Remarks by Walid Maalouf
Alternate Representative of the US to the 58th GA of the UN
The Federal City Club
Friday, March 12, 2004
I am thrilled to return to the Federal City Club and see my good friends and colleagues. I have known you for many years and you've perhaps seen me as this international banker who is always pushing for business opportunities. What a change from then to now. Speaking before you as a representative of the United States to the United Nations, isn't this a great country?
When I arrived at our US Mission in New York , on September 15, 2003 Ambassador John Negroponte had all of the 200 employees of the Mission gathered for a general meeting. As newcomers we were asked to stand and introduce ourselves. I was considering what to say besides stating my name in this new environment and with this accent I have. When my turn came I stood and said "I am so delighted to be with you here today, I am so honored to be named as a Public Delegate, a Lebanese American immigrant born overseas and here I am with you today, this happens only in this great country of ours." Well, one senior officer later on came to me and said: "Don't feel that bad Henry Kissinger did it before you." On that same day I was sworn in to my office. What an experience and what a great feeling I had.
Each year, world leaders gather in New York City for a general debate at the United Nations. I was privileged to be present this year at the General Assembly since President George W. Bush had appointed me Alternate Representative of the US to the 58 th General Assembly of the UN. Every year the President chooses three people from the public to represent the US at the General Assembly. Their job is to push for the President's agenda. Our US agenda was full and diverse from social issues to financial and political reforms that I will outline in a moment.
The general membership of the UN is made up of one hundred and ninety-two nations. Each nation has one vote, regardless of size. The Heads of States are all present at the first two weeks of the General Assembly and it was quite impressive to see French President Chirac, German Premier Schroeder, Spanish Premier Aznar and many others in one hall. The President of the General Assembly for this year is Julian Hunt, the former foreign minister of Santa Lucia. The Secretary General attends the opening ceremony. Following his remarks, the heads of delegations speak, beginning with the President of Brazil followed by the President of the United States . The President of Brazil speaks first because they were not included in the permanent representation of the Security Council and therefore they secured this spot in the yearly meetings of the GA. Head of delegations could be the president, the vice-president, the prime minister or the foreign minister of any particular nation. Every year President & Mrs. Bush host a reception for all the Heads of States and dignitaries and I was honored to be present this year.
As I mentioned a moment ago, the US agenda this year was diverse and far-reaching:
1. Women in political participation 2. Ensure a global fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria 3. Reform the second committee economically and financially 4. Cyber-Crime / Cyber Security 5. Ban on all form of cloning 6. Keep working on the overall UN budget discipline 7. Human trafficking of women and children 8. Support for Middle East Peace 9. Support for Human Rights Resolutions 10. Counter-Terrorism 11. The International Criminal Court 12. Disarmament
We also campaigned for three United Nations Board or Committee positions to be filled by experienced American citizens: on the International Narcotic Board, on the Committee Against Torture, on the Committee on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Simultaneously, several issues were at hand at the Security Council in particular the Iraq resolution 1511, which passed unanimously by all 15 members of the Security Council.
As we campaigned to help elect Americans to United Nations positions we also campaigned on every issue on our agenda. In addition to the three Public Delegates, the State Department dispatches eight senior advisors from the five geographical areas of the world. They are former Ambassadors and high-ranking diplomats. We all work the United Nations membership asking them to support our issues. On September 23 rd President Bush told all of us at the Mission how important it is to keep engaged with the UN and to solicit their support for our agenda. What I experienced is that the United States does not take any unilateral approach. On the contrary, this Administration is continually lobbying the world for their ideas.
I was a member of the US delegation and one of five Ambassadors, beside the Permanent Representative, who are required to speak at the UN, either at the General Assembly or at any of the six different committees within the organization. I spoke on several occasions on behalf of the US . I found the UN a vibrant place. The actual committee meetings lasted until December 20, 2003. After voting on resolutions separately in the different committees, all resolutions go to the General Assembly for a final vote. 288 resolutions were adopted and voted on this year.
The topic generating the most discussion at the UN is the Middle East . Sometimes it looks to me that it is the only issue at hand. In both the Security Council and the General Assembly the Israeli Arab conflict is at the heart of the discussions. Because of my background, I was invited to become an integral part of the Middle East team at our Mission . I made statements regarding the UNRWA, the Israeli Children, human rights that included several Arab countries, The Golan Heights and Lebanon . I was the first ever US official to speak in Arabic in the fourth committee and in the United Nations.
President George W. Bush's moves in Iraq are the right thing to do. The Middle East is like a very old tree with deep roots so deep that there is no way to make changes, from within, without the kind of shake-up that took place in Iraq . And now the President has laid down a vision for a new Middle East . The new policy is well explained in his two speeches at the National Endowment for Democracy on November 6 th and at the Whitehall Palace in London on November 19 th . Those speeches are as important as Ronald Reagan's speech in Berlin asking former President Mikhael Gorbachov to "tear down this wall". President George W. Bush puts democracy in the Middle East in motion and his speech will have a great affect in the region in the near future. When he said in London : "We must shake off decades of failed policy in the Middle East . Your nation and mine, in the past, have been willing to make a bargain, to tolerate oppression for the sake of stability. Longstanding ties often led us to overlook the faults of local elites. Yet this bargain did not bring stability or make us safe. It merely bought time, while problems festered and ideologies of violence took hold" With his forward strategy of freedom and by advancing freedom in the greater Middle East , he will help end cycles of dictatorship and radicalism.
I felt I was at this general assembly at the right time. In her book, Madeline Albright spoke of her experience at the United Nations but the time she enjoyed most was when she had to tackle policies related to her ancestral country the former Czechoslovakia that became the Czech Republic . Free and Democratic Czech Republic . She said that these were the most interesting times of her United Nations career.
I had somehow the same exact feelings when on behalf of the United States I asked Syria to respect the sovereignty of my ancestral country of Lebanon . For the first time the sovereignty of Lebanon was mentioned in the United Nation's General Assembly, thanks to President Bush's administration, which is the first US administration to touch on this subject on this multilateral stage in 27 years. This is how long Syria has been meddling in its affairs. In Lebanon many newspapers covered the exchange I had with the Syrian Ambassador and the hope of the Lebanese people for freedom and democracy is again high and they feel it is at hand. Here in the States I received hundreds of emails, letters, phone calls from all over the country thanking President Bush for bringing our values to Lebanon and the rest of the region through the United Nations.
Whatever goes on in the Middle East President Bush has demonstrated belief and hope in the people of that region when he said in his State of the Union: " We also hear doubts that democracy is a realistic goal for the greater Middle East , where freedom is rare. Yet it is mistaken, and condescending, to assume that whole cultures and great religions are incompatible with liberty and self-government. I believe that God has planted in every human heart the desire to live in freedom. And even when that desire is crushed by tyranny for decades, it will rise again"This is so true.
President Bush, in more than five to six major speeches spoke about democracy in the Middle East . He is consistent in his approach and determined to succeed in this major change in policy toward that region. Make no mistake about it. The President's determination is clear when he said as recently as February 4 th at the Library of Congress in his remarks on Winston Churchill and the War on Terror:" America is pursuing a forward strategy of freedom in the greater Middle East . We are challenging the enemies of reform, confronting the allies of terror, and expecting a higher standard from our friends. American policy looked away while men and women were oppressed, their rights ignored and their hopes stifled. That era is over and we can be confident. As in Germany and Japan , and Eastern Europe, liberty will overcome oppression in the Middle East ".
I believe democracy will lead to peace. Peace is when you settle for less than what you ask for and if the parties in the Middle East want real peace they need to settle for less than what they think they want and this is the price of peace.
Before leaving the Mission one of the career diplomats asked me what I would be taking away from this assignment. It did not take me long to say, I am leaving this assignment feeling extremely proud to have worked with such a dedicated team who are ensuring on a daily basis that America remains a great place to be. As our troops in Iraq and around the world are working on a daily basis to keep America a safe place to be and to help bring freedom and peace to all of humanity.
Thank you and May God protect the United States always and forever.