Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Role of US for Middle East Peace Process

US Policy toward the Middle

While US President Bill Clinton achieved a number of successes in his Middle East policy during his first term in office—most noticeably the Oslo peace agreement between Israel and the PLO that was signed on the White House lawn in September 1993 – during his second term US Middle East policy has proved much more problematic. (1) Not only has the Oslo peace process run into serious difficulty, but the US “dual containment” policy toward Iran and Iraq which he inherited from the Bush Administration and then intensified during his first term, had also come close to collapse. The US has also encountered problems in peripheral areas of the region, such as Cyprus, while also becoming beset by the problem of terrorism.

Compounding the President’s difficulties was a Republican-dominated Congress that became increasingly assertive as President Clinton became bogged down in the Lewinsky affair, which after January 1998, began to seriously threaten his presidency. This essay will examine US policy toward the Middle East in the first two years of Clinton’s second term, looking first at what American goals were at the time President Clinton was re-elected in November 1996, and then assessing the administration’s success or failure in meeting these goals by January 1999. In particular, this essay will concentrate on the US role in the Arab-Israeli peace process and US policy toward Iraq and Iran.

The Arab-Israeli Peace Process

US goals for the Middle East in the period just before the 1996 US Presidential election were clearly and concisely spelled out by then US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Robert H. Pelletrau in a speech before the Fifth Annual Southwest Asia symposium of the US Central Command (CENTO).

“Securing a just, lasting and comprehensive peace between Israel and its neighbours remains a cornerstone of our overall foreign policy. A successful peace process will enhance regional stability, remove a rallying point for fanaticism, and enhance prospects for political and economic development. The United States is engaged in several fronts to advance peace negotiations, an engagement which in turn helps achieve our other objectives in the Middle East. These include preserving Israel’s security and well-being; maintaining security arrangements to preserve stability in the Persian Gulf and commercial access to its resources; combating terrorism and weapons proliferation; assisting US businesses, and promoting political and economic reform.

Pelletrau’s emphasis on the peace process as the key to overall US policy in the Middle East reflected a realization that had become concretized in US policy over the past two decades: that it was very difficult for the US to simultaneously maintain good relations with Israel and with friendly Arab states – especially the oil producers of the Persian Gulf – unless the US was working both assiduously and successfully to bring about a peace agreement between Israel and its Arab neighbours. While much of the Arab world, seeing a direct threat from Iraq, did rally around US efforts to repel Iraqi aggression against Kuwait in the August 1990-March 1991 period (during a time when the Arab-Israeli peace process was making little progress); during Clinton’s second term the US was to have a great deal of difficulty rallying Arab support against Iraqi violations of UN Security Council Resolutions in November 1997 and January/February 1998, at least in part because of the near collapse of the Arab-Israeli peace process. Conversely, once the US got the peace process back on track with the Wye Agreement in October 1998, Clinton got far more support from Arab states during the mid-November 1998 confrontation with Iraq, although as Wye faltered in December 1998, this was to negatively affect popular opinion in parts of the Arab world when the US finally decided to bomb Iraq.

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