‘Many countries in need of Arab Spring’
Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid Ibn Ahmad Al Khalifa told RT that bringing democracy and the rule of law to the Gulf states was never going to be easy.
RT: Let's start with the Syrian dossier. Some say the Cooperation Council of the Arab States of the Gulf is playing a larger role than it was created to do, in resolving this crisis. Sometimes it even substitutes for the Arab League. Do you believe its position can help?
Khalid Ibn Ahmad Al Khalifa, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister: God knows this crisis is very important, and very dangerous. Syria is one of the security pillars in the region.
If Syria is stable and secure its citizens would live peacefully and quietly. Today's events in Syria however are quite scary. People die daily, and a number of cities are in chaos and unsecured. Some areas are peaceful, but generally there are big problems in the country.
The Arab League assumed responsibility for resolving this crisis and interacting with the conflicting sides. Let's look at Libya, where the international intervention took place, and the Arab States acted according to the progress there. In Syria's instance, it was the inter-Arabic intervention, especially on the part of the Council states. It was intended to resolve the crisis in the interests of our entire region. I hope that we, the Arabs and residents of this region will be able to resolve our problem on our own.
RT:Do I understand you correctly that you're against any intervention in Syria's situation, except for regional forces?
FM: You're right. Firstly, nobody outside this region wants to intervene in resolving this very complicated problem. The consequences of an intervention would impact all countries of the region. Keeping this in mind, we believe that the Syrian leadership and opposition forces should reach a solution without direct intervention, with support of the Arabic community and the neighboring Arabic states.
RT: In your opinion, what should be the main content of the program on maintaining military, political and perhaps food security in the Persian Gulf states, in view of external threats?
FM: There are many nuances here. One thing's for certain – maintaining security in the region is a large responsibility for the entire world. Our region and its economic and energy resources are very important for the economy of the entire world, of the US, China and Russia. This region should be stable. The Council states such as Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Yemen, Pakistan, India and Turkey are all interested in preserving stability in this region. And they bear a certain responsibility for it.
RT: Does the Council have a body for coordinating or adequately responding to the security threats which we're discussing today?
FM: The Council states don’t see a need for establishing this body. The Council itself is this body. Recently, especially in view of the events in Bahrain, the Council proved to be a consolidated force which understands its responsibility to the world community in maintaining security and stability in the region. A good example is the economic help provided to Bahrain and Oman by the Council's members. In the instance of an external threat to security and stability, the Peninsula Shield Force – which was established to respond to any danger – will come into force. In less than a month, the Council will hold a very important meeting, the first summit since the turbulence of the Arab world.
RT:You said that this summit would be the first one since the revolution, the so-called Arab Spring. What does the Kingdom of Bahrain think about these events?
FM: Bahrain's position on the Arab Spring revolutions was clear and comprehensive from day one, even before the events in Bahrain itself. At the meeting in Istanbul, our Crown Prince stated that changes which are taking place in the entire Arab world are very important and significant. These changes should be successful; but we have to ensure that they don’t result in an escalation of tension. In a number of countries, however, some events aren't related to the Arab Spring. Particularly I mean my country, Bahrain. These events hadn't happened in the history of the country's protest movement before. Demands had been expressed in the past, but the recent events had a different pretext. It's also worth mentioning that this Spring is not limited to Arab states. It indeed started in the Arab world, in Tunisia, but then moved into the Arab heart, Egypt, where it received its title. But would it really stay within Arab borders? Many countries out there are in need of a so-called Arab Spring which is yet to reach them. The Arab Spring gives a warning.
RT: Do you believe that threats of an air attack on Iranian facilities are real? Or do they rather intend escalating tension in the region, so as to push countries towards buying additional weapons? Some are saying that it's being blown out of proportion.
FM: I don’t believe these threats are blown out of proportion. Considering the sources which expressed these threats of using force; they are quite real. We remember Israel threatening to attack from the air; and indeed Israel bombed nuclear missiles in the region, in Iraq. What would keep it from attacking Iran the same way? This potential development is very dangerous. The region will end up on the edge of an abyss of an unknown depth and width. We don’t want to hear any military threats against the Iranian nuclear facilities or anything else. All we want to see is a peaceful development.
The only thing required from Iran is transparency in its nuclear program. This is a regular requirement. We confirm Iran's right to peaceful nuclear energy of all kinds. Today we have the IAEA report on Iran's research on the military use of nuclear energy. This is very dangerous, as it's a threat to the whole region. Why does it need nuclear weapons? If Iran's program is fully transparent, and new observers are appointed to replace those who'd been fired, then the door is open for dialogue.
What's there to be afraid of, if this energy is used for peaceful purposes only? This is all that Iran's required to do. When this is done we will be the first to defend their right to this energy and a nuclear program. They should prove that their program is civil, peaceful and fully transparent. Today we don’t see this; therefore we cannot take any steps to defend them.
RT: Do you believe integration and cooperation between the countries of the Cooperation Council has reached the level that European countries have – with one currency, one political, economic and social area; solidarity and openness of the whole society?
FM: I have absolutely no doubt about it. Just look at the components of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Countries – either within the Council or economic agreements, within the Customs Union or Advisory Council. Directions are many – I have mentioned those that have just occurred to me. All these issues have been on the agendas of the EU and other unions.
ASEAN is another example inside South-East Asia. All these components will certainly lead to integral unification. The Cooperation Council is exactly that kind of union in terms of integral unification. It’s a union addressing the problems of its brothers in Yemen. As for other important affairs, the Cooperation Council acts as an integral union. You could say that these moves by the Council testify it was created and developing in the right direction to consolidate all the positive forces in the region.
RT:Do you think the Yemen crisis is close to an end after President Ali Abdullah Saleh signed the Gulf initiative on agreeing to resign?
FM: Yemen is not a simple country. I have always stressed that. When addressing conferences on security in Yemen and meetings of the Council, I said Yemen could not lose as a state. The policy of certain individuals and the group in power may lose, but a country like Yemen, may not. That is why the document signed by Saleh in Riyadh, with the king of Saudi Arabia and ministers from Cooperation countries attending, is very important in settling the Yemen crisis. It testifies that Yemen is aware of its responsibility, and I am sure it will overcome its difficulties.
RT:There is one more burning question: the Iraq Dossier. After US announced its full withdrawal of troops from Iraq, the government led by Nouri al-Maliki asked the USA to leave about 10,000 troops in the country.
FM: It would be wrong to say that the Arabs have left Iraq to face its problems. And we should not say that at all. Let me give an example. After Saddam Hussein’s regime was overthrown, and during the transition period, was it not the Arab League that appealed to all parties of Iraqi civil society to hold a conference for all political parties and layers of Iraqi society? Countries such as Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Turkey and Iran, which opened their embassies in the Iraqi capital? It was us, Bahrain. Egypt opened its embassy, but the ambassador was killed. The United Arab Emirates opened its embassy.
What is most-concerning to us is security in Iraq. The issue of terrorism penetrating the country is also very important. If you ask me what kind of Iraq I would like to see, I would say Iraq should become an example of a country where human rights are observed, and the bright future of the country is guaranteed. Iraq has been part of the Arab nation, as well as member of the Arab League.
Providing security in the country remains a burning issue for the Arab presence in the country. There are very many threats.
RT: What is your assessment of the relationship between the Kingdom of Bahrain and Russia? There has been exchange of mutual visits. The king visited Russia recently. Bahrain is becoming a major partner of Russia in the region.
FM: We are watching developments in Russia. Our relationship is getting deeper and deeper. Most important is to gain practical advantage from such visits for our two countries. The goal is to develop the relationship not only with Bahrain but other countries, too – members of the Cooperation Council. When talking to one of the Council countries it is necessary to keep in mind that you are talking to all its members. We strive to be partners with Russia in security, stability and development of this region.