Senator Joe Lieberman delivered a speech today at an AIPAC event, speaking primarily about Egypt. Here are key excerpts (full text below):

“We cannot be naïve about the obstacles and the uncertainties that lie ahead in Egypt, which is today just at the beginning of its transition to democracy. But we have seen, repeatedly in our lifetimes, democracy take root in places where few predicted it was possible. From Indonesia to Chile, and from East Germany to South Korea, authoritarian regimes have been supplanted by flourishing free societies in every corner of the earth, and the United States and the world are better for it.

“A democratic Egypt is definitely achievable, and it is clearly in our national interest to do everything we can to support the Egyptian people as they go to work to bring it into being. Americans and Egyptians are now natural allies in our hopes and aspirations for a new democratic Egypt, and so too may I add, are the people of the one mature democracy in the Middle East today—and that, of course, is Israel.

“That means we must encourage the Egyptian army to immediately lift the emergency law and to forge a genuine partnership with a broad and representative spectrum of the opposition, so that a transitional government can be formed that reflects the aspirations and inspires the confidence of the Egyptian people. It means providing whatever assistance we can as that transitional government takes steps to revise the Egyptian constitution, to open up space for real political dialogue and competition, and to lay the groundwork for elections that are truly free and fair.

“We and the rest of the world must also continue to encourage the new Egyptian government to respect its international and regional commitments, including the 1979 peace treaty with Israel that Sadat and Begin signed and successive generations of leaders in Israel and Egypt have upheld. The statement of the Egyptian Army to this effect over the weekend was a significant step, and fits a broader pattern of behavior by the Army in recent weeks that is encouraging.

“There is also reason to believe that a truly democratic Egypt will ultimately have better relations with Israel, because peace is usually most secure and sustainable when it rests on the foundation of freedom. It is this possibility for a warm peace between Israel and Egypt—not the cold peace that has existed, but the full peace with broad mutually beneficial partnerships in business, education, healthcare, and technology, that is only possible between two free and democratic peoples—that should be our vision. And as we work together with our partners in Egypt to realize this vision, we should remember that no two democracies have gone to war with each other in over two hundred years.”

The full text of Senator Lieberman’s speech, as prepared for delivery:

Today, Senator Lieberman delivered remarks concerning the situation in the Middle East to the leadership of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), particularly highlighting the developments in Egypt and Iran. Below is the full text of the speech as prepared for delivery.

Thank you so much, Lonny, for that wonderful introduction. It is such a pleasure to be here with you this afternoon.

Normally, when a Senator is asked to give a speech like this, he begins by acknowledging the names of people in the audience he recognizes and holds in esteem. But looking out at the group assembled here today, I see so many familiar faces, so many treasured friends—I could spend the next hour doing nothing else!

Now this would be very emotionally satisfying for me—but I understand that you were promised a speech, not a filibuster, and so I will restrain myself.

Suffice it to say, when it comes to AIPAC, I consider the people in this room to be more than just my policy allies, more than just my friends. I am deeply grateful to each and every one of you for everything you have done to help me throughout my career in public life. And I promise you—I am not done yet!

I’d like to begin today by talking about the subject that I am sure is on the minds of everyone here: the historic events that have taken place in Egypt over the past three weeks and that are still unfolding there, and what they mean for the United States and for Israel.

I am going to put forward an essentially hopeful view of the impact of recent events in Egypt, as well as Tunisia, but I also do so with humility.

In thinking about the uprising that swept President Mubarak from power in Egypt last week, I was reminded of a story about President Nixon. When Nixon made his first visit to China in 1972, he met in the walled garden of the Forbidden City with Chinese Premier Zhou En-Lai. Nixon had heard that Zhou had studied in France and was a historian and so the President asked him what he thought the impact of the French revolution was on history. Zhou En-Lai reportedly pondered the question for a minute, then replied, “It’s too soon to tell.”

It is essentially much too soon to tell what the full impact will be of the revolution that has taken place in Egypt—or the related uprising in Tunisia that occurred just a few weeks earlier. What is clear is that the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East has undergone a tectonic shift, and that the reverberations of these events will be felt not only for the days and weeks ahead, but for months and years beyond.

As the Egyptian uprising advanced over the last three weeks, I found myself both thrilled and unsettled—thrilled to see people peacefully claiming their universal human rights, but unsettled about where the uprising would end.

In his foreign policy, President Mubarak was an ally to both the United States and Israel. And we know from history that popular uprisings, begun with the best of intentions, can be hijacked by well-organized extremist minorities. That is what happened in France after 1789, in Russia after 1917, and of course in Iran after 1979.

We also know from more recent history how extremist groups can exploit democratic means to achieve radically undemocratic ends, and, for that matter, how peaceful uprisings can succeed in dislodging a dictatorship, only to watch as another dictatorship creeps in and takes its place, suppressing the people. That has been the story in post-Soviet Russia and other parts of the former USSR since 1991.

Despite these reasons for caution and concern, however, I think it would be a mistake to allow fear and foreboding to dominate or dictate our thinking about the changes that are underway in Egypt.

The fact is, President Mubarak was not overthrown because of his foreign policy or because he was pro-American or kept the peace treaty with Israel. He was overthrown because he presided over an authoritarian and corrupt regime that failed to answer the legitimate demands of the Egyptian people for freedom and opportunity.

And as I looked at the streets of Cairo, I was encouraged by what I saw. I did not see crowds of Islamist extremists brandishing weapons and chanting “Death to America” or “Death to Israel.” There were no suicide bombings or political assassinations. Rather, I saw millions of people from all walks of life who were inspired to peaceful protest not by anti-Americanism, but by a quintessentially American set of ideals and values, which are also universal, beginning with the notion that all of us are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, including the right to live in freedom and with opportunity.

The clear demand of the protesters in Egypt has been for the rule of law, not for Sharia law. And their success now offers a hopeful lesson for the entire Middle East that sweeping change is best achieved not through the terrorism and fanaticism of al Qaeda or Hamas, but through the moral force of peaceful, non-violent democratic protest.

We cannot be naïve about the obstacles and the uncertainties that lie ahead in Egypt, which is today just at the beginning of its transition to democracy. But we have seen, repeatedly in our lifetimes, democracy take root in places where few predicted it was possible. From Indonesia to Chile, and from East Germany to South Korea, authoritarian regimes have been supplanted by flourishing free societies in every corner of the earth, and the United States and the world are better for it.

A democratic Egypt is definitely achievable, and it is clearly in our national interest to do everything we can to support the Egyptian people as they go to work to bring it into being. Americans and Egyptians are now natural allies in our hopes and aspirations for a new democratic Egypt, and so too may I add, are the people of the one mature democracy in the Middle East today—and that, of course, is Israel.

That means we must encourage the Egyptian army to immediately lift the emergency law and to forge a genuine partnership with a broad and representative spectrum of the opposition, so that a transitional government can be formed that reflects the aspirations and inspires the confidence of the Egyptian people. It means providing whatever assistance we can as that transitional government takes steps to revise the Egyptian constitution, to open up space for real political dialogue and competition, and to lay the groundwork for elections that are truly free and fair.

We and the rest of the world must also continue to encourage the new Egyptian government to respect its international and regional commitments, including the 1979 peace treaty with Israel that Sadat and Begin signed and successive generations of leaders in Israel and Egypt have upheld. The statement of the Egyptian Army to this effect over the weekend was a significant step, and fits a broader pattern of behavior by the Army in recent weeks that is encouraging.

There is also reason to hope that a truly democratic Egypt will ultimately have better relations with Israel, because peace is usually most secure and sustainable when it rests on the foundation of freedom. It is this possibility for a warm peace between Israel and Egypt—not the cold peace that has existed, but the full peace with broad mutually beneficial partnerships in business, education, healthcare, and technology, that is only possible between two free and democratic peoples—that should be our vision. And as we work together with our partners in Egypt to realize this vision, we should remember that no two democracies have gone to war with each other in over two hundred years.

While we are understandably focused on the events in Egypt, it is important not to forget that the most clear and present danger in the Middle East today comes from the Islamic Republic of Iran.

I have been a supporter of the Obama administration’s dual track approach of engagement and pressure in response to the Iranian challenge—including the effort to orchestrate a new set of sanctions, in the hope that these measures will push the leadership in Teheran to suspend its illicit nuclear activities and reconcile with the international community. The White House has pursued this strategy with discipline and determination.

The result has been a cascade of new measures since last summer—beginning at the UN Security Council, and then continuing in Congress and among responsible countries and companies worldwide, from the EU to Australia, Japan to South Korea, and most recently Norway and Switzerland—that has been faster, broader, and more intensive than I expected and than the Iranian leadership anticipated, I suspect.

There is no question that the Iranian regime is under heightened pressure today, both at home and abroad. That is the good news—and I am deeply grateful for the essential work of AIPAC throughout this process. Your strong and principled leadership has been crucial.

Unfortunately, as you know, the Iranians have shown no sign that they are willing to change their strategic calculus in response to the pressure we have brought to bear.

It was less than a month ago that the Iranians met in Istanbul with the members of the P-5+1—the U.S., France, Britain, Germany, Russia, and China. Rather than seize this opportunity to negotiate seriously, the Iranians instead used the gathering to insist that sanctions be lifted and that the P-5+1 recognize their “right to enrichment” under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Meanwhile, Iran’s nuclear efforts are continuing forward. Despite some technical difficulties that have been acknowledged by the Iranians, Iran’s centrifuges keep spinning, and its stockpile of fissile material continues to grow.

In the aftermath of the Istanbul meeting, several steps are clearly now necessary in my view.

First, we must not waiver or consider concessions to Iran in the hope of restarting the diplomatic process. In particular, we must continue to hold the line and aggressively counter Iran’s claim that it has the “right” to enrichment under the Nonproliferation Treaty, and make clear that under no circumstances can we trust the current rulers of Iran to keep any enrichment or reprocessing activity on their territory.

Second, Iran’s failure to negotiate seriously at Istanbul demands that we ratchet up the pressure on the regime. That means more aggressive and creative enforcement of existing sanctions against Iran. It means American penalties against companies that continue to invest in Iran’s energy sector or sell refined petroleum to Iran—including Chinese companies.

And it means that the Administration must make use of the powerful new authority granted to it by law, to cut off from the U.S. financial system any foreign bank that continues to do business with the IRGC, its front companies, or other illicit Iranian actors.

Third, it is time for the United States and the EU to begin exploring even more severe and destabilizing measures against Iran, such as sanctioning the Central Bank of Iran or targeting the Iranian regime’s ability to derive revenue from its oil exports, which are the lifeblood of the Iranian economy.

Finally, we must also acknowledge the possibility that the current leaders of Iran are incapable of compromise on the nuclear program, no matter how much pressure is put on them, because opposition to America and the West is so integral to their very identity. If this is the case, our best hope to resolve this confrontation is not for the regime to change its behavior, but for the regime itself to be changed. In this respect, let us hope and pray that what has happened in Egypt will provide renewed inspiration and direction to the millions of Iranians who yearn for freedom.

In fact, in recent days, Iran’s leaders have sought to claim the uprising in Egypt as a victory for the Islamic Republic. The reality, however—as the Supreme Leader well knows—is that the success of Egypt’s young, largely secular protesters in overthrowing a thirty year-old dictatorship is precisely what the majority of young Iranians want in their own country as well.

One of Egypt’s young protest leaders—the Google executive Wael Ghonim—put it well last week, when he spoke to an Iranian human rights group, itself a hopeful sign. His message to the Iranian human rights activists was this: “I tell all Iranians that you should learn from Egyptians because we learned from you.”

We in the United States must also learn from what happened in Egypt—first and foremost, that even the seemingly most entrenched and determined dictatorships can be brought down by the power of their own people with stunning speed. Our sanctions effort with Iran should therefore increasingly aim not just to add pressure on the existing regime, but to target the growing fissures both within the regime itself, and between the regime and Iranian society.

This should include much more robust engagement and support for opposition forces inside Iran, both by the United States and like-minded democratic nations around the world. And it should involve more targeted sanctions by the U.S. and EU against human rights abusers in Iran, as authorized by a provision that Senator McCain and I inserted into the comprehensive sanctions bill passed by Congress last year.

And I hope that the Obama Administration will continue to elevate the importance of human rights and democracy in its overall approach to Iran.

There is no one senior official in the Obama administration who wakes up every day “owning” the mission of helping the Iranian people overcome their government’s electronic monitoring and censorship, share information, and secure the universal human rights with which all of us have been endowed by our Creator—as Stuart Levey has so ably done regarding financial sanctions against Iran. In other words, the President needs to choose and empower his “Stuart Levey” for the Green Movement in Iran.

I also agree with President Obama that the use of military force is not the “ideal way” to stop the Iranian nuclear program. But if a nuclear Iran is as unacceptable as we all say it is, we must be prepared to do whatever is necessary to prevent the unacceptable.

Let me make one final point. At this time of uncertainty, we must do everything in our power to reassure our Israeli allies that our alliance is unshakable and unbreakable, and that whatever storms of history are thundering through the region, we will weather them together. That is certainly the bipartisan sentiment I hear in the halls of Congress.

As Americans and as friends of Israel, we face a double challenge in the world today. On the one hand, we must have the courage to see the world as it is: a world with conflicts and hatreds against our two great democracies, a world in which too often demagogues are hailed as kings and fanatics celebrated as prophets.

On the other hand, we must acknowledge that freedom’s range has spread remarkably in our time and we must have the vision to see the world as it can to be. This is the alternative future we must also summon the imagination to envision for the Middle East, and the political will to help bring into being:

A Middle East in which a democratic Egypt and a democratic Iran assume their central positions as peaceful, prosperous regional powers and the modern heirs to two of the world’s great civilizations.

A Middle East in which Islamist extremism no longer inspires violence or loyalty, but joins other failed and inhumane ideologies among history’s losers.

And a Middle East in which Israel and its Arab and Persian neighbors live in peace with each other as fellow democracies that respect the human rights of their citizens—in a region where the notion of going to war against each other becomes as unthinkable and absurd as it is today in Europe among nations who fought each other for centuries.

I know this vision may seem like a naïve dream. But I also know, as a great man once said, if we will it, it is no dream!

Thank you, and I look forward to your questions.

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