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Written Responses to Questions Submitted by the Egyptian Newspaper Al Ahram

January 26, 1988

Egypt-U.S. Relations

Q. How would you describe Egyptian-American relations at the moment, with particular reference to the Egyptian economic situation and the problem of the Egyptian FMS [foreign military sales] debt to the United States? How do you see the future of the relationship?

The President. Our relationship with Egypt today is particularly strong. It is a special partnership, deriving its strength from our similar views and interests on so many issues, most notably our mutual commitment to peace and stability in the Middle East. We share the determination to advance the Arab-Israeli peace process, to reduce tensions in the Gulf, to contain the threat of terrorism from which we have both suffered so much, and to promote development and better lives for the people of the region. The bonds between the Egyptian and American peoples are strong, built on many years of cooperation in military, economic, educational, and cultural fields.

We are doing a great deal to help alleviate Egypt's difficult economic situation and its heavy debt burden. We are encouraged by Egypt's efforts to develop a stronger and more vibrant economy. In recognition of these efforts and Egypt's requirements, I recommended to Congress that our assistance levels to Egypt be maintained, despite severe cuts in both overall foreign assistance and U.S. domestic programs. As a result, in fiscal year 1988, Egypt will receive one-fourth of our total worldwide economic support fund assistance and nearly one-third of all foreign military sales assistance, all on a grant basis.

I am proud of the results we have achieved together in our partnership in the economic field, with the cooperation of both the public and private sectors. For instance, U.S. private investors in the oil industry have helped develop Egypt's leading export sector, while providing employment and training for many talented Egyptians. Our official assistance programs have financed power stations, water facilities, and telecommunications equipment, health services, and over 500 schools—all of which have helped raise living standards for many Egyptians and build the base for future economic growth. Looking ahead, I hope we can rely more on our private sectors to generate growth. Experience around the world has shown that this is the best approach to increasing employment and production.

I believe the future of Egyptian-American relations is bright and that our common vision of peace will enable us to continue to work together to meet the many challenges on the horizon in the Middle East and around the world. President Mubarak is a strong and determined leader, and I look forward to discussing a wide range of issues with him when we meet this week.

Egypt's Role in the Middle East

Q. What is your perception of Egypt's role in the Arab world?

The President. Egypt has always occupied a leadership position in the Arab world. This position has recently been reaffirmed publicly by the Arab summit in Amman and the prompt reestablishment of relations with Egypt by the majority of the members of the Arab League. President Mubarak's recent tour of the Gulf States is a further demonstration of the central role Egypt plays in the pursuit of stability and security in the Middle East. I value the counsel of President Mubarak as an Arab leader committed to peace.

Middle East Peace Efforts

Q. In September 1982, you presented the "Reagan plan" for peace in the Middle East. The current situation is clearly explosive, but some elements in Israel favor peace negotiations. Are you considering any new initiatives? Would you support an international peace conference, and do you foresee such a conference taking place before the end of your administration?

The President. Recent events in the West Bank and in Gaza make it clear that the status quo is unacceptable. We must work together with those in the area to give the Palestinians a reason for hope, not despair. Conditions must be improved in the territories, and real movement toward a political settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict is essential. However, without a new sense of realism on the part of all the parties, this will be difficult. Flexibility must be demonstrated by practical suggestions, and not just by rhetorical posturing.

With my full encouragement and support, Secretary of State Shultz has been working actively to find a way to bridge the gaps on substance and process that have prevented the advent of negotiations. He made some headway during his October 1987 trip to the region but found that important differences remain on both the format and the agenda for bilateral negotiations.

We have not ruled out any means of reaching bilateral negotiations. For nearly 3 years, we have devoted much time and effort to seeing how an international conference could be structured that would result in such negotiations—the only kind that are likely to be productive and meaningful. A conference must facilitate such negotiations, not be a vehicle for avoiding them. We are committed to trying to find a basis that meets the needs of all the parties and gives us a reason to believe that the negotiations can be successful. Our aim, after all, is a comprehensive peace, not just a negotiating process.

The fact that 1988 is an election year in the United States will not reduce our commitment to continuing our efforts on behalf of Middle East peace. The enemies of peace will not rest in 1988; therefore, the proponents of peace must not, either.

Palestinian Human Rights

Q. The United States is a signatory to the 1949 Geneva convention, which includes an article against deportation of people from their homeland. How far are you willing to go to ensure the protection of human rights for Palestinians and to prevent their deportation? Is your concern for their rights equal to your well-established concern for the right to emigrate by other peoples?

The President. The human rights situation in the West Bank and Gaza remains extremely complex. The United States recognizes that Israel, as the occupying power, has legitimate security concerns and responsibilities as well as an obligation to protect the human rights of Palestinians. The United States has a regular dialog with the Government of Israel on human rights, as with other governments. We are, indeed, just as concerned with the human rights of Palestinians as of other peoples and have made it very clear that we oppose deportations and any denial of the due process of law.

Soviet-U.S. Relations

Q. What regional issues will you discuss at the upcoming summit with Secretary Gorbachev?

The President. Let me begin by explaining the current status of our dialog with the Soviet Union on regional issues. Over the past few years, the United States has actively sought to engage the Soviets in a frank exchange of views in the search for constructive and peaceful solutions to conflicts and problems in various regions around the world. Through patience and persistence, we have succeeded in establishing a regular cycle of meetings between U.S. and Soviet experts and policymakers. These discussions have helped each side to understand the other's positions and perspectives. Unfortunately, in many cases we continue to differ on the best means to achieve peaceful solutions.

We Americans are particularly troubled by the use of Soviet forces abroad, as in Afghanistan, and by wars waged by regimes supported by the Soviet Union against their own peoples or their neighbors. In the course of our dialog, the Soviets have expressed a political commitment to withdraw their forces from Afghanistan and have said this could be completed in 1988. We hope this happens.

When General Secretary Gorbachev and I met in Washington this last December, we agreed that the aim of our regional dialog now should be "to help the parties to regional conflicts find peaceful solutions that advance their independence, freedom, and security."


Q. Please explain your Afghanistan policy; particularly, is there any connection between the proposed U.S. reduction of forces in the Arabian Gulf and the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan? Are you planning to reduce arms shipments to the Mujahidin to encourage a rapid Soviet withdrawal? Are you close to agreement with the Soviets on an interim government in Kabul, and how would you feel about a future alliance between Kabul and Tehran?

The President. We, and the 122 other governments who voted for the Afghan resolution in the last U.N. General Assembly, seek a fair and comprehensive settlement based on the rapid and complete withdrawal of Soviet troops. It must provide for self-determination for the Afghan people, return of the refugees in safety and honor, and a restoration of Afghanistan's independence and sovereignty. It is entirely up to the Afghan people to decide what form of government they have and how they run their country. We sincerely hope that 1988 will be the year in which all Soviet troops leave Afghanistan. Until then, however, we and other governments will continue to provide full support for the Afghan cause.

The Afghan conflict is Moscow's problem. The Soviets must make the necessary decision to get out. Once this has clearly occurred, we would of course use our influence to be helpful. We would favor a neutral, nonaligned Afghanistan, free from foreign interference.

Persian Gulf Conflict

Q. What is happening on U.N. Security Council Resolution 598? Are you getting cooperation from other Security Council members on an arms embargo? Do you plan to reduce the U.S. naval presence in the Gulf? And how do you feel about the creation of a U.N. force?

The President. The United States has pushed hard for the full implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 598 since its unanimous adoption on July 20, 1987. Six months after the adoption of Resolution 598, it is clear that, while Iraq has accepted Resolution 598 in all its parts and without imposing conditions, Iran has no intention of negotiating its implementation in good faith. Iran has used the time since the adoption of 598 to build up forces for another offensive against Iraq and to increase attacks upon nonbelligerent shipping in international waters in the Gulf.

Our view is, therefore, that the Security Council should act to adopt an enforcement resolution imposing an embargo on the provision of arms to Iran by any member state. Together with other permanent and nonpermanent members of the Security Council, we are discussing an arms embargo resolution which we hope will receive the unanimous support of the Security Council as soon as possible. We note that the Soviet Union has so far resisted the adoption of an arms embargo, preferring instead to call for further delay and discussion of separate U.N. action related only to the Gulf, ignoring Iran's continuation of the land war.

We have no plans to change the mission of our forces in the Gulf. Our Navy, which is charged with carrying out that mission, continually reviews the composition of our forces there to perform in the best and most efficient way. Our basic commitment remains unchanged.

With regard to proposals for a United Nations naval force in the Gulf, we believe it is essential that the concept for such a force be spelled out clearly. If the proposal is for a U.N. force to help monitor or enforce compliance with an arms embargo, we would be prepared to consider the possibilities seriously once an arms embargo is adopted by the Security Council. We want an arms embargo to be as effective as possible. The Soviet Union, however, has been inconsistent about its concept for a U.N. naval force. The Soviets appear to favor a U.N. naval force that would replace the U.S. and other navies in the area and impose an end to attacks on shipping, while allowing Iran to continue the land war. This represents a deliberate diversion from the full implementation of Resolution 598, which calls for a comprehensive cease-fire.

Note: The questions and answers were released by the Office of the Press Secretary on January 28.

Ronald Reagan, Written Responses to Questions Submitted by the Egyptian Newspaper Al Ahram Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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