|Interview with Roundtable with Traveling Press|
Secretary Condoleezza Rice
October 15, 2007
QUESTION: I'd like to ask a question about the timetable because Abbas said that it's not going to be open-ended, there's going to be a timetable. Do you guys see a timetable --
SECRETARY RICE: I'm not certain that a timetable that says we have to complete “x” by “y” time is where we want to go, but we are discussing it with everybody. What really that reflects, I think, is that people don't want to see something that just keeps going on and on and on with no end in sight. And so we are talking about ways to demonstrate continued momentum if and when they begin actual formal negotiations. But we haven't come to any conclusions about it at this point.
QUESTION: What seemed to excite a lot of my colleagues here locally as we were on the phone on the way back was the reference to the November document.
SECRETARY RICE: Look, there are two months left in the fall, November and December, so --
QUESTION: I know, but does that mean the document that you go into Annapolis with or the document that you come out of Annapolis -- the document that everyone endorses at Annapolis?
SECRETARY RICE: I think I was referring at the time to what the parties would -- I don't remember the context -- but I think I was referring to what the parties would actually --
QUESTION: Would bring?
SECRETARY RICE: Bring. Right. But again, you know there are really only -- it's kind of November or December. That's really all that's left of the fall.
QUESTION: My colleagues were ginned up about your comment about the joint document would seriously and substantively address the core issues.
SECRETARY RICE: I said it needs to be a serious and substantive document that would address core issues.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
QUESTION: And their interpretation of that, and I'd be interested in hearing you address this, is that it is somewhat in contrast to the kinds of things that Prime Minister Olmert has been saying in public, talking about how you want some more broad-brush --
SECRETARY RICE: A document does not have to be detailed in order to be serious. It doesn't have to be detailed in order to be substantive. I think everybody understands that if it is going to address the establishment of a Palestinian state then it has to address core issues. So I -- look, I don't -- I think that we have to be careful. They're not going to be able to come to answers about issues that have been on the table for decades in a short document that they're preparing for an international meeting.
But both have signaled to me that they want to have this document signal that they agree that there is a basis to move forward for the establishment of a Palestinian state. And that's really what I mean by serious and substantive, not that it has to be detailed in any way.
QUESTION: So it should not in any way be interpreted as we're trying to (inaudible) the Israelis (inaudible) or --
SECRETARY RICE: No, I -- the -- no, because I think there will be some things about which they won't be ready to enter into detail, and I think that's just fine. Detail can come in the -- when, as I said -- if they get to formal negotiations, there's going to be plenty of detail to work out. The question is what can they signal about the basis of moving forward.
And this began, remember, as a way to memorialize understandings that the two of them might reach in -- kind of general principles -- during their bilateral discussions. And then they decided, well, they would put together negotiating teams to try and memorialize those understandings. And that led then to a lot of speculation about how detailed would it be and would it be a framework agreement and all those things. I don't think we are really talking about a kind of classic framework agreement where everything gets worked out in equal measure to be the basis on which you then go and negotiate details, but you do need to have enough that is concrete so that people know that we are not just starting out with general principle everybody would like to have a Palestinian state. They are both committed to that.
QUESTION: It sounds like you're trying to nudge both sides closer to the middle.
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, I think that would be --
QUESTION: Even though you said, I think yesterday, that you were here to listen. Are you trying to --
SECRETARY RICE: I said I'm trying to help them find -- I've been trying for some time, and especially here and I will continue to try that, to help them come to a common understanding, first of all, what it is they can realistically do before the international meeting; and then, in order to deliver on whatever it is they can realistically do, if there is need to bridge some ideas, to do that.
QUESTION: There are warnings on both sides. On the Israeli side, there are warnings that the coalition, Olmert's coalition, will fall apart if they go too far. On the Palestinian side, there are warnings of potentially a third intifada if it doesn't go far enough. I'm wondering how realistic do you think both of those are and how likely you are to bridge that.
SECRETARY RICE: I think we are going to have a lot of hyperbole between now and the international meeting, and then a lot of hyperbole after that, because what I do take from this trip and my discussions is people are really taking this seriously. They really now know that they are engaged in a serious enterprise. I don't mean to suggest that they weren't serious before, but that this is an opportunity to really move the process forward. I think the appointment of very senior political figures on both sides demonstrates that there is a kind of understanding of the weight of this and the importance of trying to make progress.
And whenever that happens and whenever people are getting ready to do something serious and hard -- and I don't just mean this document, I mean the whole process -- there will be a lot of ups and downs.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, I'm Steve Myers, New York Times.
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah. I remember, Steve.
QUESTION: They are also taking it seriously because they're very worried about what happens if it fails, and some people think that the more specific the document, the harder it is for Olmert to keep his government together -- and you met with some of his problem cases, which are good excuses for him, too, of course -- and that as vague a document puts Abu Mazen under threat, so whose fate matters more to you?
SECRETARY RICE: No, it is to find that place that they can -- that both can land that will help two leaders who I think started out really just in kind of general conversations -- if you remember about the political horizon -- remember the political horizon? That was quite a long time ago now -- and started to see that they might be able to lay a foundation for negotiation. And I do think that the prospect of an international meeting has also concentrated people's thinking. But this is the beginning not the end of a process. Even the meeting will be the beginning and not the end of a process. And so I think it is wise not to try to go too far. Let's see how far we can get in this next step and then see what follows after that.
QUESTION: Would you like to see this meeting, whenever it is, end with an opening of negotiations between the two sides?
SECRETARY RICE: I think it depends a little bit on how far the bilateral track has gone. But certainly I would hope that it will have demonstrated that there is a foundation to have negotiations for statehood.
QUESTION: In his opening statement today, President Abbas listed kind of a laundry list of things that he wanted you to do with the Israelis. I'm just curious, can you give us any insight into what you generally told him about those kinds of demands?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I've said to both the Israelis and the Palestinians that they need to build confidence between them. Let me start back and say I think the two leaders are developing a sense of confidence between themselves. There needs to be a translation of that personal confidence into confidence between the two parties and indeed between the societies. And that can be significantly helped by some movement on the kind of first phase roadmap obligations which, if some of them are fulfilled or if people start to make progress on them, I think will improve the confidence between the two sides. I think it will also improve the confidence of the international community and the region that this has a chance to keep moving forward.
So what I committed to President Abbas and also committed to Prime Minister Olmert is I think that everybody ought to get busy on those roadmap obligations and that I would help to give a sense of where we think the work remains to be done.
QUESTION: Just one follow. Your -- in your language today at the press conference, you were quite strong in saying how important this peace initiative is to President Bush. You said it was one of the top priorities of the final years in office, that you are going to, I think, devote every ounce of your energy to try to see that. I mean, do you think -- are you worried about a certain amount of skepticism given the last five years that people here are going are going to say, oh, that's just the Americans again? I mean, if you're not willing to kind of push the Israelis the way, you know, Abbas asks, why would people here in the Palestinian --
SECRETARY RICE: In any circumstance like this, one isn't pushing only one party. Right? So the -- you have parties that want -- I really do believe want to try to make progress here. They want to move this forward. And so it is not as if you are -- it's not as if I feel that we are pushing them to do something they don't want to do. It is an issue of helping them find pathways to achieve what it is they want to achieve.
In terms of the Administration's dedication to this issue, you know we didn't start yesterday trying to move this issue forward. We didn't even start in January when I talked about the importance of this to the President in his last several months in office. But this goes back a long way. It goes back to the President's first annunciation of the two-state solution. It goes back to 2002 when he talked about the need for fundamentally different conditions on the Palestinian side if we were going to achieve Palestinian statehood, talking about a democratic Palestinian state, talking about new leadership for the Palestinians, that Israel had obligations too, but putting combating terrorism right at the top of the list, talking about the fact that the state would not just -- it wasn't -- that the issue of statehood wasn't just an issue of what its borders would be but also what its internal composition would be; and then going through the period of time in which then the notion of the two-state solution got picked up by Prime Minister Sharon, which broadened significantly the political space in Israel devoted to the two-state solution, really bringing onboard Likud and the father of the settlement movement to divide the land.
It's easy to forget that we went through the period of the disengagement of Israel from Gaza and Palestinian elections. We went through a terrible time between -- going back a little bit, between 2001 and the end of 2002 when the violence in the second intifada sort of reached a peak. So we've been through a lot here to get to where we are now. And you have to make a judgment as to when the kind of intense diplomatic activity to try to bring about an agreement has a chance of succeeding. And I just don't see how in 2001 or 2002 the kind of activity that we're engaged in now had any chance of working.
Now, I think because of all that has been done over the last five, six years, including I think the fact that this President has established with both Israelis and Palestinians that he understands the importance of a two-state solution, he also understands that a two-state solution has to lead to greater security and not to less.
QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit about the President's role at this point? Is he backing up your visits with phone calls? Is he (inaudible)?
SECRETARY RICE: He's seeing people. He's talking to people on the phone. He gave an interview recently to Al Arabiya, which I would point you all to, where he talked about this issue. And I know that when the time comes, he's ready to do, in terms of his own personal engagement, whatever he can do to try to make progress.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, you said you are willing to spend a lot of energy in terms of this issue and senior U.S. officials told us yesterday that only the U.S. can do the regional diplomatic work around the Israeli and Palestinian (inaudible). Does it mean that you are going to -- you are now ready to get your hands dirty to be more directly involved in the negotiations?
SECRETARY RICE: I don't know how much dirtier I can get my hands than they've been in the last year or so. (Laughter). Look, I know that there is a particular image of how one does this diplomacy and I fully respect that that might be the way that one does it. I would just note that it hasn't thus far succeeded in creating a Palestinian state. And so if I'm going to step back and try a different way, then I think, you know, I'm comfortable doing that.
In part, I would encourage all of you as you look at this over the next several months to step back and think about how we've tried to lay the groundwork for this particular point in time and how we've tried to change some of the underlying circumstances that consistently frustrated an outcome, a positive outcome, for the end of the conflict. And now, there's a chance to deliver at least progress. I would be the last to say that we might not get all the way, but I do think we can move this significantly forward.
MR. MCCORMACK: I think we have time for just maybe two more questions. I think we have a little shorter time than we thought.
QUESTION: At one point does Hamas have to be addressed in one way or another? It feels like everybody's going through this process as if they're not there -- I mean, the people who are, in fact, running Gaza.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, it's actually very interesting. First of all, just let's take the factual kind of legal basis here. Abu Mazen is the Chairman of the PLO. That is the legitimate negotiating authority for the Palestinian people. Abu Mazen is also the President of all the Palestinians and the Palestinian Authority. And Hamas launched a kind of coup, as he has called it, against legitimate Palestinian institutions in Gaza.
There haven't been many voices speaking up for the legitimacy of what Hamas did. And so you work with the legitimate authority and legitimate institutions of the Palestinian people to try to move them toward an agreement, toward progress on statehood. And there will have to come a time when the Palestinian people will have to decide whether the prospect of that state is in their interest, and I think they will decide that it is.
It is also very important that the Arabs, who have long said that they wanted a Palestinian state and have championed the Palestinian cause, now support the legitimate leadership of the Palestinian people in the person of Abu Mazen so that any groups or entities or for that matter countries that are outside the consensus which is the roadmap, the Arab Peace Initiative, the two-state solution, is branded as being outside the consensus.
So that's how I think you deal with rejectionists at this point. I'm still hopeful that when there is a realistic prospect of a Palestinian state, a more concrete prospect of a Palestinian state, that that will attract the support of the widest possible elements of the -- widest possible Palestinian leadership and groups and all that. But people are going to have to accept that it means accepting the existence of Israel and the right of Israel to exist.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up. Should a political arrangement evolve between Abu Mazen and Hamas leadership, you would be willing to include Hamas leadership the same way you've included other parties on the Israeli side?
SECRETARY RICE: We've been very clear about what the criteria are for involvement in this process and for support of this process, and they are the fundamental principles for peace. You have to -- if you're going to have a two-state solution, you have to accept the right of the other party to exist. If you're going to have a two-state solution that is born of negotiation, you're going to have to renounce violence. If you're going to have a reliable, confident relationship between the parties, you're going to have to accept agreements that were signed in good faith by Palestinian leaders for over a decade. And so these aren't criteria that are somehow exogenous to the creation of a Palestinian state. They're not somehow criteria that are exogenous to the desire for an end to the conflict. They're integral to ending the conflict. So anybody who really wants to end the conflict ought to be prepared to accept them.
QUESTION: Can I ask a question on timing? Everyone says this is a lot of hard -- you, yourself, said a lot of hard work to do. We were told last night that it's going to take some time and hands-on U.S. diplomacy.
SECRETARY RICE: Right.
QUESTION: Is there an -- are the two sides close enough on an idea of this document now? Is there enough time? Are they close enough for there to be enough time for -- to get this done by late November or early December? Is there enough time to do it, to get them -- are they close enough so that (inaudible)?
SECRETARY RICE: There is a reason that we have not yet started issuing invitations and, you know, even if we have a place, you know, booking hotel rooms, because -- because -- there's a -- we had to make a decision. We had to make a choice. I suppose we could have said nothing about an international meeting until there was a document and until we knew everybody was going to come and so forth and so on. That was one strategy. But I don't frankly think it would have mobilized people in the way that it has mobilized people to have the prospect of a meeting.
Now, I understand as well as anybody that there are risks to announcing a meeting and then doing the hard work to get it prepared. But the other side of that is, given how long it has been since these parties were in a position to seriously address core issues, seriously move toward the possible establishment of a state based on negotiation, something had to spark their active and intensive engagement. Something had to spark the region to take advantage of what was a slowly opening historic opportunity.
And so you know, we'll work as hard as we possibly can. I know that there are important stakes here, but I also understand that we're not trying to in, you know, seven, eight, nine weeks achieve a final status agreement. That's not the purpose here. The purpose is to stimulate the bilateral track with regional and international support to, after many years of frustration and many years of dormancy, to establish that there is a basis for moving forward. That's really all that has to be achieved. That's why I was saying that it doesn't have to be really great detail. It just has to make people confident that there's a new chance here to lay a foundation for the negotiations on a Palestinian state.
QUESTION: So we're all familiar with deadline pressures. Is this what you said? (Laughter).
SECRETARY RICE: (Laughter.)
QUESTION: You say we're going to have this in the fall. Now, the fall ends on December 21st.
SECRETARY RICE: Is that when it ends? I guess it is when it ends, isn't it? Well, look, like I -- as I said, sometimes there -- you need to have incentives for people to rally and decide, okay, now it's time to move forward. And I do think that the prospect of coming together with regional support and international support has rallied the parties. You know, it was only – what? -- it was February that we were sitting, I think, around this table. And after we had had the not wholly friendly trilateral discussion and, you know, not a discussion that one would have said, oh yes, in several months they're going to be talking about developing a joint document that will address core issues and that will show that they think there's a joint way forward.
A lot has happened since then. But the President and I felt that in going ahead and signaling that there could be an international meeting that would surround and support the bilateral process, that that would give the parties both support to do that and a reason to do it.