"As is" reference - not a United Nations document
The newly re-elected Bush administration wants to work closely and intensely with Europe on the Middle East peace process and other foreign policy issues in the second term, according to senior U.S. officials November 12.
Speaking on background, administration officials said that the meetings between President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair concluded an intense period of outreach and discussions to Europe, including the president's remarks about closer cooperation in his press conference on November 4, and the recent White House statement welcoming the EU's decision to provide election assistance to the Iraqi government.
President Bush's first foreign visitor following the election was NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the officials pointed out, and Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, French diplomatic adviser to President Jacques Chirac, has met with National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.
The joint U.S.-British statement on the Middle East, according to an official, "starts with a broader vision that is the need for the expansion of freedom, peace, democracy in the broader Middle East. Everybody is really aware now -- Palestinians, Israelis, and everybody else -- that there is a historic opportunity here and we all have to take it. And there is every intention on the part of the United States and, I think it's fair to say, everybody else in the Quartet [the United Nations, the European Union, Russia and the United States], to take that opportunity."
Following is the transcript of the November 12 White House background briefing on the President's meetings with Prime Minister Blair:
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
November 12, 2004
BACKGROUND BRIEFING BY SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS
ON THE PRESIDENT'S MEETINGS WITH PRIME MINISTER BLAIR
James S. Brady Briefing Room
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: ...
Many of -- the theme of what the President has said to foreign -- to European leaders in his phone calls and in the meeting with de Hoop Scheffer and the meetings with Blair and Condi Rice's meeting with Gourdault-Montagne is very much encapsulated by what the President said today at the end of his opening remarks at the press conference about working with Europe. It was enunciated a year ago, if you think about it, in the speech in London, and then the theme of working with Europe, the theme of effective mutlilateralism was very prominent in June during the G8 summits, the EU-U.S. summit and the NATO summit, all of which dealt very productively with the tough issues with Iraq, with Israel-Palestine, with Afghanistan.
My own personal sense is that some of that theme got drowned out in our own election cycle. Now that our election cycle is over, we are returning to the theme of cooperation with Europe on the key strategic themes. We don't agree on everything, but we do have same underlying values, we're moving in the same strategic direction and we want to get to work.
Now, one of those -- the principal themes is Israel-Palestine, and after the death of Arafat that's very topical, and I will turn to my colleague who can discuss the issue and this joint statement issued today.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think the easiest way to do this quickly, so as not to interfere with the Peterson verdict -- (laughter) -- is the joint statement. The joint statement, which I think my colleague is getting more copies of, starts with a broader vision that is the need for the expansion of freedom, peace, democracy in the broader Middle East. And that vision of the broader Middle East, of course, includes resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. And as you know from the June 24, 2002 speech, in the President's view, the way to resolve that is to have two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace and security. We now have new opportunity to move forward. So the joint statement has five points.
First is a recommitment to the June 24th two-state vision and the road map; second, a commitment to support Palestinian elections. There will be a presidential election within 60 days, and then next year, more elections as they build democratic institutions.
Third, mobilizing international support behind a plan to build a Palestinian political, economic and security infrastructure, the infrastructure they need to create a viable state. And the point here is to create a state that is democratic -- free press, freedom of speech, an open political process, religious tolerance -- and with a unified security structure capable of providing law and order and fighting terrorism, and planning for the financial and economic structures necessary for the needs of the Palestinian people. So we will be working intensively to put together that plan.
The institutions are in place. We have the Quartet, and two other institutions, the task force on Palestinian reform that was created in 2002, essentially on the political side, and the ad hoc liaison committee, which was actually created in 1993, and which will meet next on December 8th in Oslo -- the Norwegians chair it -- which is more on the financial and economic side. And what we need to do now is to get to work with the Palestinians on building those institutions, the institutions that will be needed for statehood.
The fourth part is a statement by the Prime Minister and the President of support for the Sharon disengagement plan for Gaza and parts of the West Bank; and then, fifth, a note that these steps lay the basis for more rapid progress on the road map as a reliable guide leading to final status negotiations.
That's the joint statement. The President, as you know, made similar comments in his opening statement today, and then answered some questions about it. But we will be turning to more work on this in the coming weeks and months.
Q: Can you tell us what consideration has been given to a Middle East envoy, somebody to take hold of this portfolio at this time of fermenting change, and why this is not the time, obviously, to name someone?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think the President answered that question. He was asked about an envoy and about a conference, and in both cases the question is, are they really the most useful tactic for moving forward. And I think his answer was, if they are, we might do it, but we've got to make that judgment. There's a question of timing also. For right now, we don't need to think about a conference and an envoy. We need to get this work done. We know what the work is. We have made a start on this work in the past year or two, but we can do a lot more now on building the institutions of a Palestinian state. And they've got to be built now, not after the formal announcement of statehood.
So we'll be reviewing these as we go forward. There may come a time when the President decides a conference would be useful now, an envoy would be useful now. Clearly, he hasn't made that judgment today.
Q: How do you help with the elections in 60 days without tarnishing them by having some kind of American influence that perhaps the Palestinian people don't like?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We've been very careful not to do that, not to speak about any personalities. These elections will be -- there is a central election commission, Palestinian commission, which can essentially organize these elections. We think there's going to be a great deal of help offered by the Quartet, by the U.N., by the EU, to provide funding, to provide monitors, to provide technical assistance, whatever the Palestinians think they need. But I don't think that's going to be a problem here and I think they can -- I think 60 days is enough time to organize a presidential election. It's tougher for -- to try to do parliamentary elections in that time, but for presidential elections, the Palestinians seem to believe that they can do it. And if they make that decision, I think the international community is going to jump forward to provide help to make them credible elections.
Q: From the sequence you laid out, it sounds as though final status talks would not begin until sometime in 2006. Is that right?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President refused to put a timetable on this. The road map itself says it's all performance-based. And this could be faster or slower, depending on the actual ability to build those institutions and to make progress on the road map. But the President refused to say anything about timing, except to say that he obviously hoped to get this done in the window that he has, which is four years.
Q: What signals would you like to see the Israelis send to the Palestinians to show them that they want to see a moderate, stable leadership emerge? What concrete steps do the Israelis need to take at this point?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The first thing probably is to facilitate as needed the Palestinian elections. We hope that there will be a lot of support, as I said, from the international community, and Israel has a special role, particularly on the West Bank and in Jerusalem in figuring out ways to make this easier. And we obviously hope and expect that they will.
They want to move ahead, Prime Minister Sharon has said, on the Gaza disengagement -- Gaza and a part of the West Bank. And there is at least a possibility now of coordinating parts of that with the Palestinians, the possibility that Prime Minister Sharon said did not exist previously. And that would -- the coordination, if possible, would make the disengagement a lot easier. There are a lot of pragmatic problems that need to be solved, like how -- exactly how to people-move back and forth, in and out; how does commerce get conducted; what are the border crossings like; immigration; customs. So making the disengagement work better would be something that Israelis and Palestinians can help on.
As we get back to progress on the road map, which we hope we will, the road map explains in Phase One what the responsibilities of the Palestinians and what the responsibilities of the Israelis are. And we hope to get to that point.
Q: What level of communication has there been between the Sharon government and the bush administration over the last few days over these things?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Oh, plenty of communication, plenty of communication. I mean, we remain in close touch both with Jerusalem and through the Israeli embassy here.
Q: You haven't talked about personalities, as you said, but don't you like Mahmoud Abbas? Wouldn't you like to see him run for president?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it would be a mistake for the United States, with respect to the Palestinian elections or any foreign election, to get into the question of personalities.
Q: The President talked about holding the Palestinians' feet to the fire on building democratic institutions. What does that mean, what are the mechanisms for doing that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me get back on -- feet to the fire. Reform is hard. Reform means that some people who have had power are going to lose some of it. Some people who have made a lot of money are going to find their opportunities to make money corruptly have disappeared. Some people who have had guns are going to have to turn in their guns. It's hard anywhere, and it's going to be hard for the Palestinians. And they will need both the support and the pressure of the international community to be able to make that happen. I think that's what the President is really talking about.
Q: You spoke increasingly about the need, in respect to the Broader Middle East Initiative, to -- you've been asked before about backing reformers, where the U.S. would actively back reformers in this new phase, the democratic phase. In the Palestinian process, are you considering actively backing reformers, or are you concerned that maybe those reformers would be tainted by U.S. help -- by being helped by the U.S.?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, it's our hope, obviously, that Palestinians now choose a new leadership, both in the presidential election, and then next year they're going to have PLC elections, in which reformers come to the fore. The United States is not engaged in this alone. These institutions -- the Quartet, the task force on Palestinian reform, the ad hoc liaison committee include the IMF and the World Bank, Japan, Norway, Canada, the EU, a lot of the relevant countries for assisting reform are deeply involved in this process already. We will work together on this. Nobody is asking any one country to take this on. We need to coordinate better how we share these responsibilities.
But, certainly, as in other countries, we want it clear to people in the Palestinian areas that the United States is very much on the side of political, economic, and security reform measures.
Q: Can I -- I hate to put a damper on all of this, but it struck me that what the President and the Prime Minister were saying is, look, we are prepared to help, as, indeed, they've said before, if the Palestinians go down a road to democracy and building the kind of society and institutions that we've talked about. A lot of people would say that was fantastically improbable. If you just spend any time in the Palestinian territories, if you look at the issue of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, I mean, can you really believe there's a hope in hell of this happening? And what happens -- and what happens if the Palestinians decide not to go down that path?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, if the Palestinians decide, which we think unlikely, not to go down that path -- that is, if they decide that all of these reforms -- political, economic, security reforms -- are a mistake and they will not make any of them, then the President has made it clear previously that that's not a path to statehood.
So you're talking about a society -- let us remember -- which is completely literate, has a large middle class, and a large middle class and educated diaspora around the world -- Palestinian society. You're talking about a society that has a lot of interaction with another democracy, Israel, and has for the past 30, 40 years. So I think there is reason for optimism. There are tremendous challenges. And the --
Q: Let me ask --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me finish. The terrorist groups -- Hamas, Islamic Jihad -- are part of the great challenge. What are they going to do, and what are the Palestinian -- the new Palestinian leader going to do about them? That is a tremendous challenge. But the notion that it's likely the Palestinians will choose an undemocratic form of government, will choose not to have a free press, not to have free elections, seems to us unlikely.
Q: Just one specific follow-up on that. Take the organizations Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Will -- the United States and Britain, for them to consider that the Palestinians are going on a democratic path, will those organizations need to have been disbanded or demilitarized?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, the road map, which we have endorsed again today and which has been endorsed by the international community time after time, requires the dismantling of terrorist groups, and certainly the ones you mention are terrorist groups. Palestinians will have to make a choice about whether they are going to fight these terrorist groups and put them out of business and turn the struggle, as Mahmoud Abbas said in Aqaba during the summit there, turn this into a political struggle.
Q: Without a deadline for the final status talks, is there a concern that you'll lose some of the momentum that you have in terms of gaining ground and actually meeting some of the criteria to move forward?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I wouldn't think so. I think everybody is really aware now -- Palestinians, Israelis, and everybody else -- that there is a historic opportunity here and we all have to take it. And there is every intention on the part of the United States and, I think it's fair to say, everybody else in the Quartet, to take that opportunity.