|Press Availability with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; Russian FM Sergei Lavrov; European High Representative Javier Solana; German FM Frank-Walter Steinmeier; EU Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner|
Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Benjamin Franklin Room
February 2, 2007
(1:15 p.m. EST)
SECRETARY RICE: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. I would like to welcome the members of the Quartet to Washington, to the State Department. I especially want to welcome Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to his first Quartet meeting and our colleague Frank-Walter Steinmeier as the Presidency of the EU to his first meeting of the Quartet.
We have had very fruitful discussions about our desire to see an acceleration of progress toward the establishment of a Palestinian state in accordance with the roadmap. These discussions have been very fruitful and I would now turn to Secretary-General Ban, who will, in fact, read the Quartet statement which will also be made available to all of you later.
SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN KI-MOON: Thank you very much Secretary Rice. Ladies and gentlemen, I am going to read out the statement of the Quartet meeting.
The Quartet Principals - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, High Representative for European Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and European Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner - met today in Washington to discuss the situation in the Middle East.
The Quartet welcomed its new members, including myself and the representative of the EU Presidency, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
Recognizing the critical need to end the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, which would contribute to security and stability in the region, the Quartet pledged to support efforts to put in place a process with the goal of ending the occupation that began in 1967 and creating an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state, living side-by-side in peace and security with Israel, and reaffirmed its commitment to a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.
The Quartet expressed the hope that the result-oriented dialogue initiated between Israeli and Palestinian leaders will continue in the framework of a renewed political process with the aim of launching meaningful negotiations.
The Quartet undertook to give active follow-up to these meetings and to remain closely engaged at this moment of increased activity and dialogue. The Quartet reaffirmed its commitment to meet regularly at both the principals and envoys level according to an agreed calendar, including with the parties and other regional partners, to monitor developments and actions taken by the parties and to discuss the way ahead.
The Quartet noted its support for renewed dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian leaders and welcomed the December 23rd meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Abbas, and the subsequent implementation of some steps discussed at that meeting. The Quartet urged the parties to implement fully steps discussed at the December 23rd meeting, to refrain from taking any measures that could predetermine the number of issues that will be resolved in negotiations, to meet their respective obligations under phase one of the Roadmap and under the Agreement on Movement and Access, and to seek to fulfill their obligations under the Sharm el-Sheikh Understandings of 2005.
The Quartet discussed U.S. efforts to facilitate discussions between the parties. The Quartet welcomed the upcoming meeting between Prime Minister Olmert, President Abbas, and Secretary of State Rice, that could begin to define more clearly the political horizon for the Palestinian people, and help engender a sense of partnership. The Quartet affirmed the primacy of the Roadmap, and welcomed U.S. efforts to accelerate progress on the Roadmap.
The Quartet noted the continuing importance of the Arab Peace Initiative, particularly its reflection of a shared commitment to a two-state solution.
The Quartet reiterated its call for an immediate and unconditional end to all acts of violence and terror. It condemned the suicide bombing in Eilat on 29 January and called once again for an immediate end to all rocket attacks against Israel.
The Quartet expressed its deep concern at the violence among Palestinians and called for respect for law and order.
The Quartet called for continued international assistance to the Palestinian people, and encouraged donors to focus on preserving and building the capacity of institutions of Palestinian governance as well as the development of the Palestinian economy. The Quartet welcomed international efforts to welcome -- to reform the Palestinian security sector and thus to help improve law and order for the Palestinian people. It called for the Temporary International Mechanism to be further developed to support the political process, to identify suitable projects for international support in the areas of governance, institution building and economic development, and urged other members of the international community to consider practical support to the parties.
The Quartet called for Palestinian unity in support of a government committed to nonviolence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the Roadmap. The Quartet reaffirmed that these principles endure. The Quartet reiterated its call for the Palestinian Authority government to commit to these principles.
MODERATOR: We have time for several questions. The first one goes to Anne Gearan from the Associated Press.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, first to you and then to anyone else who would care to comment. I mean, doesn't it seem a bit irrelevant or out of touch to be talking about the goal perhaps years down the road of two states living side by side in peace when the internal Palestinian divisions are as extant and as violent as we've seen this week?
And also for Foreign Minister Lavrov, a year on from the Palestinian elections, do you believe that the strategy of diplomatically and financially isolating Hamas is working and productive, or is it time to end the international boycott?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, Anne, we expressed our concern about events on the ground in the Palestinian territories, and obviously innocent people are being caught up in this violence and it needs to stop. I know that there are several efforts underway in the region to try and help to bring a ceasefire back into existence and we would certainly support that.
But that said, there is simply no reason to avoid the subject of how we get to a Palestinian state. I think, in fact, the political horizon of a Palestinian state can help to show the Palestinian people what is possible, what is possible in the establishment of a state, a viable state that would live side by side with Israel.
It is not that we are by any means neglecting the day-to-day issues on the ground. We had an extensive discussion with General Keith Dayton about efforts to -- international efforts to rebuild the Palestinian security forces so that they can, in fact, be a force for law and order.
We talked about the temporary international mechanism that the EU coordinates and its significant successes in helping to get money to the neediest of Palestinians and to avert some of the crises there. And so we are paying attention to the daily issues on the ground.
But the Palestinian people have waited a long time for a state and the Israeli people have waited a long time for the peace and security that would come from having a democratic neighbor that was willing to live in peace with them. And so I don't think we want to delay any longer the development of a political horizon for these people, and I think it would give great cause for hope in this region.
And let me just say one other thing. We have, of course, reiterated the commitment to the principles that we outlined because it goes without saying that in order to have a partner for peace, you have to accept the existence of the other partner.
FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: I want to say in Russian, with your permission.
(Via interpreter) I don't think that to resolve this problem -- just like any problem that exists in the world -- that you could do it through boycott and isolation. I think that today's meeting of the Quartet was able to issue a document which talks about other things, about our joint shared position; specifically, so that in Palestine there will be a viable government that would be able to resolve real problems of the Palestinian people and which would be ready to negotiate with Israel in order to reach those goals that the international community set before it with respect to that conflict.
Hamas is a political force and we would like this to be the only direction in which they work. We're all against violence. We're all against terrorist acts. And Hamas received support from the Palestinian people during the elections a year ago and they should understand their responsibility, where this responsibility lies for their own people. And that's exactly how we're trying to influence Hamas. We, as the Russian Federation, we're going to continue this work and we're going to continue the efforts undertaken by the Palestinian Authority, their representative, with respect to forming a government of national unity.
In any case, the Palestinians should decide for themselves how to structure their life, but they should understand that there are some agreements between the Palestinians and the Israelis. These are agreements that have been approved by the international community. There are some decisions by the UN Security Council and they should be implemented.
MODERATOR: Next question to Helmut Reuter, DPA.
QUESTION: Ms. Secretary, General-Secretary, we know that the effort for peace talks in the Middle East have a long tradition. So do the setbacks. When you talk about political horizons, do we have a concrete timeframe in mind until when the two-state solution should be realized? Are we talking about one year, two years or five years?
And if I may ask a question to the Russian Foreign Minister, what role can Moscow should place Syria in this process? Thanks.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, the timetable, I think -- I think it doesn't help to set an artificial timetable. I do think it is helpful to recognize that these two parties have not talked about issues on the political horizon for the better part now of six years. And so both felt that it would be useful to have discussions that were, at first, informal and discussions so that they can begin to address all of the issues that would lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state.
I know that people tend to very quickly think borders, right of return, Jerusalem. Those are issues that obviously would have to be resolved before there's a Palestinian state. But so, too, would issues concerning the capacity of the Palestinians to govern, so, too, would issues concerning a security concept that would work. There are a lot of issues that need to be discussed.
So I don't think that it helps at this very early stage to talk about a timetable, but it does help to talk about commitment not just of the United States but of all on this platform -- and I'm sure of many others around the world -- to trying to make as rapid progress as we possibly can. As I've said before and just said, this is a problem that has been with us for a very, very long time and if there is a solution to be found then, we should be very actively trying to find it and to find it as expeditiously as possible.
FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: (Via interpreter) Now, as far as the question that you asked me, in principle I would like to say we are in favor of involving all those who can contribute to progress and to this process, and definitely in this case Syria could play a constructive role. We would like to note that the appropriate signals that we and others sent to Damascus were not ignored and the Syrians have contributed, have facilitated the meeting between Abu Mazen and Mr. Mishal in Damascus recently. This is a meeting that we believe allowed, made it possible, to move forward the dialogue among the Palestinians, and we believe that this dialogue will continue and will lead to positive results.
I would like also to stress that when we're talking about not only the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict but about the resolution of various problems in the Middle East, be it Lebanon or Syria or the Iraqi problems, we believe that it is counterproductive to isolate anybody and we believe that to involve all those who could influence the situation is extremely necessary so that this contribution or influence would be positive, not negative. And I think if we do so, we will achieve good results.
MODERATOR: Next question to Nadia, Al Arabiya.
QUESTION: Secretary Rice, many people who know the Middle East at first hand and just to reiterate what Mr. Lavrov just said, will argue that Prime Minister Haniyah does not have the real power over Hamas; in fact, it's Khaled Mishal. And as you know, he's based in Damascus. And just repeating what Mr. Lavrov just said, why don't you engage Syria trying to pacify Khaled Mishal and involve him in any meaningful peace process, because without Hamas the peace process is not going to go forward and without Syria's mediation nothing is going to happen? What is the risk for the U.S. in not involving Syria?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, I think Syria knows what it needs to do to be a stabilizing force -- the ministers -- not just in the Palestinian-Israeli issue but in the region as a whole. And Syria doesn't need the United States to tell it what it could do to be a stabilizing force. And I hope that it will, in fact, try and play a positive role, rather than a negative one. The United States has diplomatic relations with Syria, has on many occasions talked to Syria, even at the highest levels. But we believe at this point in time that it is for Syria to act on what is a very obvious -- would be a very obvious path to help to stabilize the region.
Now, the Palestinian-Israeli issue is first and foremost between Palestinians and Israelis. And if there is a common view that everyone will do everything that they can to bring about an end to the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, then there is no need for mediation. There is need for support for a positive outcome.
As to Hamas and the efforts at a unity government, we have been supportive of Abu Mazen's efforts to bring about a unity government based on principles that have been articulated again here today by the Quartet because those are the principles that make it internationally -- makes it possible for the international community to actually support a Palestinian government. And clearly, they are also principles that make it possible for the Israelis and Palestinians to make peace because it goes without saying that if you don't renounce violence, if you don't accept the existence of the other party, then you're not going to make peace.
So I think that this effort between Palestinians and Israelis, supported by not just the United States but everyone on this platform, supported also by Arab states that, after all, put forward the Arab initiative and also were involved in acceptance of the roadmap. And I might just note the roadmap is an international document, so anybody who stands outside of the roadmap or anybody who stands outside of support for a process that tries to accelerate the roadmap is not in opposition to the United States, not in opposition to the Israelis and Palestinians, but in opposition to the entire international community.
MODERATOR: Okay. We have time for two more questions.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Could you tell us what is your assessment of this meeting from the point of view of the Russian priorities in the Middle East?
FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: (Via interpreter) Well, you know, it is very easy to do because the statement that was just read by the Secretary-General fully reflects the position of all the participants of the Quartet, including the position of the Russian Federation, because in the statement, apart from some specific issues of today's situation, it also confirms all the main principles which are at the root, at the base, of our efforts to reach a lasting, comprehensive peace. And I think that's one of the main successes of this meeting, and the Russian position has been fully reflected in the document that has just been read.
MODERATOR: Last question to Zain Verjee, CNN.
QUESTION: Thank you. For Foreign Minister Lavrov, Hamas has said it could be ready to engage with the Quartet. Do you think that that's a good idea? Can the Quartet play a more constructive role in helping Hamas and Fatah to form a unity government and not just backing President Abbas?
And for Foreign Minister Steinmeier, you just returned from Damascus. Do you think that the Quartet can play a more constructive role in engaging Iran and engaging Syria given what Foreign Minister Lavrov also just said?
FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: (Via interpreter) Well, first I'll answer your first question, and I can only repeat that we are convinced that it is necessary to work with Hamas to try to influence their position so that Hamas would accept those principles that were formulated by the Quartet. If those principles remain on paper and we just hope that they would magically be implemented and would become part of Hamas' position, this is hardly realistic. In order for this to happen, what is necessary is to conduct persistent work with Hamas, and Russia is doing that. I cannot speak on behalf of other Quartet participants. Not all of them have relations -- established relations with Hamas. But what we are doing is aimed at the implementation of the Quartet's collective platform.
FOREIGN MINISTER STEINMEIER: (In German.)
SECRETARY RICE: I'm sorry, you're not being translated.
FOREIGN MINISTER STEINMEIER: (Via interpreter) Let's start again. The Minister was indicating that he had actually not just returned from a trip to Syria, but that he visited Syria at the end of last year, in December last year, that is. In the question that he just put to him, he had indicated that he'd only just returned from a trip to Syria, but it was at the end of November, beginning of December last year, that I returned from a trip to Syria. I do understand the background of your question, though, and would like to make it very clear -- and I don't think we disagree on this, those present here on the podium.
We are working for a comprehensive peace solution in the Middle East and that means we have to engage other partners beyond Israel and Palestine. And I think we share the view that Syria itself has to make it clear that it is willing to constructively engage in this peace process and this is what I tried to impress upon the parties involved during my visit in Damascus. That was the message that I tried to convey to the people I talked to.
We can only express our hope that as far as Damascus is concerned, that the people there have enough reason to enter upon a constructive path. One word, if I may, on -- in addition to the Quartet meeting, we all sensed that the expectations that people have placed on the Quartet meeting are high, but we're realistic enough to realize -- to know that it is not something that can be achieved overnight. You know, it's not as if you were throwing a switch in the region and all of a sudden, overnight, things would develop in the right direction on their own.
If we call ourselves realists that also means that processes that do not happen in the region cannot be supported by us. Thus, we see ourselves and the tasks that we set ourselves as pursuing a steadfast path upon which we set out. It might be somewhat difficult in times, but we want to continue down that path, and Prime Minister Olmert and Mr. Abbas ought to be supported. We know that today's conference, today's meeting of the Quartet, is not a one-off event, but we can only be credible if this becomes a long-term, sustainable work process.
And thus, I am looking forward to -- I'm happy about the fact that we've been able to agree on a second meeting of the Quartet to take place once the trilateral talks have taken place amongst Prime Minister Olmert, Mr. Abbas and our American colleague. And we will then meet again fairly soon in Berlin, the same format that is.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much.