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18 May 2005
'A PARTNERSHIP FOR WIDER FREEDOM' - STRAW SPEECH IN THE UNITED STATES
Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Washington DC, USA
The Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw
Let me thank the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, and particularly Dr John Hamre and Robin Niblett, for their hospitality and welcome today.
Perhaps most important of all for our long-term goal of a wider freedom, we have to support the currents of change and modernisation in the Middle East – a region whose enormous potential will be realised only if it can successfully adapt to the challenges of a rapidly-changing world.
So we will see the job through in Iraq. We will continue to support the people of Lebanon as they elect a new democratic government over the coming weeks. And we will assist the governments and people of countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and others across the region in their processes of change.
It was humbling to see in Iraq and Afghanistan the enormous courage of people determined to cast their votes despite the threat, indeed the reality of terrorist violence. They showed that freedom can be stronger than fear.
But they, and we, know too that freedom will only be sustainable once the terrorists and the fear they seek to spread have been defeated. That is my second theme today – that sustaining and spreading freedom depends too on spreading security, or what President Roosevelt called the 'freedom from fear'.
That is true not just for Iraqis or Afghans, but, crucially, for Israelis and Palestinians.
The conflict between those two peoples is today, as it has long been, the greatest challenge there is to the success of freedom in the Middle East.
Its impact goes far wider than the immediate human suffering which it causes, though that is terrible in itself. For Israelis, the conflict prevents a democratic nation from enjoying the benefits of peace. For Palestinians, it is a block on their aspirations for the viable, democratic state which is their right. Others in the Middle East too often use the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to excuse their own reluctance to embrace change. And the conflict fuels suspicion, mistrust and accusations of double standards between the Islamic world and the West – which are exploited by terrorists to win new recruits.
The international community's support for a solution is unanimous and stronger than ever. Israel has taken the courageous decision to withdraw from Gaza and parts of the northern West Bank. And, at last, it now has, in the new Palestinian President, a democratic partner for peace.
There is therefore the chance for a solution based on democracy, and buttressed by it – one not just of two states, but of two democracies living side by side in peace and security. Working to support that will be the highest priority of our foreign policy for the new British government.
An immediate task for the international community is to help to make disengagement by Israel a success – and ensure that it accelerates implementation of the
more generally. We need to support the Palestinian legislative elections due to be held this summer. Meanwhile Israel must stop the illegal expansion of settlements, which in some places could threaten the viability of a future Palestinian state. And we look to the Palestinians to follow through their commitments to reform made at the London Meeting last March, and especially to deliver the security which is Israel's right.
The United Kingdom, for its part, is already working with US Security Co-ordinator General Ward to support the Palestinians on security; and with James Wolfensohn, the special envoy of the Quartet on disengagement, to identify the economic opportunities for projects to entrench peace. I have just come from a meeting with James Wolfensohn where we discussed his important role in helping to ensure a viable partial state in Gaza and in supporting the peace process. We are leading and funding a European Union project to restructure and make more effective the Palestinian police force. We are major contributors to the European Union's aid to the Palestinians. I will be visiting Israel and the Palestinian territories soon to discuss the situation and see how we can help further.
In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as elsewhere, the framework for a solution is based on the United Nations. It is a sign of that Organisation's achievement that it remains so central to international affairs, sixty years since its foundation. No other international organisation has ever been so durable.