At the Aspen Institute
Aspen, Colorado, US
21 July 2008
Thank you for that warm welcome, and Lester, my good friend, thank you for that very kind introduction. I have been looking forward to coming to the Aspen Institute for quite some time. I remember the first time we had an event on the schedule - and I almost made it - I had to cancel for a White House meeting. Bill, Lester, Walter, thank you for your help in making it happen today.
This Institute is highly respected in my region, for taking international dialogue seriously, and for seeking the very best of American values. It is an honour to follow in the footsteps of the world leaders who have met and spoken here.
Looking at Aspen's great mountain country, it might be easy for you to think of the Middle East as very far away. In geographical reality, we are separated by 11,000 kilometres; 7,000 miles. In human reality, we are barely separated at all. Americans – perhaps many of you – have family in my region. You have economic partners and academic colleagues; allies in the pursuit of global security and development. My region holds some of your country's deepest cultural and religious roots. And it holds your future as well. No other region plays so strategic a role, in the hopes and possibilities for 21st-century America - economically, politically, culturally. And no where else, do America's choices and actions speak so directly about US global leadership.
I know that in this election year, Americans are in the midst of a national dialogue, about global challenges and US policy, especially in the Middle East. I am often asked what advice I might have for the President who takes office next year. My first advice, of course, is never tell your private advice in a room of 800 people.
But the truth is that my concerns about the world and my region are fully public. I see us at a crossroads - a time of danger and challenge, but also, unique opportunities. Peace in the Middle East is achievable and so is the region's future as a zone of prosperity and stability. This is essential for the peace and progress of our entire world. But to move events in the right direction, our countries must marshal the will to act. And America has a critical role, as a partner to its friends and a powerful champion of the goals we share.
It is about this partnership, that I would like to talk today. I hope you will hear my words as coming from a friend; someone who appreciates the hard work for peace, by this and other US administrations and congresses, and someone who knows the American people and their values and good will.
Last year, the Aspen Institute co-sponsored an opinion poll, one that showed that a majority of Americans are concerned about their country's global image. But time and again, I see the world's people responding with tremendous approval, when they feel traditional American values are at work. The stubborn defence of justice; the equal dignity of every person; fair, vigorous, and expanding opportunity; the defence of the underdog; respect for other nations, large and small: these ideals are America's heritage, and must be its promise in the future.
In the Middle East, the opportunity is here to make an historic impact: a peace between Arabs and Israelis - one that will ease the human suffering of decades, advance the progress of a strategic region, boost the forces of moderation against extremism, and lay a platform for new levels of cooperation, especially between the Muslim World and the West.
No friend of peace can do more to help achieve this breakthrough than the United States. History shows that behind every landmark event in the long peace process, there has been a committed US presence – at Camp David, Madrid, Wye River, Annapolis, and more. Now, finishing the job is on the horizon. It is a decisive opportunity to achieve the peace and justice that millions hope for and expect.
This year has been an active one for all of us who are working to help the parties achieve a final, comprehensive settlement. In conversations with both sides, I see optimism about the process. But it is a serious concern to me, that this year's results on the ground, have not yet met the hopes. I cannot disguise to you the disappointment among Arab people. We see Israel still building settlements in the occupied West Bank; we see walls and roadblocks still dissecting Palestinian communities; we see the Palestinian economy still in shambles. And we see decades-old international resolutions and rulings, ignored with impunity.
Such a situation fuels the fire of radical groups, spreading their agendas of conflict and division. Regionally, extremist-driven violence has increased dramatically. The Middle East urgently needs strategic space to deal with these challenges, space that peace at the centre will produce. And the United States has the strongest national interest in helping this happen. If the peace process does not show some wins on the ground, American influence and credibility will be dramatically diminished. And extremist forces will continue their push to move the region away from moderation; away from partnership with the West.
On the other hand, achieving an historic breakthrough will send a powerful signal of a different kind. It will tell people, especially the world's youth, that the US means what it says about justice and partnership – and will go the distance, in a difficult process, to see that right is done. It will tell the global Muslim community that Americans have heard their decades of concern over Palestine. And it will tell our youth that global commitments, backed by America, apply to their rights as well.
Let me add, that peace needs work on the ground as well as at the negotiating tables. Governments, the private sector, and NGOs are all needed to create the conditions for a sustainable peace and to restore progress toward normal life. I want to take this opportunity to commend the Aspen Institute for its innovative contributions - from the US-Palestinian Partnership, to your Middle East Strategy Group. I especially appreciate your emphasis on practical results. To the people whose lives you change, this Institute represents the spirit of America and more: it represents a win-win partnership between our peoples, creating a better future, a future we share.
Partnerships of respect are profoundly important in the work of peace. It's urgent for friends of my region to support those who are working for positive movement. If the policy is to isolate and pressure extremists, without active support for moderate, legitimate forces, people aren't going to see conditions get better and the policies lose credibility. In the West Bank, that means action to help the Palestinian National Authority establish security, good governance, and hope – alleviate the roadblocks, get kids back to school, create jobs. In Lebanon, it means standing behind legitimate state sovereignty and the peaceful resolution of issues. In Iraq, it means extending a hand to those who are working together – Sunni, Shia and Kurd – as they improve conditions of life, and advance to the next step.
Partnerships of respect are also key to global democracy and development. Right now, countries throughout the Middle East are engaged in the reforms needed to help our people prosper and be secure. We share goals and standards with successful countries around the world, including the West. But there can be no outside blueprint for good governance, economic success, and social progress. The West has an important role in understanding what we are trying to do and supporting reform. And it is in our friends' interests as well. The success of reform in the Middle East will strengthen moderation and stability in our region. And it will add new force to the global partnership for co-existence and security in this interlinked world.
Abraham Lincoln described America as a country founded on hope, not for its own people alone, but for all the world, for all time. Independence; the rule of law; acceptance among different faiths and cultures, opportunity for all: these hold the promise of a secure and prosperous world.
It is not that American values have gone global. It is that universal values link our peoples in an inseparable web. Here at Aspen and elsewhere, I know the technology gurus have been talking about the Cloud - the emerging data-voice-video network, which is expected to empower us with new choices and possibilities. Perhaps we should also be talking about a Values Cloud - an inseparable, global network of shared aspirations and goals, which can empower vast new opportunities to cooperate and advance.
Let it begin between America and the Middle East, and the Muslim world as a whole. I urge Americans to join us in face-to-face dialogue, the kind that can break down misconceptions and help people discover all their common ground. I urge America and its universities and think tanks to keep the doors open to young Arabs, eager to work with you. I urge you to work with the countries of my region to forge the tangible progress we seek. And I urge this great nation to marshal the international effort we must have, to create a first and final, historic peace settlement, and create a new future for Palestinians and Israelis alike.This is the power of our partnership. Millions of people need us to succeed.
Thank you very much.