U.S. State Department Geographic Bureaus: Near East and North Africa Bureau

U.S. Department of State
96/06/12 Testimony: Robert Pelletreau on Middle East and North Africa
Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs

DEVELOPMENTS IN THE MIDDLE EAST

Statement of Robert H. Pelletreau
Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs
Department of State
Before the House International Relations Committee
June 12, 1996

Mr. Chairman, distinguished members of the Committee: I am pleased to appear before you to review recent developments in the Middle East and North Africa. My statement today will focus on the peace process. I will also review our policy toward the Persian Gulf, Iraq, Iran, the GCC, Libya and Algeria.

There are few areas of the world where so many important U.S. interests come together as in the Middle East. Let me begin by restating American interests in the region. They include:

-- Securing a just, lasting and comprehensive peace between Israel and all its neighbors.

-- Maintaining our steadfast commitment to Israel's security and well- being.

-- Building and maintaining political, economic and security relations with our friends in the Gulf and ensuring unimpeded commercial access to area petroleum reserves, which are vital to our economic prosperity.

-- Ensuring fair access for American business to commercial opportunities in the region.

-- Countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and the systems to deliver them, and combating terrorism.

-- Promoting more open political and economic systems and respect for human rights and the rule of law.

Mr. Chairman, promoting peace and security in this turbulent part of the world remains at the forefront of the Administration's diplomatic efforts. We have a major interest in preventing the outbreak of conflict and promoting the peaceful resolution of disputes. We also have an interest in compelling changes in conduct by rogue states, limiting the means of potential war-makers, and isolating extremists who foment destabilization and conflict. These goals can only be achieved through sustained political engagement, backed by American military power, and with the support of our friends and allies.

Middle East Peace Process

The Administration is fully committed to helping secure a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East. Over the past three-and-a- half years, the United States has given strong support to Israel and its Arab partners as they take bold and courageous steps toward peace. Our support has been especially critical in recent months as the enemies of peace have waged a violent campaign to undermine the peace process. The suicide bombings in Israel in February and March, followed by the crisis involving Lebanon and Israel in April represented not only a human tragedy, but a serious challenge to the peace process.

In both cases, the United States took the initiative to safeguard the peace process and refocus attention on negotiations. Following the suicide bombings in Israel, President Clinton organized the Sharm el- Sheikh summit, which brought together leaders from around the world to support Israel at a difficult moment and to send a clear message that terrorism must be confronted and beaten. Likewise in the Lebanon crisis, the understanding brokered by Secretary Christopher has helped control the fragile situation there and protect civilians on both sides of the Israel-Lebanon border.

These achievements are a testament to the extraordinary resilience of the peace process in the face of repeated challenges. Each setback has brought new energy and resolve to move forward. Over time, this dynamic has wrought a remarkable transformation in the region. In the past three years, Jordan has joined Egypt in signing a peace treaty with Israel; Israelis and Palestinians have signed three landmark agreements; two Arab-Israeli economic summits have been held; eight Arab League members have made official visits to Israel; all but three Arab states have participated in some aspect of the peace process; and Israel has exchanged diplomatic offices with Morocco and Tunisia and commercial offices with Qatar and Oman.

Israeli Elections

The hard-fought election campaign in Israel last month demonstrated the vibrancy of its democracy. Prime Minister-elect Netanyahu is now forming a new government and could present it to the Knesset as early as next week.

President Clinton called the Prime Minister-elect after the election to congratulate him on his victory on behalf of the United States and to extend an invitation to Washington. Ambassador Indyk has met with Mr. Netanyahu subsequent to the election, and Secretary Christopher has already spoken with the incoming Prime Minister several times. Mr. Netanyahu has expressed a strong commitment to continue the peace process and has conveyed his commitment directly to Egyptian, Jordanian, Omani, Qatari and Palestinian leaders.

We will consult with the new government as it develops its policies, as well as with our Arab partners who have taken risks for peace. We consider it important to implement and build on the agreements which Israel and the Arabs have negotiated.

Israel-Palestinians

Israel and the Palestinians have engaged in almost-continuous negotiations since 1993 to transform their milestone Declaration of Principles into an operational arrangement on the ground. These negotiations have produced three landmark agreements, including most recently the September 1995 Israel-PLO Interim Agreement extending Palestinian self-rule into the West Bank. This agreement, signed at the White House, delineates both sides' rights and responsibilities in political, economic, security, resources, and other areas and creates a framework for cooperation. A trilateral committee established by the U.S. and including both parties serves as an additional forum to spur implementation of the bilateral agreements.

The redeployment of Israel Defense Forces from Palestinian cities this fall and winter in accordance with the Interim Agreement was accomplished with only minor incidents. The March redeployment from Hebron was delayed by mutual agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. The Palestinian authorities have assumed their responsibilities and are for the first time managing their own affairs. The redeployment expanded joint security patrols, increased liaison activities, and generally laid the basis for the ongoing Israeli- Palestinian cooperation to combat terrorism.

The Palestinian election on January 20 was another milestone achievement. The U.S. gave political encouragement and critical support for the election through the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute, and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems. Palestinian voters defied the Hamas call to boycott elections and turned out in large numbers. The balloting transpired largely without incident, and the successful elections gave the Palestinian leadership a clear mandate to pursue peace, democracy, and co-existence with Israel.

In response to Hamas suicide bombings in Israel last February and March, Chairman Arafat, with strong U.S. support, has taken serious steps against the Hamas infrastructure and has gone far to eliminate its terrorist capabilities. The United States has stressed to Arafat and other Palestinian leaders the need to keep up a comprehensive, sustained, and systematic approach to combat terrorism.

The United States welcomed the vote on April 24 by the Palestinian National Council as honoring the PLO s important commitment to approve necessary changes to the Palestinian Covenant. This vote represented an important step toward peace between Israel and the Palestinians. By an overwhelming margin, the PNC took decisive action at a difficult moment in the peace process, underscoring Palestinian support for Arafat's commitment in the Interim Agreement.

The United States continues to monitor Palestinian performance in these matters closely. On May 15, the Department provided an update to the March 1 report to Congress on PLO compliance with its commitments. In that update, we assessed recent activities by the PLO and Palestinian Authority to fight terrorism, amending the PLO Covenant, and implement Israeli-Palestinian agreements. The President will once again carefully weigh the facts at hand before making his determination, pursuant to MEPFA, whether or not to renew the suspension of certain statutory restrictions on the PLO, which expires on June 15.

The United States has worked hard to find ways to support the Palestinian people as they strive to manage their affairs and develop a viable economy. Israeli measures to protect Israelis, including the closure of Palestinian areas, have had a significant impact on the Palestinian economy. In response to the worsening economic situation, on April 12 the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee charged with coordinating assistance for the West Bank and Gaza Strip agreed to press ahead with an emergency jobs program and core development projects to ease the stress on the Palestinian economy. The jobs creation program in small civil works has resulted in sustained employment for 15,000-20,000 workers, but this is not enough to overcome the effects of closure.

We remain engaged with Palestinian authorities and the government of Israel to find and implement measures to reconcile Israeli security needs with the Palestinians' economic needs. Israel announced last week that it would more than triple the number of Palestinians allowed to work in Israel to 22,000. Israel also will allow increased truck traffic through the crossing points.

The United States will strive in the next phase of the aid effort to build on the solid achievements of the past year. About $900 million of the $2.4 billion five-year pledge by all donors in 1993 has been disbursed. For our part, USAID has released $170 million of our five- year, $500 million pledge toward development programs and start-up costs of the new Palestinian administration. Last week, we signed a $24 million contract that will further our flagship wastewater project in Gaza. Assuming we can reestablish the favorable conditions of late last year, we will achieve our objectives in this critical area of the peace process.

Israel-Jordan

In October 1994, Jordan became the second Arab state to sign a peace treaty with Israel. Jordan and Israel are now charting a new course in the search for peace and prosperity in the Middle East as they expand bilateral contacts and work to build a warm peace. In January, Jordan and Israel signed the last of 14 agreements called for in the peace treaty covering such areas as tourism, trade and economic cooperation, energy and transportation. These agreements have facilitated normalization, as reflected by the commencement in April of commercial air service between Amman and Tel Aviv. The Jordan Rift Valley development scheme and the Eilat-Aqaba joint airport terminal offer particularly dramatic potential for expanding economic and cultural relations. The United States has actively supported these initiatives through the U.S.-Israel-Jordan Trilateral Economic Committee.

The commitment shown by President Clinton and the Congress to help Jordan has bolstered King Hussein's resolve to embrace full peace with Israel. Congressional support for writing off Jordan's official debt has been essential, and we hope the Congress will eventually provide the $25 million requested in the Administration's FY 1997 budget necessary to forgive the remainder of Jordan's bilateral debt. U.S. assistance has also been essential to help Jordan defend itself in a dangerous neighborhood. We welcome the Congress's support for the provision of U.S. military equipment and services under a defense drawdown and the transfer of an F-16 squadron to help modernize the obsolescent Royal Jordanian Air Force.

Other Bilateral Tracks

Syrian-Israeli negotiations have made important substantive progress over the past months. There were three rounds of talks between senior Israeli and Syrian officials from December to March under U.S. auspices at the Wye River Plantation conference center in Maryland. These talks were an effective format for the discussions between Israel and Syria. The last round was suspended following the terrorist bombings in Israel. These discussions can provide a solid foundation for progress whenever negotiations resume.

The April clashes along the Lebanon-Israel border underscore the need for progress toward peace. The understanding brokered by Secretary Christopher to end the crisis is a marked improvement on the understanding he negotiated in 1993. Unlike the previous understanding, it is written and contains important provisions to help protect civilians on both sides of the Israel-Lebanon border. It establishes a consultative group to address economic needs, as well as a monitoring group that includes the United States, France, Israel, Lebanon and Syria to review complaints about implementation of the understanding.

I should add that we support Lebanese independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity and that we share the goal of the Lebanese people of a nation secure and at peace, and free from all foreign forces.

Multilateral Initiatives

The Multilateral track of the peace process launched in early 1992 shortly after the Madrid peace conference, complements the bilateral peace negotiations by focusing on issues of regional concern. The Multilateral Working Groups bring together representatives of Israel, thirteen Arab countries, and more than 30 parties from outside the region to address broad issues such as water, the environment, economic development, refugees, and arms control and security.

The working groups have made progress on specific projects which promote the long-term peace, stability and prosperity of the region. For example, the Water Resources Working Group, which the United States chairs, has launched major initiatives to study water supply and demand in the region, build water data banks, and establish the Middle East Desalination Research Center in Oman. Recently the group agreed to a new project proposed by the U.S. to increase public awareness of water consumption needs and techniques. The Working Group on economic development has implemented initiatives announced at last year's regional economic summit in Amman, including the Middle East- Mediterranean Travel and Tourism Association and a regional business council. On May 31 in New York, the Americas Division of the travel and tourism association was established. We expect it will be followed by the creation of other regional divisions. Activities such as these give us a glimpse of the promise of the region in a era of comprehensive peace.

Tangible improvements in the lives of people in the region will help peace in the Middle East to take firmer root and spread. The Middle East-North Africa Economic Summit process, begun two years ago in Casablanca, addresses this need in practical and symbolic ways. The practical effect is to stimulate economic development; the symbolic effect is to show what can be accomplished in a more peaceful and cooperative Middle East. Last October, the Amman summit brought together more than 1,000 business leaders and representatives from 70 countries. The conference spurred regional economic integration, private investment, and the development of regional economic institutions.

We envision that this year's economic summit in Cairo in November will build more momentum for a political, economic, and psychological transformation of the Middle East and North Africa, including economic liberalization in Egypt and other regional states. The summit will demonstrate to governments and their populations that peace with Israel can bring tangible benefits. The summit will reinforce the concept of a public-private partnership for development in the Middle East, which will receive additional impetus at the summit next year in Qatar, and at annual economic summits after that. The Administration is also managing the economic summit process to enhance commercial opportunities for U.S. business.

A priority regional initiative this year is the Middle East Development Bank (MEDB). The MEDB will be an innovative financing institution, emphasizing cofinancing with the private sector and other financial institutions. Its mandate is to promote private sector growth and entrepreneurship; support regional development projects, particularly transborder infrastructure; and enhance regional economic policy dialogue and coordination.

A remaining blight on the positive trend toward regional economic interaction is the Arab League's boycott of Israel. The boycott is a vestige of the past, and boycott practices on the ground continue to erode as peace spreads. The GCC states renounced their adherence to the secondary and tertiary aspects of the boycott in September 1994, and the number of boycott-related requests from the Gulf states has fallen significantly during the past year. Israeli economic ties with Egypt and Jordan -- two states that have abandoned the boycott altogether -- are on the rise. We will continue to urge the Arab states to take unilateral actions against the boycott while we press for an Arab League resolution to end it.

Egypt

Egypt remains an important and influential partner in the search for peace and security in the Middle East. We work closely together to advance the peace process, regional stability, and other issues important to our interests. President Mubarak's establishment of a new government in January reflected his personal commitment to accelerate economic reform and liberalization. It was an announcement that Egypt is open for business. Prime Minister Ganzouri already has taken steps to reduce tariffs, streamline the Egyptian bureaucracy, and introduce legislation to encourage domestic and foreign investment in Egypt. The Partnership for Economic Growth and Development has taken root and is already promoting private sector development. The Egyptian government recently has sold off majority shares in several para-statals through the Cairo stock exchange. The upcoming Cairo Economic Summit represents a unique opportunity for Egypt to showcase improvements in the climate for investment and to demonstrate its fitness as a regional leader in the economic arena. We are working closely with the Egyptians and others to ensure the summit's success.

The violence of Islamic extremists in Egypt is a matter of serious concern to us as well as other friends of Egypt. The protracted low- level conflict, largely in Upper Egypt, however, does not threaten the stability of the country. The tragic slaying of the Greek tourists in April was, in our view, an aberration.

Challenges to Peace and Stability

Progress toward a settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict since 1993 warrants a degree of optimism that would have been unrealistic in past years. There are, however, serious continuing threats to our interests in the Middle East. Forces of terrorism and rejection remain active and bent on killing the hopes for peace. In addition, extremist movements - - religious and secular -- that resort to violence and terror challenge several governments in the region. The pursuit of weapons of mass destruction by several states poses a long-term threat, which must be stopped. I would underscore that the activities of Iran, Iraq and Libya remain particular sources of concern. Let me turn now to our policy toward the Gulf region.

Iraq

The United States is determined to prevent Iraq from again becoming a serious threat to international stability and peace. Our policy on Iraq remains unchanged: Iraq must fulfill all obligations established under the UN Security Council Resolutions passed as a result of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Full compliance would reduce Iraq as a threat to the region.

As the Committee is aware, the Iraqi government recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the UN on implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 986. The resolution permits the controlled sale of $2 billion in Iraqi oil over six months to finance imports of food, medicine and other humanitarian items. The resolution calls for 30 percent of the proceeds to go toward compensating the victims of Iraqi aggression and up to 15 percent to be set aside for a UN-administered humanitarian program in northern Iraq. The UN is now working on the many operational details of implementation, and there are many steps that must be completed before Iraqi oil begins to flow and humanitarian goods arrive in Iraq. Implementation of the resolution is not a precursor to lifting sanctions. It is a humanitarian exception that preserves and even reinforces the sanctions regime. Until full compliance is a reality, we will oppose any modification of sanctions. Congressional support for our effort to obtain full compliance has been essential. Experience has shown that a firm and unified stance by the United States and others in the international community is the only way to bring about compliance.

Iraq's one concession to the resolutions -- its recognition of Kuwait -- was subsequently tainted by statements in official Iraqi media suggesting that the recognition was not to be taken seriously. Meanwhile Iraq has failed to fulfill any of its other obligations. It has failed to account for hundreds of Kuwaitis missing since the Gulf War; it has not returned Kuwaiti property looted during the occupation; it has not ceased its support for terrorism; it continues to brutally repress its own citizens; and Iraq is still not complying with all of its obligations regarding weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

The United States fully supports the efforts of the chairman of the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM), Ambassador Ekeus, to fulfill its mandate under Security Council Resolution 687, and to ensure the full dismantling of Iraq's WMD program. UNSCOM continues to find evidence that Iraq is hiding evidence on its weapons programs. As Chairman Ekeus noted in his most recent report to the Security Council on April 16, "there are still significant deficiencies and gaps in Iraq's disclosures on chemical and biological weapons, proscribed ballistic missiles and related capabilities. The Commission has noted recent acquisition of prohibited items by Iraq. This means that the Commission has serious concerns that a full account and disposal of Iraq's holdings has not been made." The United States will continue to oppose any relaxation of sanctions until Iraq demonstrates peaceful intentions through its overall compliance with UNSC resolutions.

Regarding the conflict between rival Kurdish groups in northern Iraq, we continue our efforts to persuade Kurdish leaders to resolve their differences. We continue to make clear to the Kurds that the United States supports the territorial integrity of Iraq, and we look forward to the day when all Iraqis can enjoy the protection of a democratic, pluralistic government in Baghdad.

Iran

Our policy toward Iran is aimed at pressuring Tehran to change its unacceptable policies. This Administration has made clear that we have deep objections to specific aspects of Iranian policies, including its continuing support for terrorism; support for groups that use violence against the Middle East peace process; pursuit of WMD; efforts to subvert other governments; and a human rights record which is deservedly condemned by the international community.

We seek to focus international pressure on Iran to change this behavior. Economic pressure is necessary both to limit Iran's capabilities and to convince the leadership in Tehran to abandon its threatening policies. Thirteen months ago, the United States reaffirmed its determination to hold Iran accountable for its actions by imposing a unilateral trade and investment embargo. In focusing pressure on Iran, we seek to exact an economic cost for its continued pursuit of objectionable policies and activities.

Securing the cooperation of our allies is important to our strategy; the impact of our pressure on Iran's economy will be much greater if these measures are multilateral. Although the European states have not joined us in a trade embargo of Iran, they have substantially reduced the pace and volume of their commercial relations with Iran. The Europeans continue to favor a "critical dialogue" with Iran, although they admit that it has been unsuccessful in changing Iranian behavior. We are not opposed to the critical dialogue, but have urged the EU to challenge Iran s continued engagement in unacceptable activities with some form of pressure.

Because we want to increase the costs to Iran, the Administration supports the intent of the pending sanctions legislation. We want to deter foreign firms from developing Iran's petroleum sector. As the Committee is aware, we were prepared to support the bill that was reported out of the Senate Banking. We have appreciated the opportunity to consult with this committee, House Ways and Means, and the House Banking Committee, and hope we can soon reach a final bill that maximizes the pressure on Iran -- and Libya -- while minimizing unnecessary costs to our other interests.

We remain steadfast in our efforts to work closely with our allies to help thwart Iran's efforts to build up conventional military capabilities and acquire items useful for its WMD programs. We have secured commitments from Russia and 30 other governments participating in the Wassenaar Arrangement to prevent the acquisition of arms and sensitive dual-use items for military use by countries of concern -- including Iran and three other pariah states, Iraq, Libya, and North Korea. We have achieved general agreement among nuclear-materials- producer states not to assist Iran in development of nuclear weapons. Russia and China remain important exceptions to this international consensus. We continue to discuss this issue with Moscow and Beijing at the highest levels and will not be satisfied until they stop all nuclear cooperation with Iran. The United States is committed to lead this effort to pressure Iran for the long-term. We must recognize, however, that, if America is to lead, we must have followers. We need to tailor our diplomatic and legislative strategy to ensure that we do not damage our own economic and political interests more than we hurt Iran.

GCC

A second focus of our policy in the Gulf, complementing our efforts to counter the threatening potential of Iraq and Iran, is maintaining close political, economic and security ties with our friends, the Gulf Cooperation Council states. We work with them closely to ensure regional peace and stability. They provide significant support to the Middle East peace process; they are vital members of the anti-Iraq coalition and strong supporters of the sanctions regime; and they see eye-to-eye with us on Iran. We also maintain an extensive dialogue with the Gulf states on economic and trade issues. These states are important markets for U.S. goods. Many are members of the World Trade Organization, and the Saudis are actively negotiating to join.

Gulf Security is thus an important American concern. We are seeking to bolster the defensive capabilities of the GCC states by urging them to work more closely together on collective defense and security. We have also strengthened our ability to act quickly in cooperation with our regional partners by maintaining strong forces in the region, by prepositioning equipment and material, and by providing defense articles to friendly states.

The U.S. also stands with GCC states as they move to confront a variety of domestic challenges. Given increasing populations and relatively stable oil prices, our friends face difficult economic decisions. We seek every opportunity to encourage the GCC states to move toward more participatory mechanisms of government involving all elements of its citizenry. None of the GCC states, however, faces a serious threat to overall governmental control and authority. In the case of Bahrain, we take very seriously recent allegations of Iranian support for militants seeking to overthrow the government. We would view with great concern any external effort to destabilize it or compromise its economic and social development and recently announced political reforms.

Libya

Libya continues to pose a threat to security in North Africa and beyond. On March 21, the United Nations Security Council voted for the twelfth time to extend its sanctions regime against Libya. This vote reflects the Security Council's opinion that Libya has not yet met the requirements of UNSC 731 concerning the bombings of Pan Am 103 and UTA 772. We strongly condemn Libya's lack of cooperation in helping bring these tragic episodes to an end. We will continue to support the international community's resolve to see that justice is served.

While we have seen tangible results from the UN sanctions, we have yet to see Libyan compliance with the UN resolutions. More needs to be done. There are significant differences between the U.S. position on enhanced sanctions and that of our allies, but we continue to press for more effective action. I would like to note that in April we held a productive meeting in London with our British and French counterparts to examine ways to tighten the existing UN sanctions regime in areas such as terrorism, aviation, financial activities and Libya diplomatic presence abroad. As we have indicated in our consultations with the Congress, we support legislation that contains sanctions against companies that violate the existing UN bans on certain trade and transactions with Libya.

From time to time, the Government of Libya seeks would-be intermediaries both in the U.S. and abroad to negotiate a settlement to bring sanctions to an end. Let me repeat the message we and the international community have said so many times: there are no alternative avenues to resolution of this problem other than full compliance with Security Council resolutions of the United Nations.

We continue to have serious concerns about Libyan efforts to augment its WMD capabilities. On the issue of Libya's chemical weapons complex at Tarhuna, we remain deeply concerned about Libya's continuing chemical weapons program. Given Qadhafi's long history of financial and military support to terrorist movements around the world and his uncompromising stance against the peace process, we believe that no good can come from a state sponsor of terrorism with that kind of destructive capability.

Algeria

We continue to follow and assess developments in Algeria with great interest. There have been significant political developments in recent months which give room for encouragement, but violence remains a deep concern. We deplore the heinous killing of seven French monks last month by the Armed Islamic Group. The U.S. responded positively to the election of President Zeroual last November and his announced intention to pursue national reconciliation in Algeria. In December, President Clinton indicated in a letter to the newly-elected president that the United States was prepared to support him as he takes steps to build on his election by broadening and accelerating this process of reconciliation and his government continues its economic reforms. We continue to urge a process of political and economic reform leading to national reconciliation among all Algerians who disavow violence and terrorism.

I traveled to Algiers in March and was encouraged by President Zeroual's commitment to strengthen democratic pluralism in Algeria. The legislative elections announced for early next year can be an important element in the reconciliation process. Political measures alone are not enough; a program of political inclusion, more aggressive economic reform geared toward freeing the private sector, proactive security measures and continued marginalization of extremists provide a basis for stability and can give the Algerian people hope for the future. We are concerned, however, by the pattern of censorship and seizure of Algerian newspapers by the Algerian government. We see a free and open press as a vital element of a peaceful political solution.

The United States encourages Algeria to seize the opportunity for greater political stability and economic progress. We will continue to watch the situation in Algeria closely to assess the credibility and democratic nature the forthcoming elections. A political solution remains essential for a peaceful resolution to the Algerian crisis.

Conclusion

Mr. Chairman, recent developments in the Middle East and North Africa present the United States with opportunities and challenges. Despite the many dangers that persist to regional security, the underlying prospects for a more peaceful, prosperous, and stable region are better than ever before. We are committed to helping further this trend: facilitating negotiations, promoting regional cooperation, supporting the peacemakers, and standing firm against the forces of extremism and terror. Events of recent months serve as a reminder of the formidable challenges to security that remain in this volatile region. This Administration will work to ensure that threats are contained and America's vital interests are safeguarded.

Thank you.

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