Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton acknowledged the limits of US power Thursday in a combative exchange with an Al-Jazeera reporter, saying, "We can't stop a lot of countries from doing things that we disagree with and we speak out against."
In the Qatari capital of Doha for a regional development conference, Clinton was asked why Arab countries should listen to her criticism when the US can't even get its longtime ally, Israel, to make peace with the Palestinians.
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"Israel is a sovereign country and it makes its own decisions," Clinton responded.
"I wish there were a way we could tell a lot of countries what they should do because there are a lot of countries doing things that are not in the best interests of their own people, their neighbors or the world," she added.
Clinton pointed out that Israel has reasons to be cautious. "You often make decisions based on your own experience and history," she said. "And when the Israelis pulled out of Lebanon they got Hizbullah and 40,000 rockets and when they pulled out of Gaza they got Hamas and 20,000 rockets."
Still, she said, the US will continue to work toward achieving a separate state for the Palestinians.
"We have spent a lot of time and we will continue to spend a lot of time working to build enough confidence on both sides that they can make decisions that will by necessity mean compromises," the secretary said.
'Middle East faces disaster without reform'
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday delivered a stark warning to Arab leaders that they will face growing unrest, extremism and even rebellion unless they quickly address depleting oil and water reserves and enact real economic and political reform.
Wrapping up a four-nation tour of US allies in the Persian Gulf with unusually blunt remarks to a regional development conference in the Qatari capital of Doha, Clinton said economic and political space must be opened up for the Arab world's exploding youth population, women and minorities.
Without that, respect for human rights, improved business climates and an end to pervasive corruption, she said young people and others will increasingly turn to radicalism and violence that will bleed outside the region, threatening not only Middle Eastern stability and security but the rest of the world.
"In too many places, in too many ways, the region's foundations are sinking into the sand," she told officials at the Forum for the Future conference. "The new and dynamic Middle East ... needs firmer ground if it is to take root and grow everywhere."
Clinton made her comments after visiting the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Yemen and Qatar. During her trip, civil unrest continued unabated in Tunisia and Algeria, Egypt remained tense after disputed elections and a political crisis hit Lebanon, underscoring what Clinton said where deep concerns about trends in the Middle East.
"While some countries have made great strides in governance, in many others, people have grown tired of corrupt institutions and a stagnant political order," she said. She appealed for leaders to heed calls to rein in rampant graft and offer all of their people a better way of life.
"Those who cling to the status quo may be able to hold back the full impact of their countries' problems for a little while, but not forever," Clinton said. "If leaders don't offer a positive vision and give young people meaningful ways to contribute, others will fill the vacuum."
"Extremist elements, terrorist groups and others who would prey on desperation and poverty are already out there appealing for allegiance and competing for influence," she said. "This is a critical moment and this is a test of leadership for all of us."
Improving the climate for business and outside investment is one approach, she said. Critical to that is fighting corruption, she said, reeling off a list of complaints about payoffs she had heard from businesspeople around the broader Middle East and North Africa.
"There needs to be a concerted, constant chorus from the business community to end the corruption," Clinton said, her voice quavering with frustration.
At each of Clinton's stops in the Gulf, she met members of civil society, including women's rights activists, opposition leaders and students, encouraging them to speak out for reforms they see as necessary. She urged governments to listen to their citizens and to provide them job opportunities.
She hailed planning, development and innovation in Abu Dhabi and Dubai and congratulated vibrant civic groups in Oman that have helped improve the standard of living to among the highest in the Arab world.
But the limits of Clinton's message were clear in Yemen, a fragile,
politically closed and impoverished nation that is a critical US ally in
the war on terrorism. She said civil society in Yemen is viewed with
deep suspicion by the government.
"There is not the level of cooperation that there needs to be to improve
the lives of the Yemeni people and put Yemen on a firmer foundation
going forward," she said.
Developments in Yemen appeared to underscore that concern.
A day after Clinton met Yemeni opposition leaders at the US Embassy in
Sanaa, authorities in Yemen announced Wednesday that citizens must get
prior approval before entering a foreign embassy. Yemen's official news
agency Saba said the conditions were security precautions and part of
efforts to fight terrorism and to preserve the embassies' security.