|Remarks With Egyptian Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit|
Secretary Condoleezza Rice
October 16, 2007
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: (Via interpreter) Good evening, everyone. Of course, we are delighted in Egypt to receive U.S. Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice. She met with President Mubarak today for approximately an hour and a half. Also, she had some other meetings with senior government officials. And we are concluding her meetings now with the Foreign Minister. We met for about an hour and a half. The U.S. Secretary of State, actually she had helped us to understand the American objective. She shed a great deal of light on the current American efforts and with both the Israelis and the Palestinians the American efforts and the American objective and the American intension regarding convening a meeting this fall in order to launch the permanent status negotiations on the basis of a document that will be negotiated between the two sides.
And I can say that we feel encouraged regarding what we heard from Secretary Rice and we promised her that we will help and we will help the parties as well in order to achieve that intended objective, which is launching the permanent status negotiations that would lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state on all the Palestinian territories that were occupied on June 5th of 1967, and also to reach comprehensive peace agreements with the various other parties to the Palestinian problem.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much, Minister, for welcoming me here again. And I would like to thank President Mubarak for the considerable time that he spent with me this morning. We've had very fruitful discussions about the efforts that are underway to help the Palestinians and the Israelis to use the current momentum to create a document that would help to lay a basis, a foundation on which we can pursue the establishment of a Palestinian state. We talked about the work ahead.
We talked about the importance of Egypt's role. Egypt has had an important historic role in the peace process, but is also playing an active and constructive role here in the current circumstances and I thank you very much for that. We've also had a discussion of our bilateral agenda and of economic developments here in Egypt, as well as internal political developments here in Egypt. And we've had a very good discussion, very candid discussion, as is befitting friends. And I thank you very much for the time that you've spent with me.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Now, what we will do is I will select two --
SECRETARY RICE: Yes. How many?
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: -- and you will select two.
SECRETARY RICE: Two and two.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Two and two.
SECRETARY RICE: All right.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: So may I start?
SECRETARY RICE: You may start.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Yes. (Inaudible) she is a representative of Al Arabiya.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
QUESTION: I have two questions. The first one to Minister Aboul Gheit. (In Arabic) And my other question to Dr. Rice. There was talk about ambiguity of the agenda of this conference and is it clear now for the Egyptians and for the Arab -- the Arab countries will be invited and also if there was talk about postponing the conference until the Palestinians and the Israelis agree or bridge the gap between them. So is this more clear now?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, we have not set a date for the meeting, so it's a little hard to postpone something for which you haven't set a date. But I think that we believe that the timeframe in which we are working is the one that the President announced, which is that we will have a meeting this fall and I would note that there are only two months left in fall -- that's November and December -- so we're working very urgently toward getting to that meeting. I do think the meeting has given a certain momentum, a prospect of the meeting is given certain momentum to the parties to work hard on the document that they are trying to forge.
This is not the end of a process. This is the beginning of a process. So the document that they work on has to simply show that there is a basis and to provide confidence to both parties and to the international community that there's a basis for moving forward. And so we will continue to work and help them to create this document, and we will then be in a position, I think fairly soon, to talk about when this meeting ought to take place. At that point, we will also finalize any invitation list. But as we said, a kind natural group would be to have regional leadership, including from the Arab Follow-on Committee for the Arab Peace Initiative, some key states from the international community; but of course, the key here is that this is all to support the work of the Israelis and the Palestinians themselves. We recognize that there must be a comprehensive peace for the Middle East, and what we are doing here is to pursue in this meeting the support of the Israeli-Palestinian track.
QUESTION: You mean in the coming meeting?
SECRETARY RICE: In this meeting we are -- this is a meeting about the Israeli-Palestinian track. But we recognize that there needs to be a comprehensive peace. I would refer you to the President's interview on your own station in which he talked about that.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: (Via interpreter) To answer your question about the time ceiling, what is meant by the time ceiling is that the negotiations will take place within a specific time period between the Palestinians and Israelis. And some will say why do we put ourselves in that box and this time ceiling because maybe we will not be able to achieve that objective or we might even end and achieve an agreement before the timetable. If the negotiation is concluded before the timetable, and this is something that would be very welcome. The problem is the lack of confidence between the two sides, also the problem that some in the Arab world and there are so many actually in the Arab world that they see that there are attempts in order to run the clock out and to maneuver and to go around and beat around the bush in order not to achieve the objective.
The truth is, and I can say that in my memory perhaps I had the honor of participating in the Madrid conference in 1991, and in Madrid in 1991 I have participated in a meeting that took place between the Prime Minister and the Israeli Foreign Minister at that time, Mr. Yitzhak Shamir. And Mr. Shamir told us -- and also in the meeting there was Mr. Netanyahu, also a member of the Israeli delegation. At that time, the Israeli Prime Minister told us, he said, "I will negotiate for ten years and we will not achieve anything." This is a experiment in the past that should not be repeated and we should not put this -- we handshackle ourselves with an ironclad problem. But the issue here is we have -- talk about a target date, let's say six months, nine months or a year. But the idea is we cannot just simply negotiate endlessly and we cannot negotiate with an open-ended process. We have talked before the United Nations General Assembly. We have said 16 years has passed since the Madrid conference and 13 or 14 years passed since the Oslo agreement and five years has passed since the roadmap, and nothing happens. Therefore, the issue what's really needed now is to maintain a target date with the hope that this will be an element of pressure on the two sides in order to actively work.
QUESTION: Foreign Minister Abu Gheit, yesterday you suggested the possibility that consideration should be given to perhaps postponing the meeting. Can you expand on your reasons for suggesting that?
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Would you repeat the last sentence?
QUESTION: Yes. Can you expand on your reasons for suggesting the possibility of a postponement? And having urged the Bush Administration to work hard on Israeli-Palestinian peace for many years, what more, if anything, do you think they should be doing?
And Madame Secretary, as you well know, two tunnels were discovered from Egypt into Gaza just this week. Do you think Egypt needs to do more to try to prevent the flow of arms, money, goods into Gaza and presumably into the hands of Hamas? And how damaging do you think those flows are?
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: The idea of what I said yesterday was that we need thorough preparations and we need to be ready and we need to work with the two parties to allow the United States, the Quartet, as well as the regional important players -- all of us are required to help in the drafting of the parameters, the principles, the understandings, whatever that would launch the negotiations on sound basis.
The idea is we have to go to that meeting in Washington or in Maryland ready to launch negotiations. If we will have -- if we will need more time to achieve that objective, be it then. And because of this, we said if we are short of time, let's extend the time span.
However, we urge also the United States to work according to its own schedule and with the parties aiming at achieving that objective. What the Secretary have told us today is encouraging and it gives us lots of trust and confidence of what she is doing.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes, I also read about the discovery of the tunnels. The purpose of what Egypt is doing is to discover these tunnels, and I understand there were arrests associated with the discovery of those tunnels.
Of course, we are concerned about the smuggling in what is a very long and difficult route, and we had a discussion and will continue to have discussions about what more can be done to deal with the smuggling. Because no one, most especially Egypt, given the security concerns here, wants to see a circumstance in which tunnels can be used for the smuggling of weapons, the smuggling of financing that can help terrorists or the smuggling of people.
And so we did have a discussion. We do need to do more. And we've talked about some consultations that we might have to try and improve the ability to deal with these tunnels. Because I do think that it's a dangerous matter if the tunnels cannot be closed and if the smuggling continues.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Well, if I may add to the explanations of the Secretary, the Egyptian Government is doing its utmost to control that territory. The limitation of forces in this area is a stumbling block and I think we will have to discuss the issue with the Israelis as well as with our partners, the Americans, to see what ways that would result on the increase of Egyptian forces that would ensure the discovery of such tunnels.
I have to say also that tunnels have been there over the last 40 years and they are not used only for the smuggling of weapons or of ammunition, but they are also used for contrabands and what have you. What really displeases us, Secretary, is that some Israeli circles are raising that issue internationally, in the United Nations, claiming that there are lots and lots of weapons smuggled across Egypt. And that is something that we very much object to.
(Via interpreter) I will give it to you. I will give you the microphone.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. My name is Nihal Saad. I'm from Nile TV Egyptian Television. My first question is to His Excellency, the Minister, Foreign Minister Abu Gheit. Yesterday you said that there were (inaudible) some Israeli attempts to defeat the American efforts when it comes to the upcoming conference and the peace process. Could you be more specific about those?
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: No.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: No, I won't. But we have listened. We have listened to so much (inaudible) from Israel over the last few days, and we felt that there are certain quarters amongst Israeli Government who, they were not very positive on her effort. And because of this, we cautioned such (inaudible). That is what I wanted to say.
QUESTION: The second question is for Madame Secretary, if you please. The issue of settlements, Israeli settlements in disputed territories, and the continuation of the building of the wall still constitute a very -- a stumbling block in the talks. And there is -- the big question was whether there will be enough territory to negotiate about once the two sides sit on the negotiating table with the land grabs that the Israeli Government is practicing.
So has this issue been brought about with the Israeli side? Because this Administration seems not to be very strong as previous administrations on the issue of settlements. Thank you.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, the United States has been very clear about its policy on settlements. And in fact, it is a part of the roadmap obligation to have a freeze of settlement activities. And I have been talking with both parties about their need to fulfill their phase one roadmap obligations. They're going to have to start to fulfill them before the meeting. They're going to have to continue to fulfill them after the meeting.
It is very difficult to imagine the conclusion of the establishment of a Palestinian state when these roadmap obligations have not been met. And so it is really high time for all parties to meet their roadmap obligations. And I've been very clear with the Israelis. You can read them. They're in the roadmap. I've also been very clear with the Palestinians. The fact of the matter is when you talk about people's voices, I have found in my discussions with both parties particularly with Prime Minister Olmert and with President Abbas, a real desire to try to get something done. This is hard. It's not easy. And of course, people are -- some people are skeptical. And perhaps some people even don’t believe that this going to work. But I found a serious and very consistent voice from the Prime Minister and from President Abbas that they want to use this moment to move this process forward, and that's what we're going to work with. I think there is a kind of seriousness of purpose.
I want to just note that we all have our responsibilities in this period of time. Of course, the United States, President Bush has made it a high priority, one of his highest priorities, to try to lead to the establishment of the Palestinian state. It's something he's talked about from the very earliest times in his Administration.
But it is also the case that we have a lot of work to do on the -- the Israelis and Palestinians have a lot of work to do on the document. That document, which will need to address core issues, is also going to have to address the security concept. The fact is without security, without Palestinian security organizations, institutions that are capable, that can also meet their roadmap obligations for professionalization, for a single command authority, without security that will make it possible for Palestinians to deliver for their own people and also to fight terrorism, without efforts to -- enhanced efforts to do everything that we can to prevent the tunnels from being used for support for terrorism, we're going to have a very difficult time.
And so there is a lot to be done here by all parties and the one thing that I'm very certain is that the two principals here, Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas, see this as a moment in which we might really be able to advance the two-state solution and lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state based on negotiations. That's where we're going to park our hopes and our dreams about this. But it's also on that basis that we're all going to put maximum effort into fulfilling all of our obligations.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. I have a question for the Foreign Minister and the Secretary. First of all, for the Foreign Minister, as you mention in your comments, you've been through Madrid and through Camp David. This particular peace initiative will come in the last year of the Bush Administration. And I'm curious if you have any concerns that the Administration may be pushing this initiative out of haste, and do you think that the Arab countries are at all holding back their support for this because they are waiting for a new President?
And I'd like to ask Secretary Rice, you mentioned in your opening comment that you spoke about internal political developments in Egypt. I would like to ask specifically whether you raised the case of Ayman Nour and more generally what did you discuss in terms of the case of democratic reforms in Egypt?
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: In answer to your first question, I have to tell you that an American administration and government is an American administration and government, meaning that it will end of the 20th of January 9, 2009. As long as they have time to work, then they can achieve whatever that is achievable.
I recall that President Clinton at his last year -- that was July 2000 -- he managed to bring both parties to negotiate. Maybe he didn't have his breakthrough. But then it was followed up in Taba. And January 2001, and there was remaining only for ten or fifteen days of his administration. And we had a paper, the Clinton parameters. So it can be done if we would have enough determination on the part of the Administration. And the Secretary is assuring us and because of this I say, we are encouraged, because she says that she is determined and the President of the United States is determined to have a breakthrough during the remaining year of this Administration, then we have to believe them. I cannot doubt them.
SECRETARY RICE: Before answering your question on internal affairs, let me just note that a lot has happened between 2001 and now to get us to the point at which we find ourselves. We are operating, by the way, on the basis of a number of documents that have been created during this period of time -- the roadmap, for instance, the President's two-state solution being enshrined in that roadmap; the Arab peace initiative. These are all efforts and initiatives and documents that have been created over the last several years and that now give us part of the foundation for moving forward on the Paelstinian-Israeli front. And so this has been, I think, time well spent and we'll spend the remaining time as urgently and as committedly as we possibly can.
Yes, I did raise the case of Ayman Nour, as I have several times. We always raise these issues in a spirit of friendship and respect. Also we did talk about internal affairs here. A lot is happening in Egypt. And we --
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Positive.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, yes. Many positive things are happening. Economically, a lot of things are happening. But we do have concerns about political events here. I raised, for instance our concerns about the detention of journalists, and we have had a discussion of those issues. We'll continue to have a discussion of those issues.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: May I add to --
SECRETARY RICE: Of course, yes. I think (inaudible) --
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: It is customary between the Egyptian Foreign Minister and the Secretary of State to discuss issues. And when we touch on subjects that we consider sensitive or internal, I listen. However, my response is always it is due process, it is the Egyptian legal process, and this government does not interfere in Egyptian legal procedures. So that is the Egyptian law and it will continue to be the Egyptian law that judges the issues. There is no mixing between politics and due process.
SECRETARY RICE: You said two and two. Are we done?
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Yes, but -- as you wish. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY RICE: It's up to you. It's your house.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: No, no, no. I'm at your disposal.
SECRETARY RICE: All right. Last question is to the Egyptian side.
QUESTION: Thank you. First question for you, Madame Secretary. Do you think any progress could be made in the international conference while Israel is still confiscating more lands to stop the two-state solution and the U.S. is not even criticizing it?
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) My question to the Foreign Minister. There was a potential agreement to increase the number of Egyptian troops, but Israel is going back and still criticizing the Egyptian position. Anything new? And are you traveling to Sudan to mediate between the North and the South?
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: (Via interpreter) Regarding the last question about my visit to Sudan, yes, I intend and the head of Egyptian Intelligence, we both intend to travel to Juba and Khartoum early morning tomorrow. We hope that we will be talking with the two leaderships, the Sudanese leadership and the Sudanese Government, as well as the leadership in the South, to see how can we overcome the current problem. And remind me to tell you that we intend to exert those efforts because we believe that they will solve the issue of stability in Sudan and peace in Sudan.
Regarding the first part of your question, there is an Egyptian proposal that the Egyptian troops is really less than what it is needed to carry out their missions, and there are discussions with the Israeli side in order to reach a new understanding that can go beyond the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel and the various notes of understanding. We hope that we will be able to achieve the objective in our negotiations with Israel.
SECRETARY RICE: The international conference can be successful if everyone exercises their responsibilities. And those responsibilities are detailed in the roadmap. I've made very clear to all the parties that we ought to avoid actions which undermine confidence rather than building confidence, and I think I said that several days ago.
I just want to note, though, everybody has obligations. And I talked to Prime Minister Olmert about Israeli obligations and I talked to President Abbas about Palestinian obligations. And if we are going to have a secure and peaceful and -- two secure, peaceful, democratic states living side by side, then there is a lot of hard work to do. Not just at the meeting. The meeting is going to be one point in time. There's a lot of work leading up to the meeting and there is going to be a lot of work after the meeting in order to achieve a Palestinian state and the two-state solution. But there are obligations on all sides and the United States expects everyone to exercise them.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Shukran.