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What Is Obama's Middle East Peace Doctrine?


For more on the president's speech, we're joined now by Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Ambassador, welcome back to the program.

Ambassador Susan Rice (U.S. Ambassador to United Nations): Good to be with you, Michele.

NORRIS: The speech was long. It was about 45 minutes, very detailed. President Obama talked about a number of different countries in the Middle East and North Africa. But if you could, frame very simply for us and as briefly as possible what you see as the Obama administration's doctrine for advancing peace and democracy in that region.

Ambassador RICE: I'm always wary, Michele, of the word doctrine. But let me say what the essence of the president's message was today and that is that from the point of view of the United States, we face a very profound moment of opportunity in the Middle East and North Africa.

We have a profound interest in supporting the democratic transformations that are underway in many states, that are just beginning in others. And we will support these democratic transformations with the full weight of our diplomacy, our political tools, our economic tools, our security tools as a top priority of U.S. foreign policy.

NORRIS: Now, we heard the president mention what he called a symbolic action at the U.N., saying symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the U.N. will not create an independent state. He was speaking there about Palestinians' plan to introduce a resolution recognizing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. He said that this would not be successful and suggested that the U.S. would block this. Am I reading that correctly?

Ambassador RICE: What the president said was very clear and that is that you cannot create the reality of a state without the critical prior step of direct negotiations between the two parties. Those critical issues of borders, of security, of Jerusalem, of refugees, which are so emotional can only be resolved in a lasting way. And two states can only be created through direct negotiations and there's no shortcut to that. There's no effective way to bypass it and the United States has been very clear on that and remains very clear on that.

NORRIS: And with that stalemate, will things change if Hamas refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist. How can that change?

Ambassador RICE: That was another very important note the president made in his speech. And that is that the Palestinian leadership has a responsibility, as we discuss the prospect for achieve two states and a negotiated solution, to explain how it is they can accomplish that, which remains their stated goal, while in a unity government of sorts with Hamas, which doesn't even acknowledge Israel's right to exist. That is a very problematic contradiction at present and it needs to be addressed, as he said.

NORRIS: I'm sure from your vantage point that you hear discussions all the time at the U.N. about a perceived double standard, that the U.S. comes down very hard in some cases where it sees human rights violations and the perception of the abuse or sees the abuse of power, in other cases seems to deal with leaders with kid gloves, massaging them toward reform. How do you disabuse your peers at the U.N. of a double standard?

Ambassador RICE: Well, there is no double standard. And the president laid out today that we will stand by core universal principles. We will oppose the use of violence by any government against unarmed civilians. We will stand up for the rights of every individual to express him or herself to select their own leadership freely and without coercion, to assemble, to practice their religion.

And the president spent a good deal of time talking about Syria, Iran, Bahrain, Libya, Egypt, of course, and Tunisia. And while each of these circumstances are different, these universal values are not.

NORRIS: And when the president talks about those universal rights, as he's done many times throughout this Arab Spring - I'm thinking about his statements shortly before Mubarak stepped down where he said the people of Egypt have rights that are universal, including the right to peaceful assembly, the ability to determine their own destiny.

You know, people listen to that statement, particularly people in that part of the world, and they wonder, particularly after what we've seen in the Arab Spring, why that would not apply to the Palestinians.

Ambassador RICE: Well, it absolutely does. And that's why the president has, from the very first day he's been in office, lent the full weight of American effort and diplomacy towards the achievement of a Palestinian state, a two-state solution, living side-by-side with a secure, the state of Israel.

We believe profoundly in that, not only as a matter of principle, but as a matter of our national interest, Israel's long-term national interest and security and the interest of the Palestinian people for self-determination. They are all of a piece.

NORRIS: We've been speaking to U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice. Ambassador Rice, thank you very much for being with us.

Ambassador RICE: Good to be with you, Michele. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.