|Briefing En Route Tel Aviv, Israel|
Secretary Condoleezza Rice
En Route Tel Aviv, Israel
October 14, 2007
SECRETARY RICE: We're headed to Israeli and the Palestinian territories. We'll start in Jerusalem. I'll spend some time in Jerusalem, some time in Ramallah. I'll make a brief trip over to Egypt and then we'll end in London, where the King of Jordan is, so I'll see him there.
Obviously, the purpose of this trip is to continue to support advancement of the two parties on the bilateral track -- I hope to get an update on how their discussions are going, they've appointed teams, there have been a couple of meetings -- to see what we can do to help advance that track and also to work with the Jordanians and with the Egyptians on supporting the work that the two sides are doing.
I don't expect out of this meeting that there will be any particular outcome in the sense of breakthroughs on the document, so I would just warn in advance not to expect that because this is really a work in progress. It's a work in progress on their part. It's a work in progress on our part. But we are just going to try to keep moving the process forward. And I expect that I'll be out here again in the next couple of weeks as we try to move toward an international meeting sometime mid-fall.
QUESTION: Do you expect to have any more clarity on the meeting at all? Do you expect any more clarity on the meeting?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think we have clarity on the meeting itself, what the meeting would like to achieve. We got that in New York. But what I'm really looking for is clarity on where the parties see themselves in the negotiations on their bilateral statement that they would hopefully present for the meeting. That's the clarity that I'm seeking here. And it'll give us a sense for how much work remains to be done and how much work remains to be done to prepare the meeting as well.
QUESTION: Analysts want to see this like as a statement of the endgame, you know, talking about having the Palestinians go on record and say we'll accept no right of return and the Israelis say, you know, we'll share Jerusalem. Do you see -- is that what you want out of this and do you see the parties getting anywhere close to that?
SECRETARY RICE: I do think it's important that they address the core issues in some fashion. I also think it's important that the document be substantive enough that it points that there is way forward toward the establishment of a Palestinian state. But I want to avoid trying to characterize precisely what needs to be in the document because I think that the parties have their own views. And part of the issue is to help them narrow differences that they may have about what the nature of this document ought to be.
QUESTION: I realize that you're going to find out how the negotiations are going. That said, Assistant Secretary Welch has been there for a couple of days already. What kind of a read do you get so far in terms of where they are? Do you think they are getting closer? Do you think those negotiations are actually making any progress?
SECRETARY RICE: I have some readouts from Assistant Secretary Welch on paper. I've not had a chance to talk to him personally and I'd like to do that before I have a sense myself. My impression is that the meetings are serious, that they are -- that they both consider the atmosphere to be good. Obviously, as one would expect at this point in time, there are still issues and differences to bridge in the nature of the document and what's going to be in the document. But my impression is that they're getting along quite well.
QUESTION: And do you think it's helpful or unhelpful -- do you think it would be helpful for there to be some kind of a timetable in the document? I mean, you talk about the importance of figuring out how you go forward. Would a timetable help that?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, as you know, I tend to be myself rather suspicious of timetables in almost anything in diplomacy. But I think that there will want to be -- that everyone will want to have a sense that once the process of negotiations begins that it's going to continue to have a sort of forward momentum, that there isn't going to be -- simply that it's not going to get stuck. And I think that's what people are really looking for.
So let's see what the two sides as well as the international community believes would be capable of giving us then some continuing momentum. I think that's really what people are looking for.
QUESTION: Is there any particular reason that you're spending four whole days in the Middle East on this particular problem? It seems more than you usually spend, especially given the fact that it's still, as you describe it, kind of a preliminary time in terms of preparing for the conference. Can you just talk a little bit about your own personal involvement here?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, it's better to have some intensive engagement earlier in the process than much later in the process. Obviously, we would like to be able to hold a substantive and serious meeting this fall, as the President outlined. It's now October. It is indeed still early. But I do think some intensive engagement with the parties now to really see where they are, to see if there's something that I can do to help move them closer together, to frankly give a sense of confidence to the parties that we're going to be there to help them move forward, that it's a good time to spend a more intensive period of time working with them.
It's not that I -- that we -- I expect or that they expect to close anything now. I don't think anybody expects that. But we do have to keep this moving forward. And you know, I think some intensity now is a good thing.
QUESTION: And you're not bringing any specific ideas to propose? This is more like a listening tour?
SECRETARY RICE: We'll see. Look, I don't think that -- you know, everybody keeps expecting the moment when the United States says, oh, here's what we think. I don't really think that that's helpful. What's helpful is to use the parties' ideas and if we do have ideas to use our ideas to help move them forward. But this is really still very much about their bilateral negotiations because going back to where we were in February of '07 when I came out here shortly after the Mecca agreement and I think there was very little confidence between the parties, that on top of the fact that they had really not even discussed these issues since the Camp David summit collapsed, and that led then to the second intifada.
And there is a lot that has to be achieved even in the area of confidence between the parties. And one way that you achieve confidence is that the two of them work together; they hammer these things out together rather than just having the United States interpose itself in a way that I think isn't going to help to build confidence. Because ultimately, if we do get to actual negotiations as opposed to negotiations on just a joint document, there's going to have to be a lot of confidence between the parties and no third party can substitute for that confidence between them.
QUESTION: Can you explain why this Administration has never embraced the notion of a special envoy in the way that past administrations have? I mean, do you essentially fear that if you -- because you said this interesting thing about how you felt that it was important that you be there to give them confidence that "we will be there" for them to help them. And if that's the case, I wonder why not just take somebody, name them to do this, so that they are truly there all the time. I mean, can you explain why that concept has never really been one that you've embraced?
SECRETARY RICE: You know, Middle East peace, when it has moved forward, it has moved forward with different diplomatic configurations. There have been special envoys from the United States and in some cases there have not been special envoys (inaudible) have played that role. But I don't rule out any option down the road, but right now the key is for the parties themselves to talk about these issues, to find what common ground there is. They're not into the level of detail where I think that doing this or the United States trying to do it every day to cross every last T and place every last comma makes very much sense. What they're doing right now is they're finding a common basis that I hope they will be able to present to the international community that says there is every reason to believe that we can negotiate successfully for the establishment of a Palestinian state. That's what they're doing now.
And in that stage, it seems best to me that we continue to make the focus their discussions with American help periodically but sometimes intensive (inaudible). But I don't rule -- you know, I don't rule out different configurations down the road if that would be helpful. I just don't think it's helpful now.
QUESTION: Do you see a Palestinian state emerging before you leave office?
SECRETARY RICE: All I can do before I leave office is to give 100 percent till I leave office. And we'll see how far we can get. But this President has done a lot over the last five and a half, six years to lay groundwork for a different approach and for a different starting point for the establishment of a Palestinian state, you know, with firm American commitment to the establishment of a state right up front, right up front -- it's going to be a state, it's going to be called Palestine -- leading then to, I think, a readjustment of attitudes in the international community, most especially in Israel itself, where with Ariel Sharon's Herzliya speech saying we have to divide the land. You got the broadest possible Israeli agreement that a Palestinian state was in Israel's interest. I don't think we've ever been there before.
And on that basis, you know, we have an opportunity to try to move this as far forward as we possibly can. That's the only commitment I can make right now. Would it obviously be very good to get a Palestinian state as soon as possible? Absolutely. But there's a lot of work between now and then. And it's also important to note that there is an issue of the agreement and then there is the issue of implementation, and there are a lot of obligations that would have to be met for a Palestinian state to really be able to stand up and to be able to govern itself. In part, that is why the Blair mission is so important because without the establishment of institutions, without the establishment of a viable prospect of an economic future, this state's never going to work. So these all have to work together.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, did you get an answer from the Israelis about this confiscation of Palestinian land?
SECRETARY RICE: I did. What I'll do is I'd prefer to have the Israelis say precisely what they -- their clarification. But let me put it this way. It was a clarification concerning the timing of such a -- the actual timing that anything would happen, saying that it was not imminent and also that it was to improve Palestinian mobility. We'll continue to have discussions about this.
But the point that I'll be making is we have to be very careful as we're trying to move toward the establishment of a Palestinian state by actions and statement that erode confidence in the parties' commitment to a two-state solution. And even if the intentions are good and even if the actual events on the ground are intended to produce a certain kind of outcome, you know, this is a very delicate time. And statements and intentions in a period in which we're trying to build confidence of the parties in each other, when we're trying to build confidence that a two-state solution can work, when we're trying to build confidence that there are not going to be actions on the ground that prejudge the outcome, you know, it's just a time to be extremely careful. And that's a point that I'll be making.
QUESTION: Has the strike in Syria at all affected this process going forward?
SECRETARY RICE: You mean the press reports that have been around? Okay, I'm not going to comment on the press reports. But the issues of proliferation I think are -- don't affect the Palestinian-Israeli peace efforts that we're making. The issues of proliferation concern us because the President has been -- as you know, it's been one of his highest priorities. So we're going to continue to be concerned about any reports of, evidence of, proliferation, and channel that on the track that we've been handling it.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) you've seen the press reports, the Israelis have bombed one of the country's you hope, as I understand, to invite to the conference. Does that at all complicate --
SECRETARY RICE: I'm not going to comment on the press reports.
QUESTION: What is the reason for that?
SECRETARY RICE: That I'm not commenting on press reports?
QUESTION: Just in general. I mean, if there's this major action that's gone on in -- I'm not talking about what actually happened.
SECRETARY RICE: Look, as I said, I'm not going to comment on press reports and I'm certainly not going to comment on reports about other people's military actions. So you know, I'm just not.
QUESTION: Isn't it more than press reports, though? I mean, clearly something happened. We've got a statement -- now the Syrians have come out and talked about what's happened.
SECRETARY RICE: I'm not going to comment on the reports that have been appearing in the press. What I will say is what all of us have been focused on, is that we're very concerned about any evidence of or any indication of proliferation and we're handling those issues in appropriate diplomatic channels.
QUESTION: Would Syria not be invited if you -- if it was discovered that they were --
SECRETARY RICE: We haven't invited anyone yet. And you know I don't speculate about such things, but the fact is that, as I said, the appropriate attendees would most likely be those who are the Arab League Committee and Syria is a member of the Arab League Committee.
QUESTION: In the context of the Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations today, how do you view as an impediment the role of Hezbollah and Hamas as saboteurs?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, anyone who does not support this opening in Israeli-Palestinian discussions of issues that have been dormant for now years, I think can't possibly have the interests of the Palestinian people at heart. This is -- it is, you know, not a perfect circumstance in which to try to get Palestinians and Israelis to develop a pathway to a Palestinian state, but they're better circumstances that we've had in quite a long time. And I have to say that those who remain outside the consensus for a two-state solution, for a serious peace process, are very much running against the tide of responsible Arab opinion, of responsible international opinion, and if you believe most of the polls that are taken of responsible -- of Palestinian and Israeli opinion of the populations as well.
QUESTION: Just to follow up. You do not view Hezbollah and Hamas's current role in their respective -- in Lebanon and in Gaza and the way they're participating in the governmental process there as a greater impediment today?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, Gaza is a special circumstance because of the illegal action that Hamas took there. Eventually, there has to be a -- when a Palestinian state is established, it's going to be established in the West Bank and Gaza, and there'll obviously have to be some resolution of that situation. But I think the goal now is to paint as concrete a picture as possible of the -- of a Palestinian state to demonstrate that the international community, the region and most importantly the parties themselves believe that one can indeed be established, and then to invite all who have any -- who have the interests of the Palestinian people at heart to join that consensus.
Okay, thank you.