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Denying #Israel’s right to exist is anti-Semitism at its worst

20/03/2018 2 comments

img_1382Yesterday, I addressed the opening of the Sixth Global Forum on Combatting Anti-Semitism. I started by extending greetings from UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who was unable to attend this conference and asked me to represent him. Before I began, I expressed my condolences to the families of Adiel Kolman, Ziv Daos and Netanel Kahalani, who were killed by Palestinian perpetrators in the past few days.

There is nothing heroic in killing. Has violence and terror helped any cause, any nation, any country in the region? Those who inspire and praise such attacks do not serve the cause of peace.

The fact we were gathered together yesterday, for the sixth time, in Jerusalem, at the Global Forum for Combatting Antisemitism is a testament. It is a testament to the commitment of nations and peoples around the world to never forget the crimes of the Shoah. It is a testament to never allow hatred, racisms and discrimination and xenophobia to rule the world. But most of all, it is a testament to the resilience of the Jewish people and to their long and painful journey home.

So it is was most appropriate to open this forum with three very clear and simple messages and address them to all who seek to fan the flames of hatred, terror and war:

The State of Israel is here to stay.

It is the home of the Jewish people.

In the modern context,

denying Israel’s right to exist is anti-Semitism at its worst.

The modern state of Israel was born out of the ashes of the Second World War. It was built and defended by Jews who came home from across the world, it was established to be a democracy that respects human rights, protects minorities and extends support to immigrants. It is not a colonial project, but a project of hope.

The Shoah did not occur in a vacuum. It was a culmination of thousands of years of persecution from the exile of ancient Babylon, through the pogroms in Tsarist Russia, to the systematic extermination in the Nazi death camps.

The United Nations believes that we have an obligation not only to remember the boundless evil that led to the attempt to systematically eliminate the Jewish people, but to stand up and confront hatred and xenophobia where we see it.

Today we see incidents of

anti-Semitism, racism and intolerance increasing globally,

triggered by populism and by divisive politics. In Europe, we are seeing the re-emergence of neo-Nazi and other extreme nationalist groups. In America we hear ominous chants of “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us”. Online there is a surge in support for racist or supremacist causes. And there are those who continue to call for the destruction of Israel. They sharpen their weapons as we speak.

Looking closer to home, we must recognize and denounce anti-Semitism here in the region. In too many societies across the Middle East, the demonization of Jews continues unabated. Many have often spoken of how a peaceful two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will pave the way towards resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. They are right. Yet at the same time, an enduring peace must be based on the acceptance that Jews, Christians and Muslims all have a historic and religious connection to this land, to this city.

While history has taught us that blind hatred and propaganda need little to turn into violence, it also teaches us that we have a choice. It teaches us that no one is born hating other people. It teaches us that we have a choice whether we give in to xenophobia and hatred or to respect different peoples, faiths and cultures. The Shoah was the result of turning hatred into policy. It became possible because too many people chose to collaborate or looked the other way. This is why

attempts to rewrite the history of the Holocaust and downplay the complicity of those who participated in or enabled genocide are so concerning.

Renowned Israeli writer and Holocaust survivor Aharon Applefeld, who recently passed away, described his memory of confronting indifference: “I noticed that all the doors and windows of our non-Jewish neighbors were suddenly shut, and we walked alone in empty streets. None of our many neighbors, […] was at the window when we dragged along our suitcases.” A sad and tragic picture imprinted in the family history of so many Jews who were lucky to survive the killing grounds of Europe.

Some people however did not look away. They did not keep their doors and windows shut.

In my country, Bulgaria, people came out.

To stand on the train tracks and to not allow the deportations. In a country that was allied to Nazi Germany. While sadly 11,300 Jews living in Bulgarian-administered territories in northern Greece, Eastern Serbia, and Macedonia were deported by the Nazis and their collaborators to be murdered in Treblinka, Bulgaria’s Jewish community of 50,000 people survived the war and has been instrumental in building the modern State of Israel.

We all have a choice to look away from the problems of anti-Semitism, xenophobia and intolerance, or to confront them. We all have a responsibility to educate our children long before their young hearts and minds are poisoned by propaganda. To this end, the United Nations and the Secretary-General are committed to continue working to educate people around the world about the horrors of the past and how we can all contribute to ensuring they are never forgotten and never repeated.

I these words I wished the conference every success.

If you create hope, then take it away, violence usually follows

04/01/2018 Leave a comment

DRbohebXcAAut05.jpg-largeOn December 19th 2017 I spoke at the International Peace Institite (IPI) “Leading for Peace: Voices From the Field” series in New York. The focus was on a decade of deteriorating conditions in Gaza, which has “de-developed” under Hamas,  and the risks of the stalled return of the Palestinian Authority to the Strip.

Since then the PA has decided to increase electricity supply to Gaza, which will ease the humanitarian situation and increase the chances of an agreement that will see the Government enabled in Gaza. Much however remains to be done. There is a growing risk of conflict as rockets fired by militants in Gaza towards Israel continue. One third of all the rockets fired in 2017 came in December of last year. Just yesterday four rockets were fired. This is dangerous and reckless and it only increases the chances of a conflict that no one should want.

Much of the discussion focused on the recent intra-Palestinian Cairo agreement. With that initiative hope was created, but if the agreement fails, that hope will be taken away and probably replaced by violence. The situation remains grim.

Back in December I spoke just days after President Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem. I told told the packed room that we are at a critical crossroads of the Middle East peace process for a number of reasons that include also the situation in Gaza and the political dynamics among Israelis and Palestinians. The international architecture, established for decades, to deal with this conflict is collapsing.

As most of the focus was on Gaza, we went through some shocking figures that illustrate the desperation of life there. If in the year 2000, 98 percent of the water flowing in Gaza’s pipes had been drinkable, today only 10 percent is. The local aquifer is increasingly polluted and the situation would be “irreversible” by 2020. Hospitals are working on UN provided diesel as residents make ends meet with barely three to four hours of electricity per day. Unemployment is now at 45 percent, going up to 67 percent among the youth. 40 percent of the residents of Gaza live in poverty.

By contrast, in the West Bank, in the areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority, the past decade has seen progress. As Gaza’s GDP has declined by some 10%, in the West Bank GDP has grown by some 50%. That is why it is imperative to return the legitimate Palestinian Authority back to Gaza and that is why the implementation of the Egyptian brokered deal between Fatah and Hamas is critical.

There is a new climate in the region in which some Arab leaders are realising that they need to strengthen the centres of moderation, where they exist, and resist radicalisation. There is a growing understanding in the Arab world that countries need their own capabilities and capacities to deal with internal threats and outside interference. That is why bring the Palestinian Authority back to Gaza will help strengthen moderate forces and will be in line with this new Arab trend.

Warren Hoge, IPI’s Senior Adviser for External Relations, ably moderated the conversation. You can see IPI’s summary of the event, pictures and video here.

Fighting terrorism in the Middle East includes the need to strengthen the forces of moderation in the region

11/09/2017 Leave a comment

dp1_-_sc_at_icts_17th_world_summit_on_counterterrorism_-_11_sept_2017It was an honour to speak at the 17th World Summit on Counter-Terrorism that was organised by the Interdisciplinary Centre (IDC) in Herzliya. In my remarks I thanked Prof Reichman, President and Founder of the IDC and Prof Ganor, Founder and Executive Director of the IDC for organising the event.

It was quite symbolic that we met on September 11th. I opened by saying that

I was also humbled to speak before an audience in which there are many who sadly remember and have lived through many other terrorist attacks. Israel is a country that has lived with terror for decades. Decades in which most families have been hurt by violence and terror. Decades in which most families have remembered the losses, the sadness, the fear and the trauma that terror causes.

I spoke at the forum also as someone who has sadly lived with that phenomena for most of my life. The first car bomb was at the age of seven. In Iraq I had lost friends and colleagues. My own country has experienced its most recent terror attack in 2012 when Hezbullah killed five Israelis and one Bulgarian in a bus bombing.

In the last couple of years, as the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, I can attest to how vastly destructive the impact of terrorism is, not just on human beings but also on the prospects of peace.

Sadly, in this part of the world, extremists have chosen terrorism as their most prominent tool to destroy political processes, to destroy the prospects of peace. That is why standing up firmly to terror must be an integral part of any peace effort, not just in words but also in deeds.

Just as we often speak of the need to promote peace through sustainable development and economic opportunity, so we must insulate efforts to achieve peace in the region from the risks that terror and violence bring.

In the Middle East of today, we face a reality in which terrorist threats are interconnected. To tackle them we need a broad approach that extends well beyond the borders of any one country and go beyond the region as a whole.

Today’s reality demands a new international approach on how we deal with the new threats that the Middle East and North Africa face. I spoke about three processes that together unfortunately create the perfect storm that we see unfolding right now in the Middle East, before making some suggestions of how to deal with these challenges.

Firstly, we see a process of collapsing states that lack democratic legitimacy, that lack strong institutions, or the ability to deliver services to their people. In Syria a president stood up against his own people. In Iraq, a collapsed state was replaced by ethnic and sectarian divisions.

When such states are unable to meet the legitimate demands of their people for representation, economic and social development, security or human dignity, they create space for radical groups and extremists.

In late 2013, the Iraqi people in the Anbar province and elsewhere took to the streets demanding jobs, dignity and fair economic and social opportunities. They were not met with dialogue but with guns. Soon their protests that had turned into sit-ins that were infiltrated by Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and ISIL and by the spring of 2014. Their agenda was hijacked by radical extremists with a destructive agenda.

Had the government reacted differently, perhaps that would not have happened.

At the same time, we see across the Middle East the implosion of marginalized communities. Groups that are impoverished, or have been disenfranchised, or feel marginalized or discriminated against quickly collapse under the pressure of radical extremists; And become breeding grounds for terror, mass atrocities and violence.

Almost two years before Mosul fell to the hands of ISIL, all the signs were there; and the United Nations had been warning the world. For years the people in Mosul lived in fear of the central government. They felt that their dignity was not respected. Their lacked economic opportunities, institutions were corrupt and ineffective. People felt marginalized. In the period before the fall of Mosul to the hands of DAESH, practically every single elected representative was killed, maimed, kidnapped or kicked out by the terror organizations.

Terror struck in waves; first it struck elected officials, then it struck civilians, then it struck religious communities, and last but not least, it struck schools.

In the last couple of months before the fall of Mosul, we had a surge of terror attacks in which suicide bombers attacked schools. This destroyed the social structures of society.

As states collapse, as social structures implode, the international community lacks the tools to deal with the trans-border threats that face the region today. Our instruments were designed to deal primarily with state-to-state conflicts. They would have helped us deal with a war between Iraq and Syria, but how do we deal with a war inside Iraq and inside Syria that risks to spread and engulf everyone around them?

These are some of the challenges that today we need to find the answers to and to deal with at an international, regional and national level.

We in the United Nations, together with our many partners around the world, are investing great attention and resources in trying to fix our own approaches so that we have a better understanding of what needs to be done.

We are investing not just in providing humanitarian relief to suffering communities but also working to help still-functioning states and as-yet-unbroken communities in the region protect themselves from the vulnerabilities of what is happening around us.

It is very important that we take the necessary actions to prevent further conflict.

UN Secretary-General Guterres has been very much focused on developing a new vision for the Organization; one which prioritizes prevention over response. As part of his efforts to focus on preventing violence, conflict and mass atrocities, he has also established a UN Office for Counter-Terrorism.

My colleague, Jehangir Khan later spoke more specifically to these developments.

I focused on five objectives related to how we deal with terror in the international community that warrant some discussion.

Firstly, is the moral foundation for our work — zero tolerance for the justification or legitimization of terror. In Israel, this is particularly pertinent discussion. It is however a very valid discussion well beyond the borders of your state.

We must constantly reaffirm and strengthen the clear international consensus against terror. Let me quote a UN General Assembly Resolution (49/60), adopted in 1994: “Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them”.

So first we need to condemn terror, then secondly we have an obligation to promote inclusive political solutions to conflicts.

Experience in this part of the world has shown us that if you create hope, and then take hope away, most of the time you end up with violence. This is particularly pertinent to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Today, we live in a historical period in which the hope for peace and for a solution to the conflict is well beyond the reach of political leaders on all sides.

Terrorism strives where there is division and suffocates when the core grievances that people have are addressed.

This is one of the reasons why in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is important to create the hope for peace by recreating a political horizon to address the final status issues. Such a political process needs to be accompanied by economic and social measures that improve the lives of Palestinians and a regional framework that insulates the process from those who will seek to destroy it.

The third objective that we must focus on is the need to address the political and socio-economic factors that breed violent extremism. Across the region, this means investing in development, upholding human rights and strengthening the resilience of communities against extremism.

Fourth, we need to focus on the coordinated fight against the drivers and enablers of terrorism at an international level. We need to strengthen the international response to incitement and radical propaganda; focus on illicit weapons smuggling and production; the financial flows to terror groups; the movement of foreign fighters; and the question of accountability for states in upholding their international obligations.

Last but not least, we also have a political objective that I believe is very important and that is to strengthening the forces of moderation in the Middle East. Over the last year or so, we have seen a growing understanding among leaders in some countries of the Arab world of the need to focus on this priority and this a welcome development.

These are just some of the priorities that I suggested we should look at in our international efforts to address the threat of terrorism, particularly here in the Middle East. Much more can be said and certainly much more can be done.

In closing, I reminded everyone that sadly terrorists have a doubly de-humanizing impact on all. On the one hand, they brand entire populations as legitimate targets. On the other, they stigmatize their own ethnic or religious groups as potential terrorists. We should not allow them to win by caving into this bias. The negative action of one terrorist today still resonates widely, while the actions of many individuals who work every day to prevent violence remain unnoticed.

I expressed my hope that this conference will be able to speak to how we challenge this visibility bias and the de-humanizing effect of terror.

But I also encouraged participants not to shy away from the political task that we have before us — how to strengthen the forces of moderation and how do we increase the residence of communities so that we can together stand against violent extremism and terror.

My unyielding optimism for #Iraq stems from the spirit of its people

18/02/2015 Leave a comment
My last presentation to the UN Security Council on Iraq

My last presentation to the UN Security Council on Iraq

Mr. President of the Security Council,
As I complete my tenure as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, to borrow a phrase, I remain a paranoid optimist. An optimist because despite the year-long security crisis, Iraq’s political, community and religious leaders have coalesced to save their country from terror. Today, more than ever, there is a growing understanding that Iraq can only move forward based on the principles of democracy, rule of law, respect for diversity and inclusivity. This understanding has been increasingly evident since the formation of a new national unity Government set on addressing many long-standing concerns of the Iraqi people. I am however also paranoid that things can go wrong — ISIL remains in control of most of Iraq’s western provinces, the fragile efforts towards unity and reconciliation need to be carefully nurtured if they are to bear fruit while the economy has been hit by falling oil prices and skyrocketing security costs.

Since its formation in September of last year, the Government has taken important steps in fulfilling its agenda. It has engaged countries in the region, all with a view to regaining the confidence of Iraq’s population in the political process and promoting stability. Whilst pursuing these objectives, Iraq’s most pressing goal remains to win back territory taken by ISIL. In this respect, the Government has taken important measures for security sector reform. The authorities have pledged to provide military and financial assistance to local leaders and tribal fighters to aid their struggle against ISIL. Since the beginning of the year, at least 4,000 Iraqis from Anbar and Ninewa have signed up as part of the popular forces, an important first step in securing local forces for the liberation of Iraq’s western provinces.

I encourage the Government to empower and quickly provide all necessary means to these local fighters as they seek to free their homes from ISIL while also supporting recovery and reconstruction. I also encourage the Council of Representatives to adopt the necessary legislation to establish the Iraqi National Guard so as to allow the provinces to take greater responsibility for their own security. In January the Government submitted to Parliament a bill to this effect.

Mr. President,
An exclusively military solution to the problem of ISIL is impossible; indeed, it would be counterproductive. I therefore welcome the consistent calls for unity by the President, the Prime Minister and the Speaker of Parliament. Any effort to achieve unity through reconciliation must be based on the Constitution and the full participation of political, religious and community leaders from across Iraq. A particular focus must be put on increasing the role and participation of women. As such, UNAMI has strongly supported the Government’s national reconciliation and social cohesion agenda.
Recently, we convened in Baghdad a roundtable on social cohesion with prominent Iraqi political, religious and civil society representatives. They discussed a number of recommendations which were presented to the Government. Subsequently, the UN convened roundtables in Karbala and Basra, bringing together civil society, community, tribal and religious leaders and scholars, during which participants reiterated the importance of strengthening social and religious cohesion, as well as rectifying divisions within Iraqi society. The United Nations Development Programme is also expanding its community reconciliation programme at the grass-root level.

In addition to these developments, the relation between the Federal Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government has been improving following their historic agreement on energy exports and revenue-sharing. Improved cooperation is also evident between the Iraqi security forces, the Peshmerga, volunteers, local communities and the forces of the anti-ISIL international coalition. This cooperation has been key in dealing with the most recent security threats, including to the city of Kirkuk, the al-Assad air base and elsewhere in the country.

Mr. President,
Despite these positive steps, the process is fraught with risks. Armed conflict and acts of terrorism continue to inflict a terrible toll on the people of Iraq. In 2014, at least 12,000 civilians were killed and over 23,000 were injured. Just in January this year alone, there were over 2,200 civilian casualties, including 790 killed and some 1,500 injured. Almost daily terrorist attacks continue to deliberately target all Iraqis, most notably from the Shi’ite community, as well as ethnic and religious minorities. The continued reports of massive human rights violations and abuses being committed by ISIL against civilians are gruesome. ISIL has made a point of not hesitating to openly publicise their crimes committed against men, women and children. The safety and security of members of Iraq’s diverse ethnic and religious communities in areas controlled by ISIL remain of grave concern, particularly the thousands of women and children who remain in captivity.
Equally worrying is the increasing number of reports of revenge attacks committed particularly against members of the Sunni community in areas liberated from ISIL.

All of these ongoing human rights violations present a serious threat to the cohesion of Iraq.

Some of Iraq’s recent military gains in Diyala, Salah al-Din and Ninewa governorates have been marred by claims that militias have killed unarmed civilians, and intentionally destroyed property and places of worship.
It is imperative that the Government act swiftly and decisively to bring under control all armed groups that are outside of the Constitution. Failing to do this risks to undermine the much needed process of national unity and reconciliation. Political parties, however, should also show restraint in their statements in the face of such acts that are clearly aimed at destroying Iraq’s social fabric.

It is in this respect that I welcome the Government’s decision to conduct a full investigation into the alleged massacre in Barwanah, Diyala. To paraphrase Prime Minister al-Abadi — a crime is a crime, no matter who has committed it and all responsible should be held accountable. It is also encouraging that today, as we speak, Iraq’s President, Prime Minister and Speaker of Parliament are holding a joint meeting to identify measures to address these events in the recent days.

The Government faces the additional challenge of a fiscally-constrained environment. In a hallmark of success in January the Council of Representatives approved the 2015 budget. Despite very tight spending limits, due to the fall in oil revenue, spiralling security costs and a massively expanded public sector wage bill, Parliament was able to set aside some 500 million USD to help rebuild lives and livelihoods in those areas that are liberated from ISIL. The United Nations is working actively with the authorities to set up a Recovery and Reconstruction fund through which Iraq’s allies, neighbours and friends can contribute to this process as well.

Most urgently perhaps, Mr. President, the Iraqi authorities and the United Nations need to redouble our efforts at supporting over 2 million internally displaced who have been forced from their homes since January 2014. Let me recall to the Council the gravity of the situation on the ground by highlighting some numbers— 5.2 million people need humanitarian assistance in Iraq today, of them, 2.25 million are displaced and 235,000 are refugees from the country of Syria. To date the population of the Kurdistan Region has increased by some 30 percent because of the influx. Despite the generosity of local communities from across the country, one-third of IDPs in accessible areas are living in unfinished and abandoned buildings, make-shift shelters and spontaneous settlements. They are highly vulnerable and dependent on assistance to survive.

Mr. President; Honourable Members of the Security Council,
Let me sound the alarm bells: Sixty percent of humanitarian operations in Iraq are likely to shut down or be curtailed unless funding is received in the next few weeks. The food pipeline will break in mid-May unless funding is received before the end of March. The essential medicines pipeline will break at the end of March.

The UN humanitarian country team, led by the newly appointed Humanitarian Coordinator Ms. Lise Grande, has put together a list of fast track priorities which cannot be postponed or ignored. We urgently need some 150 million USD to support IDPs, whose life-saving and protection needs are enormous, and likely to grow.

I use this opportunity to appeal to the international community at a time when Iraq is highly vulnerable and when support for the humanitarian operation will make a decisive difference in the direction of the country ahead.

Mr. President,
As I conclude my mission in Iraq I would like to use this opportunity to send also a message to the Government of Iraq. I would like to encourage the Government to move swiftly on the full implementation of the Ministerial Programme and the Political Agreement. Those documents hold the key to seeing Iraq successfully move forward. Discussions on approving the necessary legislation for a national guard should be swiftly finalised. This is important in order to empower provinces to take more responsibility for their own security; it will also help ensure that all weapons are firmly under the control of the state. Most importantly, the Government should act decisively to rebuild the armed forces on a truly national basis.

Part of this political agreement that has been the basis of the formation of the government of national unity is to grant an amnesty and to revise the Justice and Accountability Law in order to allow Iraqis who have not committed crimes under the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein to move forward with their lives and find their place in their country.

While tackling the security and political challenges, the social and economic agenda must also remain in focus. Addressing pockets of deep poverty, particularly in the South of the country, providing quality social services, providing a business climate for investment, fighting pervasive corruption, and perhaps most urgently— facilitating the return of displaced persons to their homes and rebuilding areas liberated from ISIL, all such policies are all key to social peace in Iraq.

I use this opportunity to assure the people and the Government of Iraq that the United Nations will continue to provide international assistance and expertise in this process.

Mr. President,
Let me turn now to the fifth report of the Secretary-General pursuant to paragraph 4 of resolution 2107 (2013) on the issue of missing Kuwaiti and third-country-nationals, and property.

Iraq-Kuwait relations today continue to be on the ascendant. High-level Iraqi visits and the results of the fourth Joint Ministerial Committee meeting are very encouraging. Kuwait’s consulates in Basra and Erbil, when opened, will take Iraq-Kuwait relations to the next level.

I wish that I could report similar progress to the Council on the missing Kuwaitis and Kuwaiti national archives since the last report.

The Kuwaiti Government and the people of Kuwait are understandably disappointed that nothing tangible has been achieved for many years now. UNAMI shares this disappointment. We have placed much emphasis on witnesses and continue to emphasise that the most modern scientific advances and technology should be utilised. A UNAMI identified witness travelled recently to Kuwait. During the visit, for which UNAMI and the Iraqi Government had worked hard, regrettably did not yield anything substantial. Time remains our most formidable foe. Our team is working to reach another witness, who has been overseas and who Kuwait believes holds the key to identifying a gravesite which possibly contains as many as 180 mortal remains.

Let me assure the Council and the families of the Kuwaiti missing persons that the UN will continue to do its utmost to fulfil its mandate. Nonetheless, the key to achieving tangible progress is primarily in the hands of the parties themselves. The goodwill between Kuwait and Iraq is at its highest since 1990. I believe that this is a very opportune moment for their respective leaderships to come together on this important humanitarian issue, review efforts so far and decide on a new course of action. Resources, technology and a fresh approach may all be required. UNAMI stands as always ready to support this process.

Mr. President,
As I conclude my tenure as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative to Iraq, let me say on a more personal level how humbled I have been by the people of Iraq. For decades they have lived with dictatorship, with conflict and with terrorism, yet they persist in their determination to build a democratic state. Generations have been scarred and brought up in fear— fear of oppression, fear for their future, fear for their lives. Iraqi society has been deeply scarred and will take a long time to heal. But the medicine is to look forward to unity and reconciliation, not to turn to the failed policies of the past.

ISIL, Mr. President, flourishes when Iraq is weak and Iraq is weak when it is divided by sectarian politics, when political patronage overtakes national loyalty.

My unyielding optimism for the country however stems from the spirit of the ordinary Iraqi people— those who stood up to defend their country in the summer of last year, those who went out to vote despite car bombs and terrorist attacks, those Iraqis who do not care whether someone is Shi’ite, Sunni, Christian, Yezidi, Kurd, Arab, or any other community member. It is the overwhelming majority of ordinary Iraqis who have no foreign country to flee to, no foreign passport to rely on. These are the women and men who will build the new Iraq. And what we, in the international community, can and must do is to help them succeed.

We must support them in building democracy, without which the majority of Iraqis will not feel secure, nor will their human rights be protected.

We must work with them to achieve balance among their diverse communities inside the country, because without balance, violence and extremism will persist.

We must assist them in ensuring justice— not reprisal, for the crimes of the past and the violations of today.

And finally— we must grant the people of Iraq the respect and dignity that they deserve.

This is the noble mission of the United Nations in Iraq.

Honourable members of the Security Council,
Allow me to thank your governments and the Secretary-General for the unity that you have shown in supporting Iraq, for the unyielding support for UNAMI, and for the trust you have placed in me to lead this difficult mission.
I want to express my gratitude to my colleagues in the Mission, in the Secretariat and in the UN country team for their commitment, bravery and hard work throughout the years.

I would like to thank the Government and the people of Iraq for the hospitality that they have extended to me, for their friendship and for their daily courage to never give up in the face of terror.

Mr. President,
It has been an honour serving as the Secretary-General’s Representative for Iraq.

Thank you.

Categories: Iraq, Middle East, реч, speech, UN Tags: , ,

Youth is the Hidden Treasure of Iraq

30/11/2013 Leave a comment

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It is often said that Iraq is a rich country, that it is a country that is rich in oil and gas.

But I think Iraq has hidden riches. One that is present here in this conference – and this is the youth of this country. Nobody can defeat Iraq. Nobody can break your country.

Because what we see today here is the young people of Iraq of different nationalities, different ethnic and religious groups coming together to stand up for peace and for justice.

The first speaker from the organization’s committee of the conference noted that—social justice is not possible without peace. He spoke of the fact that peace can be built only on dialogue.

All of this reminds me very much of my own country.

My country, Bulgaria, went through its own transition process from dictatorship to democracy. In 1989, when the dictatorship was ousted, I myself, like many of you today—quite young—stood on the streets of our capital defending democracy. I was full of enthusiasm that democracy will prevail in my country, and that peace will prevail in our region.

I thought it would be easy. It proved to be very difficult.

Just a couple of years after democracy came to my country, our neighborhood collapsed in war and ethnic division. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed in the Balkans in the wars of the ‘90’s.

Our enthusiasm was quickly replaced by the fear that old hatreds – religious, ethnic hatreds will come to the fore and that they will destroy our country and the countries in our neighborhood. So my generation, ladies and gentlemen, very much like you, has lived with both enthusiasm and fear.

But like you here today, I have the strength to carry on. Because the youth of any country, Iraq included, has an important characteristic – and that is determination.

Determination to change. A belief in the future. And the ability to ask questions.

And I hope that as Iraq now faces a very difficult time given the security situation – and as I’ve seen before coming in, the number of initiatives that your organization’s been able to put forward…

You, the young people of Iraq will stand on your own feet. And you will protect your country from those who want to divide it. You will promote dialogue. You will help those in need. Because this is—the only way to build the future.

Sometime ago, Vice President Khuza’i came up with the Social Peace Initiative. We in the United Nations embraced it. And we support all the objectives of the Social Peace Initiative, particularly those objectives that are related to the youth.

When the leaders of Iraq came together to sign the National Honor Code, we were there…

Because we wanted to support dialogue. Because we wanted to send the message that all political, civic and religious leaders must stand together against terrorism. This is why I want to assure you from the podium of this conference that the United Nations will always be with you.

We will support your optimism. We will lend a hand to your ambition. And we will help you consolidate peace in Iraq.

These are priorities that are important for us in the United Nations across the world.

And this is why the Secretary-General of the United Nations has made Youth a specific focus of his work. As part of that priority, we have been able to work with the Government of Iraq on drafting together the First National Youth Strategy for this country. A number of the agencies of the United Nations are present here in this country, working on vocational training, on a number of other areas that are important to the youth.

But I’m sure that you, as many people in my own country, face a serious challenge. And that is the question whether to stay in your country or to emigrate. I know that many people, many young people in this country as elsewhere, want to leave, and want to build a life elsewhere.

But to them I want to send one message.

Wherever you go, and whatever part of the world you end up, your home will always be in here – in Iraq. As you travel to the other parts of the world, the best service that you can do to your country is to bring that knowledge and the experience that you gain elsewhere back here.

If you do that, Iraq will succeed. It will not be divided. And, yes, it will be a country that is rich not just in natural resources but in human capital.

This is what we want to support here in Iraq.

From the United Nations, congratulations.

Thank you.

 

Statement at the 66th Session of the UN General Assembly

24/09/2011 Leave a comment

66th UN General Assembly Debate

Let me begin by praising His Excellency Nassir Abdelaziz AL-NASSER for the steady stewardship as the President of the 66th session of the General Assembly. In your work, Your Excellency, you can count on the constructive engagement of the Bulgarian delegation. But allow me also to personally praise you for the theme which you have selected for this session.

I take this opportunity to also pay tribute to your predecessor, His Excellency Joseph DEISS, for his outstanding leadership of the previous session’s busy agenda.

Last, but not least, let me congratulate the Secretary General Ban KI-MOON for his re-election at the helm of the United Nations.

Mr. Secretary General, you have proven yourself as a diligent, hard-working leader who believes strongly in consensus and harmony – qualities that the UN needs now in its top administrator and will undoubtedly need even more in the years to come.

Let me begin by welcoming the work of our delegations in UN High Level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases. Cancer, cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes are now responsible for more deaths than all other causes combined. Bulgaria welcomes the negotiated final document. Over 80% of cardiovascular and diabetes deaths, almost 90% of deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and more than 2/3 of all cancer deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.

To quote the UN Secretary General’s Report to the GA: “Knowing how to reduce such diseases is not the problem; the problem is lack of action.” Focusing on this “new frontier” now is an important challenge that can be addressed only if we all work together.

Bulgaria also particularly welcomes the High Level Meeting on Nuclear Safety and Security. The effects of nuclear accidents have no respect for national borders. To adequately safeguard our people, we must have firm international consensus and action, as well as agree on stringent international safety standards. As many other IAEA member states Bulgaria considers nuclear power as a viable option to meet our energy needs. Nuclear energy has a key role for providing base load power to our economy with a share of 35% of the total energy mix.

Today we stand on the doorstep of historic change in the Middle East. Change, the scale of which can be only compared to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the sweeping transformation of Central and Eastern Europe after the end of Communism.

Both processes are quite different, but share a fundamental similarity — people have come out of the bondage of fear. Although the circumstances in each country are divergent, the root causes for what is happening in the Middle East are similar.

  • Corrupt leadership breeds dissent and with no democratic process in place, this dissent pours out onto the streets;
  • Young people want to be engaged in the future of their countries, not forced into a world of virtual reality and frowned upon by aging dictators;
  • Millions of people who live on the brink of poverty and see a privileged few reap the benefits of economic freedom will demand fair economic opportunities for all.

Add to that the feeling of revival, the demand of millions of young Arabs to be respected not to be denied the opportunities that others have, not to be talked down or discriminated and you have the makings of a revolution of Arab dignity and self respect, a historic revolution indeed.

Human dignity is a right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I quote: “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood

As change swept across the Middle East and North Africa, some leaders cringed in fear, others embraced it. Those who opposed their people are no longer in positions of power; their countries are moving on and looking to democratic elections. Those who embraced change have initiated far-reaching reforms and responded to the legitimate demands of their people. His Majesty King Abdullah of Jordan and His Majesty King Mohammed VI of Morocco need to be commended for their vision and willingness to reform. They are showing the way forward.

At the same time the international community has been appalled by the developments in Syria. Instead of responding to the legitimate demands of the Syrian people by fulfilling promised reforms, the government cracked down violently  on protesters. They did not have unrealistic demands; they did not ask for anything out of the ordinary. According to the UN over 2600 people have been killed since March. The government in Damascus questions these numbers. Even if only one person had been killed, it would been one person too many. The responsibility for the repression lies squarely with the authorities and no one else.

I use this opportunity to call on President Assad — who has made many promises to his people and the international community — to come out from the shadows, change the constitution, dismantle the machinery of repression, and immediately call internationally supervised elections. The people of Syria have the right to elect their own government and hold it accountable. The time for transition has come.

Ladies and gentlemen,

at this session we welcomed the hundred-and-ninety-third member of the United Nations. Our hearts go out to the people of South Sudan who have struggled for independence and we commend the visionary leadership of their new government for paving the way for their independence in a peaceful manner.

We also welcomed the new representatives of Libya, free from the oppression of the Gaddafi dictatorship. It was at the gates of Beghazi in February that he international community, acting on a mandate of the UN Secuirty Council, acted swiftly to prevent a massacre and protect civilians against attacks from their own government. The people of Libya proved that they can stand up and defend their right to freedom. Our thoughts go out to the families of all who lost their lives in this struggle, who fell victim to the crazed ambitions of a deluded dictator.

Bulgaria stands ready to assist the people of Libya in rebuilding their country. Our friendship is strong and has been tested through the years. We know first hand of the brutality that Gaddafi was capable of. The five Bulgarian nurses and a doctor who spent eight years of their lives in a Libyan jail, much of it on death row, are still haunted by their tortures. “We died every time the cell door opened” said one of them in an interview recently. Now safely back home they need to be able to close the chapter of their nightmares. Like the nurses — innocent victims of a brutal dictatorship, the Libyan people do not want to see revenge, but justice. Such justice will be sought when the dictator and his cronies are brought before a court of law.

Ladies and gentleman,

No matter how successful we individually are, we cannot truly bear the fruits of our own development if we live in an insecure environment. Regional cooperation and good neighborly relations are vital for the wellbeing of our countries and our societies. With this introduction let me turn even closer to home — the Balkans. Allow me to use this opportunity to reiterate Bulgaria’s unfaltering commitment to the European future of the Western Balkans. So I will not tire to repeat exactly the same thing I said last year from this podium:

The European Union was created to make war impossible in a continent that has seen at least a century of conflicts. Europe shall not be whole and complete until our neighbours in the Balkans are not part of our Union.

It falls on us – those who joined the EU late, not by their own choice, but because of the ideological divisions of the Cold War – to say it loud and clear: to make war impossible in the Balkans we must see all countries that have emerged from former Yugoslavia be part of the European Union. This is our historic mission. Its our destiny.

This is why we will continue to work tirelessly to remove the obstacles to EU enlargement in the Balkans, to strengthen regional cooperation and develop good neighbourly relations in a region that has seen too much division. With particular vigor we will continue to encourage the EU facilitated dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. Bulgaria welcomes the pragmatic approach taken by both Kosovo and Serbia during their first meetings. It is important that they build on this momentum and continue to engage in a constructive and pragmatic manner. All must show restraint and prevent the build-up of tension. This is vital for the security, prosperity and – ultimately, for the European perspective of the region.

Bulgaria will continue to contribute actively to regional reconciliation. Because we believe that our role in South East Europe and beyond is to bring people together, not divide them; to seek solutions, not watch from the sidelines.

We must constantly reaffirm our European commitment to bring in our neighbours in the Western Balkans into Europe, when they meet the criteria for membership. Our neighbours also must reaffirm their own commitment to undertaking often very difficult reforms, and to strengthening regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Bulgaria is a country that has had a proud but turbulent history. Our history teaches us that nations are strong when their civic spirit is strong. It teaches us that you must find pride not only in great historic battles and ancient legends, but in great feats of civic activism, in the standing up for your values and protecting your neighbors. One such inspiring example is that fact that the Jews of Bulgaria survived World War II because hundreds of religious and community leaders, politicians, ordinary men and women stood up and refused to be part of Hitler’s madness.

I stand tall and proud of the spirit of my predecessors. Their example of tolerance inspires much more than the Medieval stories of greatness and empires that we have so many of in Europe.

Two days ago we celebrated our national independence day. After 500 years of foreign occupation and domination in 1878 Bulgaria reemerged on the map of Europe. Our full independence however came only in 1908, some 30 years after the re-establishment of the Bulgarian state.

My country today is the product of the traditions of Christians, Jews and Muslims who all form the fabric of the Bulgarian nation. This is our richness, this makes us quite unique in the Balkans. This is why we cannot remain uninterested in developments in the Middle East, particularly to the elusive prospects of peace between the people of Israel and the people of Palestine.

Over the course of the last year we have seen the tireless efforts of the US administration and the EU High Representative for Foreign Policy to find a way to resume direct negotiations. These efforts, including the agreed Quartet statement of today, need to be applauded, encouraged and supported by all.

It was in the United Nations in 1947 that the State of Israel was born. It was born as a home for the Jewish people, a beacon of hope to a community that has been persecuted and oppressed for thousands of years; becoming the only truly democratic country in the region.

Today this landscape is changing. Slowly but surely the region is moving towards democracy. Democracy, accountable government and the rule of law are ultimately in the long term interest of all — Jews and Muslims; Arabs and Israelis.

The Palestinian people have a right to a state of their own. Indeed we — the international community — have an obligation to support the establishment of a viable and democratic, Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.

A Palestine that lives side-by-side with the State of Israel;

a Palestine that lives in security and mutual recognition with the State of Israel;

a Palestine that has secure borders, based on 1967 with mutually agreed swaps.

Both Palestine, as the home of the Palestinian people, and Israel, the home of the Jewish people, must guarantee that all ethnic and religious groups have full rights and protection under law.

But let me also make one point very clear — to refuse the right of Israel to exist means to refuse the right of the Palestinian people to also have a state of their own. I can accept criticism of the policies of any government, but I cannot stand idle when the right of existence is denied to anyone — no matter their religion or ethnicity. To dismiss such policies in passing, would mean to fail the values of our civilization.

Bulgaria will never accept that and nor should any other nation in the global community.

Bulgaria believes very strongly that the definitive solution to peace can only come through direct negotiations. But direct negotiations can resume only on the basis of trust and a real understanding of the security concerns and the legitimate aspirations of both sides. Rebuilding trust between both parties is a prerequisite to resuming negotiations. Unilateral action, changing the realities on the ground cannot be a substitute for negotiations. Obstacles should be overcome and preconditions should be removed. If the leaders of Palestine believe that settlement policy is an obstacle to peace, the leaders of Israel must refrain from such activities. To give peace a chance. If the leaders of Israel believe that no preconditions to a final settlement should be put in place, then the Palestinian leaders must refrain from such actions. To give peace a chance.

Bulgaria has recognised the Palestinian state in 1988. We hold our friendship both with Israel and the Palestinian people dear. This is why we urge the immediate resumption of negotiations as the only road to peace. Bringing both sides back to the negotiating table remains out top priority. I am sure that the United States, working in concert with the European Union, can facilitate this process, based on a vision outlined by President Obama.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The challenges of peace in the Middle East today are challenges of leadership.

Allow me now to turn to my delegation’s vision for the kind of leadership, the kind of United Nations we need for the the next decade. Our organization, in its reform, must be adequate and accountable, brave and bold in its actions, credible and compassionate.

An organization created by 51 member states functions today with 193 members. In order for the UN to be adequate today its institutions need to be reformed, first and foremost, in the composition of the UN’s main body guaranteeing international peace and security. We must build on progress achieved so far within the negotiations on the Security Council reform and move the process to a more result oriented phase. Bulgaria considers enlargement of the Council in its two categories — permanent and non-permanent members as one of the options that enjoys the support of a considerable number of delegations. The increase in the number of non-permanent seats should provide for a just representation of the Eastern European Group, whose membership has more than doubled over the last two decades.

Transparency is impossible without accountability. First, the UN must be accountable to its member states through a continued strive to improve management and the enforcement of strict budgetary discipline, especially in the current period of economic turmoil.

We, the member states, ought to be accountable to the UN by fulfilling all our commitments, including by paying our financial contributions to the organization fully, unconditionally and in time – a principle that Bulgaria upholds and adheres to: by June 2011 my country has paid all its due contributions for 2011 to the regular budget, the Capital Master Plan, the tribunals and the 2010-2011 peacekeeping missions’ financial period.

We all need to be accountable for our actions to future generations. It is easy to speak of “sustainable development”, but at the moment we are not even remotely close to making it a reality. On the contrary: the damage we have done to the planet’s geology, climate and ecosystems for most of the last century is so significant that scientists are increasingly asserting that the human race has actually managed to push the Earth, way faster than usual, into a new, eventually more unstable and dangerous geological period.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We need both wise and courageous leadership from the UN in our efforts to guarantee peace and security. Wise so as to avoid the temptation to use force when it seems to get results faster than mediation and protracted negotiations. Courageous to take responsibility when the use of force is a must.

In this context, I would like to acknowledge the initiative of Turkey and Finland to introduce a resolution on the topic which Bulgaria readily co-sponsored.

The United Nations will benefit much from strengthening its cooperation with regional security organisations. The cooperation with NATO in Afghanistan is an excellent example. International support has to continue beyond 2014. We were all saddened by the brutal murder of a great Afghan leader — former President Rabbani.  His work must inspire us to continue supporting the Afghan government ‘s efforts at reconciliation and reintegration.

It is high time for bold and decisive actions in the field of disarmament and nonproliferation as well. It is the legal and moral obligation of all of us to honor the commitments undertaken with the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Outcome document of the 2010 Review Conference. A strengthened and robust NPT regime is in the interest of all States, especially with the growing risk of non-state actors getting access to weapons of mass destruction. All States Parties, including DPRK, are bound by the NPT regime. Leaving the NPT should not be without consequences.

Cooperation with IAEA is also essential. As long as Iran continues to not provide greater transparency of its nuclear activities, the concerns of the international community will remain valid. Full compliance with the Security Council resolutions and with the provisions of the IAEA safeguards agreement is paramount for the diplomatic solution of this case.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The sad anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in New York we commemorate this year, the more recent tragic events in Oslo, Mumbai and other cities of the world prove that terrorism is a global cancer that does not discriminate against developed or developing countries and societies. Its eradication requires decisive actions. The successful conclusion of the negotiations on the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism has Bulgaria’s full support.

Bulgaria attaches great importance to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as the principal judicial organ of the United Nations and the only international court of universal character with general jurisdiction. We welcome the fact that the Court has acquired a solid reputation as an impartial institution with the highest legal standards that enjoys the trust of the Member States.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I opened my presentation by focusing on the challenge of tackling non-communicable diseases. Human suffering caused by various illnesses is further exacerbated due to the effects of the series of global crises in food, finance and energy and the threats associated with climate change. Taken together, these and other new challenges impede progress towards the achievement of the MDGs.

Our world today faces challenges that will shape its tomorrow. We need to be able to meet these challenges in a bold manner, with a clear vision for the future and tackle them together as a global community of nations.

Thank you!

Speech at the AJC Global Forum in Washington, DC

28/04/2011 Leave a comment

Nickolay E. Mladenov, Foreign Minister of the Republic of Bulgaria, Addresses AJC's Global Forum

Dear friends from the Jewish community,

Before I start let me add my voice to those who have called for us to remember the victims of natural disasters in the United States over the last few days.

Let me also call on all of us to remember the victims of manmade disasters in the Middle East. Those people who are currently in the streets of Misrata, on the square in …, in Syria, standing up for their freedom peacefully and demanding that their vision of a free Middle East – a Middle East in which human rights are observed – be met.

David spoke briefly about the friendship between Bulgaria and the American Jewish Committee.

The friendship between Bulgaria and the American Jewish Committee has stood the test of time, much like the friendship of the Bulgarian people and the people of the United States of America.

To many of us the last twenty years were about bringing our country back to the community of values from which it was brutally separated by World War II, by the Nazis and then by Communism.

In 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell we looked to the United States as a beacon of democracy; we looked to the Jewish people, whose struggle for a homeland resembles much of our own history and whose ambitions for peace and recognition have been shared by countless Bulgarians throughout generations.

Our agenda was ambitious and bold — to transform our country into a democratic state; to revive and strengthen our traditions of tolerance and respect for all faiths; and to bring our country into NATO and the European Union. Our friends in the United States and Israel have stood with us every step of the way.

In August of last year my good friend David Harris was awarded the Order of the Madara Horseman — one of our nation’s highest decorations, for his invaluable contribution to the development of the Bulgarian – US relations.

Dear David,

Allow me today to extend that recognition to every single one of you here, to all members and friends of the American Jewish Committee and say thank you for consistently promoting the friendship between our nations and helping forge a strong alliance between Bulgaria and the United States,

Thank you for your unfailing support for reforms, and for promoting Bulgaria’s membership in the NATO;

Thank you for being there in times of need, including the time when AJC took a firm stand in advocating the release of the Bulgarian medics wrongly accused and sentenced to death by the Gaddafi regime in Libya;

Thank you for partnering with the Bulgarian Jewish Community “Shalom” in standing up to anti-Semitism; remembering the Holocaust; countering the influence of Islamist extremism and other movements hostile to our shared security.

Yashar Kochachem!

Dear friends,

Just a few days ago, Pesach was celebrated. At the Seder night you read in the Haggada: “in every generation a person is obligated to see himself as if he or she himself has come out of Egypt.”

Mitzrayim, the Hebrew word for “Egypt,” can also be read as Meitzarim meaning “boundaries” and “constrictions”; yetziat mitzrayim, “going out of Egypt,” is the endeavor to rise above all that inhibits us.

Our greatest challenge today is overcoming the meitzrayim that we have created ourselves and standing resolute for what is good, what is right, and what is righteous.

Tonight I would like to address three sets of questions — the threat of rising xenophobia and anti-Semitism, particularly in Europe; peace between the State of Israel and the Palestinian people; and the wave of change that is sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa.

The choices that we make today on how we address these challenges will prove whether we have been able to collectively — as a global community of democracies — successfully complete our yetziat mitzrayim.

A recent report concluded that about half of all Europeans believe that there are too many immigrants in their countries, a significant number of people think that Jews seek to benefit from their forbearers’ suffering during the Nazi era; and half or more of respondents condemn Islam as “a religion of intolerance”. The report concluded that anti-Semitism and other forms of xenophobia are very closely linked. That those with anti-Semitic tendencies are likely to be xenophobic against other minority groups, including Muslims, as well as resentful of homosexuals and women.

Is it true that we can do nothing about these things? Should we accept them, should we accept the anti-Semitism and xenophobia as the boundaries — the meitzrayim — of today’s reality? Or should we challenge them, stand up and defend our own values?

Here are a few suggestions of what I think we should do challenge this threat.

First, we should never ever forget the crime of the Holocaust – as Yom Hashoa that will be internationally commemorated this coming Sunday

In human history to this day this remains perhaps the darkest hour. Keeping the memory of the Shoah alive serves the memories of the countless human beings who perished in the death camps, but also keeps us vigilant about the dangers of genocide around the world.

While remembering the Shoah, we should not shy away from showing the world the crimes against humanity committed by the Soviet Stalinist regime. Those crimes are an intricate part of the history of the Holocaust.

I come from a country that is in a turbulent part of the world, yet has managed to prove that people of different religions – Christians, Muslims and Jews; of different ethnic backgrounds – Bulgarians, Turks and Armenians can actually live together. Bulgaria has seen stellar moments in its history, for example when civil society rose during the Second World War and refused to allow its Jewish population to be sent to concentration camps saving the lives of about 50,000 human beings; or when, after the end of Communism, we peacefully reintegrated our Turkish minority back into our own country.

But it has also seen its dark moments – when it failed to save the Jewish populations of occupied Northern Greece and Vardar Macedonia who were deported to the death camps; or when the Communist regime expelled a large part of our Muslim citizens not because of anything they did, but because of who they were.

Our history teaches us that nations are strong when their civic spirit is strong. It teaches us that you must find pride not only in great historic battles and ancient legends, but in great feats of civic activism, in the standing up for your values and protecting your neighbors. The Jews of Bulgaria survived World War II because hundreds of religious and community leaders, politicians, ordinary men and women stood up and refused to be part of Hitler’s madness.

Imagine the courage and conviction it took to stand up to Nazi policies in a country that was allied with the Third Reich!

As a young Bulgarian I stand tall and proud of the spirit of my predecessors. Their example actually inspires me much more than the Medieval stories of greatness and empires that we have so many of in Europe.

As a human being I cannot but feel shameful that this civic spirit — so strong in Bulgaria during the times of the Shoah — was not present in the occupied territories, where at least 11,000 Jews perished. Their memory lives on and they shall never be forgotten.

It is because of this inspiring, yet tragic history that we in Bulgaria are very sensitive to any attempt to deny anyone their right of existence or of a homeland. This is why we are very sensitive to any attempt to deny the Jewish people the right of a homeland and a state.

I can accept criticism of the policies of any government, but I cannot stand idle when the right of existence is denied to anyone.

To dismiss such policies in passing, would mean to fail at our collective yetziat mitzrayim, because the success of our civilization will be measured by our ability to protect and promote the values of democracy, freedom and tolerance, not just by the number of iPads we produce.

My country today is the product of the traditions of Christians, Jews and Muslims. One’s ethnic background, one’s religious believes do not matter — we are all a part of the Bulgarian nation. This is our richness, this makes us unique in the Balkans. Our diversity and sensitivity to all issues of identity beacons us to stand up and say clearly tonight three things:

  • we shall never accept the policies of Iran to develop nuclear weapons, to challenge the right of a member state of the United Nations to exist, to brutally oppress all opposition;
  • we will stand up to those who aim to subvert the Durban process; Bulgaria will continue to be part of the preparation for the forthcoming Durban III conference, but will reconsider its participation in the process if it fails to meet its original lofty goals and continues to unfoundedly single out the state of Israel. This is why in December 2010 we voted against the Durban Follow-up UN General Assembly Resolution;
  • we will say “no” to all who aim to de-legitimize Israel; The vilification and demonizing of Israel is not only a denial of its right of existence as a home for the Jewish people but a blunt assault on the very values of democracy, freedom and independent human spirit.

To refuse the right of Israel to exist means to refuse the right of the Palestinian people to also have a state of their own.

Which brings me to my second theme.

The Jewish people have the right to have a homeland in the State of Israel. The Palestinian people also have the right to a state of their own. Both have the obligation to live side by side in peace and prosperity. Both are destined to live together and in peace with their neighbors — Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and the rest of the Arab World.

Bulgaria is a country that boasts a strategic partnership with the State of Israel, but also has strong links with the Palestinian people.

Today, the leaders of Israel and the leaders of the Palestinian people face a historic challenge — to build a partnership that leads to a two-state solution and jointly work towards contributing to peace in the broader Middle East.

To be true partners, both sides need to take difficult decisions.

On the Palestinian side it means reasserting the full control of the PA — as a representative of the Palestinian people — over both the West Bank and Gaza; achieving reconciliation of all factions under one secular authority that recognizes all previous commitments and recommits not to use force or to allow terror to achieve its goals. Last but not least, it also means not to look for a unilateral solution but pursue the path of negotiations.

On the side of Israel it means holding back on policies that may be perceived to predetermine a final settlement; allowing more economic opportunity and activity in the West Bank in order to create the institutions of a future Palestinian state; and last but not least allowing for the economic opening of Gaza, while protecting the security of Israel.

In paving the way for peace we must recognize the legitimate concerns of both sides – Israel’s security and the need for a viable Palestinian state.

In this effort we cannot and must not forget the 1.5 million people who live in Gaza – they have the right to a better life. Just like the children of Sderot who have the right to go to school without the threat or rocket attacks.

It is the duty of all friends of peace to see that Israelis and Palestinians together overcome the boundaries, the constraints, the mietzrayim to peace. This is why Bulgaria will stand in support of all efforts to achieve reconciliation and to advance solutions based on negotiations, not violence or unilateral acts.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today we stand on the doorstep of historic change in the Middle East. Change, the scale of which can be only compared to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the sweeping transformation of Central and Eastern Europe after the end of Communism.

Both processes are quite different, but share a fundamental similarity — people have come out of the bondage of fear. Although the circumstances in each country are divergent, the root causes for what is happening in the Middle East are similar.

  • Corrupt leadership breeds dissent and with no democratic process in place, this dissent pours out onto the streets.
  • Young people want to be engaged in the future of their countries, not forced into a world of virtual reality and frowned upon by aging dictators.
  • Millions of people who live on the brink of poverty and see a privileged few reap the benefits of economic freedom will demand fair economic opportunities for all.

Add to that the feeling of revival, the demand of millions of young Arabs to be respected not to be denied the opportunities that others have, not to be talked down or discriminated and you have the makings of a revolution of Arab dignity and self respect, a historic revolution indeed.

As change sweeps across North Africa and the Middle East we in Europe and the United States need to look beyond tomorrow. In 1989 the United States and Western Europe at that point extended a hand to all of us coming out from Communist dictatorships by offering the prospect of EU and NATO membership.

Today, we need to match the scale of that historic effort of 20 years ago with a new partnership for security and prosperity with the Middle East and North Africa.

  • The EU should extend opportunities for economic cooperation and market access;
  • NATO should stand ready to promote a new Mediterranean security partnership;
  • The Council of Europe should offer association to all North African and Middle Eastern countries that want to protect human rights and enshrine in their constitutions the freedoms that we hold dear;
  • Central and Eastern Europe should offer the lessons learned from our transition to our Southern neighbors;
  • But most importantly perhaps, the US and the EU should always remember that it is our transatlantic bond that makes us strong and that bond should continue to be the cornerstone for all our policies in the Middle East.

These are some of the reasons why on May 5th and 6th, the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry is convening the first of a series of international conferences to look at how we can support transition in the Middle East, while advancing the secular nature of government and protecting our security.

Before I conclude, I cannot but turn to the situation in Syria. Ten days ago I visited president Assad in Damascus and spoke at length with him. And I carried a strong message that had two elements. First, break the cycle of violence, pull back the tanks. Second, open up a rapid, radical programme of reforms for Syria. To this message I can only now add two things – stop harboring enemies of peace and extend a hand to agreement with your neighbors. Difficult choices are needed. But historic choices that are fundamental to the security of the Middle East, to the security of Europe and ultimately to the security of the United States. And I hope you will join me today and many others across Europe who want to call on the leadership of Syria to be loyal not to anyone else but to its own people and to initiate radical, massive, unprecedented reforms that will open up that country and provide for its return into the family of all modern nations. I think this is perhaps the most important message that this week we can all carry to our friends in the Middle East if we really not just crave but work for peace.

Dear David, dear friends,

I started by quoting the Mishna. “In every generation, a person is obligated to see himself as if he or she himself has come out of Egypt.” Pesah is the festival of eternal freedom, it shows that salvation is possible indeed, that we must do good, that it’s not just about remembering but reliving, overcoming and educating.

The values that are enshrined in the Pesah carry a universal message across religions and cultures.

A message that is shared by Christians on Easter, a message with which all who have lived in oppression can identify with. And I hope we take that message together to all those who continue to live under oppression.

Thank you!