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SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you for your patience. I want to start by thanking the Secretary General of the Arab League, Nabil Elaraby. And I particularly want to thank my friend, the Foreign Minister of Qatar, Khalid al-Atiyah. And I want to thank all of the other Arab ministers who came to Paris and joined us today for the first follow-on discussions since the negotiations began of the formal follow-on committee for the peace initiative for the Arab League.
This is now our third meeting, actually, with respect to the peace process. And we had a meeting previously in the Middle East, we had a meeting not so long ago in Washington at which a very important statement was made by the Arab League with respect to the 1967 lines with swaps. And today, we had an opportunity to be able to dig further into the Middle East peace process.
I particularly want to thank the Government of France for hosting us here today and for making it possible for us to meet here in Paris. This, as I said, is the first meeting that we’ve been able to have since the peace negotiations began. I think there have been – I think, without getting into specific numbers, there have been a sequence of meetings that have taken place between the Palestinians and the Israelis. And this is my first opportunity today to update the Arab League committee on those negotiations.
As one member, one of the foreign ministers, said today, this meeting is almost as important as the negotiations themselves, because the Arab League and the Arab community’s support for a final status agreement is essential to the achievement of that agreement, and it is a critical component in creating momentum and energy and seriousness of purpose in these talks. Despite tough decisions that have to be made, and despite pressure that exists on both sides, where people act against the interests of the talks – because there are, obviously, those who are opposed – both the Palestinians and the Israelis have nevertheless remained steadfast and determined in their commitment to continue to talk. And they have remained steadfast in their commitment to the ultimate goal of two states for two peoples living side by side in peace and security. And throughout the process, both parties have continued to show that they believe that the formidable challenges that exist that everybody is familiar with are actually worth tackling.
I want to emphasize today – and I emphasized this to our friends – that both leaders, President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu, showed a seriousness of purpose in coming to these talks. Both of them took political risks, personal political risks. Both of them stood up to forces in their own countries that were willing to say no, not enough has been given here, or not enough has been given there. They found a reason to come, despite those who were arguing that there were reasons not to.
And so this meeting today was convened to emphasize to both leaders – President Abbas, whom I will meet later today, and Prime Minister Netanyahu I will meet shortly, as our schedules permit it – that both of them decided that this was worth taking risks for. The Prime Minister of Israel wrote an open letter to all the people of Israel and took a decision regarding prisoners that was obviously unpopular with many parts of his country. Likewise, President Abbas, despite many people opposing the idea, stood up and said even though some of the things they wanted as preconditions had not been satisfied, that he was going to move forward because he thought it was important to do so.
This meeting today here in Paris was convened, as I have promised to the Arab League, that we will meet regularly in order to keep them abreast of these negotiations. One of the reasons that people attribute to a past failure of talks was the fact that many of the countries that are supportive of the Palestinians were not sufficiently kept abreast or sufficiently invested in what was being done. And I think it is critical, obviously, to try to make certain that they are part of it.
In addition, we also talked today about the economic track and the security tracks which are a very essential component of changing life for the Palestinians and beginning to build the institutional capacity and the trust necessary to be able to reach final status agreements. We all of us agree that a final status agreement is important in enhancing regional security and stability throughout the Middle East. And I think it is a very significant statement that even though there is unrest and volatility in parts of the Middle East, obviously, with transition taking place in Egypt, with the civil strife taking place in Syria, with the challenges of Iran’s nuclear program, notwithstanding all of these things and more, all of the parties, all of the support group and the principals themselves are deeply committed to proceeding in order to try to change the dynamics of the Middle East and, despite the turmoil, make peace, the concept of peace, the most important goal of all.
So let me again thank the Arab League Secretary General Elaraby. I want to thank Dr. Attiya and the ministers and the representatives who came here today from Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the UAE. And I thank them for their continued and critical engagement on the Middle East peace process and other issues, and I look forward to meeting regularly. We will have our next meeting at some point in October, probably after the middle of October, the latter part. And we’ve agreed upon that date for a follow-on meeting.
After His Excellency speaks, we’d be happy to take a couple of questions.
FOREIGN MINISTER AL-ATIYAH: Thank you, John. I’ll do this in Arabic, if we may.
(Via interpreter) In the beginning, I would like to thank my friend, His Excellency John Kerry, and the American Government, and President Obama and the American Administration for the efforts it expends with regards to peace, or the peace process in the Middle East.
On a fair basis, we have discussed today in our meeting several issues, and we heard the different views of the parties to the negotiations, with the exception of the Israeli side. Of course we listened to the Palestinian side. And we – it’s no secret that we are concerned about some issues that we believe could be an obstacle to this process. However, they can be solved, and we are working with Mr. John Kerry and the Palestinian negotiator to make sure that we overcome these obstacles. But there are several obstacles to this process, including the continuous announcement by – and also – by Israel, and also the continued killings and the attacks on Al-Aqsa Mosque. So we urge the Israeli side not to take unilateral actions if it truly has the intention to have peace.
Absence of this direction, we believe that there would be very serious obstacles. And even so, we support the efforts of our friend, Mr. John Kerry, who has moved the stagnant waters in the Middle East and – peace process, and he’s doing so in order to achieve results on a fair basis, as I mentioned, to resolve this problem.
This is what was reviewed today in the meeting. And of course, there is a statement that would be issued by the joint committee and the American side after the meeting.
MODERATOR: The Secretary and the Foreign Minister will take four questions. The first will be from Arshad Mohammed of Reuters.
QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, yesterday you – we understand that you urged the European Union foreign ministers to delay the implementation of their guidelines on Israel, particularly on aid to groups in the West Bank. Why is this such a big deal? My understanding is it’s not a lot of money. Why is this so important to the process? Do you think that it could actually derail the negotiations? Have the Israelis threatened to leave if this isn’t addressed?
And Mr. Foreign Minister, you talked about continued Israeli announcements. Did you mean announcements of additional Jewish settlements? Or perhaps I misunderstood. And what specifically is Qatar willing to do to support any U.S. or other strike on Syria? Qatar obviously took part in the Libya intervention with its own aircraft. Would you consider providing aircraft assets, bases, fuel, anything tangible and concrete to a U.S. or other action?
FOREIGN MINISTER AL-ATIYAH: (Via interpreter) Yes. In truth, yes. We are talking about settlements. What we noticed, that each time a round of negotiations is supposed to start, it’s preceded by a declaration of continued settlements or the announcement of the establishment of new settlements. And this is a source of concern for us, and directly affects the negotiations.
SECRETARY KERRY: Arshad, yes, I did ask the European community if they would consider the suspension. And the reason is not at all that, no, the Israelis won’t depart from or view that as a breach of any condition of the talks. But I think it’s important that the Israeli people and the government see that coming to the talks, taking the risk of moving towards peace, is worthwhile, and that if – that there – and that even more benefit awaits a final resolution of the issues. But also, it sort of underscores that if there’s a failure to achieve a peace, bigger problems await at the same time, because there is discussion now of boycott of Israeli goods and other kinds of measures being taken because of the position held in the European community of the illegality of the settlements.
Now, because Prime Minister Netanyahu took the risk of coming to the talks, because he has paid some political price for making his decision that this was worth doing and that he would release prisoners and take steps to advance the peace process, because of that, I think it’s important for Europe to say in return, “See what this gets? This gets a change in our relationship, a change for the better. And good things await the outcome of peace.”
It’s not asking them to change the policy; it’s asking them to suspend or delay its implementation while these talks are taking place to prove that there is value to being engaged in this initiative. And I think – and this is not a one-way street. We have also taken very significant steps to say to the Palestinians, “If you engage in these talks, there are benefits that are there.” And that’s why, right now, as a result of being engaged in the talks, a major set of economic proposals are being implemented for the Palestinians unilaterally by the Israelis.
Specifically in Gaza, communications equipment for the Wataniya project are being released and moved in. Cement and building materials are now going to be moving into Gaza. The Allenby Bridge is now going to be open 24 hours a day, five days a week, and will greatly facilitate movement back and forth. Water, 8,000 cubic meters of water, are moving per day into the West Bank. Fifty-four wells, additional new wells, are going to be proceeded and authorized in the West Bank. So these are just some of the things that are being done.
So both sides – we want to have both sides see the benefit of engaging in this, because we believe that if you can arrive at a final status agreement, there’s a massive amount of benefit to both that will flow from that. The failure to arrive at it obviously carries its consequences, too.
One of the foreign ministers mentioned today that he thought that Israel should be aware that if, in fact, the Arab peace initiative is implemented so that peace is made with these 19 Arab countries, that Israel and the Arab world would benefit economically as never before, and would become far more economically powerful and wealthy as a consequence of those actions.
FOREIGN MINISTER AL-ATIYAH: (Via interpreter) Thank you, John. All Arab countries in reality, support the idea of developing the economy in Palestine, whether in the West Bank or Gaza. We in Qatar, for example, are currently supporting several development projects in Gaza, and we also have projects in the West Bank. And in spite of that, we are studying how to support economic packages in Palestine, to support the Palestinian brothers so that they can achieve sustainable development for their future projects. And I believe that if we manage to achieve fair solution to this problem, the sooner we will be able to move the economic conditions in Palestine.
MODERATOR: The next question will come from Elise Labott of CNN.
QUESTION: Thank you. This question is for the both of you. Do you – Secretary Kerry, you said that despite the turmoil in the region, the parties are committed, but do you think that the crisis in Egypt, the crisis in Syria can hurt efforts to make peace, distract the parties, or can it actually help? On that note, you met with the Egyptian Foreign Minister this morning. Did he give you any assurances that democracy would be restored, or is it inevitable there would be a cut in aid to Egypt?
SECRETARY KERRY: ...
In addition, the Foreign Minister indicated they remain totally and wholly committed to the Middle East peace process. They are committed to the Sinai security issues and the ceasefire with respect to Gaza, and want to be a constructive force in helping provide for that peace process. ...