- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 15, 2004

Prior to his departure for Washington to meet President Bush, Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was interviewed in Tunis by Andrew Borowiec, a correspondent for The Washington Times. This is a partial transcript of the interview.

Question: What are your expectations from this visit?

Answer: This visit will offer a renewed opportunity to have a deep and comprehensive dialogue with President George W. Bush and other American officials. The aim is to elevate the Tunisian-American relations to the level of a strategic partnership in all fields.

Q: What is your position concerning the “road map” peace plan established by President Bush for the Middle East?

A: We commend the U.S. administration’s position and President Bush’s personal and clear support for the establishment of a Palestinian state. We hope the U.S. administration will pursue its endeavors with all concerned parties in order to put an end to the grave deterioration of the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories; to revive the negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis; and also to review the other processes in such a way as to establish the foundation of a real, just and durable peace for all the peoples in the region.

Q: What about Iraq?

A: We consider it necessary to promptly tackle the situation in Iraq, to endeavor to establish appropriate conditions in order to bring life back to normalcy, and to further involve the international community and the United Nations in managing the postwar period and the reconstruction work. The aim is to ensure for Iraq the conditions of stability and security, while respecting its sovereignty and territorial unity.

Q: What role do you see for the United States in North Africa?

A: Given the important strategic position of this region … we endeavor to consolidate integration among the countries of the Arab Maghreb Union [five North African states], hoping that our European and American partners will support our action. … The U.S. Middle East Partnership Initiative … will certainly accelerate the pace of development in the Maghreb countries.

Q: What are your major achievements in Tunisia?

A: We have made major strides on the path of sustainable development and recorded numerous achievements in the political, economic, social and cultural fields. … Tunisia ranks first in Africa in the fields of competitiveness and has been included in the list of the 80 most developed countries in the world.

The middle class has been widened, so that it now accounts for two-thirds of the population. The demographic growth rate is 1.1 percent and life expectancy at birth has reached 73 years in 2001, against 67 years in 1987.

We have reinforced liberties and protected human rights. We have changed Tunisia into a pluralist society and its parliament into a multicolored legislative body.

Q: What remains to be done politically and economically?

A: We have already started implementing the provisions of the new text of the constitution, concerning the reinforcement of the plurality of candidacies for the coming presidential elections and the participation of all parties. … In the economic field, we have tried to ensure Tunisia’s adaptation to the economic changes in the world today. … We have taken measures and offered incentives to consolidate investor confidence in Tunisia and in its economic policy.

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