Thomas Pickering is a former U.S. ambassador to the UN. He’s also been ambassador to Russia, Israel and Jordan, among others. He was ambassador to El Salvador during the Iran-Contra affair. He has lately been focusing on the U.S. approach to Iran’s nuclear program.
Husseini: “What can the Obama administration do in a positive way? The Egyptian people have been oppressed and it’s been perceived as as U.S. back[ed]. The tear gas canisters are ‘Made In the USA,’ the jet fighters — could the U.S. apologize now?”
Pickering: “The U.S. should continue to do what I think it’s done very well till now, is to make sure the people of Egypt know that we’re on the side of change. … The U.S. I think doesn’t need to apologize, I think we need to support the positive shifts that are taking place.”
Husseini: “You’ve been focusing on the whole question around Iran’s nuclear program. … Egypt has been calling for a nuclear free and weapons [of mass destruction] free zone in the Mideast. … Don’t you think the U.S. needs to acknowledge that Israel has nuclear weapons as a starting point?”
Pickering: “It’s a decision for Israel to make about its nuclear policy. …”
Husseini: “But isn’t honesty the beginning point? … We’re not even saying that Israel has nuclear weapons, so how can this be a serious process?”
Pickering: “My own view is that that’s a much less important question than can we find a) a solution to the current conflict which I hope can lead to b) a nuclear free Middle East that you and I and everyone knows we all seek.”
Haven’t transcribed the whole thing, if you can do so, please email me, but Pickering used the term “change” about a half dozen times at the beginning of this short exchange. A regret here is that it adopt this language of things being a perception of U.S. backing Mubarak, it’s a reality.
The new activist group RootsAction put out an alert this week calling on the U.S. government to apologize for its policy of backing a dictator in Egypt for 30 years.
Washington Stakeout today questioned Martin Indyk (currently director of foreign policy at Brookings, senior adviser to U.S. government envoy George Mitchell. He has worked in the past at Washington Institute for Near East Policy and American Israel Public Affairs Committee [AIPAC]):
Sam Husseini: “Does the U.S. foreign policy establishment owe the Egyptian people an apology for having backed a dictator for all these years? …”
Indyk: “What the Egyptian people want to see is that the U.S. is supporting their demand now for democracy and accountable government. That’s what the U.S. upholds as universal values. And I think President Obama has made clear that he is with them — with the protesters in Tahrir Square — when it comes to their demands for democracy.”
Husseini: “But if that’s to be really understood rather than rhetorical, how do we apply those ‘universal values’? Do they apply to people in Saudi Arabia? …”
Indyk: “…as a result of what’s happened in Cairo you can see American policy stepping up its focus. Things that have always been there, but now with much greater emphasis.”
Husseini: “There’s a question in the region as to the sincerity of U.S. policy. For example, do you know that Israel has nuclear weapons?”
Indyk: “What does that got to do with it, sir?”
Husseini: “It has to do with whether or not the U.S. just makes rhetorical pronouncements in favor of things that it [says] it’s in favor of — ‘universal principles’ — and doen’t acknowledge that, say, Israel has nuclear weapons — empirical facts.”
Indyk: “I think you underestimate the power of Obama’s bully pulpit. … I think that they [the Egyptian people] appreciate that he’s [Obama] come out very strong for their call for democratic change.”
Actually, if anything I’m overestimating the relevance of Obama’s “bully pulpit.” The protesters in Egypt don’t much seem to care what he’s saying. And what I’m asking about is why Obama doesn’t simply acknowledge that Israel has nuclear weapons, simply a use of the “bully pulpit.”
Says LobeLog: “Indyk is a smart analyst, evenhanded of late. But evasiveness about admitting Israel has nukes is silly.”
I think they give him too much credit, how could someone who is evenhanded not agree that the U.S. establishment owes the Egyptian people an apology?
As for Indyk’s claim that Obama clearly stand with the protesters in their call for democracy, I wish I’d asked about the nature of the “transition” that the U.S. actually pushing for given that it’s backing Omar Suleiman, Hosni Mubarak’s designated successor (and CIA-allied torturer).