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The Daily Tar Heel

Arab Journalists, Diplomats Speak Out on U.S. Policy

The University Center for International Studies hosted a forum Thursday on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, featuring a panel of four Arab journalists and diplomats.

"(The program) was actually planned prior to Sept. 11 to discuss U.S. foreign policy in the new administration," said Chad Haines, research associate for UCIS. "Obviously, in light of Sept. 11, the agenda has expanded."

The delegation -- brought to America by the U.S. State Department and Raleigh's International Visitors' Center -- has been making stops across the country and will travel to Houston on Saturday.

The forum opened with each of the panelists offering, through two interpreters, their perceptions of U.S. foreign policy toward the Middle East. "The new American administration is not lucky," said Badr Iddim Adham, head of the Arab-affairs section of the Al Akhbar newspaper in Cairo, about the foreign relations issues facing the Bush administration in its first few months.

Hala Al-Ghanim, the only woman on the panel, serves as the director of the International Media Department of the Kuwait Ministry of Information. She said American foreign policy shortchanges the Palestinian population. "The American attitude is lazy in dealing with issues like Palestine," Al-Ghanim said. "When it was dealing with Israel, we saw a proactive and vigorous relationship."

Other panel members weighed in heavily on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Adham dismissed an audience member's question about the possible internationalization of Jerusalem, saying that past efforts in other cities have failed. "All the Palestinian people want is a country to call home and a passport to carry," said Abdulla Alayoobi, head of the news desk at Akhbar Al-Khaleej, a newspaper in Bahrain.

The journalists also said they were unified with the American people after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. "I want to assure you that all Arab people condemn terrorism and stand side by side with the American people," Adham said.

But the journalists used the idea of terrorism to criticize American foreign policy. "When a country hijacks the rights of a citizen to live within the boundaries of his own country, that is terrorism," Alayoobi said, describing the feelings of many Palestinians.

The journalists also agreed that the United States possesses the ability to solve problems in the Middle East but that in recent years it has left the warring sides to deal with the issues on their own. "(American foreign policy) is based on interest and not based on morality and ethics," Alayoobi said.

The 60 to 70 people in the audience ranged from scholars of Middle Eastern history and politics to news-savvy students. Danielle Iredale, a freshman from Shillington, Pa., said she is interested in getting inside perspectives of different cultures. "I found the discussion of the status of Jerusalem extremely interesting," she said. "I had only heard the Israeli side before."

The University Editor can be reached at udesk@unc.edu.

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