Monday, July 19, 2010

Reducing Security Threats Enhances Middle East Peace Prospects

By Merle David Kellerhals Jr. -- Staff Writer

Washington - A nuclear-armed Iran would pose the greatest threat to regional security in the Middle East, says Assistant Secretary of State Andrew Shapiro.

"While the most grave, the Iranian nuclear program is one of many serious security threats in the region," Shapiro added during a July 16 speech at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based policy research center. Conventional arms can be - and often are - as dangerous and threatening as a nuclear device, he said.

"These conventional challenges intersect with the asymmetrical threats posed by Hezbollah and Hamas, whose rockets indiscriminately target Israeli population centers, and whose extensive arms-smuggling operations, many of which originate in Tehran and Damascus, weaken regional security and disrupt efforts to establish lasting peace between Israel and its neighbors," Shapiro said.

"As Secretary [of State Hillary Rodham] Clinton has often said, the status quo is unsustainable. Without a comprehensive regional peace, the Middle East will never unlock its full potential, and Israel will never be fully secure," Shapiro said.

"President Obama has also made achieving peace and recognized secure borders for Israel a top administration priority," he said.

Shapiro, who is the assistant secretary for political-military affairs at the State Department, told the audience that for more than six decades Israelis have guarded their borders effectively. But with advances in technology, new levels of U.S.-Israeli security cooperation are required.

"Despite efforts at containment, rockets with better guidance systems, greater range and more destructive power are spreading across the region," Shapiro said in his prepared remarks. He added that the terrorist groups Hezbollah to the north of Israel and Hamas to the south have amassed thousands of short-range and medium-range rockets, and while still crude, they pose a serious danger to civilian lives.

Shapiro said a secure Israel makes it easier to advance the peace process.

"This administration believes that pursuing peace between Israel and the Palestinians and Israel and its neighbors can be a mutually reinforcing process," he said. "We are fully committed to Israel's security because it enhances our own national security and because it helps Israel to take the steps necessary for peace."

(by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State)