- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Egypt’s warning

Egypt’s foreign minister yesterday endorsed President Bush’s new strategy for Iraq because, he said, his government supports the objectives and fears widespread violence and anarchy if the United States fails to stabilize the country.

Ahmed Aboul Gheit urged the United States to dismantle the Shi’ite and Sunni militias and reinstate many of the political and military leaders who were dismissed because they were members of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party.

“You must dismantle the militias or forget about Iraq,” he told foreign editor David W. Jones and other reporters at a breakfast meeting at the Willard InterContinental hotel. “They are responsible for the violence. If they are left alone, they will be the master of the government.”

Mr. Gheit expressed strong opposition to a premature withdrawal of U.S. troops because Iraq would descend into even more violence and destabilize the region. He predicted that the conflict would draw neighboring Sunni Muslim nations to protect Iraq’s Sunni minority and Shi’ite nations to support the other side.

“The Iraqis will fight for two, maybe three years,” he said. “The killing will be enormous. Some of the Sunni neighbors may intervene. Some of the Shi’ites from Pakistan may intervene.”

In the end, he predicted, another dictator like Saddam will emerge, and “you will have 50 years, if not 100 years, of authoritarian rule.”

Mr. Gheit said Iran is benefiting from the instability in Iraq, which under Saddam was a regional balance to the neighboring theocratic regime.

“Iran finds Iraq, which for a long time had balanced it, destroyed,” he said. “That vacuum has to be filled, either by Iran or by the one that destroyed the balance, the United States, or by an international Arab presence.”

After the September 11 attacks on the United States, Iran essentially woke up from 25 years of isolation and began pursuing its own foreign policy goals, Mr. Gheit said.

“[They are] reaching out to Africa, talking to Sudan, Somalia, reaching out to Latin America,” he said. “They are working with Hamas and Hezbollah. All this costs lots and lots of money, and they have it.”

He urged the Bush administration to develop diplomatic, not military, options to stop Iran’s nuclear program. Attacking Iran “would be an extremely bad option,” he added.

“It would not be effective. It will just delay Iran’s nuclear program and create anger in the Arab-Muslim world,” he said.

“We don’t want to see you burn your fingers [in Iran]. You are too valuable to us. You are a beacon of economic growth and responsibility. You provide stability. You represent lots of good things in life. …

“Sometimes you misbehave, but the totality is, not that you are a benign empire, but an empire that uses its mind well. Look at your schools, your research facilities, your philosophers…. Yours is a society that is beyond anybody’s reach.”

Wrecking Venezuela

Venezuela’s anti-American president, Hugo Chavez, is “destroying” his oil-rich South American nation, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday.

“I do believe that the president of Venezuela is really destroying his own country, economically, politically,” she said, testifying on the State Department’s 2008 budget before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Miss Rice added that she wants to avoid a “rhetorical contest” with Mr. Chavez, who regularly denounces the United States and called President Bush “Satan” in a speech at the United Nations last year. She said a verbal confrontation with Mr. Chavez would take the “spotlight off our very positive agenda in Latin America.”

Miss Rice noted that U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield in Venezuelahas pursued positive public diplomacy through efforts such as donating baseball equipment to youth teams, but Mr. Chavez continues to rail against him.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@ washingtontimes.com.

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