MM: US needs to forge global coalition to beat extremism

THE United States must forge a global coalition to counter Islamic extremism, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew said on Wednesday.

The battle will turn against the radicals when moderate Muslim governments like Indonesia, Malaysia, the Gulf states, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia feel comfortable enough to associate themselves openly against Islamic terrorism.

“A worldwide coalition is necessary to fight the fires of hatred that Islamic fanatics are fanning,” he said in a speech after receiving a prestigious American award for public service at a gala dinner here.

The award was presented by the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars, a Washington-based institute whose board of trustees is appointed by the US President and includes Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The glittering event drew some 400 eminent guests, including United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former Federal Reserve Bank chairman Paul Volcker, IBM head Samuel Palmisano and Singapore property tycoon Ong Beng Seng.

Tributes to Mr Lee flowed during a pre-taped nine-minute video clip beamed onto two projection screens in the Mandarin Oriental ballroom, which looks out eastwards towards Central Park and the lights of midtown New York.

Those who spoke in the video included former president George H.W. Bush and former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Shultz.

From Singapore, Mr Lee’s son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, took the lead in praising his father.

MM Lee is the first South-east Asian leader to receive the award. The Woodrow Wilson Centre also honoured Singapore banker and former OCBC chairman Lee Seng Wee for corporate citizenship.

One of the key themes of MM Lee’s 20-minute speech was that multilateralism won the Cold War, and it would win the war on terror.

“No single power, no religion, no single ideology can conquer the world, or remake it in its own image. The world is too diverse,” he noted.

Drawing on his years of experience in government, he offered advice on fighting terrorism, the war in Iraq, Iran and the Arab-Israeli conflict -major issues that revolve around the turbulent Middle East and preoccupy the Bush administration today.

He noted that the basic feature of US foreign policy to contain the former Soviet Union was inclusiveness – embracing all those countries which opposed communism, whatever their governments.

After his speech, he explained that he had focused on the Middle East because of strategic uncertainty in the region that could affect the whole world.

Besides Iraq, the Arab-Israeli conflict remained unresolved, and there was the danger of Iran arming itself with nuclear weapons.

“Whoever wins the next US election in 2008 will face a very different world,” he warned. “By then, you will not have just Iraq, but also Iran, to contend with. It will not be an easy world to live in.

“It will be as seminal an event as the collapse of the Soviet Union, because if there is a change in the power balance in the Gulf, and with oil at stake, the future of the world will take a different course.”

New York is the first stop on a two-week working visit for MMLee, who arrived on Monday.

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