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US senator wants 'readjustment' of Mideast policy

March 17, 2011 10:00 A.M. (Updated: March 19, 2011 1:16 A.M.)
WASHINGTON (AFP) -- US Senator John Kerry said that US policy toward the Middle East needs a "readjustment" to reflect the new realities of the region, as people across the region engage in protests demanding better representation from their leaders.

"Too often over the past decade we have seen regimes in the region chiefly as bulwarks in the fight against terrorism, while looking away from abuses we find unconscionable," Kerry said in a speech at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

"We can no longer view the Middle East solely through the lens of September 11. Now, we must view it through the lens of 2011," said Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The Democrat from the state of Massachusetts said the US policy toward the Middle East over recent decades "has been driven by our addiction to foreign oil. Democracy and human rights have been overshadowed."

But regime change in Tunisia and Egypt, as well as uprisings in Libya, Bahrain and Yemen, he said, present "an enormous challenge both for the people of the region and for America's relationship with them."

The US must respond as it did when the Soviet Union collapsed, said Kerry, who noted that he and fellow Senators John McCain and Joseph Lieberman would file legislation proposing financial aid to build democracies and free markets.

Less than three weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Kerry said, then-president George H.W. Bush signed into law a bill authorizing close to $1 billion in aid to Poland and Hungary.

That program expanded to include other Warsaw Pact countries and beyond, eventually spending $9 billion in assistance between 1990 and 2009, he said, noting it remains active in six Balkan states.

"I believe a similar program can be invaluable now," Kerry said. "It is particularly important that we get this right in Egypt. What happens there will affect not only 80 million Egyptians, but the entire Middle East."

Kerry said he plans to travel to the Middle East "in the coming days."
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