"As is" reference - not a United Nations document
MODERATOR: Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to today's press briefing at the meeting of the Women's Empowerment Network. The Austrian Minister of International and European Affairs Ursula Plassnik and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will inform you about the meeting, after which we'll have the possibility to briefly ask questions. Foreign Minister, may I ask you?
FOREIGN MINISTER PLASSNIK: Thank you. Welcome, Secretary of State. It is a pleasure to have you in town today picking up a thread that you have (inaudible) of women's empowerment last September on the margins of the General Assembly. And we just had a meeting of this network. We will now go on meeting with our friends from the Middle East women leaders and the Middle East search for peace and security will be the subject matter that we discuss. And I am quite convinced that the main message of that meeting will be visible; we’ll enjoy having you speak about it. It is that despite from where we come and what problems we face, we sit down, we network, we talk, we negotiate, we rely on the power of dialogue. Thank you for joining us.
SECRETARY RICE: ...
We're going to focus today on the Middle East, but we have a steering group that is made up of women from Europe and from the Middle East and from Asia and from Africa, and we've just had a conversation about what we might do next. But today's work is on the Middle East and I look forward very much to our conversation today. It's absolutely the case that unless women are fully participants in their society in terms of political participation, economic participation, these societies cannot really be fully democratic. And that is something that we're absolutely devoted to and look forward to continuing to work on. So thank you for all the splendid work that you've done.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, President Bush has at the beginning of his presidency made a two-state solution for the Middle East one of his top priorities. Now today it seems as if the Middle East was even further away from this solution as before. Where would you say has in the past years of Mideast politics have mistakes been made?
And perhaps a question to both ladies. Traveling the Mideast, have you as women dealing with Arab politicians ever experienced barriers you felt you cannot cross?
**FOREIGN MINISTER PLASSNIK: Very interesting.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, on the Middle East, I would note that President Bush has indeed made a two-state solution one of the centerpieces of our policy. In fact, he was the first President to make as a matter of policy the establishment of the Palestinian state to live side by side with Israel in peace and security. Why haven't we achieved it in the last six years? Well, of course, we haven't achieved it in decades. And so obviously, if it had been something that was easy to achieve, it would have been achieved by now. But the -- I'm not certain that, in fact, we are further away now than we were at some other point in time. It seems we've been close from time to time.
But there are also underlying trends that might suggest that this is a time of opportunity. I know that when we look at the front pages or the headlines about the Middle East these days and renewed violence in the Gaza, for instance, that one wonders why we think this is a time to continue to pursue the two-state solution and indeed to intensify. And my view is that the Middle East is a place that if you wait for the perfect time, you're never going to pursue it because the perfect time is never going to come.
I think the enduring truth is though that the great majority of Israelis and Palestinians want to live in peace, they want to live in a circumstance in which their children are concerned about their future education in a university, not about whether or not they are going to survive. I think it has been long enough since Palestinians have wanted and needed their state and long enough since Israelis have wanted and needed a neighbor that can be a source of security, not a source of threat for them.
And so whatever has happened over the last several years, this is a time I think for renewed emphasis on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. I've been to the region a number of times to try to pursue that. I'm very pleased that President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert are going to meet on June the 7th and we're going to keep working at it. The Quartet met just yesterday and the Quartet also is devoted to that. And so history has its ups and downs and, clearly, this conflict has had its ups and downs. But all that we can do when we're here and while we're here is to try and push this forward, and the President is committed to trying to do that.
As to travel in the Middle East, I generally find that I've been very warmly received. I don't feel barriers as such. I think that when you're traveling as U.S. Secretary of State, you're traveling first as U.S. Secretary of State -- and I did have a predecessor in Madeleine Albright, of course also. But the women of the Middle East are going to country by country and region by region find the appropriate balance between tradition and women's empowerment. But the key that I continue to emphasize when I go to the Middle East is these have to be matters of choice, and I emphasize particularly political rights because without political rights you can't possibly express choice.
FOREIGN MINISTER PLASSNIK: Well, I wanted to join in on what you said about the moment. I think it is the precious moment. It is the crossroads that we are facing. It is a time of high expectation and critical choices in the Middle East. And I have felt in our working shops yesterday what we see and perceive on the political level, which is a sense of urgency. A lot of elements are on the table. They have to be combined now, relentless efforts including by yourself to that, and have been taking place. So we have to continue to encourage those in positions of responsibility, including the women among them to continue this effort, not to be de-motivated.
And talking about the barriers in the traveling experiences, the barriers I resent most and try to address in my work is barriers in mindsets. And this is part of the work we're doing here, raising awareness that women in the Middle East are not just an amorphous mass of people without rights and aspirations. They are 50 percent of the potential -- of the human potential, of economic potential, of the political potential in the region. They deserve to be taken seriously in political functions. But also those who have not yet been able to take up official functions, public functions in their everyday life, in their families, in their environment, they contribute to stability in their societies and this is part of reality we should not disregard.
MODERATOR: Sue Pleming from Reuters.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter.) I have a question to the Austrian Minister as host to this conference. The Middle East as has already been mentioned, is going through a phase of great violence; also among brothers, so to speak, within the Palestinian community. Now, a conference like this, a conference of women who want to network -- what can a conference like this do? What kind of effect can it produce in the face of violence and in a region with a majority religion which gives men a dominant role -- the Islamic religion?
MINISTER PLASSNIK: We are concerned, deeply concerned, about this outbreak of violence and the surge of violence in the Middle East. Yesterday, the Mideast Quartet appealed for a stop to violence. This is the most urgent need felt by the population on all sides and this is something we're going to work for insistently. Now, what we can offer? It's the strengths and the force of dialogue: to meet beyond borders, to do our utmost to trigger a political process which includes everybody, which comprises all the parties concerned. This is what we're working on; we, as politicians, as women. But men are also working on this issue, and only our joint efforts will ultimately succeed.
Released on May 31, 2007