|Press Availability With German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier After their Meeting|
Secretary Condoleezza Rice
February 21, 2007
FOREIGN MINISTER STEINMEIER: (Via interpreter.) Dear colleague, Ms. Rice, dear Condoleezza, I am very happy indeed to be able to once again welcome you to Berlin today. I remember very well the last time we met in Berlin, you were returning from the Middle East at that time too. I'm very grateful again for the fact that you are making a stop over here. In the course of today, we will get the chance to talk about these matters in greater detail in the framework of the Middle East Quartet, talk about the situation in the region of the Middle East, that is.
I'm very happy about the fact that this is actually the second meeting of the Middle East Quartet in a very short period of time. I would like to let you know that in the discussions that we've just had, we both agreed on the need for the international Quartet to have been revitalized of late. I think given the present situation, we need to see the international community speak with one voice in the Middle East.
I'd like to use this opportunity to thank you for this, Condoleezza, for the commitment and the engagement on the ground, your dedication that you have shown in order to work for a rapprochement of the Israelis and the Palestinians. We had opportunity to talk about your impression from the talks with President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert, talks that I admit took place under difficult circumstances.
The process of forming a government, a Palestinian government on the one hand and outstanding questions to be addressed on the other hand, the future government of the Palestinians -- what consequence is that going to have for the international community and the Israelis, the details of which still have to be defined. The talks between Prime Minister Olmert, President Abbas, and with the participation of the United States of America, that is, with your participation, the fact that these meetings actually took place is something that we owe very much to your personal efforts and engagement. And the fact that they took place is something that we welcome.
For the time being, where it's too early to assess outcomes or results, I can only take it to be progress, the fact that both sides are talking directly to each other and exchange their views on the outstanding issues. This is indeed a first step in my eyes, a first step that comes at a critical stage and thus, it is important that this step at this critical stage has come about because as we all know, and this is valid this time around too, trust and confidence -- and this is something that we urgently need if the talks are to continue, if the process of rapprochement is to continue, trust and confidence can only be evolved and developed if you talk to each other more often and less about each other or one another.
We will continue to stay in touch on what's going on in the region and we will talk about the contribution the Quartet can make. We will do so later today during the meeting of the Quartet and think on the one hand about how our concrete contributions, our measures can evolve, what contribution we can make, especially how we can contribute to making come true the objectives that we share -- that we, the Quartet members -- that is, how can we bring about an independent Palestinian state, how can we lay the necessary preconditions, create the necessary preconditions, because we want to see these two people live in two independent states peacefully side by side.
It is indeed a difficult process and we're all aware of the fact that it's going to continue to be difficult for some time to come. Thus, we have to share a great degree of realism, not have exaggerated expectations of those talks. The members of the Quartet are firmly convinced to use -- to make use of the opportunities that offer themselves up. This was basically the most important issue on our agenda today in the bilateral talks that we've just concluded.
And of course, we also touched on a number of other issues, amongst them my recent trip to the Southern Caucasus, which took me to Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia and of course, we also talked about the situation in Kosovo after the proposals of Martti Ahtisaari have been submitted and how the status process is to continue with the necessary participation of the Security Council. Thank you very much indeed.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much, Minister. Thank you, Frank-Walter, for once again welcoming me here to Berlin. We will have a meeting later on of the Quartet and I think it is very good that the Quartet has met regularly and been revived and your leadership of that in the presidency of the EU is very much appreciated.
We have had bilateral talks this afternoon in which we had an opportunity to talk about the issues that Frank-Walter has mentioned. I was particularly interested in his trip to the Southern Caucasus. We all hope that there could be a new push for perhaps some agreement finally on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. We talked some about the situation in Georgia and we spoke also about Iran and the desire to have Iran accede to the international community's conditions and the Security Council resolution. So we did have a discussion of that issue as well. But this was principally a discussion about our joint efforts in the Middle East and I look forward to expanding those discussions when we talk with the members of the Quartet this afternoon. So thank you very much and I guess we can take questions.
MODERATOR: Many thanks. We have time for four questions. The first question goes to Mrs. Sue Pleming from Reuters.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) as Russia suggests to lift the aid embargo on the Palestinians. And even though Hamas is in the proposed unity government, would it not be missing an opportunity to push the peace process forward if you did not get engage this government?
SECRETARY RICE: We will have a chance to discuss the situation in the Middle East this afternoon. But let me just note that it's more than a year ago now that the Quartet in London agreed on a set of principles that should govern the formation of any Palestinian Government and there's a reason for that. Those are not principles that are put there to be an obstacle. They are put there because they're foundational for peace. It's very difficult to imagine a circumstance in which you have peace talks but one party doesn't recognize the existence of the other or the right of the other to exist. It's very difficult to imagine that peace is going to be promoted if there is not a renunciation of violence, and so that's why the Quartet principles are what they are.
We've said -- all of us -- that we will await the formation of the new government before making any decisions about what to do because we don't want to make premature decisions. I did mention that in my talks in Jerusalem I emphasized the importance of continuing to press ahead with Mahmoud Abbas who is the President of the Palestinian Authority who went to the Palestinian people and was elected by them on the basis of the acceptance of international agreements that go back more than a decade for Palestinian leaders that do accord with the Quartet principles. And so we will have our discussion but I think it's very clear why the Quartet principles on which we settled more than a year ago are still so critically important to progress in peace.