslo – have come from the parties themselves. But persistent, hardheaded, day in and day out, high-level American engagement has also been a critical ingredient for success – from Henry Kissinger’s shuttle diplomacy to Jimmy Carter at Camp David to Jim Baker on the road to Madrid. It is exactly that realization that has animated the efforts of President Obama, Secretary Clinton and Senator Mitchell (appointed as the president’s special envoy on the second day of the new administration).
Our goal is clear: two states living side by side in peace and security, a Jewish state of Israel with which America retains unbreakable bonds and with true security for all Israelis, and a viable and independent Palestinian state with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967, that ends the daily humiliations of Palestinians under occupation, and that realizes the full and remarkable potential of the Palestinian people. Toward that end, as Secretary Clinton emphasized last week in the region, we seek to relaunch direct negotiations without preconditions. That emphatically does not mean starting from scratch. It means building on previous agreements, resolving the core issues of the conflict and settling it once and for all. At every step of this process the United States will be an active and creative partner.
We seek to create the best possible circumstances for negotiations, working with the parties, working with key regional partners like Egypt and with the Quartet. We do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. We consider the Israeli offer to restrain settlement activity to be a potentially important step but it obviously falls short of the continuing roadmap obligation for a full settlement freeze.
We seek to deepen international support for the Palestinian Authority’s impressive plan to build over the next couple years the institutions that a responsible Palestinian state requires. We also seek progress toward peace between Israel and Syria and Israel and Lebanon as part of a broader peace among Israel and all of its neighbors.
I wish I could stand before you today and point to substantial progress toward those goals. I cannot. But what I can say is that the administration’s commitment and determination are undiminished and we will continue to work hard to bring about the early resumption of negotiations, which is the only path to the two-state solution on which so much depends – not only for the future of Israelis and Palestinians but for the entire Middle East. Setbacks and complications are the common thread that runs through every effort at Middle East peace. We need to learn from them but not be deterred by them.
We have made limited headway: a shared understanding between the parties about a two-state objective, a shared interest in moving back to the negotiating table, wide international backing for this process, steady progress in the face of very difficult odds toward shaping reliable Palestinian security organizations and governmental institutions in the West Bank. Now we need to bear down and move ahead, fulfill our responsibilities for leadership and challenge every other party to fulfill theirs.
Let me turn quickly to a second crucial issue: Iraq. Iraqis have come a long way from the ugly sectarian violence of 2006-2007 but their journey remains difficult and incomplete as they work toward the goal we all seek: a sovereign, self-reliant and stable Iraq at peace with its neighbors. Progress in Iraq is obvious on many fronts. Last Saturday, Iraq’s Council of Representatives passed a critically important elections law, paving the way for national elections in January. Prime Minister Maliki came to Washington last month to co-host an over-subscribed US-Iraq business conference which was followed by two major oil deals, a reminder of Iraq’s enormous economic potential.
At the same time, however, terrorist violence is a persistent threat, a reminder of all the work still to be done. The fact that these attacks – including bloody car bombs in the heart of Baghdad – have not reignited sectarian conflicts or undermined the institutions of government is a testament to the will of the vast majority of Iraqis, who remain determined to build the normalcy that has so often been denied them in their tragic past.
The United States will continue to stand firmly with Iraq in this hugely important effort. We will fulfill scrupulously our security and strategic framework agreements and have already begun the transition from a relationship focused on security issues to a civilian-led partnership increasingly based on cooperation in non-security areas such as education, health and economic ties. Meanwhile we will continue to support Iraq’s reintegration into its neighborhood. Iraq is now an active member of the GCC + 3 group, which brings it together with Saudi Arabia and the other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council as well as Egypt and Jordan. Iraq’s ties with Turkey have improved considerably in the last two years. Just last week Egypt and Iraq launched a strategic cooperation framework similar to our own.
None of us are naïve about the problems that lie ahead for Iraq and the United States will need to continue to focus intensive, high-level energy and attention on the future that Iraqis are trying to build for themselves. That future holds growing promise and we would be foolish to lose sight of its significance.
A third challenge before us is the difficult question of Iran. As all of you know very well, this conference falls almost exactly thirty years after one of the most painful and shameful episodes in the often turbulent relationship between our two countries. The seizure of the US embassy in Tehran deeply affected the lives of the courageous Americans who were unjustly held hostage for some fourteen months and we owe each of them and their families an enormous debt of gratitude for their extraordinary service and sacrifice. This anniversary is a vivid reminder that the hostility between our governments has cost both our nations dearly. To be sure, Iranians have their own list of grievances. But the question before us is whether we can move beyond this troubled past and seek to ensure that the antagonisms and suspicions of our past do not define the future for America and Iran.
President Obama has made clear that the United States, for our part, wants to look ahead. We seek a relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran based upon mutual interest and mutual respect. We do not seek regime change. We have condemned terrorist attacks against Iran. We have recognized Iran’s international right to peaceful nuclear power. With our partners in the international community we have demonstrated our willingness to take creative confidence-building steps, including our support for the IAEA’s offer of fuel for the Tehran research reactor. With our partners in the international community we are ready for a serious dialogue with Iran about how it can resolve longstanding doubts about the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear ambitions, doubts only reinforced by the recent revelation of a clandestine enrichment facility near Qom. With our partners in the international community we are ready to move with Iran along a pathway of cooperation, not confrontation; of integration, not animosity. But that depends squarely upon the choices that Iran makes, on its willingness to meet its international obligations and responsibilities.
We have heard for thirty years what Iran is against. The question now is what kind of future it is for. Most Iranians today are too young to remember the hostage crisis. They seem eager to build a better future, to invest in their country’s education system and infrastructure, to connect with the rest of the world in ways that benefit us all, and to open the door to the opportunity, prosperity and justice that they deserve. We in the United States along with the rest of the international community continue to bear witness to their courageous pursuit of universal rights in the face of appalling brutality and the sad spectacle of show trials and mass arrests that dishonor Iran’s rich history and traditions. While we remain ready to engage the Iranian government on the urgent matter of its nuclear program and on other matters of common concern, that does not mean that we will turn a blind eye to abuse or compromise our principles. In Iran as in any other country in the world, we will always be with those who seek peacefully to protect basic human rights.
We have before us an historic opportunity but it will not last forever. The talks that took place in Geneva last month were a constructive beginning. The tactics of recent weeks, however, have been far less encouraging. We and our international partners are not interested in talking simply for the sake of talking. Too much is at stake, not only for Iran itself but for a region hardly in need of more tensions or more arms races, for the credibility of the United Nations Security Council, and for the future of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the nuclear nonproliferation regime. It is time for Iran to decide whether it wants to focus on the past or to move beyond it, whether it wants to dwell on familiar suspicions and imaginary external enemies or make a positive choice about the role that it seeks to play in the world.
The Arab-Israeli peace process, Iraq and Iran all pose immense challenges, but equally important to long-term regional stability is homegrown modernization of economic and political institutions. The hard truth, as the Arab Human Development Report makes clear, is that much of the region continues to suffer from closed economic and political systems which produce too little diversification, too few jobs, too few outlets for peaceful political change, and too much intolerance. With populations growing as fast as any in the world and per capita water availability lower than anywhere else in the world, the economies of the Middle East remain vulnerable. We owe it to our friends in the region as well as to ourselves to encourage further structural reforms to open up and diversify economies, stimulate private sector-led growth, improve transparency and fight corruption, and strengthen educational systems.
Greater economic openness cannot exist in a vacuum. Open economic systems ultimately require more open and accommodating political systems. Today political structures in most of the region all too often serve to insulate governing elites from change rather than to lead it. The voices of publics are all too often ignored until raised to a shout. While we ought to be mindful of the limits of our influence and of the limits of other people’s patience for us telling them what we think is best for them, we must continue to support efforts to open up avenues for democracy and political participation. How we deliver that message does matter but whether to deliver it is not really an issue.
As President Obama has emphasized and as Secretary Clinton discussed at length at the recent Forum for the Future meeting in Morocco, healthy relationships between America and the countries of the Middle East are about ties between societies, not just between governments. We have a long and painful history of mutual mistrust and misunderstanding to overcome across much of the region. We will not overcome such suspicion and hostility overnight nor will neatly packaged public diplomacy be a substitute for compelling policies and actual results on issues that matter most to people in the Middle East. But we ought not to underestimate the importance of simple human , using tools ranging from exchanges and scholarships to English language teaching programs, science envoys and cultural and sports diplomacy.
I realize that I am now perilously close to embodying Mark Twain’s model for public speaking – the “talk them into submission” approach. Let me conclude with a few comments that may seem blindingly obvious to all of you but that bear repeating.
This is a hard time to be optimistic about the Middle East or America’s role in it. Palestinians and Israelis seem stuck in patterns which do little good for either of them. Iraq faces formidable hurdles. Iran’s leadership seems capable of endless obfuscations. Economic and political systems across the region are often brittle and resistant to change. Most people manage to contain their enthusiasm for American prescriptions and doubt in any case that results will follow our rhetoric.
None of that, it seems to me, is cause for despair. Of course the road ahead for us and for our friends across the Middle East is littered with problems. Of course it will be hard, full of roadblocks and potholes and dead ends. Of course we will fail at least as often as we succeed. But I genuinely do believe that progress toward peace is possible between Israelis and Palestinians and between Israel and the wider Arab world. It will take strong nerves, persistence and a willingness to take risks. Iraqis are also making fitful but unmistakable progress toward the stable, unified state that seemed unimaginable a few years ago. Unity amongst our international partners may yet have an impact on the calculus of the Iranian government. Societies in the Middle East are no more immune to the inexorable pull of economic and political openness than those in any other part of the world.
I suppose that makes me something of an optimist, at least by the standards of the Middle East. That reminds me of one of the many characteristically fatalistic Russian definitions of an optimist: someone who thinks tomorrow will be better than the day after. I actually have something a little different in mind. I suspect that tomorrow is going to be pretty complicated in the Middle East, with no shortage of troubles and frustrations, but I genuinely do believe that with sustained and creative American leadership, a willingness from leaders in the region and outside it to take responsibility alongside us, and long-term investment in building economic and political hope across the Middle East, the day after tomorrow holds real and enduring promise. Thank you very much.
Wendy Chamberlin: Undersecretary Burns has agreed to take a couple of questions. We have several cards that have already been submitted; let me try to condense these. There have been a couple of questions regarding the three American hikers that wandered (according to their family) into Iran from Iraq. We see in the press that the Iranian government has just charged them as spies and they will be facing trial. Could you comment on this incident and how it has impacted on our relationship with Iran and our talks with them?
Undersecretary Burns: Sure, thanks. I will simply echo what Secretary Clinton said yesterday. We strongly believe and we urge the Iranian government to release the three hikers, who are innocent, and as an act of compassion ought to be allowed to return to their families. We have seen, as is often the case, conflicting signals out of Tehran. I saw the foreign minister was quoted earlier today as saying that while the three hikers, according to the Iranian government, crossed illegally into Iran, they are still exploring what if any further charges will be made. Again, I would simply echo Secretary Clinton’s call for their immediate release.
Wendy Chamberlin: Another couple of questions regard the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, wondering if the administration agrees with that Likud position.
Undersecretary Burns: I think the United States for a long time has made clear our support for Israel’s security as a state which obviously provides a homeland for the Jewish people. It continues to be our very strong view that the best interests of Israel as well as of Palestinians are served by actually achieving rather than just talking about a two-state solution. That is the only way in which you can bring about lasting security for Israel as well as realizing the legitimate political aspirations of Palestinians and providing them with the dignity that they deserve as well.
Wendy Chamberlin: You mentioned a quote from the Palestinian doctor whom we honored last night, Izzeldin Abuelaish, who lost his children in Gaza. We have a question here regarding Gaza and the fact that reconstruction materials and some humanitarian materials are still yet to get into Gaza. The question is, why won’t or can’t the US pressure Israel to open access to Gaza for humanitarian and reconstruction materials before the winter sets in?
Undersecretary Burns: I share their concern about the humanitarian situation in Gaza and the United States government continues to work hard, along with the United Nations, to try to ensure that adequate humanitarian supplies reach people who desperately need it – especially, as you said, as we get closer to the winter. So more needs to be done and we will continue to push hard.
Wendy Chamberlin: A question regarding the deadline for our negotiations with Iran. European leaders have put a December deadline for Iran to move on with the nuclear program. Is this the case for the United States?
Undersecretary Burns: President Obama has been very clear on several occasions in stating that the United States – that he believes we need to make some judgments about whether engagement is producing results by the end of the year. The one thing that we worked very hard on is partnership within the so-called P5 + 1 – not just with Britain, France and Germany but also with the Russians and the Chinese. I think the unity that is apparent in our efforts is an extremely important part of our diplomacy and we will continue to work hard at that.
Mohamed ElBaradei put it very well when he talked about the very significant opportunity that lies before Iran in the proposal to provide fuel for the Tehran research reactor. He characterized it as a very important but fleeting opportunity. We hope very much that Iran will take advantage of that because here is an opportunity to meet what the Iranian government itself has identified as an immediate humanitarian need to provide fuel for a research reactor under IAEA safeguards, which largely produces medical isotopes for cancer patients. Iran has a stockpile of LEU for which it has no immediate legitimate use and it would seem to us to be a very sensible proposition and a very straightforward way of establishing the peaceful ambitions of Iran’s nuclear program – as well as to build confidence in the rest of the world – for it to move ahead and accept the very creative proposal that Mr. ElBaradei has put forward.
Wendy Chamberlin: I’ve been reminded by my staff that you promised three questions and I’ve already squeezed in many more than that. So let’s just do two more and I hope I’m not abusing a friendship here.
Undersecretary Burns: It’s the new math at the Middle East Institute.
Wendy Chamberlin: That’s right. When do we expect to have a US ambassador in Damascus?
Undersecretary Burns: President Obama has already made clear our determination to return an ambassador to Damascus. I cannot put an exact timeframe on it but we will certainly follow through on that.
Wendy Chamberlin: Good. And the final question: you talk about unity in Iraq, could you comment on the Kurdish situation?
Undersecretary Burns: If you look at what I mentioned in my opening remarks about the elections law which was just passed by the Iraqi Council of Representatives, much of the controversy surrounding that had to do with Kirkuk and the very complicated issues that surround it. I think it is to the credit of Iraqi politicians that after a lot of very intense political debate they were able to reach a solution which allowed for passage of that elections law. That doesn’t mean to suggest that all the questions and controversies surrounding relations between groups and political participation in Iraq have been solved as a result of the passage of that one law, but I do think it is encouraging that by contrast to the recent past in which political differences were settled through the barrel of a gun that in this case – notwithstanding the continuing violence from extremists that you see in Iraq – Iraqis themselves through political means were able to take an important step forward.
Wendy Chamberlin: Thank you very much.
About this Transcript:
Assertions and opinions in this Transcript are solely those of the above-mentioned author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Middle East Institute, which expressly does not take positions on Middle East policy.