Posted on November 23, 1992 in Washington Watch

The transition from the Bush to the Clinton Administration is in full swing. Not only did President-elect Bill Clinton come to Washington this week to meet with Congressional leaders on Capitol Hill and President George Bush at the White House, but the Democrats’ transition offices have opened; and they are beginning to lay out their plans for the most massive shift of government policy and personnel that this city has witnessed in the past twelve years.

With headquarters in both Washington, DC and Little Rock, Arkansas, the Clinton/Gore transition team will be casting its nets widely to gather the information on both policy and personnel that they will need to move forward. The process will be a careful one, since there will likely be many different policy options to consider and personnel choices to make, and because Clinton has shown that he intends to personally have a hand in every major decision. It was Clinton’s pattern during his eleven years as Governor to study a problem from as many different angles as possible before making a decision.

In the shadow of these developments, two events took place on Friday morning which will be noted by the Clinton/Gore transition staff. Both of the events focused on the seriousness effects of this period on the Middle East peace process and for U.S.-Arab relations.

The National Press Club was the site first of a press briefing by the heads of the Arab negotiating teams to the peace talks, followed a short while later by a briefing given by the heads of most of the major Arab American and U.S. Middle East organizations.

The tone of the session held by the peace delegates was quite gloomy. Their presentations conveyed a realistic assessment that after seven rounds, the peace talks have all but stalled, coupled with an implicit warning that the peace process itself could unravel if progress is not forthcoming.

In a real sense, the onus for further movement in the talks now rests with the incoming Clinton Administration. All sides are now waiting to see what degree of commitment the Democrats will show toward the peace process, and what direction they will take in an effort to move the process forward.

It was precisely to address the urgent need to act on these issues that the Presidents of the Arab American Institute [AAI], the National Association of Arab Americans [NAAA], the Center for Policy analysis on Palestine [CPP], the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations [NCUSAR] and the U.S.-Arab Chamber of Commerce [USACC] joined together to present a briefing for the press and policy experts entitled “The Clinton Administration and the Arab World: Some Early Advice.”

The briefing reflected an attempt by the five groups, acting in coalition with one another, to propose policy papers for the incoming Administration, to suggest realistic and simple policy options that a Clinton transition team could adopt to build and improve U.S.-Arab relations.

In my opening remarks, I noted that:

“The future of the Middle East and U.S.-Middle East relations rests in large measure on the success of the current peace process.

“After the Cold War and the Gulf War, the region hangs in the balance; our nation does not have the luxury of choosing domestic over foreign policy or selecting which region on which to focus our energies.

“Events in the Middle East have consumed the attention of this country’s last three Presidents precisely because stability and peace in the region are so critical to U.S. interests. President-elect Bill Clinton must keep in mind that in the last 15 years the United States has sent more troops, lost more lives, provided more aid and sold more arms to the Middle East than to any other region in the world. Moreover, the Arab world alone is this country’s 12th largest trading partner.

“Fortunately, the Clinton administration inherits a carefully crafted peace process. Statements on supporting the continuity in the ongoing Middle East peace talks or democratization in the region may not be enough.

“With respect to the peace talks, there are signs that the talks have, at best, become little more than ritual. The meetings in Washington serve more to highlight tensions than resolve them. Meanwhile, in the Middle East, there are dangerous developments that threaten to unravel the entire peace process.

“It is interesting that those who most celebrated the defeat of George Bush were those who never fully supported the peace process in the first place, and who are working to undermine it now: extremists in Israel, and pro-Iranian and Iraqi supporters in Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza. They have been emboldened by the stalled negotiations and the upcoming change in the White House, and are applying pressure to test both the strength of their own leaders and that of the incumbent American Administration.

“The next two months could be critical. They could bring about real continuity and meaningful negotiations or they could bear witness to destabilizing tension and violence, leading to a victory for extremists and a destruction of the process.”

I and my colleagues (George Salem, President of NAAA; Hisham Sharabi, Chairman of the CPP; John Duke Anthony, President of NCUSAR; and Jean AbiNader, President of USACC) then offered a series of specific and realistic policy recommendations for President-elect Clinton. In outline form, they included:

· Appointments
The transition team should act to ensure that key Middle East foreign policy posts go to foreign policy professionals who can begin their tenures with respect from all sides.

· Avoid “Doctrinal Statements” and Adhere to “Rules of the Game”
President-elect Clinton and his staff ought to avoid statements that prejudice the outcome of negotiations and compromise the U.S. role as an “honest broker.” There also needs to be a reaffirmation of the ground rules established in Madrid last year: UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 and “land for peace” are the basis of the negotiations.

· Special Envoy
The President-elect should either appoint a special envoy with authority, and credibility on both sides, or charge his Secretary of State to offer “gap-bridging” proposals when negotiations reach an impasse. This envoy should act on the one-year timetable proposed by Secretary Baker and accepted by all the parties to the talks.

· Arab American Role
Just as the Jewish American community is utilized for its foreign policy expertise and other resources, the transition team and Clinton Administration should draw on the expertise and resources of the Arab American community. This community could also act as a bridge to the Arab world.

· Lebanon
The President-elect ought to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to UN Security Council Resolution 425 and the Ta’if Accords in Lebanon. By executive order Clinton should lift the travel ban on Lebanon, reopen the U.S. Consular Office in Beirut, and provide direct U.S. assistance to strengthen the central government of Lebanon and the Lebanese Army.

· Convene Middle East Policy Summit
In order to give U.S. Middle East policy its best chance of success, the new Clinton/Gore team should convene a panel of regional and U.S. experts who could inform policy makers and diplomatic appointees with regard to the political dynamics at work in each Arab country. This group could help the new Administration conduct a review of the complex relations between the U.S. and its long-standing Arab partners in order to forge even stronger bilateral ties based on mutual respect and understanding.

· U.S.-Arab Trade
The incoming Administration should signal its active interest in promoting regional trade opportunities by taking an active role in the U.S.-GCC Economic Dialogue Business Conference to be held in early 1993. It should move quickly to appoint ambassadors to key posts, and assure that these ambassadors have are given strong trade promotion mandates.

· Liberalization
The Clinton/Gore team should, as it promised during the campaign, assess the value that humanitarian, foreign aid and human rights gestures can make in advancing our interest with countries whose liberalization efforts can be strengthened through economic assistance and business development.

· Energy Policy
In devising its energy policy, the new Administration should take care to distinguish between “vulnerability of energy supplies and dependence on stable supplies. U.S. relationships with the nations which supply its energy needs should be a vital element in developing the overall agenda for the Administration.

· GCC-U.S. Security Relations
President-elect Clinton must reaffirm the U.S. commitment to consolidating U.S.-GCC cooperation in areas such as security and defense, and examine the possibility of deepening cooperation on issues such as intelligence sharing and joint maneuvers. Clinton needs to personally commit his Administration to maintaining a credible security role in the region.


The coming together of so many major Arab American and Middle East policy organizations is a very positive development. It marks the beginning of an Arab American effort to develop a coherent strategic approach to the new Administration, and to the evolving U.S. Middle East policy debate.

A transition period is a time for new ideas and a democratic discourse. Doors are open for input from different perspectives. It would be equally important at this point, if leading institutions and thinkers in the Arab world were to present some desirable and realistic policy challenges to the incoming Administration.

For comments or information, contact

comments powered by Disqus