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Source: United States of America
28 April 2005



Mideast Peace Efforts Should Focus on Gaza Withdrawal, Rice Says
Secretary discusses Mideast, North Korea, CAFTA-DR with NBC News

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says she values Russian President Vladimir Putin’s contribution to advancing the Middle East peace process but believes that international efforts at this time should be focused on supporting Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza rather than planning an international conference.

“[W]e need to do what is in front of us, which is to make sure that the withdrawal from the Gaza is successful, and then we'll see what next steps are necessary,” Rice told NBC News’ Rosalind Jordan April 27.  “But Russia is a part of the Quartet and I think it's been a very valuable part of the Quartet,” she added, referring to the four parties– Russia, the European Union, the United States and the United Nations -- leading the road-map process toward a permanent two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The secretary also welcomed Syria’s withdrawal of its military forces from neighboring Lebanon.

“[I]t's a positive step and you can see in the Lebanese people their great joy at the chance that they are about to get for, hopefully, free and fair elections that will allow them to choose a government for the first time without that heavy-handed foreign influence,” she said.

Rice added that Syria must use its influence with parties in Lebanon to discourage violence during this transitional period and ensure that Lebanon’s legislative elections, scheduled for May, move ahead peacefully.

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Following is the transcript of Rice’s interview:

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Office of the Spokesman
(Bogotá, Colombia)
April 27, 2005

Interview

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice With Rosalind Jordan of NBC News

April 27, 2005
Embassy Bogotá
Bogotá, Colombia

(1315 Local)

...

QUESTION:  Your reaction to President Putin's decision to become more hands on in the Mideast peace process?

SECRETARY RICE:  Well, Russia is a member of the Quartet, and I think Russia can be quite helpful.  It's a good thing that President Putin is visiting Egypt and Israel.  We will have a Quartet meeting at the level of foreign ministers in Moscow on May 8th or 9th during the events there.  The Russians can be a part of this process in that way.

I've heard about the issue of a potential international conference.  I think what we have to do is we need to do what is in front of us, which is to make sure that the withdrawal from the Gaza is successful, and then we'll see what next steps are necessary.  But Russia is a part of the Quartet and I think it's been a very valuable part of the Quartet.

QUESTION:  So you don't think that he's taking this more forward role to refute criticisms about the way democracy has been progressing in his own country?

SECRETARY RICE:  Well, I think the Russians have very strong interests in the Middle East.  They always have had interests in the Middle East.  Russia is a member of the Quartet because they've had interests in the Middle East.  And of course there are a large number of immigrants from Russia to Israel so that there is a population there that is of Russian descent.  In fact, I think a couple of generations ago Prime Minister Sharon himself comes from a family that was of Russian descent.  So there are a lot of cultural ties, ties of kinship, and of course since Russia is an important global power it's not surprising that they have a deep interest in Middle East peace.

QUESTION:  The Syrian military pullout and intelligence pullout, although the UN says it can't confirm the intelligence assets pullout as of yet, is that a positive step taken by President Assad?

SECRETARY RICE:  Well, it's most certainly a positive step that Syrian forces are going home and it's a positive step that was taken in accordance with Resolution 1559, which required by the Security Council, the UN Security Council, the withdrawal of Syrian forces.  It is important that that withdrawal be completed. It is important that this be not just military forces but also intelligence forces.  But of course it's a positive step and you can see in the Lebanese people their great joy at the chance that they are about to get for, hopefully, free and fair elections that will allow them to choose a government for the first time without that heavy-handed foreign influence.

QUESTION:  What more does Syria need to do in order to improve its standing in the region?

SECRETARY RICE:  Well, Syria needs to continue to make sure that it lives up to the letter and the spirit of 1559.  That means that their security forces also need to be out of Lebanon.  And I mean both declared and undeclared security forces because with a country like Syria there is always nontransparent activity and that needs to be dealt with.

The Syrians need to make sure that they encourage nonviolence and that no one uses violence.  And the Syrians, of course, have a lot of influence with many who could turn to violence and Syria has an obligation to tell everyone that these elections need to take place without violence and then the Syrians need to let the Lebanese people chart their course without Syrian interference.

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