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Q & A with Bahraini FM Sheikh Khalid Al Khalifa

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Q & A with Bahraini FM Sheikh Khalid Al Khalifa
Asharq Al-Awsat
08/02/2010

Interview by Mina Al-Oraibi in Washington D.C.

Q) What are the goals of your visit to Washington?

A) There are bilateral goals and of course, goals for discussion and consultation with our allies on affairs in the region. No doubt, we are tied to the United States with histories relations that date back to the end of the 19th century. The United States is a close ally and plays a multifaceted role in Middle East affairs. We always consult with them and we always carry our bilateral relations with them to higher levels. I discussed economic cooperation and defense and military cooperation with the Administration and with congressional leaders. There are also issues in the region that surrounds us, the most important being the Middle East issue, the Iranian nuclear file and how to deal with it, the issue of Iraq and the need to support Iraq on which we are in agreement, the issue of Yemen, and the issue of Afghanistan and Bahrain's role in bolstering stability in that country. This is a periodic visit. It is extremely important and it served its purpose. I met with the Secretary of State and discussed many issues. I also met with senior officials in the Department of States, National Security Adviser General Jones, and a number of congressional leaders. They like to heart an opinion from the region concerning the region's affairs. It is good that officials from the Middle East region always come to Washington because it is important to make our voice heard constantly and consistently to the leadership here in the United States so they would know what is in our mind and what our concerns and proposals are.

Q) Let us begin with the Gulf security file. Several reports have been published on this subject making a connection with the current tensions in Iran. Is there a political message linked to the military moves that we are seeing in the Gulf?

A) Of course, the press reports were published while I was here in the United States. I did not come to Washington to talk about these press reports. They were published while I was here in Washington and they made news. This is a matter that we do not conceal. The military and defense cooperation with the United States is ongoing and the headquarters of the Fifth Fleet has been here in the Kingdom of Bahrain for decades. . Moreover, there have been military cooperation agreements for a long time and I see no change. These are only press reports that reported on the subject in one way or the other and Iran has reacted to these press reports. What I wish to stress is that these measures are not new. They are defensive and in the interests of all the countries in the region without exception because they ensure the flow of energy from the region. It is the main source of energy to the world, the whole world. It is in the interest of everyone that this region is defended properly; it should not be left without any defensive measures. We appreciate the fact that the United States is protecting world interests in this manner and that it is playing such a role not only in the interests of the United States or the interests of the Gulf states but also in the interest of the whole world. Any party that has interests linked to the Gulf countries in the field of energy benefits and reaps the fruits of this defensive relationship. I see no reason for any negative reaction to these defensive measures. I wish that one day all the countries in the region, whether Gulf countries or Iran or Iraq, would effectively share in the security, stability, and protection of the waterways in the region. There is absolutely no reason for a negative reaction.

Q) Regarding relations between the United States and Iran that affect the region, has the US Administration failed in its efforts to open a new page with Iran?

A) I do not know exactly where these efforts have reached because this is a US-Iranian affair. We tell the brothers in the United States and Iran that we wish them success if the issue is improving and developing bilateral relations and restoring them to the right track following years and decades of estrangement. A good relationship between the United States and Iran is in the interest of everyone. I say that very openly and frankly. But there is an aspect that concerns us. It does not worry us but concerns us; namely, if talking to Iran will discuss affairs of the region, these are discussions about us and it is in our interest for such discussions to succeed and since these discussions are outside the conventional scope, everyone should be present at them. I have concerns, Iran has concerns, the United States has concerns, and Iraq has concerns. Everyone has issues to raise. If the talk is about the region, we should all talk about the region. However, if the issue is bilateral, may God grant them success and we wish them all success.

Q) Let us move to the efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East. Do you think genuine efforts are being made to resume serious peace negotiations?

A) The situation regarding the peace negotiations is very difficult. The negotiations are almost frozen because the stands of all the sides are confined within red lines that no one can cross. The settlement building activities on land on which we seek to establish a Palestinian state will prevent this state from being contiguous. The ongoing settlement building activities in Jerusalem also harm the issue of Jerusalem. We cannot accept such things. We should support [US President Barack] Obama who is now finding that the problem is more difficult than he had expected. Our role is not to just stand by and say "yes, the issue is difficult" but we should stretch our hands to his and propose ideas. We should support the Palestinian leadership and support the inclination toward peace. We should do that, however, not only with words but we should propose ideas to them on how we can help them. There is an important point to which we have to pay attention; namely, the two-state solution. We have Israel, a state that is known, existing, and standing on its feet. But we also have a small state that is in the process of being established and that is groping forward in the dark and in an extremely difficult situation. I salute Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad for the major but unfelt role that he is playing in building the Palestinian institutions. Some are casting doubts on this state and saying that it might be a source of danger to Israel. We have to prove to the world that this Palestinian state will not be a source of danger to Israel. The whole world should understand how this state is to be established. It would be a good idea if the world were to draw up a visualization and help the Palestinians reach it and be committed to it. I am not calling for a big conference for conferences are sometimes useless. But I call on the world to draw up a document explaining what these two states are and what the relationship between them is, especially what is the Pal4stinian state that the world will support, what are its rights, and what are its duties toward the neighboring countries and the world. This way there will be no talk casting doubts on its legitimacy or its future or something that has not materialized yet but doubts are being cast about it. I believe that the idea of a two-state solution requires a written commitment explaining what these two states are. It is not enough just to say a solution based on two states and then remain silent. Yes, we are saying Palestine, a united, contiguous, democratic, and viable state. But this requires explanation and guarantees. We should reach an explanation of Security Council Resolution 181, for instance.

Q) Do you mean reaching such an agreement before the resumption of peace negotiations?

A) Anytime; we should guarantee this Palestinian state. It is a state that we talk about but it is blowing in the wind, like a small thing that is susceptible to all whims. We should protect the issue of the two-state decision by renewing Resolution 181 or be based on it. This principle reinforces a new decision that clarifies that Israel is a state for the Jews and Palestine is a state for the Palestinians. We need a resolution that defines the borders and the framework. We should not be talking only about the issue of negotiations but specifically about the two states and what these two states are. Furthermore, we are in contact with our allies and brothers that we cannot simply stand by and do nothing.

Q) There was an Arab demand for guarantees from the US Administration. Is the United States prepared to give such guarantees?

A) There are several explanations to this subject. I was in New York when this subject was raised and my understanding is that the request for guarantees means a discussion among the Arab ministers and a discussion with the US Secretary of State (Hillary Clinton) when we met with her in New York as the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] plus Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq. We asked her if the US President's speech constitutes a framework of principles for peace. The issue of guarantees exists. It exists in the speech of the US President and in the words of Mrs. Clinton. But it would not be a bad idea if there were a speech that defines the framework of peace in accordance with the points that President Obama outlined in his speech. This would be very useful; that is, a commitment from the President of the most powerful state in the world that it is committed to peace in the Middle East on the basis of a specific framework. It will re-open the door for cooperation on the issue and with more options.

Q) Some sides are saying that the Arab countries should help Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas accept negotiations with the Israelis before freezing settlement construction activities after he has become in an embarrassing situation.

A) I understand the position of President Mahmud Abbas, Abu-Mazin. The issue of settlement construction and the freezing of such activities is a real matter. He did not make a mistake by demanding a freeze on settlement building activities. This is a dispute on land that has been occupied and that is now being taken from its owners. This is an obstacle to peace. But what I am saying that when there is disagreement, I am not calling on President Abu-Mazin to change his position on settlement construction activities and I am not calling on any of the parties, particularly the Arab stand, to concede anything. All I am saying is that since the door is blocked; open the door again without concessions on any position. We are trying to find new ways as much as possible. We would not accomplish anything if we stand at a closed door.

Q) Let us move to the subject of Yemen. Has the London conference accomplished what is required? What is the importance of the upcoming conference in Riyadh?

A) The London conference is a good start. We did not accomplish a lot at this conference but more will come at the next meeting in Riyadh for the friends and donors of Yemen. That will be an extremely important meeting because the World Bank will attend it and draw up mechanisms for Yemen to absorb the support which Yemen is in very need of. This is what Yemen needs. International support is available but it should be to develop capabilities to be absorbed. We have to help Yemen in this and this is the aim of the upcoming meeting in Riyadh in March.

Q) The situation in Yemen is sensitive on several levels from fighting terrorism to the domestic political problems. What is the role of the GCC countries in the political stability of this country, in addition to providing it with aid?

A) The GCC countries have always stood alongside Yemen. When there was an opportunity to mediate, Qatar mediated between the Yemeni government and the Huthists. The GCC is always ready to help Yemen. We support the stability of Yemen and we offer it advice during our meetings. I do not see a danger threatening that Yemen would be a failing state. Even if there is some sort of regression or political weakness in one way or another, Yemen will not fail. Yemen is a state and tribes and a civil society and Mobility and parties. These are components of a stable state even if it has problems. To fail and collapse is not an option. I do not see any danger of secession between the north and south or a return to the old southern secession that united in 1990. I do not see any danger because the demands of the people represent a kind of participation in the management. A share in management is more than the demands for secession which is not realistic. The main danger that I see is the danger of terrorism. The presence of terrorism on the land of Yemen is a danger that should be dealt with all seriousness. Yemen should be helped in every way to be able to confront this danger. As for the other problems, such as the economic conditions and political understandings, these should be ended quickly and we should help Yemen to confront these issues because terrorism represents the main danger [sentence as published].

Q) Iraq is now going through a critical phase and it too needs Arab assistance. Why has not Iraq so far merged with its Arab milieu and framework completely?

A) Iraq did not sever its contact with its Arab milieu from the first day. Bahrain is a member of the committee entrusted with the Iraqi file. When the Arab League issued an invitation in 2005 for a meeting on Iraq, all of Iraq came, talked, and debated. Iraq's wishes and sense of belonging to the Arab nation is unquestioned and undoubted although there are those that want Iraq to cast away its Arab milieu or its associations and ideas with this milieu. Such attempts were made and those that foiled these attempts were the Iraqis themselves. They do not accept anything less than being an indivisible part of this nation and of the fabric of this nation. What remains is the issue of dealing and acceptance and the issue of overcoming the political circumstances in relations and the issue of recognition or not. We should overcome this issue as soon as possible because Iraq should not be left to foreign hands to interfere in it in a way that is not acceptable to us. We in Bahrain have a diplomatic presence in Iraq. We have daily flights to Iraq. Gulf Air flights go to two airports there and a third airport in Irbil will be operating soon. Our ambassador is present in Baghdad. We have renovated our embassy and our consulate in Al-Najaf will be opened soon. The issue of presence in Iraq and contacts with Iraq is a vital issue to all the Arab countries. We should be in Iraq and every state should be in Iraq because this is in the interest of every Arab country and is viewed well and welcomed by the Iraqi people. When the sun rises every morning, the Iraqi people like to see their brothers around them and with them. They do not wish to see a stranger or an occupier or a person interfering in their affairs. The day should come when the Iraqi people see their brothers standing along their side and their flags flying in the skies of Baghdad. The Iraqi citizen does not want anything from anyone except kind words which he will reciprocate. We have to stand alongside Iraq in this regard. The ongoing political movement in Iraq is something healthy in which everyone should participate without exception. The current political laws are different from those of the past. Any party that does not abide by the political process is taken to account by the law. Everyone should participate in the political process and abide by it. This is an opportunity for everyone.

Q) Is the United States still inviting the Arab countries to remain in contact with Iraq as was the case in the past?

A) We do not need that; we do not need an American invitation. When I visited Baghdad I did not need an American invitation. I coordinated directly with (Iraqi Foreign Minister) brother Hoshyar Zebari and told him that I wished to come. Yes, the United States supports any inclination to be in contact with Iraq; there is no doubt about that. When we talk to them, they say that support for Iraq is important. But we do not feel they are asking us for something that we have been doing since the beginning.

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