(njdc).Dennis Ross, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for the Central Region, addressed the Anti-Defamation League’s national conference and conveyed to the audience that the Obama Administration is standing squarely with Israel amid the changes taking place in the Middle East. Ross also outlined the Obama Administration’s priorities for the Middle East and emphasized that peace between Israel and the Palestinians is possible with the current regional changes taking place.
Ross reiterated America’s commitment and expressed similar sentiment as Defense Secretary Robert Gates regarding the current state of U.S.-Israel relations:
Ross also had strong words regarding Iran’s recent provocative behavior:"Our relationship with Israel becomes more important during a time of change and upheaval in the Middle East. Israel is an enduring partner whose stability can be counted on. We are bound by shared values and interests, and our commitment to Israel’s security is iron-clad and unshakable. For the Obama Administration, those are not just words. Many of you may have heard what Secretary Gates recently said in Israel: ‘I cannot recall a time during my public life when our two countries have had a closer defense relationship. The U.S. and Israel are cooperating closely in areas such as missile defense technology, the Joint Strike Fighter, and in training exercises such as Juniper Stallion—cooperation and support that ensures that Israel will continue to maintain its qualitative military edge.’ Our cooperation contributes to Israel’s security every day, signified by Israel’s recent deployment of the Iron Dome short-range rocket defense system, which we helped fund with more than $200 million in support this year. I too cannot recall a time when security cooperation between our two countries has ever been as intense or focused.
Iran, in particular is trying to exploit the political changes in the Arab world, and using its proxy Hezbollah to enflame sectarian tensions in countries like Bahrain at precisely a moment when sectarian differences and legitimate grievances need to be overcome politically and not exacerbated. Iran has also been quick to criticize Arab governments for using the very repressive tactics it continues to employ against its own people. Indeed, it is the height of irony that at a time when Arab publics throughout the Middle East are finding their voice, the Iranian leadership seeks to quash the voice of Iranians who are asking only for their rights.
The Iranians are fooling no one. And, they are also fooling no one as they continue to pursue their nuclear program in defiance of multiple UN Security Council Resolutions. As National Security Advisor Tom Donilon stressed last week, ‘Even with all the events unfolding in the Middle East, we remain focused on the strategic imperative of ensuring that Iran does acquire not nuclear weapons.’ On our own and with others, we will continue to increase the pressure on the Iranian regime. On March 24, the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution appointing a special rapporteur charged with investigating and monitoring human rights abuses in Iran - a move that the ADL praised. Iran continues to contend with sanctions that are far more comprehensive than ever before, and as a result, it finds it hard to do business with any reputable bank internationally; to conduct transactions in Euros or dollars; to acquire insurance for its shipping; to gain new capital investment or technology infusions in its antiquated oil and natural gas infrastructure-and it has found in that critical sector, alone, close to $60 billion in projects have been put on hold or discontinued. Other sectors are clearly being affected as well as leading multinational corporations understand the risk of doing business with Iran and are no longer doing so.
Unless and until Iran complies with its obligations under the NPT and all relevant UN Security Council resolutions, we will continue to ratchet up the pressure.
In addition, Ross outlined the potential for peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians to flourish with the backdrop of a changing Middle East:
Specifically, Ross emphasized that any peace agreement take into account Israel’s security:For too long, illegitimate governments have looked to blame others for their problems, to deflect attention from their own shortcomings by stoking hostilities toward the United States or Israel.
One of the most remarkable features of the peaceful protests movements across the region has been their focus on domestic issues - the abuses of security forces, government corruption, and the limited opportunities to participate in government decisions. I fully expect that when these populations are empowered and responsible for shaping the future of their countries, they will also see the importance of pursuing peace and cooperation as essential to their own political futures. The more that countries are able to invest their resources in their own future and the less they invest in conflict, the more they will be able to address the needs of their people that prompted the revolts of the Arab Spring.
Many of you will remember how Shimon Peres - who is having lunch with President Obama tomorrow - spoke about the New Middle East in 1993 that would be built on the foundations of peace, cooperation, and trade. Unfortunately, Peres’s vision was not realized two decades ago, because such a future could not be built on an authoritarian foundation. The Middle East today has very little internal trade and investment. The region also has very few domestic or transnational institutions when compared to other parts of the world. All that needs to change, and the democratic movements today offer the prospect of a truly new Middle East - a vision that we must strive to realize. The United States can help support this process by facilitating the work of civil society and non-governmental organizations, international financial institutions, and private-public partnerships to help countries in transition secure the resources and knowledge needed for a better future.
Ross concluded by summarizing the United States’ priorities in the Middle East:Peace is essential in the region not only to enhance the prospect of trade and cooperation, but to ensure that as a new generation of leaders emerge, they recognize the prospect that Israelis, Palestinians, and Arabs can coexist in their own states without the ever-present prospect of renewed hostilities. New leaders need to see that peace is possible and not impossible. They need to see that negotiations can take place and actually produce. And, Israelis and Palestinians need to feel that their respective requirements for peace are understood clearly by each other and will actually be addressed. Israelis, particularly during a time of change with inherent uncertainty, must see that their security will be addressed meaningfully, and in a way that does not leave them vulnerable to the uncertainties of the future. Palestinians must know that they will have an independent state that is contiguous and viable. For Palestinians, that prospect is certainly made more credible when tangible steps are taken to show that the occupation is receding.
We clearly have a full plate of challenges in the Middle East today. But our agenda is clear: support coalition forces in their mission to protect the civilians of Libya and support a peaceful, inclusive, and democratic transition there; help Egypt and Tunisia to conduct a successful, orderly, and credible transition; encourage others in the region undertake meaningful reform now before they too face destabilizing unrest; work to expand economic opportunities; continue the push for peace between Israelis, Palestinians, and their Arab neighbors; and build the pressure on Iran. This is a complex and demanding agenda, but it has the complete attention of the President and his full national security team.