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Cartoon Crisis

'Governments Are Not Responsible For What A Free Press Publishes'

'I recognize that the cartoons are, in fact, offensive to Muslims, and I think an honest recognition that they are offensive is appropriate. They are offensive. The fact of freedom of speech, the fact that a newspaper has the right to publish such a

'Governments Are Not Responsible For What A Free Press Publishes'

Remarks to European Press Roundtable by US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Washington, DC, February 6, 2006

Question: Do you think the Danish government or the European Union should apologize for the cartoons?

Daniel Fried: Well, governments are not responsible for what a free press publishes. So an apology, I don't see why an apology would be in order. I do think -- I recognize that the cartoons are, in fact, offensive to Muslims, and I think an honest recognition that they are offensive is appropriate. They are offensive. The fact of freedom of speech, the fact that a newspaper has the right to publish such a cartoon, does not mean that it has an obligation to publish such a cartoon. Again, this is not for governments to say, but I don't think an apology is not quite the right, is not the word I would think of. I think a recognition, an honest recognition that the cartoons are offensive would be useful. 

Of course it works both ways. There are many cartoons and many articles published in other parts of the world which offend the sensibilities of Christians and Jews. And some that are simply anti-Semitic. This is a fact. And those who call for apologies or those who take offense at the cartoons that were published last September need to be consistent and look at what in their own press might cause offense. There is a difference because the Danish press, a free press; the Danish press didn't represent the government. Many newspapers in the Middle East that publish offensive cartoons are more government-controlled. 

But this debate, and there is a debate, there's a debate in my country about the cartoons. Different editorial boards are debating this themselves. That is quite separate from the question of attacks on embassies or threats against Danes, Norwegians, Austrians, Europeans in general. There is no debate about that. That is absolutely impermissible, and governments have a responsibility not to incite. 

And let me state the obvious, which is that in Damascus demonstrations do not happen without the support of the Syrian government. So this is not an expression of honest outrage, it's an expression of the Syrian government's policy. In Beirut, the Lebanese government has expressed regret in a way that seems honest. It is a question that I cannot answer as to whether these were instigated from outside. 

I've heard reports that many arrested in Beirut were outsiders, and it may be. I'm not saying it was, but it may be that there was a substantial outside instigation. It's one thing for there to be a peaceful demonstration protesting the cartoons. That's a legitimate form of free speech, as well. It's quite another thing to have a violent protest and quite another to have government instigation of violence, turning a peaceful protest violent, if that's in fact what happened.

Question: The solidarity that you are witnessing today and was stated in the White House statement yesterday.

Daniel Fried: It was. Saturday.

Question: Was it not a little late? Because the first day of this affair the United States looked a little quiet.

Daniel Fried: I've heard that said and I've heard that repeated in the Danish press. But in fact if you go back to what Sean McCormick, the spokesman, said on Friday, I think you will find that -- go read that. I think he expressed it very well. What is important is the solidarity we expressed on Saturday, and that statement by the White House speaks for the whole U.S. government. That was something we took very very seriously. 

And the issue of the cartoons is complicated. The issue of the attacks on the embassies and threats, and threats against Danes and Norwegians, other Europeans, and against their missions is not complicated. The debate is a complicated one, and I simply cite the differences among editorial boards in Europe and the United States. Some editorial boards have decided to publish, others have not. And editorial boards will come out different ways, and it's not our business to express an opinion one way or another, but we do recognize that the cartoons were offensive.

Question: You say it could be useful if it was recognized that they were offensive. Who do you suggest should recognize that? The editors or the Danish government or...

Daniel Fried: Well, I think Prime Minister Rasmussen's statements have been excellent. I think he has recognized. I don't have his words in front of me but I think he has recognized the fact that they could be offensive to Muslims, but he's also quite rightfully called for tolerance and demanded an end to the violence. I think his statements have been very strong. It's not for me, a government official, to say what editorial boards should do. That's not our role. But again, the question earlier was whether governments should apologize, and I didn't think that was the right word.

Question: What do you mean by solidarity, other than political solidarity? The United States protect the embassies in countries against protests?

Daniel Fried: We are and will continue to be in very close touch with the Danish and Norwegian governments and we are available 24 hours a day in case of problems. Solidarity means many things. It also means we want to do everything we can to help our Danish/Norwegian colleagues and provide information and do what it is possible for us to do with respect to the safety of Danish and Norwegian citizens and their property. This is a very general statement, and I can't be specific, but the different situations arise, but we will do what it is possible for us to do.

Question: Mr. Ambassador, are you concerned increased tension because of the cartoon controversy might lead Europe towards a more isolationist attitude toward Turkey's membership?

Daniel Fried: Oh, I don't think so. I think that the statement of Prime Minister Erdogan, if you read it, the one he made with President Zapatero, was a very good one. That is he did not equivocate on freedom of the press. He said freedom of the press is an absolute and it applies to us, too. Then he also said I recognize that freedom of the press means responsibilities and these cartoons were offensive to hundreds of millions of Muslims. That's about what he said. 

I'm sorry, I'm doing this from memory. But that was a good statement, and I think Turkey has an opportunity to show leadership as a democracy, a country with a free press, and an increasingly tolerant public arena, if I can put it that way. I think Turkey is well placed to stand up and say as a country with a Moslem tradition, a secular republic with a Moslem tradition, we find the cartoons offensive but there can be no excuse for attacks and burning, and I think that's pretty much what the Turks have said. So I don't think this will hurt Turkey's EU membership. 

I think there are some who would like to turn this into a clash of civilizations, but I don't believe that. I also think, and I should say that there are obviously some rulers in the Middle East who would love to use this and manipulate the situation. The Syrian government I would certainly count among them. I think we will look very hard at the role of the Iranian regime with respect to the Austrian Embassy.

Question: On another topic, if I might just jump in. I read some reports somewhere, I don't know how accurate they were, that Hamas had played quite a commendable role in Gaza, preventing an attack on a church. You condemned the Syrians and the Iranians. Do you have any comments on how Hamas behaved in response to...

Daniel Fried: I don't, but that's only because I don't have a lot of details. Hamas has some choices, some fundamental choices to make. It won the elections. Now it has to choose what it is going to do with its victory and whether it will lead the Palestinian people into an even worse situation of bloodshed, violence, dysfunctionality, poverty, crime, misery -- all of the things which have characterized life in the West Bank and Gaza -- or whether Hamas will take up its responsibilities and try to lead, try to show leadership which means toward peace, recognition of Israel, renunciation of terrorism and violence. That's Hamas' choice. We have choices to make, too. That is we, Europe and the United States. Hamas' choices are more stark, and it's Hamas' choices we should focus on. But I don't have an answer for you.

Question: So your mission there hasn't really provided you that information on it?

Daniel Fried: There may be people who know. I personally do not know. So don't take that as the State Department. Just the European Assistant Secretary hadn't gotten to that piece of information but I'll look for it.

Question: May I ask something about the Dutch troops that were going to [inaudible].

Daniel Fried: Yes.

Question: Looking back on that decision, a lot of pressure had to be applied on the Netherlands by other NATO partners to get them to this positive result. Looking back, do you think that all that discussion has harmed the relationship?

Daniel Fried: No. I think --

Question: You yourself were really surprised that it took the Dutch so long to decide about this.

Daniel Fried: No. I think it's natural that there is a vigorous debate in a democracy on questions of war and peace. And on the question of deploying troops I think a debate is natural. Most of the countries represented here have had debates in their parliament. The Dutch debate was vigorous, and I think in the end there was a sense of a consensus, and I'm glad the debate took place. I'm glad the decision came out the way it did. This was a vigorous national debate and I'm glad it took place.

Question: So if you look back on it you don't have any negative feelings that the government didn't really take a decision or waited for parliament and --

Ambassador Fried: No. No. Look, this was a tough debate, opinion was divided. The government managed this the best way it knew how, it was successful, and it was an open debate. No one can say that the Dutch people were not consulted and the Dutch parliament was not consulted. It was. So this was a good thing. I'm glad the decision came out the way it did. I think NATO solidarity does count for something.

Question: A lot of people thought that if a partner like the Netherlands who has always been such a good NATO partner takes so long to decide about sending troops to Afghanistan, which is a really worthy cause, what does that say about --

Daniel Fried: Well, since the debate came out the way it did with a strong, not unanimous but a strong weight of opinion in favor, I'm glad the debate took place. NATO is composed of democracies. Democracies will debate these issues. It's important to have those debates. It's also important that when NATO makes a decision that it sees that that decision is carried out, and I'm sure it will be.

Question: You noted that the cooperation between Europe and United States on Iran looks much better than it was --

Daniel Fried: Eighteen months ago.

Question: Eighteen months ago. Is that a fact that the Iranian affair is more solid than the Iraqi affair was? Or anything changed in Europe or in United States?

Daniel Fried: The two issues are very different. I would say we, the United States, especially since President Bush's reelection, have made a determined effort to reach out to Europe as a whole, and Europe, in our view, has made a determined effort to reach back, and together we have created a much stronger transatlantic consensus on the need for cooperation than many believed possible let us say there years ago. 

We want to support the institutions of the transatlantic relationship. NATO, of course, because we're a member, and the USEU relationship. And the President has said, President Bush has said he wants a strong Europe and a strong European Union as a partner. That's easy to say, but as you know a lot of debate on both sides of the Atlantic lies behind those simple words. That's a debate we had. There were alternative visions presented by many, by some in the United States and by some in Europe of multi-polarity, of counterweight, of Old Europe/New Europe. There were lots of theories. 

But President Bush, speaking for the United States, decided immediately after his reelection that the United States wanted to work with Europe, with a strong NATO, with a strong EU, and we have been quite consistent in that. And Europe, I must say, has responded and worked with us on the basis of a common agenda. Now that improved atmosphere, I am sure, though I can't quite prove it, but I'm sure had an influence on the way the debate about Iran developed. Of course the Iranians had something to do with it themselves. Ahmadinejad's increasingly provocative and occasionally bizarre statements, starting with his UN speech, I think focused minds wonderfully on the real problem, which was Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions.

Question: Are you concerned that the next Italian election could have an impact on this new atmosphere of cooperation between the United States and Europe?

Daniel Fried: Far be it from me to get involved or express an opinion on Italian politics before an election. I can't think of anything dumber. Well, I can think of dumber things, actually, but this is among them. Forgive me if I don't even go there. We have had wonderful relations with this Italian government. We admire its determination to work with us and in Europe. Italy has been a strong active partner with troops in Iraq, in Afghanistan. This has been a difficult mission. The Italians have had their losses. But we will work with whatever government the Italian people give us.

Question: Can I follow up?

Question: Sorry, [inaudible] Freedom Agenda. What's your evaluation? Is it [inaudible] everybody?

Daniel Fried: Oh it is most certainly, and the President's State of the Union speech made it very clear. When the President spoke of freedom he also said that it was a generational commitment. Generational meaning it wouldn't all be worked out during his time as President. Generational commitment means by definition that it takes a generation, at least, to see this done. What the emphasis on freedom and democracy in the world, inducing in the broader Middle East, has meant is that those reformers in the region know that they are not alone. I don't know whether or not, well, there have been a wave of elections, and reform is front and center throughout the region. It isn't just Islamist extremism. 

There are also liberal currents throughout the region. It is time that we not simply assume that Islamist extremists are the only political option in the region. The option is not simply status quo or Islamic extremists. There are democratic movements, and we, that is the we being the United States and Europe, are now increasingly putting ourselves on the side of the reformers. There are reformist governments in the region. Turkey is not part of the broader Middle East region, but it is an example of a country with a mostly Muslim population which is deepening its democracy quite successfully. So I do not believe that let's say the Hamas election demonstrates that democracy is flawed. I will reserve judgment on the Palestinian elections. They had a free and fair election. Hamas won. But it isn't as if the status quo under Fattah was so wonderful that we should mourn its passing. It's not that -- Hamas creates problems for us, but the political acceleration presents opportunities as well as problems.

Question: On Iran, on the transatlantic unity, Mr. Rademaker on Thursday gave an interesting speech at the AEI in which he said that one of the first moves of the Security Council, presumably in March, on Iran would be to get resolutions or a statement that would enhance the IAEA's authority to carry out inspections in Iran. He talked about strengthening the IAEA's authority. And from follow-up questions with other people on the panel, it seemed pretty clear he was talking about efforts to inspect the weaponization aspects of the Iran program. Is this a common transatlantic position? Have you sort of discussed this with your European allies?

Daniel Fried: On this I'll have to defer to others. You should ask [Rademaker] or Bob Joseph or Nick Burns, who are doing it. That's a level, I don't want to speculate on it because I'm one step behind on this one. Sorry.

Question: If we can go back to the cartoons. Norway and Denmark -- you say it will be helpful if people, if governments say that these are offensive. That will be helpful for the situation. Is there anything else Norway and Denmark should do now, do you think?

Daniel Fried: I think Prime Minister Rasmussen has spoken out in a way that is responsible and clear and I applaud what he has said. I think that his recent statements have been right; they've been very good. And, in fact, as we were thinking about our own position we took his statements into account because he seemed to have summed up the problem rather well. 

I think it is useful to recognize that these cartoons were offensive, just as it would be helpful if governments in the Middle East recognized that some of the virulent, violent, anti-Israeli, anti-Semitic, and occasionally anti-Christian cartoons were also offensive. That would also be helpful. Again, every time I discuss the cartoons I must also state that the issue of the cartoons is one on which thoughtful, reasonable people debate, and reasonable people come out different ways whether or not they should be published. But that has nothing to do with the violent reaction and the threats, the attacks, the incitement, for which there can be no excuse, no equivocation, no explanation. I have to differentiate so there is no misunderstanding.

Question: I see, yes, but I'm from Norway. Do you think that the Norwegian government also should say in this matter?

Daniel Fried: All democratic governments recognize press freedom, as indeed the White House statement referred to freedom of the press. That's essential. So the recognition that these cartoons were offensive is not seen as compromising freedom of the press.

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