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Middle East: U.S. Official In Europe To Promote Greater Regional Initiative

The United States has stepped up its efforts to explain and promote its reform plans for what it calls the Greater Middle East. Today, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Marc Grossman met with NATO and European Union officials in Brussels, having just returned from a tour of the region. There was little in Grossman's remarks to suggest that Washington is yielding to EU pressure to win recognition of its own concerns about the U.S. initiative.

Brussels, 5 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Having just completed a quick tour of the Greater Middle East, which took in Morocco, Egypt, Bahrain, and Jordan, Marc Grossman appeared in an upbeat mood.

The U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs said his discussions of U.S. reform plans had met with a lot of support from the four governments, as well as the representatives of civil society he met.

Grossman described the plans as "very practical and focused," mentioning grassroots projects such as supporting nongovernmental groups, empowering women, and helping "parliamentarians meet their responsibilities."

Grossman was careful to stress today that the United States does not want to impose anything from the outside. "We tried our very best to say that from our perspective some things that are very important," he said. "First, that the best ideas will come from the region, that this is not about the United States or Europe or anyone else imposing reform on people -- the best ideas will come from the region. Second, that all the countries in the region are different. Third, that people will pursue reform and change at a pace that is good for them and their societies and that we [the United States], as our president said, are patient."

Grossman also said growing interest among EU member states "shows the United States is not alone." He said the United States is not worried about the recent proliferation of EU initiatives aimed at the Middle East, which add to the bloc's already complex network of existing ties with the Mediterranean region.

"Because there're all these plans, it seems to me that it is very clear that this issue of how to support reform in the area -- it's on the agenda, it's on everyone's agenda. And the fact that there are all these plans seems to me to be an advantage. I don't worry about it. I think it's a positive," Grossman said.

But Grossman made clear the United States will still attempt to shape a common approach, in which the June summits with the EU, NATO, and the G-8 will each play a carefully coordinated role. He did not directly address the EU's ongoing work in the region, or how the United States could take it on board.

Grossman also appeared not to share the bloc's concern that no Greater Middle East initiative can succeed without addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict first. He said the United States does not intend to substitute the Greater Middle East initiative "in any way" for its interest in the peace process. But, he noted, "the reverse is also true."

"Although we need to recognize that these things are out there together, you can't wait until there's a complete peace in order to promote reforms. So, it's not a substitute, but it's not an excuse for doing nothing, either," he said.

“The New York Times" quoted Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher yesterday as saying that, while Grossman "has the right to say that, Egypt's position is that one of the basic obstacles to the reform process is the continuation of Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people and the Arab peoples."

Grossman said he had witnessed a "positive response" at NATO headquarters today, adding that the U.S. Middle Eastern initiative is firmly "on the trans-Atlantic agenda." Although he was careful to emphasize that a NATO consensus has yet to emerge and that dialogue continues, Grossman painted an ambitious picture of a future, "more energetic" NATO role in the area.

"Why not look to a day when NATO might be able to offer expertise to countries in the region? For example, there was just a terrible earthquake in Morocco. Why not think about a day when NATO -- with its civil-emergency planning expertise -- might be able to work with a country like Morocco?" he asked. "Why not think about a time when NATO could offer some interest in border security, for example? Why not think about a day -- and we're so focused as NATO was [in a conference] yesterday and today on trafficking in persons -- why couldn't NATO be involved in some fashion in talking to countries about trafficking -- whether it's trafficking in persons, trafficking in narcotics, or trafficking in weapons of mass destruction?"