March 17, 2011

Chairman Kerry Highlights Urgent Libya Actions at Hearing on Middle East Uprisings

Washington, DC – Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) chaired a hearing today on the “Popular Uprisings in the Middle East: The Implications for U.S. Policy.” Ambassador Bill Burns, Under Secretary for Political Affairs, Department of State, testified before the Committee. During the hearing, Kerry called on the United Nations Security Council to immediately pass a resolution that will prevent a humanitarian disaster in Libya.

“In Libya, the brutal attacks on his own people by Colonel Qaddafi are cause for grave concern. The international community cannot simply watch from the sidelines as the Libyan people’s quest for democratic reform is met with violence. The Arab League’s call for a UN no-fly zone is an unprecedented signal that the old rules of impunity for autocratic leaders no longer stand. But time is running out for the Libyan people. The world needs to respond immediately. The United Nations Security Council should act now – today – to pass a resolution that the United States has shown real leadership in crafting that would provide the range of options necessary to avert a humanitarian disaster. And whatever the final outcome, Qaddafi has no legitimacy to govern and the will of the Libyan people will ultimately prevail.”

Full text of Chairman Kerry’s statement as prepared:

This morning, we are pleased to welcome back one of our nation’s most distinguished diplomats to discuss one of the most important issues facing our country and, indeed, the world. Undersecretary Bill Burns has served in the Foreign Service for nearly 30 years, including as Ambassador to Jordan and Russia and as Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs.

I want to thank you, Bill, for taking time out of what I know has been an enormously busy schedule to fill us in on the inspiring and troubling events unfolding in the Arab world. No one in our government has had a better perspective on the changes that are sweeping across the Middle East. We are immensely fortunate to have the benefit of your experience at this historic moment.

In two short months, we have seen stirring triumphs in Tunis and Tahrir Square, unprecedented protests in Sana and Manama, and brutal crackdowns in Tripoli and Benghazi. These uprisings constitute one of the most momentous developments of our time. They also present an enormous challenge both for the people of the region and for America’s relationship with them. How we respond today will shape our strategic position in the Middle East—and how Muslims around the world see us—for decades to come.

The removal of Hosni Mubarak from office was a victory above all for the people of Egypt. It also was a victory for democrats around the world, because it showed that political change—even tremendous political change—can be brought about peacefully. If this liberation can be translated into lasting democracy, then the new Arab awakening will carry a vital message: that ordinary people everywhere can determine for themselves how they are governed.

The developments in Egypt and Tunisia also represent a blow against extremism. A successful democracy in Egypt will demonstrate that al Qaeda’s belief that change requires the cowardly violence of terror is wrong. And it will weaken the position of states like Iran that repress their own people and use terrorist organizations to advance their interests.

Just as we did in Eastern Europe immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall, I believe that we can play a constructive role in the process of political and economic reform at this pivotal moment in the Middle East. I believe that we can affirm the value of democracy and deal a sharp blow to the forces of radicalism. But we must recognize the extraordinary opportunity before us—and the danger of failing to seize it.

That is why I am working with Senators McCain and Lieberman on legislation to support new and fledgling democracies in the region. Like the SEED Act signed by President George H.W. Bush in 1989, this legislation will aim to help governments reform their security sectors, build transparency into the fabric of government ministries, strengthen the rule of law, and help leaders incorporate the views of the public in their day-to-day work.

Ultimately, we want to support the transition to democratic rule in Egypt and Tunisia, to encourage movement toward democratic reform in the Middle East, and to spur sustainable economic development throughout the region. Just as our efforts are intended to help the people of the region change their own political and economic situation, our approach to the Middle East must change. For decades, our policy has been driven by our addiction to foreign oil, and democracy and human rights have been overshadowed. Too often over the past decade we have seen regimes in the region chiefly as tools in the fight against terrorism, while looking away from abuses we find unconscionable. The result has been relationships focused on leaders rather than people. We can no longer view the Middle East solely through the lens of 9/11. Now, we must view it through the lens of 2011.

As the people of the region demand reform, our approach to the region must embody our core values. At the most basic level, that means that we must be consistent in encouraging governments everywhere to respond to the hopes, and needs, and rights of their citizens. We must also emphasize programs that will strengthen our engagement with the people, which is one of the core objectives of the legislation we are working on.

What this new approach means in practice will vary from country to country. Egypt is not Jordan, and Jordan is not Libya. But throughout we must push back against the consolidation of power that has bred economic stagnation, corruption, and popular dissatisfaction. We should encourage the establishment of institutions that translate the will of the people into action, that promote transparency and accountability from leaders, and that safeguard freedom and justice for all

Of course, the story coming out of the Arab world is not all good news. I am especially interested in the Undersecretary’s views on the troubling events unfolding in Libya and Bahrain.

In Libya, the brutal attacks on his own people by Colonel Qaddafi are cause for grave concern. The international community cannot simply watch from the sidelines as the Libyan people’s quest for democratic reform is met with violence. The Arab League’s call for a UN no-fly zone is an unprecedented signal that the old rules of impunity for autocratic leaders no longer stand. But time is running out for the Libyan people. The world needs to respond immediately. The United Nations Security Council should act now – today – to pass a resolution that the United States has shown real leadership in crafting that would provide the range of options necessary to avert a humanitarian disaster.  And whatever the final outcome, Qaddafi has no legitimacy to govern and the will of the Libyan people will ultimately prevail.

In Bahrain, soldiers backed by helicopters and tanks have cleared Pearl Square. Violence won’t solve Bahrain’s problems. It will make them worse and risks a regional escalation. The parties urgently need a dialogue to chart a path of real reform.

Undersecretary Burns, I know that you have given careful thought to these issues over many years, and I look forward to hearing how you think the situation in the region is developing and how the United States ought to be responding to it.

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