|Press Availability with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov; High Representative for European Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana; German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier; European Union External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner|
Secretary Condoleezza Rice
February 21, 2007
(2:40 p.m. EST)
FOREIGN MINISTER STEINMEIER: (Via interpreter) Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to welcome with you and your behalf the members of the Middle East Quartet: the Secretary General of the United Nations Mr. Ban Ki-moon; the Secretary of State of the United States; the Russian Foreign Minister and the EU High Representative for Foreign Security Policy; and the EU Commissioner for Foreign Relations.
This is the second meeting of the Middle East Quartet in this year, which is an expression of the fact that the international community is not only willing to commit itself to improving the process of rapprochement between Israelis and Palestinians, but is showing that it is willing to take actions in this direction. We know that this process of rapprochement is a difficult one, nevertheless this is exactly why we intend to support it in order to seek a window of opportunity here and now and to open up opportunities that were not possible in the past.
I would like to hand the floor to the Secretary General of the United Nations. I don't want to anticipate what he's going to say. Let me just add one thing. The situation has changed to the extent that in the Arab world, too, we are finding partners who support this process in a constructive manner and, thus, we are considering the possibility of having the next meeting take place in the region; that is to say, in the Arab countries.
This is going to be part of our joint statement. Secretary General you have the floor.
SECRETARY GENERAL BAN: Thank you. Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I am going to read out the statement of the Quartet meeting.
The Quartet principals met today in Berlin to discuss the situation in the Middle East. Secretary Rice reported on her recent February 18th meetings with Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas, the February 19th trilateral and U.S. efforts to facilitate discussions between the parties. The Quartet welcomed these efforts and 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 defining more clearly the political horizon and launching meaningful negotiations.
The Quartet reaffirmed its determination to promote such a process in cooperation with the parties and other regional partners. The Quartet urged the parties to refrain from measures that prejudge issues to be resolved in negotiations.
The Quartet reaffirmed its statements regarding its support for a Palestinian government committed to nonviolence, recognition of Israel and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the roadmap, and encouraged progress in this direction.
The Quartet discussed efforts underway for a Palestinian national unity government pursuant to the agreement reached in Mecca on February 8th. The Quartet expressed its appreciation for the role of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and the cessation of violence among Palestinians.
The Quartet concluded with a discussion of possible further steps by international community in the context of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East. It welcomed the preliminary ideas put forward by the European Commission to meet the need to better coordinate and mobilize international assistance in support of the political process and to meet the needs of the Palestinian people.
The Quartet reaffirmed its commitment to meet regularly and asked envoys to monitor developments and actions taken by the parties and to discuss the way ahead. It was agreed to schedule a meeting in the region soon.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. We have time for a few questions. Mr. Vladislav Vorobyev.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) I'm from a Russian paper. One question if I may. Could you -- you said that the next meeting is to take place in an Arab state in Arab countries. Have you already agreed on when and where that meeting's going to take place? Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER STEINMEIER: (Via interpreter) No, we have not yet gone any further beyond what the Secretary General has just announced. We'll have to take a decision on that in the upcoming weeks.
MODERATOR: Next question, Mr. Glenn Kessler.
QUESTION: Thank you. Madame Secretary, Israeli Prime Minister Olmert suggested today that Mahmoud Abbas, because of the unity accord with Hamas, no longer represents the majority of Palestinians and thus any peace talks would not be "valuable or meaningful." Since the Prime Minister has also said that the United States and Israel are in complete agreement on the problems with the Palestinian unity government, do you share the Prime Minister's sentiments?
And then for Mr. Solana, do you think it is possible that the unity government could become part of the solution and that it would be a mistake at this point to consider it a problem?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, Glenn, since I've not seen the comments to which you are referring, I can't comment on them. I have seen comments from the Prime Minister saying that he believes that it is valuable to continue to talk and talk and talk to Mahmoud Abbas. That is what he said to me yesterday, or day before yesterday when we were together.
I think that it is notable that the two have agreed to meet again to talk about a variety of issues. And I would underscore that when we met in Jerusalem I was able to hear their views of the political and diplomatic horizon. And so I think there's a broad agenda between the Palestinians and the Israelis. I also would note that Mahmoud Abbas, of course, was elected as President of the Palestinian Authority on the basis of principles that are very much like those of the Quartet. And in fact, he went to the Palestinian people, won by -- if I remember correctly -- over 60 percent of the vote, and I think is therefore representative of the broad desire of the Palestinian people to live in peace and to live in security. And I think that is, by the way, a desire that is broadly held among the Israeli people, too.
And so I look forward to continuing to work with the parties on not just day-to-day issues but also on how they might make progress toward a two-state solution. And in that regard, I very much value the role of the Quartet and of my international partners in promoting that dialogue.
MODERATOR: Mr. Barnaby Phillips, Al Jazeera Television.
MR. SOLANA: Can I answer.
MODERATOR: I'm sorry.
MR. SOLANA: Thank you very much. I hope very much that a national unity government will be part of the solution and not part of the problem. As you have listened to the Secretary General of the United Nations reading the text, the Quartet thinks that some condition has to be met for that government to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. But I hope very much in the time that is still in front of us in order to get all the finalization of the steps that have to be taken in order to have a government, we hope very much that that decision will be taken in an appropriate manner.
MODERATOR: Mr. Barnaby Phillips, Al Jazeera Television.
QUESTION: It's a question for the Secretary of State. Picking up on that theme, Secretary of State, when you were in the Middle East over the weekend you spoke about the Mecca agreement complicating the situation, whereas many European diplomats have been telling us that they see it as an opportunity. How do you explain that difference in understanding?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think the complications are two. First of all, we are in an interim period in which the government has not yet been formed. And we have in the United States, and it is also the position of the Quartet, we are going to wait and see what transpires when that government is formed. It's not necessary to make decisions before you have something to make decisions about. And so I think that's one complication. We're in an interim period.
The other is that when one talks about a political horizon, when one talks about peace between Israelis and Palestinians, it has to be on the basis of internationally accepted principles. How can it be that you will have talks about peace if one party does not accept the right of the other party to exist? How can it be that you have discussions about peace when a party will not renounce violence? And so in that sense, the complication of not fully having a Palestinian government that clearly accepts the Quartet principles I think should be well understood.
That said, I think that we've made clear that we believe that continuing to deal with Abu Mazen, continuing to deal with the President of the Palestinian Authority who also is Chairman of the PLO and has therefore accepted those principles, makes it possible to move ahead.
MODERATOR: The gentleman over there raising his hand. Would you please stand up so the mic --
QUESTION: I am a Korean Broadcasting System correspondent in Berlin. I would like to ask you a very simple question about Iran and nuclear issue. This Quartet mainly discussed Middle East, especially about Palestinian state, but today did you discuss Iran nuclear issue and what is the conclusion?
FOREIGN MINISTER STEINMEIER: (Via interpreter) If I say no, please, don't misunderstand me. The nuclear issue in Iran is, of course, important to us but please understand that the two hours that we just spent with one another were used indeed to discuss the situation in the Middle East amongst ourselves. I think this was a very substantial discussion and we will continue the discussions I just mentioned.
MODERATOR: Last question, Mr. David Millikin.
QUESTION: This is for Minister Lavrov. You've called policies of boycott and isolation counterproductive and yet Russia signed up to Quartet statements prolonging the embargo on the Palestinians. Do you think the time has come to recognize and aid the new unity government? And the same question to you, Madame Secretary.
FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: (Via interpreter) I think it's not correct to state that a boycott of the Palestinian government was declared. We discussed the proposals of the EU concerning the transition of the TIM to a lasting mechanism. We are also discussing concrete parameters for the long-term establishment of these TIMs. And also the discussion of boycott (inaudible) correct; the statement that the Secretary General of the UN just read is quite clear. It is stated clearly in the statement that we support the formation of a new Palestinian government and in this context it was also underscored that further steps must be taken to support the Palestinians. One certainly shouldn't speak of a boycott in this regard.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, as I said before, there isn't a Palestinian unity government to support at this point. There is a obvious desire by the Quartet and I think the paragraph is very clear, to have a Palestinian unity government that would recognize the right of Israel to exist, that would renounce violence, that would honor past agreements the Palestinians have made for decades. And we will make a decision when it is time to make a decision, but there is not yet a Palestinian unity government.
MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much. You will find copies of the Quartet declaration at the exits of this hall in English and German language.