"As is" reference - not a United Nations document
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, good evening and welcome, and thank you very, very much for your patience in a long afternoon between the London 11 meeting that (inaudible) and now a long meeting here with the Follow-on Committee of the Arab Peace Initiative.
I am particularly grateful to Foreign Minister al-Atiyah for his leadership and for the work that he has been doing to try to keep this debate active and engaged in this important effort. And I also thank Secretary General Elaraby of the Arab League for his commitment and for the depth of the conversation that we had today. And I appreciate his willingness to convene people on short notice. But I think it’s fair to say that this is one of the more important meetings that we had, because we’re getting to a point where there’s more substance and a great deal more direction, and therefore more to talk about.
Our meeting here today was the fifth with the Arab Peace Initiative Follow-up Committee, and it is part of a regular process of the negotiation consultations on the final negotiation process between the Israelis and the Palestinians. This is a promise that I made to Secretary General Elaraby and to Chairman al-Atiyah when they requested to be kept apprised of what we were doing, because their stakes in this are significant. They have been enormously helpful and constructive in this effort, and I want to thank them for that. We’ve always known that peace is a very long and complicated, difficult road. But we remain committed to this process because we understand that the benefits of peace are dramatic and they are well worth fighting for.
The Arab Peace Initiative holds out the possibility – excuse me – the Arab Peace Initiative holds out the possibility of normalizing relations with Israel and strengthening security for all of the countries throughout the region. I’m very grateful to the Arab League for their willingness to help to build support for this effort. It’s very hard to overstate the importance of Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Kuwait, Bahrain – all of the countries that are taking part in this effort – in order to bring the Arab world to the table saying a simple thing: We are prepared to make peace now in 2014.
As I made clear in my discussions with the Arab foreign ministers today, we really are at a critical point, as Palestinians and Israeli leaders grapple with difficult and challenging decisions that lie ahead. Through the course of the last five months, President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu have both demonstrated courageous and determined leadership. They’ve made tough choices, and they are contemplating even tougher choices in the weeks ahead. The Arab foreign ministers made clear to me that they support Israeli and Palestinian leaders’ efforts to take the next bold, courageous steps of agreeing to a framework for permanent status negotiations.
The leaders here today understand what’s at stake, and they remain committed to peace, not just between Israel and Palestinians, but to the prospect of peace between Israel and 57 nations – 35 Muslim nations, and 22 Arab nations. That is the vision that summons us. That is the vision that guides us. And we will need the continued support and engagement of the Arab League in order to achieve it.
Mr. Minister, thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER ATIYAH: (Via interpreter) (Inaudible) the nuclear – it’s nuclear program. We hope that this would be a first step to making the Middle East region free of weapons of mass destruction. Today, the ministerial committee for the Follow-up Committee of the Arab Peace Initiative has held its first – is meeting to discuss the Palestinian issue.
And I would like to thank my friend Kerry for his efforts with respect to the peace process and ending the conflict. He has – John responded to several – or addressed several of our concerns and questions on the part of the foreign ministers and members of the committee. I would also like to take the opportunity to also thank His Excellency President Abbas and President Haniyeh for their successes in achieving strides towards the implementation of the Doha Agreement and reaching reconciliation.
We have also renewed, in our – in this meeting, we have renewed our positions concerning the peace process, and also on addressing all the issues, foremost among which are the issue of the border, Jerusalem settlements, security, and the release of Palestinian prisoners. We have also asserted that the peace process is the shortest and most effective way to achieving stability in the region.
The – resolving the Palestinian question is the key to peace and security in the Middle East region and it cannot be implemented except with the full Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian territories and the establishment of a Palestinian state with full sovereignty, with Jerusalem as its capital.
We would also like to stress the Arab commitment to lasting peace. There is no doubt that there are difficulties and obstacles facing us. And the Israeli Government should therefore stop all settlement activities and should also give the peace efforts a chance to succeed so – in order to reach a lasting settlement. We also warn against the repercussions of continued Israeli practices that would hinder such progress.
The ultimate goal of everyone is to reach a comprehensive peace and a lasting peace that would achieve peace. This is the initiative that we have launched, and these are the Arab principles for ending this conflict.
And our friend John Kerry has exerted great effort over the last few days. He has visited the region 11 times, as I believe, or 10 times. And we appreciate the American role in these mediation efforts. Our friends are not parties that relay information between two parties; they are mediators in this process. And we hope that we can reach a settlement that would satisfy the Palestinian people and would be fair to them.
Thank you very much.
MS. PSAKI: The next question will be from Michael Gordon of The New York Times.
QUESTION: I have a question for the Foreign Minister and then for Secretary Kerry. For the Foreign Minister, we’ve been in a number of these Arab Peace Initiative sessions, and it’s not clear that there’s been any substantial progress in the Middle East peace process during that period. Indeed, the current focus is not so much on getting a comprehensive agreement in nine months, but on an agreed framework. How do you assess the status of these talks? Do you think they’re making progress in the peace process? And what are the advantages and disadvantages of seeking a framework at this juncture, instead of pushing all the way for a comprehensive peace agreement?
SECRETARY KERRY: Go ahead.
FOREIGN MINISTER ATIYAH: (Via interpreter) With respect to the peace process and the vision – and the Palestinian vision and Arab position, they are constant. There are usurped rights, and they’re clear to us. And the Palestinians are demanding these rights. There is also Israeli intransigence in granting these rights, but we cannot say that the peace process is experiencing obstacles of any sort. We should give the American mediator, represented by Mr. John Kerry, an opportunity to end – to proceed in what they have started.
And I would like to also stress on the steps that John Kerry has described. There is progress, but the final vision has yet to be proposed. Therefore, the chance is still wide open and time has run out. And it’s premature for us to judge that negotiations have failed or succeeded.