quinta-feira, 28 de maio de 2009

US Congressman participates in Western Saharan conference in Madrid

US Representative Donald Payne, Member of Congress and President of the House Sub-Committee on Africa and Global Health, participated on Tuesday in the opening day of a series of conferences on the Western Sahara organized by six public universities in Madrid.

Representative Payne, who is also the co-chair of the bi-partisan Western Sahara Caucus in the US Congress, traveled to the Círculo de Bellas Artes to offer his support and solidarity with the Saharawis and their movement for the realization of a referendum on independence.

Before reading a letter he had co-written to President Obama in favour of the Saharawis’ right to self-determination, Congressman Payne offered his reasons for supporting the independence of the Western Sahara.

“The right to self-determination is a basic, fundamental human right,” insisted the US legislator. “It is a principle upon which our country was founded.”

“There are, of course, other points of view in the US Congress…but our position is the right position, and therefore, hopefully in the long run, right will win out over wrong,” added Rep. Payne.

The Congressman’s speech, which was entitled “The Self-Determination of the Western Sahara and the Political Agenda of the United States,” touched briefly on the hope that the new Obama Administration will support the Saharawis’ UN-backed right to self-determination.

“The Obama Administration is putting together its [foreign policy] team, and that’s taking time,” assured Rep. Payne. “Ambassador Johnnie Carson has been named the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, and he is a seasoned diplomat and a veteran with much experience in the continent.

“The team is being put together, and I suspect will have an answer [regarding the Western Sahara] before too long.”

The Congressman implored the Saharawis to have patience before returning to war, saying that the Obama Administration had a number of issues on its plate, and it would be a little while before it can come out with a clear policy on the Western Saharan conflict.

Representative Payne also encouraged other countries to take the lead and not wait for the new US Administration to act, which was met with applause from the primarily-European audience.

“Why doesn’t Spain go to France and put more pressure on them?” the Congressman suggested. “They’re your friend, your ally. Why don’t we get some movement right here in Europe? Everyone always turns to the US, but other countries need to take the lead, as well.”

Responding to questions from the audience, Mr. Payne talked about the level of familiarity of the US people with the Western Saharan conflict

“I would have to say that this is an issue that very few know about, because it is an issue that doesn’t resonate, like Darfur or Sudan resonate,” conceded Mr. Payne.

The US legislator received his best response from the audience when he answered a question regarding the historical alliance between the US and Morocco.

“As you know, Morocco has been one of the US strongest allies in North Africa in military terms,” said Congressman Payne. “But if we were to base our alliances on human rights, clearly Morocco would not be on our list. I never thought to ask my colleagues about the alliance, but I will have to do so when I get back!”

Congressman Payne, who was accompanied by Ms. Noelle LuSane, the Staff Director of the Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health, left Madrid on Tuesday evening, headed for South Africa.

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