New Age Islam
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Islam and the West ( 14 Feb 2010, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Dialogue: Hillary Clinton and Strobe Talbott on The US-Muslim world relations at Doha, Qatar

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

MR. TALBOTT: Madam Secretary, I am going to put a question to His Excellency, picking up on the last part of your terrific speech, about democracy. But I am going to preface the question that I am going to put to him with a comment to you about the discussions that have taken place here over the last couple of days.

I know not in all contexts are you in favour of pre-empting. But you have actually pre-empted a question you might very well have gotten, because a number of the participants here in this forum have welcomed the emphasis that the Administration, the White House, have put on issues like jobs, health, and education in the partnership between the United States and the Islamic world. But they have sensed that the issue of democratic reform has been deemphasized. And I think what you had to say at the end of your speech forcefully pushed back against that impression. And if you want to add anything, by all means do.

But Your Excellency, as I have had a chance, along with Martin, to tell you and the Emir one reason that we are so pleased to have your support for the forum, and we so welcome and appreciate it, the initiative of the Brookings Doha Center here, was because there are a lot of things that could be said here that cannot be said elsewhere in the region.

So, against that backdrop, would you give us your response to what Secretary Clinton said so eloquently about the importance of democracy, and also the extension of all rights to women in this part of the world?

PRIME MINISTER SHEIKH HAMAD BIN JASSIM AL THANI: Since we are talking about women's rights, we will let the Secretary start.


SECRETARY CLINTON: That's why he's so good. Let me say this. We do not see any contradiction or conflict between supporting the human rights aspirations of all people, promoting elections, as we do around the world, standing with governments and civil societies that are attempting to forge more democratic forms of governance, and recognizing that there is not one size that fits all, that, as I said in my speech, democratic governance is an institutional and structural decision that is often found to be grounded in the experience and traditions of a country.

Human rights, however, are universal. And we believe that human rights should be respected, regardless of the form of governance. We happen to think that moving towards democracy makes it more likely that human rights will be both strengthened and respected over time. But they are not at all in contradiction; they reinforce each other.

PRIME MINISTER SHEIKH HAMAD BIN JASSIM AL THANI: Well, I remember, Talbott, when we talked about Brookings Doha three years ago in Washington, me and you and Martin, we said, "What we are looking for, opening another institute? It's -- you are not for that, and we are also not for that." We thought that in this part of the world, we need to have kind of (inaudible) in different aspects, and some also studies and some data. And you know, we have many institutions and many universities in Qatar open. And for us, what is important: we need to understand each other more between your region and our country, between your country and our countries in this region. And one of these things is to open (inaudible) Brookings Institute Saban Center in Doha.

And I think we benefited a lot. This is the seventh time we did this dialogue. And every time it's growing. I remember the time, it was around 60 persons we invited. And we were pushing to bring the 60 persons. And this year we have 300, because we put a limit of 350, and (inaudible), but now we are looking for more quality. We are looking for the dialogue to have a Doha Center of dialogue.

Our dream and His Highness's dream, how to make Doha Center for everybody to meet, to have different opinions, to have different ideas, but to have same values, and to have same principles of solving all the problems by talking to each other. And I think we, as you know, succeeded by last year. We were having 107 conferences in Doha. And I am talking 107 conferences over 150 persons -- we don't count the smaller conferences. And we were glad to have all the people here for the culture. It's good for people to meet each other. And also, it's good to know why we are angry from each other.

You know, the Secretary mentioned that there is (inaudible). Either I agree or I respect what you say, or I don't agree, which is fine. That is the way we have to treat each other. If I (inaudible) for democracy, which you did not ask me, since we are not a complete democracy country, but I will answer the question. I think democracy is needed. Okay, the model is different everywhere, but the principle is the same: human rights, which Madam Secretary mentioned, this is a value that is the same everywhere, our human rights. Democracy is needed. Part of our problem in the region is less democracy.

But also, part of our problem happened because we pushed democracy because one day we dreamed to have democracy in a week in this region. And we remember this period. And also, under democracy, it brings something you don't like or we don't like, we need to cancel democracy. If we need democracy, we have to accept the outcome. Sometimes the outcome you don't like. Sometimes the outcome, we don't like it. So that is also something important we should take it in our consideration, and we let the region mature. And what we are doing now is mature, you know.

People, before, they are not used to kind of these dialogues here, for either you are with me or against me. But now, there is a new era. And I have to say what President Obama and Madam Secretary said today, and from their policy, which we hear, that they respect the other opinion. They would like to have a dialogue. They don't say, "You are with me or against me." And that (inaudible).

And we need to support this policy in the United States. There will be disappointment. There will be ups and downs in the peace process on the security side, and the terrorism side, but we have to fight it. Because these people, they want to stop us from going forward. And we should not let them be as an obstacle.

I am sorry to be so long. Thank you.


MR. TALBOTT: If I could pick up on one other theme that Secretary Clinton more than touched on in her remarks about Iran, and put a question to both of you, and then perhaps we can open up to the participants in the forum.

Madam Secretary, you stressed how important it is to have maximum solidarity in various groups, including the P-5. I know that you, in particular, have been working very hard to ensure that that solidarity will be manifest in one of the two tracks that you spoke of, namely the likely necessity to proceed with sanctions.

Would you be good enough to give us a sense of what you see as the prospects for the Russian Federation and the People's Republic of China, in particular, to remain or become, as the case may be, supportive of what may be necessary there? And if there is anything that you want to add with regard to the role -- presumably the helpful role -- that countries in this region can play, particularly given how intensely involved China is commercially and diplomatically in this region.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, as this forum well knows, you know, President Obama was determined to pursue engagement with Iran. And for whatever combination of reasons, that has not been reciprocated. The President has personally reached out, he has sent messages through others. But there has not been a response that the Iranian leadership was really interested or willing to engage. We do not know and cannot divine the reasons for that. But the fact is that the President has said that he remains open to engagement. But engagement has to be a two-way street. It cannot be just done in a room, talking to yourself.

At the same time, the President was realistic enough to recognize that there had to be a second track, the so-called dual track. Because part of the goal -- not the only goal, but part of the goal -- that we were pursuing was to try to influence the Iranian decision regarding whether or not to pursue a nuclear weapon. And, as I said in my speech, you know, the evidence is accumulating that that's exactly what they are trying to do, which is deeply concerning, because it doesn't directly threaten the United States, but it directly threatens a lot of our friends, allies, and partners here in this region and beyond. It also serves as an excuse or a motivator for other countries pursuing their own nuclear weapons program, which creates a level of instability that is not particularly useful.

So, having said that, we have been quite grateful for the strong international support. On several critical issues both Russia and China were with us: in the IAEA; with the criticism that rightly flows to Iran, because of its secret facility at Qom; in supporting our outreach on the Tehran research reactor, and the like. Russia, both publicly and privately, has said that it can and will support sanctions. We are working on the language and trying to make sure that they are as effective and targeted as we can make them.

China has raised questions. It has not in any way rejected or prevented the work that is going forward as we speak. And I think, for China, it comes down to some very tough questions. China has a lot of investment in this region, in Iran and other countries. China gets a healthy percentage of its oil from Iran. And it has to ask itself if there is a trade-off between going along with the status quo, which could lead to greater instability, which could actually end up interfering with their oil supply, or standing with the international community to try to change Iran's strategic calculus.

And I think that the Chinese are very thoughtful. They are looking at that closely. But I think that the weight is maybe beginning to move toward not wanting to either be isolated or inadvertently contributing to instability that would undermine their economic interests. And yet it is -- we have a ways to go to get the language of the resolution, to try to talk to a number of countries, including some represented here, about the way forward.

MR. TALBOTT: Thank you. Your Excellency, since the problem that the Secretary has identified and the solution that she and the U.S. Government are pursuing matters so much to the security of your region -- at least because of the proximity of Iran, would you give us your perspective on the issue, both in terms of Iran itself, and what it would mean if it had nuclear weaponry, and the danger that the Secretary just alluded to, that if Iran gets the bomb, others in this neighbourhood will too?

PRIME MINISTER SHEIKH HAMAD BIN JASSIM AL THANI: Let me first start with the official answer the Iranian -- official answer that they are not seeking to have a bomb, nuclear bomb. Although I said this, but I have to say that if there is a nuclear race in the region, it will be an unhealthy race for all of us.

We have a good relation with Iran, as Qatar. And we have continuous dialogue with the Iranians. And they explain to us that their intention is to use these facilities for their peaceful reactors for electricity and medical use. The other side, if we talk about the nuclear agents, sometimes they told us that they have some suspicions about this program.

I think the best thing for this problem is a direct dialogue between the United States and Iran on this. And I believe -- and we talked about this today -- dialogue through messenger is not good. Also, I know United States makes a big decision by joining the P-5+1, and that is a very important decision. And we hear today the Secretary say that they are willing to talk to the Iranians, and they send many messages to Iran. And I believe we cannot talk through messenger, in my opinion. I think this problem has to be talking with the Iranians directly, and try to see if we have a deal or we don't have a deal in this.

Of course, if there is nuclear race in the region, it is disturbing for us. There is no doubt about it. But this region has a lot of turbulence. And as you know what happened in Somalia and Yemen and Afghanistan and Pakistan and Iraq, and the conflicts between the Israeli and the Palestinians, all these conflicts, plus the problem with Iran, it will be too much to handle in this region. This is a very small, tiny region. We are not talking about a big space, you know.

And also, this place is very important for the international economy. The international economy is very important. As you know, most of the oil of the world goes through (inaudible), and that also -- we have to take it in consideration.

So, for us, as a small country, stability and peace is very important. And for that always we push both sides to try to find a peaceful solution, meaningful solution to solve this problem.

MR. TALBOTT: Madam Secretary, before I turn to the group gathered here, is there anything you would like to say in response to what His Excellency just said?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we share His Excellency's concern about what will happen in the region. But we think that it is time for Iran to be held to account for its activities, which do already -- and can continue to have -- destabilizing effects. And what we want is to look for a way to change Iran's calculations.

But I fear that the rise of influence and power by the Revolutionary Guard -- which is really tragic, because that is not in keeping with what the Iranian people had hoped for, and thought they were getting in their democratic system -- poses a very direct threat to everyone. And I would like to figure out a way to handle it in as peaceful an approach possible. And I certainly welcome any meaningful engagement, but we don't want to be engaging while they are building their bombs.

And, therefore, we think the time has come for the world community to take a position which perhaps will penetrate into all of the decision-making arenas that exist now within Iran, and cause some reconsideration not of their peaceful program, which I know the Iranian people support and have every right to have, but of their nuclear weapons military program.

MR. TALBOTT: Thank you. We have time for just a couple of questions. And I am going to begin with an apology, which is I am semi-blinded by the lights. But I will do the best I can to call on participants. But I also want to make an exhortation, which is please keep the question as succinct as possible.

I am not -- yes. Right. I'm sorry. Please. Sorry.

QUESTION: Well, thank you.

MR. TALBOTT: Blind as a bat up here.

QUESTION: I am delighted that the U.S. and the Egyptian Government have reached an agreement on the declaration for freedom of expression. I want to tell you we have freedom of expression in Egypt. The question is freedom of the expression, that is what is lacking. And I think --


QUESTION: -- as a man on the run, because he dared to speak his mind, and now he is (inaudible) in court in Egypt. Six cases are pending against him. And I may say, speaking also for my colleague, Amar Ibrahim, who has the same last name, and who was in prison at the same time I was in prison, both of us were in prison for the same freedom of expression that we practice but, as I said, freedom of the expression that is lacking.

So, what is the U.S. stand on the rise of (inaudible) in the Muslim world, this is a U.S.-Muslim world forum. And since you have mentioned Egypt, and go to Egypt, and (inaudible) as well, and from my colleague, who asked me to -- if I -- whoever gets recognized will speak on each other's behalf, we have the same last name -- Amar Ibrahim and Tad Ibrahim, and we are both victims of our own government.

So I would like you to please comment on that, and (inaudible) speak for both of us with the Malaysian Government and with the Egyptian Government. Thank you.


SECRETARY CLINTON: And I appreciate the position that both of you have taken on behalf of human rights, political rights, civil society, democracy, the pantheon of rights that we do support. And we raise that at every session that we have. And, obviously, as a friend to both of your countries, we hope that there will be a greater awareness of the importance of supporting these rights within society.

We don't have any magic wands that we can wave, but we will continue to provide financial support to civil society activists, to human rights activists. We will continue to fund education and dialogue programs. We will continue to state, as we have on numerous occasions, that we don't think it's in any country's interest to stifle the free expression of its people. And we can only hope that, both because of the courage of the people inside, like yourself, and your brother Ibrahim, from Malaysia, that there will be more fertile soil for these changes to take root.

It is a difficult balancing act for the United States, because we do want to encourage change from within, which we think is the most lasting change. When we walk away from a country, when we sanction a country, when we give up on a country, it's rare that we see change.

So, all during the Cold War, for example, where the old Soviet Union had missiles pointed at us, and we had missiles pointed at them, we never stopped talking to them, but we also never stopped supporting human rights dissidents, the whole panoply of democratizing influences. And that is what we are going to continue to do in countries around the world.

MR. TALBOTT: I think I saw Muslan L'Hani's hand go up. And, if I'm not mistaken, Cardinal McCarrick's. So perhaps in that order.

QUESTION: Just wanted to ask you that -- the women in the Muslim-Islamic world have a lot of potential. And since it's very close to your heart, what is it that, in your program, that you have in the recent days -- I know in Pakistan what you've done. And I would just like to have an opinion on the Muslim women in this part of the world.

SECRETARY CLINTON: First, thank you for that question, because it is very close to my heart. We are running a lot of programs to support women, in particular, their education, their health care, jobs training, other efforts to give women the opportunities that they are seeking. I will be visiting a women's college in Jeddah on Tuesday. Tomorrow I will be meeting with a group of young students from Doha. And I think that a lot of the emphasis that we are placing on education for girls and women is critically important to the kind of advance that you are referencing.

Some of the most remarkable women I have ever met come from the Muslim world. And they were women who had a father or a husband who encouraged them to fulfill their own God-given potential. I think that is what we should want for all girls and women, no matter who their family is, or where they live in today's world. It's not only, in my view, the right thing to do, but it's the smart thing. There is so much potential in half the population. So any country which does not help to unleash that potential cannot possibly progress to the extent that it would, otherwise. So, it is a plea that it not only be done because it's right, but be done because it's smart.

MR. TALBOTT: Your Excellency, obviously I would invite you to come in at any point on any of these issues that you wish to.

PRIME MINISTER SHEIKH HAMAD BIN JASSIM AL THANI: No, I just have a problem, because my friend, when he talks, he would put Qatar in problem now. They will not blame United States for (inaudible) Ibrahim. Now I will receive another problem. And you know, I have enough problem with your government.


PRIME MINISTER SHEIKH HAMAD BIN JASSIM AL THANI: So I am now -- I am thinking now I want to swear to them that I did not ask you all -- I did not (inaudible) --


PRIME MINISTER SHEIKH HAMAD BIN JASSIM AL THANI: You know, the American could handle this. But for me, you know, I am --


PRIME MINISTER SHEIKH HAMAD BIN JASSIM AL THANI: So I am sorry. I don't know what to do now.

SECRETARY CLINTON: We will take responsibility.


MR. TALBOTT: Having heard from His Excellency, let's hear from His Eminence, Cardinal McCarrick.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. If I may, before I ask the question, Madam Secretary, I want to speak on behalf of my brother and sister religious leaders. I -- before I ask the question, I want to associate with the very gracious remarks of our distinguished chairman, Strobe Talbott, when he sent his regards to President Clinton, by saying that we religious leaders also send our prayers that the Lord may grant the President many, many -- a perfect recovery, and many, many continued happy, healthy, and effective years of service.

Madam Secretary, my colleagues are standing to express their solidarity with the question that I am about to ask. During this conference, the religious leaders have been addressing the moral imperative of bringing peace to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In this context, we have especially been concerned about the critical issue of the suffering of the people of Gaza.

Would you talk to the question of how the United States can become more proactive in resolving this tremendous humanitarian crisis? Thank you very much.


SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much, Cardinal, and thank you all for standing to show your support, as leaders in the faith community.

As I said in my remarks, the humanitarian suffering in Gaza is very deeply concerning. And we have made a number of statements and provided a lot of money through the Palestinian Authority to try to alleviate the suffering. We have pushed the Israelis to end the -- to increase the trickle to a flood of goods into Gaza. And I hope that we are going to see some progress. In meeting with the Emir and His Excellency, the Prime Minister, as well as earlier with Prime Minister Erdogan, there are so many countries standing ready to help the people of Gaza rebuild. And we just want the chance to be able to do that.

I do think, though, it is important to recognize that the comprehensive peace that we seek between the Israelis and the Palestinians is the best answer to everything. It is what will hopefully resolve the conflict and create opportunities for people to pursue their own dreams and ambitions. And to do that, we need partners who are committed to renouncing violence, to ending, in this case, rocket attacks into Israel territory.

We could do so much, and the Palestinian people are so immensely talented at living under the most difficult circumstances. They have such an enormous untapped potential, and we want to try to help unleash that. But, in order to do so, there has to be both sides of the equation satisfied: the security for the Israelis; ending the bomb and rocket fire, and all the rest of it; and respect and recognition for the needs of the people of Gaza and the West Bank.

That is what I am committed to in the short term. We hope to alleviate the suffering. But in the medium term, we want to see the people of Gaza empowered to make decisions for themselves. And that means without interference or without objection from any political entity, but instead, on their own, choosing their own path.

Remember, violence preceded the suffering in Gaza with a violence -- as the Palestinian Authority uses it -- a violent coups d'etat, instead of working in the elected parliament that represented both Hamas and Fatah and other minor parties. There was a takeover of Gaza, and then it was used as a launching pad. And it's just historically so painful.

And yet, if we are looking backward in our rearview mirror, we can't go forward. So, let's try to alleviate the suffering in Gaza, let's try to get comprehensive peace negotiations underway. Let's try to get them resolved. Let's stand by the Palestinians and the Israelis, as they do this hard work, and try to, once and for all, put this truly behind us.

PRIME MINISTER SHEIKH HAMAD BIN JASSIM AL THANI: Yes. First of all, I thank the Christian community and -- for this question. It is a very important question. It touches all our hearts. I have no doubts the good intention of the President Obama and Secretary Clinton about their intention about Gaza. And I remember when we talked about it in Washington, I know that she is not accepting seizing the people and leaving them like this.

This is a very important problem for all of us, to see 1.5 million at siege. Yes, there is problem. Maybe we agree, maybe we don't agree how the problem started. But that's not the question now. The question now is how we build the houses for these people. We build their schools, we build their hospitals. We send them their needs, medical needs, food needs. I think this is a very important thing.

If we don't do this, we build more hate against us, against the United States, against our allies in Europe. And I think the only way -- okay. The problem cannot be solved today between Hamas and Fatah. That is another problem. But also, the policy which may be done by some of our regional brothers or friends, or Israel, which says let us show the good example of how the West Bank live in prosperity and Gaza (inaudible), so we can change the mood of the people. The mood of the people cannot be changed under pressure. The mood of the people can be changed (inaudible) how we can treat them well as a human being.

We were talking about the human rights. Human rights. Now they are living more than one year without home, a lot of families with children, with women, old and young. We should not accept this by all means, even if we have differences. But I am sure all the world -- of course, United States has the means to move in this aspect, and let us try to diffuse some of the hate, and build the houses, build the schools, build the hospitals. And later we talk about what mistakes been done, who did this, who did that. This is another question. Of course we might not agree with their opinion, how they would like to solve the problem between the Israelis and themselves.

We in Qatar feel the only way -- and this is long time ago, and we have been criticized for this because for a long time we have an office here, Israeli office here, and our also consulate in Gaza. And for a long time we have been concerned about this relation. But we believe in peace. We believe that the only way to solve this problem, to talk to the Israelis, and they talk to us as Arabs, and we try to solve it according to the Security Council resolution, according to your speech, Madam Secretary, which you say about (inaudible) with some swap. Both sides have to accept the swap.

But we cannot put in condition that will not let these people eat or live as we live, as a human being, until this problem is solved. Because that will make them more stubborn, and we will build more hate for no reason. So I -- my advice, my sincere advice, all of us have to work to let these people live like us. Thank you very much.


MR. TALBOTT: We have gone a bit over the scheduled time, and to very, very good effect. Before bringing the session to a close, Madam Secretary, I want to underscore the resonance that I am sure, first of all, many passages in your remarks had tonight. But one in particular, and it had to do with the point that you made about the dilemma that our colleagues in the U.S. Government face as they try to balance security, particularly airplanes and airports, with respect for the dignity of our visitors, and fairness.

I have only been in Doha for a couple of days. I have had about 12 conversations with people who you see in front of you who have experienced the downside of that dilemma. And I think that the sensitivity that you expressed, both to the problem, but also the way in which you explained the reason why the problem comes about, will help instill in them -- I hope it will instill in them -- the patience that you are asking for.

Because, in due course, it would be great to have one of these forums back in Washington, D.C. And I hope everybody will have an easy time getting there, including because of the weather.

But, in any event, do you want to say something on this?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, look. There are so many concerns that we can't even get to. But I think that, on this particular issue, we are going to do everything we can to re-evaluate it and to consider it. And we ask the cooperation from everyone else, particularly around the departure of passengers from any one of your countries. Because you never know who might be on the plane. It might be someone in your family or someone in my family. And that is our only goal here, is to maintain the safety and security of airline travel. But we recognize, as I said, that that causes some very unfortunate feelings among many people. So I am not surprised you have heard a lot about it.

And finally, just let me say, look, we believe that we actually have so much more in common than what separates us. The real challenge is how we work together to solve these common problems that we face, whether it's Gaza or airline security or Iran. But that is what we're committed to try to do. And as His Excellency, the Prime Minister said, we are not always going to agree. We are not always going to disagree. We ought to narrow the areas of disagreement, enhance the areas of agreement, and look for ways to try to solve problems in between. And that's what we are committed to doing.

MR. TALBOTT: Martin, I think that is a pretty good executive summary for the whole session. And we thank you for summing it up so well.

I hope all of you will join me in thanking Sheikh Hamad and Secretary Clinton -- in his case, for coming to be with us twice in 24 hours, and in your case, Madam Secretary, for flying 7,000 miles to be with us. Please join me in thanking them both.



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