|Rice, Fini Optimistic about Prospects for Peace in Middle East|
Secretary of state, Italian foreign minister brief press after Rome meeting
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Italian Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini expressed optimism February 8 about the prospects for peace in the Middle East, but Rice also warned Syria that it must stop supporting rejectionist groups and deal with the terrorists within its borders.
Rice and Fini briefed the press after their meeting in Rome, where Rice arrived fresh from talks in the Middle East. In her opening remarks, Rice said she discussed the prospects for peace extensively with Fini and they agreed that at this time of opportunity, the international community – particularly the Quartet (the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations) -- should engage with the parties in the region and be involved in doing whatever they can to help the Palestinians reform their security forces.
Rice said the Palestinian leadership “needs to show that it not only has the will [to stop terrorists], but it is in fact acting when it is capable of doing so.”
She also called for international action against opponents of the peace process: “The Palestinian rejectionists, the terrorists cannot be allowed to continue to try and frustrate the process, and so the ties of Syria or Iran to these terrorist organizations really need to be a subject for discussion, not just by the Israelis and the Palestinians, but of course by the Europeans, and we as well.”
“The Russians have a very important role to play in this,” she added.
To Syria, Rice said: “I can't say it strongly enough. You cannot say on the one hand that you want a process of peace and on the other hand support people who are determined to blow it up.
“So, I would just say to the Syrian government: if it wants to see an acceleration of the peace process and a comprehensive peace, then deal with the terrorists in their midst.”
Rice also criticized Syria for its “unhelpful” behavior in Iraq and Lebanon. “I would hope that the Syrian regime would recognize that in the long-term, Syria would not want to be isolated either from the international community nor have a bad relationship with the United States.”
Noting that the United States has already imposed some sanctions against Syria, she said she hoped Syria “could react in a more positive way so that we do not have to go further in that regard [sanctions].”
Peace in the Middle East, in Rice’s view, is contingent on several other factors but possible:
“If we can just get the help of not just the parties, but of the regional actors in the way that Egypt and Jordan are helping today at Sharm el-Sheik; if we can get the help of the Gulf states and others to provide the funding to the Palestinians that they have pledged; if we can as an international community insist that the states that are continuing to support rejectionists and terrorist activities stop doing that, then I think we really do have a chance this time to have not just a peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, but a comprehensive peace for all of the people of the Middle East,” said Rice.
Following is the State Department transcript:
U.S. Department of State
Office of the Spokesperson
February 9, 2005
REMARKS TO THE PRESS BY SECRETARY OF STATE CONDOLEEZZA RICE AND ITALIAN FOREIGN MINISTER GIANFRANCO FINI
February 8, 2005
FOREIGN MINISTER FINI: (in Italian) First of all I said to the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, I expressed our feelings of traditional friendship between the Italian people and the American people, and our feelings of friendship - the friendly government to government relations as well. So, I said to the U.S. Secretary of State Condelezza Rice that there's very strong friendship between the Italian and American peoples and in this time in history, there is also strong friendship and a strong cooperation between the Italian government and the Bush administration.
Now we've assessed the situation in the two theaters, as it were that we are most concerned about at the international level - in other words, in the Middle East and in Iraq. And we agreed on the fact that there is a positive evolution of the situation in the Middle East and the meeting which is being held now between the Palestinian leadership and the Israeli leadership of course represents a new development, a great new development, and international diplomacy must take this as a starting point in order to propitiate to facilitate a stable and long-lasting peace, not only between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, but throughout the entire area of the Middle East.
Now I also stressed in my talk with Secretary Rice that Italy's role in the European Union must play a role in this area, in the Middle East, such that the European Union interests are closely connected - interconnected - with the concept of peace and stability.
SECRETARY RICE: I had a very good conversation with the Deputy Minister, and the Foreign Minister, Mr. Fini. We've met on a number of occasions and I think we'll meet again tomorrow in Brussels. So, it continues to be a very intensive dialogue at a time of great promise for this transatlantic alliance in doing what the alliance has always done well, which is facing down tyranny and working for the spread of democratic values and for liberty for people who have not enjoyed that liberty. We did have an extensive discussion first of the prospects for peace in the Middle East.
We agreed that this is a time of opportunity. We agreed that this is a time that the international community should engage with the parties in the region, and we both expressed our desire that today's Sharm el-Sheik meetings will be a positive development. We recognize that there's a long road ahead of the Israelis and the Palestinians. But it is a time when both parties seem committed to trying to take advantage of the opportunity before them, and we talked about the need for the international community, particularly the Quartet, to be involved in doing whatever we can do to help the Palestinians reform their security forces, so that they can fight terror to build the institutions that can be the basis for a democratic state, and of course to have the economic reconstruction of the Palestinian territories.
QUESTION: Peter Mackler, Agence France Presse. Madam Secretary and Mr. Minister, as you know that we were on the verge of the summit in Sharm el-Sheik, where there is expected to be a cease-fire announced. My question is this, is that, - you, yourself Madam Secretary have said that the Palestinian security forces are far from being in a position to be fully capable of showing security. They need training; they need equipment, etc. My question is this: how can you hold the Palestinian Authority and Mahmoud Abbas accountable for what happened in that period if he is not logistically able to have preformed those tasks? And Mr. Minister, do you think it's only the Palestinians' responsibility in this, or do you think that in this particular delicate interim Israel bears responsibility?
SECRETARY RICE: First of all the question was for the Minister, but let me say that we've said all parties do in fact have responsibilities. As to the Palestinian security forces, I think they're variable. There are places where the Palestinian security forces are quite capable of acting. And they need to act where they can act. When they arrest somebody, they need to hold them. When they see bomb-making factories, they need to destroy them. When there are smuggling operations, they need to disrupt them. And those places that the Palestinians can act, they need to act. The overall reform of their security forces and unification of their security forces is something that the international community can help them with.
The reason that we appointed a security coordinator is because we wanted to be as organized and as quick a process as possible of helping the Palestinians get to security forces that can be fully capable across the wide range of Palestinian territories. I know that the Israelis have talked about the potential return of cities, gradually, as the Palestinians get ready to take those cities over, and can hold security in those cities. So this is a process in which the international community can help, in which the Israelis and the Palestinians need to coordinate, to make certain that when the Palestinians take over in certain places they're capable, and the Palestinian government, mostly in leadership, needs to show that it not only has the will, but it is in fact acting when it is capable of doing so.
FOREIGN MINISTER FINI: (in Italian) With regard to the Middle East again, they're going to declare a sort of truce, a cease-fire, and of course, we're on the verge of this very important new development. Now this means that we've overcome the phase which perhaps has been the most difficult, not only because of a lack of communication, but due to violence and terrorism against Israel and the military retaliation by Israel against the terrorists. Now, I think that we need to acknowledge the fact that the Palestinian Authority has acted as it said that it was going to do. Because the groups in the Palestinian world, hard liners, as it were, are now showing their will to cooperate with Abu Mazen.
Now I agree with what Secretary Rice just said. And that is that at the same time, Israel also needs to show a new behavior perhaps. It needs to show its will for a disengagement from Gaza within the guidelines of the Road Map and not as a replacement of the Road Map. The international community is now pursuing this peace process, on the one hand through the training of Palestinian police groups and forces, and on the other hand, through economic intervention, i.e. through the funding.
We mentioned a meeting in London which will take place on March 1st and I think that we need to remember that the meeting between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is also possible, thanks to the active and very positive role played by two very important Arab leaders, in a role they continue to play: Mubarak and Abdullah.
In fact there is an objective role which is being played by the United States and certainly an important role being played by the European Union, however, I think that the meeting in Sharm el-Sheik shows that there are Arab countries, which are rightly defined as moderate countries -- Egypt and Jordan -- it shows that these countries can play a fundamental role, which will lead these countries to a just and long lasting peace throughout the area.
QUESTION: (in Italian) Secretary of State, you're coming from the Middle East, and Minister Fini, you've just returned from Russia. Now I'm sure you've spoken about the relations with the relations with Russia, as well. How can we re-launch the role of the Quartet, revitalize the role of the Quartet, as it were?
FOREIGN MINISTER FINI: (in Italian) We did speak about this in fact, because above and beyond the fact that we've just returned from these areas, everyone knows that when we speak about the Middle East and when we speak about the Road Map and when we speak about the Quartet, we're talking about players -- subjects -- and one of these players is the Russian Federation. The role of the United Nations, the role of the United States and the role of the European Union, so these are the four players involved.
Now I said to the U.S. Secretary of State that I am convinced of the fact that today there is a great deal of attention being paid to a concrete prospect for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. However we must remember that this is an area of the world in which conflict isn't only related to the Israeli-Palestinian issue, but there are other countries involved, as well. And we must also remember that when Israel says "We have the right to live in security, and therefore in peace with our neighboring countries," Israel is saying something that is quite true, which is quite right. Now this requires a commitment by the international community, not only to establish peace between Israel and the Palestinians, but to have peace between Israel and the Arab world as a whole, overall. This is the so-called Syrian and Lebanese track which we need to reactivate, revitalize.
Everyone knows that Russia plays or has an influence in particular on Damascus. And everyone knows that Moscow is one of the main players in international politics and that it therefore must be involved, particularly in some scenarios. Now I think it would be wise for the European Union, and generally speaking for the international communit, to look to the Middle East as a whole overall, and therefore we need to ask Russia to be consistent in its behavior with regard to ensuring the security to Israel and with regard to following and protecting the borders between the Middle East countries and hopefully it will be possible to reach a general agreement throughout the area. Now this may seem overly optimistic, if we think of what it was like just a few months ago, then I'm sure you'll agree with me when I say that today there are some options, some possibilities, opportunities there, as well, and therefore we have to broaden these opportunities.
SECRETARY RICE: I completely agree with the minister. He made the very important point in our meeting that we have to think about the region as a whole. The Palestinian rejectionists, the terrorists cannot be allowed to continue to try and frustrate the process, and so the ties of Syria or Iran to these terrorist organizations really need to be a subject for discussion, not just by the Israelis and the Palestinians, but of course by the Europeans, and we as well. The Russians have a very important role to play in this. They are members of the Quartet. I would hope that we are going to have a foreign ministers level meeting of the Quartet fairly soon, because the Quartet is not only a very important place to get together to help to deal with the issues of Palestinian security reform and the like, but it is also, of course, the group that oversees the Road Map and at some point we will want to get back onto the Road Map, so it's important that the Quartet pay attention to that.
QUESTION: I'm Preston Mendenhall from NBC News. Madam Secretary, Syria's role in everything from the Mid-east to the current conflict in Iraq seems to be somewhat unresolved in terms of U.S. policy. How will Syria be dealt with?
SECRETARY RICE: Syria has been unhelpful in a number of ways concerning particularly support for terrorists operating out of southern Lebanon. It is, of course, also the case that we and the French put forward a resolution that passed in the United Nations, 1559, that called the Syrians to account for the interference in Lebanese affairs. Lebanon is a fledgling democracy in that region and they need to be left to their work in ways that there is not foreign interference. So, on that matter as well you know, too, that we've had problems with Syria concerning what is going on on the Iraqi-Syrian border and support for insurgency from there. So there's a long list.
And while we sometimes make what I would call minimal progress, it is by no means the kind of progress that we need to make. I would hope that the Syrian regime would recognize that in the long-term, Syria would not want to be isolated either from the international community nor have a bad relationship with the United States. And it is time for Syria to demonstrate that it does not want to be isolated, that it does not want to have a bad relationship with the United States. We have already used the Syrian Accountability Act to levy certain sanctions against Syria. I would hope that Syria could react in a more positive way so that we do not have to go further in that regard.
QUESTION: A journalist from Syria. My name is Mohamed Ibrahim, correspondent of (inaudible). Your Excellency, I'm a Syrian from the Golan Heights. I was uprooted from my village in the Golan Heights. Isn't (inaudible) a form of terrorism and when will you promise me to return back to my village? Thank you
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I can't promise you anything. This is something that will have to be resolved between the Israeli government and the Syrians, recognizing that one day there will undoubtedly be and should be a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. It will be enormously accelerated if governments in the region, including the Syrian government, do not support rejectionists who are trying to blow up the process of getting to peace. The more that the Syrian government wants to see an acceleration of the peace process that can lead to an ultimate comprehensive peace for the Golan and for others, the more the Syrian government needs to crack down on the terrorists that are using Syrian territory and using Southern Lebanon where Syria resides to make sure that those people cannot frustrate this process. I can't say it strongly enough. You cannot say on the one hand that you want a process of peace and on the other hand support people who are determined to blow it up.
So, I would just say to the Syrian government: if it wants to see an acceleration of the peace process and a comprehensive peace, then deal with the terrorists in their midst. Thank you.
QUESTION: The last. Yosi (inaudible) from Israeli press, Yediot (inaudible). The role, can you explain better the role of the new coordinator General Ward? In the past we saw that all other coordinators didn't have a lot of success in the Middle East.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes, well, I have to agree with your last point. We have not been able to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace, but I do think that new circumstances and General Ward's job will be to bring the parties together around security to work with the parties -- not to supplant the efforts of the parties, because there needs to be bilateral security cooperation between Israelis and the Palestinians -- but to help train the Palestinian security forces to help coordinate training for them, to help monitor what is going on on the security front ,and ultimately to, if necessary, help by bringing both the parties together. But we would hope that they're going to sustain the kind of positive momentum that they have sustained without it.
And if I could just use the opportunity to wrap the last two questions together. Everybody wants to see a Middle East in which all of the people who have been displaced or have had to live in difficult circumstances for the last decades can find reconciliation and peace. We have an opportunity for the first steps toward that, because the Palestinians have new leadership, the Israelis are going to withdraw from the Gaza and start to, for the first time actually return territory to the Palestinians, and because there seems to be will among the people of the Middle East to want to live in a different kind of Middle East.
If we can just get the help of not just the parties, but of the regional actors in the way that Egypt and Jordan are helping today at Sharm el-Sheik; if we can get the help of the Gulf states and others to provide the funding to the Palestinians that they have pledged; if we can as an international community insist that the states that are continuing to support rejectionists and terrorist activities stop doing that, then I think we really do have a chance this time to have not just a peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, but a comprehensive peace for all of the people of the Middle East who deserve better than they have had for the last decades, who want to raise their children free of fear and violence and with opportunity and prosperity.