Speaker1: Welcome to the Rumi Forum. Luncheon series today we have Allen Keiswetter with us. He is a scholar at the Middle East Institute and a former Deputy Assistant Secretary Of State for Near East Affairs and he has just returned from a trip to the Arab peninsula. He will share his insights into the forthcoming Iraqi elections, US policy toward Iran and the Gulf perception of Obama’s first year in office. I would also like to say that Mr. Keiswetter has taught courses on global security, Islam and the Middle East at the National Defense Intelligence College, The National War College and the University of Maryland. A retired senior Foreign Service officer in the department of state. He has been a senior advisor on the Middle East for the US delegation, the United Nations General Assembly, Director of Arabian Peninsula affairs in the Near East Bureau and NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary General for political affairs in Brussels. He also held post at the US embassies in Riyadh, Sanaa, Tunis, Khartoum, Bagdad and Beirut. So please welcome Allen Keiswetter.
Speaker 2: Thank you very much. I always start things like this by reminding people that the job of diplomats Rumi Forum and other things is cross cultural communication and when I was the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, this was reinforced to me several times over and one thing that I did when I served in the Middle East was to take pictures of signs mistranslated in the English. One of them in Sanaa in Yemen was at a hotel where they proudly announced that they do all kinks of laundry and there was another near my home which was a beautician’s school, but the English was a literal translation of Arabic and it proudly announced a pretty technical institute. My favorite, however, was in Saada, which is in the north of Yemen and there was obviously an English language trained physiotherapist, but physiotherapist is a very long word so he had hyphenated it, I presumed it was a man, probably said physio-the-rapist. Anyway what goes in one side will always come out the same on the other side and this point I think is made by this observations. Today I would like to talk about three things a little bit about the trip.
I have yearly made a trip to the Middle East and sometimes more often and I would like to contrast this year with last year. Secondly I would like to talk about Iraq because elections are happening there on Sunday on March 7, and thirdly I would like to talk a little bit about Iran because I think this is probably the most important issue in the Gulf area at this time, start with general observations. When I was there a year ago and I visited all of the Gulf countries a year ago and attended two major conferences. There was a great sense of relief as that change was coming, obviously a great sense of disillusionment with the Bush administration and [???] policies and the underlying word was hopeful change. Great expectations of the President, there was even a cartoon that showed President Obama not 10 feet tall, but like a statue at Easter Island the expectations were too tall, were so large. This year you go back and there is not disillusionment, but there is a sense of realism to some extent. Now a year later there is great appreciation, gratitude at the administrationed outreach to the Muslim world. One of the conferences that I attended was the US Islamic Forum in Doha about 300 people, the secretary of state came and made a major address, Richard Hoolbrooke came and made a major address and we also had Senator Kerry. It was an attempt in fact to restate in strong terms the interest of the Obama administration and developing relations with the Muslim world. There was a video interview with the President where he announced the appointment of envoy to the organization of Islamic conference.
That being said the dominant issue of the conference was the Middle East peace process and what would be done. In this regard I participated in a small group called the workshop on religion and diplomacy, a rather illustrious group that had been chaired by Bishop *Chain here of [???] here in Washington, included Cardinal McCarrick also in Washington but also an Ayatollah to the Imams of cultural and topologist, Sufi guru from India and me. I was there as the diplomat. We didn’t have a great deal of difficulty coming to common views on things, but the relevance of all this is that we chose our moment to ask to have Cardinal McCarrick ask a question to the secretary of state and the question was what more can be done for the people in Gaza. In other words we thought that there should be a moral imperative involved and the answer the secretary gave was sort of true to line, we are doing what we can, we hope to do more and the co-chair of the session was Hamad Bin Jassim who is the prime minister of Qatar and he gave a rather expansive eloquent 5 minute *oration about the plight of the Palestinian people and two days later his government announced they were sending $10 million and I guess that is good or bad depending on how much you were expecting, but none the less I relate this story because there is still hope that the US can make a difference on variety of issues particularly the middle east peace process, but there is also an increasing recognition what Henry Kissinger used to call the external realities or the objective circumstances may not be the most opportune time for doing so and maybe the best that can happen at this point is that President Obama can keep trying [???] circumstances are more ripe for [???].