For an agreed plan

Print edition : January 02, 2009

Amre Moussa: The time has come for action in Palestine and we need Indias support for action.-V. V. KRISHNAN

Interview with Arab League Secretary-General Amre Moussa.

THE Secretary-General of the Arab League, Amre Moussa, was in New Delhi in the first week of December on his first visit to India after taking over the post in 2001. Before his appointment to this post, he was Egypts Foreign Minister for 10 years. As Foreign Minister, he did not mince words when espousing the Palestinian cause or exposing the double standards of the West. He was also Egypts Ambassador to India and the United Nations.

An informal opinion poll taken in Egypt when Moussa was Foreign Minister showed that an overwhelming majority of people wanted him to succeed President Hosni Mubarak. Time magazine had described him as perhaps the most adored public servant in the Arab world. A song by the Egyptian crooner Shabaan Abdel Rahim with the lines I hate Israel and I love Amre Moussa became a popular hit. Shortly after that, Moussa was shifted out of the Foreign Ministry. Many Arab commentators said his ouster was for his trenchant criticism of the United States support for Israel and Israels treatment of Palestinians.

Since taking over as Secretary-General, Moussa has been trying his best to make the Arab League a relevant voice on the international stage and the articulator of a unified Arab viewpoint on key issues. His focus has been on achieving economic integration of the Arab economies and building stronger ties with their neighbours, such as India.

While in New Delhi, Moussa and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee formally launched the India-Arab Forum for cooperation. Both expressed confidence that bilateral trade would climb up to $100 billion in the next four years from last years level of $30 billion.

Moussa took time off from his busy schedule to talk to Frontline on a wide range of international issues. Excerpts from the interview:

Terror has once again struck India. West Asia and South Asia are the two regions most affected by the phenomenon.

We all condemn terrorism in the strongest terms. What happened in Mumbai is a horrible, terrible, criminal event that should not be tolerated. We all stand firmly behind India in this very crucial and sad moment. It is not our two regions alone that are affected. The Horn of Africa is another area. Piracy off the coast of Somalia is another illustration. The phenomenon is not exclusive to any area. It can happen in any area at any time. It is an international phenomenon. All countries and societies are affected.

What according to you are the roots of terrorism?

The roots can be traced to frustration, confusion or conspiracies. There are lots of reasons for it. The terrorists are all misguided people. They will not be able translate their goals into reality.

Are you satisfied with the state of Indo-Arab relations?

We should never be completely satisfied. We should have even more interaction, more trade, and more scientific and economic cooperation. We shall continue to work until we achieve the goals we have set. I am talking about a $100-billion trade-turnover in the next two years. Now it is $30 billion. This is not an unrealistic figure. We expect to reach the $100 billion mark mentioned by the Indian External Affairs Minister in the near future.

The Israelis are blockading the Gaza Strip again. What is the Arab League doing to alleviate the suffering of the people there?

The Gaza episode is another sad one. First, all people under occupation in Palestine are suffering, but Gaza is suffering more from the Israeli siege. The total siege is from the land, the sea and the air. In our Council of Ministers meeting held a couple of days ago, we decided to send a huge amount of aid to the people of Gaza immediately. This includes medicines and food. Egypt has sent gasoline so that some essential services can run. This is on the humanitarian side. On the political side, we need support from all forces, including India, to stand firm against the practices of the Israelis in the occupied territories.

Are you satisfied with Indias role so far?

I am not satisfied with the whole situation surrounding the Israeli occupation. We need more understanding and support for a just cause. India has always supported the just cause of the Palestinians and I hope that it will continue to do so. But we need more than support.

We need active participation in guaranteeing the rights for the creation of a viable Palestinian state. Just expressions of support are not enough. That is what we tell the Arab world also. The time has come for action and we need Indias support for action.

In my talks with senior officials here, I have praised Indias continuing support for the Palestinian cause and a just solution for the Arab-Israeli conflict. There is a genuine desire on the part of the Indian government for a lasting Arab-Israeli peace.

Do you think any forward movement is possible without Washingtons active involvement in the peace process? Will the Obama presidency make a difference?

We need the active participation of the United States. We cannot ignore the important role American influence has in many regions. But what we need from the U.S. is honest brokering. Obama, judging from his attitude and his appointments, is bound to play an active role and bring back the honest-broker role the U.S. was playing before. This is the best scenario.

But the peace process is going nowhere.

A Palestinian house being demolished in the Arab neighbourhood of Silwan in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem, on November 5. Palestinians say Israel denies them building permits in East Jerusalem.-YANNIS BEHRAKIS /REUTERS

So far, yes. We should think deeper about the so-called peace process. You cannot move from a peace process to a peace process to a peace process without achieving peace. The peace process should not be a goal in itself. It should be a means to achieve lasting peace in the region.

There should not be a peace process every eight years with the coming of a new President. We should not be merely interested in a peace process but in achieving peace.

What are your views on the recent Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) in Iraq and the situation there?

SOFA is an important step forward. U.S. forces will withdraw from Iraqi cities by 2009 and from the country by 2011. It is a major event. But more important is rebuilding the country and the society itself, which have been severely affected by the invasion and the wrong policies that have been followed. So what we are interested in now in order to build a new Iraq is all Iraqis closing ranks. Feuds on the basis of religion or sects or ethnicity should stop. They are all Iraqis and should work for the future of the country. It is an important Arab country in West Asia. We need Iraq. We need its contribution to our system. We hope that this will be achieved soon.

What is the Arab Leagues position on Irans nuclear programme?

The Arab position is based on the following. Number one, we do not need any military nuclear programme in the region. Number two, this should apply to all countries, not only Iran but Israel or for that matter any other country.

We cannot comprehend a selective approach to such a very serious issue. Number three, it has not been firmly determined that there is a nuclear military programme in Iran. The [International Atomic Energy Agency] IAEA has not said that. Number four, being a member of the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty], Iran is entitled to peaceful uses of nuclear energy. And finally, we need to establish a zone free of nuclear weapons that would include Israel, Iran, Egypt and all countries in the region.

How do you view the pre-emptive military strikes on targets in Syria by the U.S. and Israel?

These are violations of sovereignty and territorial integrity. This is something that we can never accept. We have to get back to a situation where international law is respected. The dilution of international law and the fact that many forces are allowed to break it are the main factors behind the chaos in the Middle East [West Asia].

Is the Arab League paying attention to the problem in Darfur?

Darfur is an Arab-African problem. The Arab League and the African Union [A.U.] are both working together in Darfur. Recently, the government in Sudan announced a ceasefire in Darfur. Also, a regional initiative involving Chad, Ethiopia, Sudan and other countries has very much ameliorated the situation in the region. We need stability in the region. The Abuja agreement on Darfur should be implemented. There are prospects for a solution. We are working now to defuse the crisis between the International Criminal Court and Sudan. The A.U., the Arab League and the U.N. are working together to solve the issue. We hope to have a good compromise based on a resolution of the U.N. Security Council.

What are the roots of contemporary terrorism? Many say that it is the occupation by foreign forces in Iraq and Afghanistan that has contributed significantly to the problem.

If this question implies that one of the roots of terrorism is Islamic culture, then we reject that. If it is implied that Islamic culture or religion is behind any terrorist act, then it is a mistaken and confused point of view. This is an international phenomenon. We have seen it in Japan. Remember the Red Army. There was the Bader Meinhoff in Germany. We have seen it in Latin American countries too. So it is not Islam or Christianity. There are so many reasons.

In the past several years, so many things have happened. The policies against the terrorists have not succeeded. You cannot accuse people of being terrorists without proof. You have to mobilise all forces on a platform that is an agreed one, a consensus platform. Not one state or one philosophy imposing a platform and then asking everybody to join in and they just agreeing or accepting. The goal is to defeat international terrorism. This is a noble goal, a sound goal. But this has to be done when all of us are equal parties and not followers.

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