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23 June 2005
PRESS CONFERENCE AT G8 FOREIGN MINISTERS' MEETING
EDITED TRANSCRIPT OF PRESS CONFERENCE GIVEN BY THE FOREIGN SECRETARY, MR JACK STRAW AT THE MEETING OF G8 FOREIGN MINISTERS HELD IN LONDON ON THURSDAY, 23 JUNE 2005
Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you very much for your attendance. It has been my great pleasure to welcome to London my G8 colleagues for the G8 Foreign Ministers meeting today. We were all delighted that this morning the Afghan Foreign Minister, Dr Abdullah Abdullah, joined us. He gave a presentation about progress being made, and still to be made, in Afghanistan since the collapse and defeat of the Taliban and the beginnings of the Bonn process three years ago. We have issued a statement on Afghanistan, which you will have, which underlines our long term support for the transformation of Afghanistan into a democracy, with parliamentary and provincial elections which are due in September. Those elections will bring formally to an end the Bonn process, but all of us were able to reassure Dr Abdullah Abdullah, his President, President Karzai, and the government and people of Afghanistan that the international community's commitment to Afghanistan is for the long term.
We then went on to discuss a range of key international issues, beginning with the Middle East, and we received a presentation by Jim Wolfensohn, former President of the World Bank and now the Special Envoy for the Quartet, and from General Ward, the United States Security Coordinator in Israel and in respect of the occupied territories. Mr Wolfensohn and General Ward had reported to the Quartet at their meeting earlier this morning, and Jim Wolfensohn outlined proposals to ensure that Gaza will become economically viable after Israeli withdrawal. There is no higher international priority than the Middle East peace process. However we have just got 6 weeks before disengagement and it is essential that both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority intensify their co-operation with one another to make a success of this major step towards two viable and secure states living in peace side by side. As you will see then from the statement, we went on then to discuss Iran, and today the G8 reiterated its full support for the work of France, Germany and the United Kingdom, together with the EU High Representative, Javier Solana. We all agreed that for the process to continue and to build confidence it is essential that Iran keeps all fuel cycle activities fully suspended. And concerns were also expressed about Iran's ballistic missile programme, its attitude towards terrorism and towards the Middle East peace process.
That, Ladies and Gentlemen, is a summary of what has been a very productive morning and early afternoon of discussions amongst G8 Foreign Ministers.
You have all expressed concern in your statement about what is happening in Lebanon and the instability there, and expressed concern about Syria. Does any country represented here, or any member of the European Union, have the confidence that it can assert with certainty that Syria is in any way responsible for any of the assassinations that have been happening in Lebanon, or that in defiance of 1559 Syria still has intelligence agents in the country? And on the assassinations matter, given that Israel has this week resumed its policy of targeted killings, I wonder if the members here condemn the resumption of that policy and, in the words of the Secretary, should knock it off?
... Mr Roed-Larsen said that he had issued a very firm message to Bashir al Assad and he must take that message very seriously. The international community will not accept a situation in which the attacks on politicians or members of civil society continue, that you have pointed out in the Lebanon. I would also like to say about the Lebanon that we have been waiting a long time for free elections to take place in Lebanon, we very much welcome the high turnout in these elections. We very much welcome the outcome of those elections and the attachment of the Lebanese to democracy. We would like to pay tribute to the Lebanese government for the elections which have taken place at the right time, at the appropriate time, and we are awaiting the formation of the new government. We are expecting the territorial integrity and national sovereignty to be maintained, and the international community must of course be prepared to respond to any request for support. So I think we need to be very firm in what we say to Syria, and 1559 has to be fully respected.
(Jerry Lewis, Israel Radio)
Dr Rice and Mr Straw, you have both been recently in the Middle East and you have heard the determination by the Israeli leadership to pull out of Gaza, and both of you have made clear how important it is. But there has been an on-going barrage of rockets, suicide bombing attempts, right throughout this period. The Israelis want to pull out of Gaza but they are petrified their security will be compromised. Can you, Dr Rice, tell us from the Quartet's angle what can be done to avoid the spanner in the works that this ongoing terrorism reads as? And Mr Straw, could you tell us from the G8 angle what can be done internationally to support the Palestinians' crackdown on the terrorism, because otherwise it looks as though it is going to be an ongoing problem?
Thank you very much. First of all let me say that I think it is an historic and indeed courageous decision that the government of Israel has taken to pull out of Gaza and four settlements in the West Bank. It does give us an opportunity, or gives the parties an opportunity, to build trust and confidence in this process which I believe very strongly could lead to an acceleration of progress between the two sides, and an acceleration of activity on the road map, and after all the road map is a reliable guide to a two state outcome. Absolutely, the Israeli people, the Israeli settlers of Gaza should not be subjected to any kind of violence or terrorism at any time, but most especially during the withdrawal. Israel is leaving Gaza freely and this has to be a peaceful and orderly withdrawal and we have emphasised that with both parties.
My colleague, Jack Straw, will talk about the G8, but let me just say that first of all the Palestinians have responsibilities, and those responsibilities include using their security services in whatever way they can, in whatever state they are, to fight against those who would try and destroy the process that will now be under way for withdrawal, and General Ward is working with them and with others, including the Egyptians and the international community, to try and help provide a secure environment in which the Palestinians contribute by fighting those who are firing the Sam rockets or trying to destabilise the region. Secondly, the region, the regional states, have an obligation to speak clearly to those who would be disruptive to this process, that means those who have declared themselves to be outside the Palestinian consensus for calm. That means that there cannot be a blind eye to the activities of states that are supporting terrorist groups, whether it be the Syrians where the Palestinian Islamic Jihad is headquartered in Damascus, or the Iranians who have never supported the peace process and continue to support terrorists. Finally the international community can speak with one voice about terrorism and to the states that are supporting terrorism and say that it is simply unacceptable when the Palestinian people, represented by Mahmoud Abbas, who is after all the freely elected President of the Palestinian people, and the Israelis decide that they want to try to make progress of this kind. Now to be sure the context is important, the political context is important. I have spent time with both leaderships, I have encouraged both to take this opportunity, I have encouraged the Israelis to do everything that they can to strengthen the hand of moderates in the Palestinian territories, to be able to make a better life for the Palestinian people, to ease closures, to deal with the humanitarian situation of the Palestinian people, and to do all of those things. And indeed Israel does have responsibilities not to try to pre-judge a final status agreement with its activities, and to support a Palestinian leadership that has cast its lot with a peaceful outcome. But fighting terrorism is fighting terrorism, and the Palestinians, the regional states and the international community have an obligation to make sure that there is a very clear message that terrorism is not to be tolerated.
I would simply like to endorse that very comprehensive statement by Secretary Rice, to say that we are all very grateful to the fact that the United States has taken a practical lead on issues of security by the appointment of General Ward, and much else besides. We in the United Kingdom have been happy to assist, not least in helping the Palestinian Authority to strengthen its security. Terrorism remains the single greatest threat to the peaceful disengagement from Gaza, and all the great things that could follow from that, in other words the start of a separate viable state of Palestine living in peace alongside a neighbour - Israel - which is guaranteed its own secrity. And many of the terrorists are as anxious to disrupt the work of the Palestinian Authority, as tragically they are to kill innocent Israelis. We are alive to that and heavy responsibilities fall on the Palestinian Authority, as well as on others, and you will see from the second paragraph of my statement of our discussions on the Middle East, that we say we call on the Palestinian Authority to press ahead with the reform agenda, in particular to deliver on their security commitments in respect of the road map.