Monday, June 16, 2008

Condoleezza Rice Remarks to the Press

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice answered questions from the press while en route to Tel Aviv on June 14. A transcript was provided by the State Department.

SECRETARY RICE: Okay. Look, why don't we just go directly to questions. You heard the President's press conference today, and we're now headed to Jerusalem, so we can just go directly to your questions.

[It's unclear whether this reflects the State Department's Jerusalem phobia or whether Condoleezza Rice is geographically challenged, but the State Department transcript described these remarks as being made en route to Tel Aviv while Condoleezza Rice certainly appears to believe she's en route to Jerusalem.]

QUESTION: Can you respond to the -- Israel's announcement yesterday, I believe, of a new 1,300 home settlement in East Jerusalem, and how you expect to be able to, you know, talk to both sides about this since that's precisely the thing that the Palestinians regard as the greatest obstacle?

[More accurately, it's something the Palestinian Arabs like to say is the greatest obstacle.]

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it will certainly be a topic of conversation and I expect to raise it with all of Israel's officials and leaders. And we've said before that this is a time to try and build confidence, and this is simply not helpful to building confidence. And so we'll have a further discussion of it, but I intend to have a discussion of Roadmap obligations generally, and this is obviously a Roadmap obligation that's not being met.

[From the start, Israel clearly stated its reservations regarding certain provisions of the Roadmap and the United States understood Israel would not strangle life in Jewish neighborhoods in the disputed territories.

By pandering to these Arab objections, Rice is preventing any real progress towards peace. She is also ignoring the real violations, the continued Arab terrorism.]

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, you are not annoyed that every time you go there, there is a new announcement of settlements, either just before you come or just after you leave?

SECRETARY RICE: Unfortunately, there have been a few whether I'm coming or not. I think that - look, it's a problem. And I think it's a problem that we'e - that I'm going to address with the Israelis. And it's also - as the President said today, it's also every reason - or it gives us every reason that we really ought to be determining the boundaries of the state, because what's in Israel will be in Israel at that point, and what's in Palestine will be in Palestine. And that's the best way to resolve this, but you know, I repeat, we've talked a great deal about the importance of Roadmap obligations, and this one isn't being met.

[These days, Condi is always either coming or going, so anything Israel announces is going to be just before she comes or just after she leaves.

The most important Roadmap obligation is the Arab abandonment of terrorism and dismantling of the terror infrastructure built up by the Palestinian Authority. Arab terrorism has actually increased, particularly against Jewish communities near Gaza.

Additionally, Congress has repeatedly declared Jerusalem should not be redivided, making any interpretation of the provisions of the Roadmap as prohibiting Israeli construction in its capital in conflict with Congressional policy.]

QUESTION: Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad this week expressed remarkable pessimism in public, saying he just didn't think it was possible to get a peace agreement this year. Why is it? What makes you think it's possible in, you know, seven months now?

SECRETARY RICE: Because I know that the parties are working very seriously and they're talking about the most serious of issues. It's not easy, and these issues have never been easy. It's the reason they don't have an end to their conflict. It's because the issues are hard. I know that there are those who talk about the difficulties of this particular moment. I'm hard-pressed to find a time when there weren't difficult circumstances in the Middle East.

And so the parties, I think, are intending to keep pressing. I've talked to the negotiators, to Foreign Minister Livni and to Abu Allah. I've talked to Prime Minister Olmert and to President Abbas. They expressed the desire to get this done. And we're going to work as hard as possible with them to get it done. But I do think it's important for everyone to stay focused on the goal and stay focused on the work at hand, rather than several months before the end of the year, trying to determine what the outcome is going to be, and expressing pessimism. I don't think it helps to express pessimism at this point. There's hard work ahead, but it helps to focus on the work.

And I should - just on Prime Minister Fayyad, he is focusing very intently on the -- as he puts it, creating the institutions of a nascent state. And that's why we're supporting him in the work he's doing to build the security forces, the Jenin Project, the Bethlehem conference. On a number of these scores, he has had a lot of support and I think he's done really very well.

[The buildup of Palestinian Authority security forces may have something to do with civil order, but they have nothing to do with eliminating the terror infrastructure; in that sense, they have nothing to do with the Roadmap. Indeed, if the past is any indication of the future, those very forces are likely to turn to terrorism themselves, thus undermining the prospects for peace.

The issues are hard only in the sense that it is very hard for the Palestinian Arabs to reconcile themselves to the prospect of living side-by-side with Israel. If they ever so reconcile, it will be relatively easy to come to a territorial compromise and achieve peace.]

And so I'll also have an opportunity to talk about what is another track of Annapolis. The negotiations are one track, but the - improving the lives of the Palestinians and building the institutions of the Palestinian state is another track, and that's the one in which I'm most involved with Prime Minister Fayyad.

QUESTION: You're going this time, just about on the one-year anniversary of the Hamas takeover in Gaza. Were you concerned the other day to see some Israeli military officials say that they would give the truce talks in Egypt about two weeks to work or they would reinvade? And where do you see that truce situation - the truce negotiations going at this point?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I'm not going to comment on every comment that is made by Israeli officials, either identified or not in - about the Gaza situation. Everybody knows that the situation in Gaza is extremely difficult, that Hamas has - is effectively holding the population of Gaza hostage, that they are continuing to participate in and allow others to participate in firing rockets against innocent Israeli populations. And we all know too that the Egyptians are trying mightily to find a solution.

[The only real solution is the elimination of both Hamas and the terror infrastructure, both in Gaza and in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria).]

So I - this is something that the Israelis are dealing directly with the Egyptians on, and so I'm not in a position to comment about the back-and-forth between Israel and Egypt. But I think we all know what needs to happen in Gaza. The rocket fire needs to stop. There needs to be a more sustainable circumstance for the people of Gaza, meaning that there will need to be sustained openings of the crossings, enough at least to permit humanitarian conditions to - humanitarian needs to be met. And ultimately, I would hope that they can get back to something that looks more like the Movement and Access Agreement of November 2005, which everybody's focused on as an endpoint.

[It's hard to keep the crossings open when the Palestinian Arabs keep attacking them.]

So we know that that's what needs to be done in Gaza, and it's my understanding that Egypt and Israel are both focusing there as well as the Palestinians. I just want to repeat that the Palestinian Authority, of course, is the legitimate authority for the people of Gaza as well. They spend some 58 percent of their budget on the people of Gaza, so it's not as if the Palestinian Authority is not involved concerning affairs in Gaza. And I should mention one other point, which is, of course, we've worked with the Egyptians on some technical ways to deal with the smuggling through tunnels and the like. The Egyptians are very concerned about the security situation in Gaza and about the use of Gaza's territory for rearming of terrorists. It's not in Egypt's interest either.

[Even if the smuggling was stopped completely, the terrorists in Gaza have already obtained so many weapons and explosives that it would take a massive campaign to undo the damage of the last year alone, not to mention the damage done by the Palestinian Authority prior to that.]

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, what do you think about President Assad attending the celebrations of Bastille Day next month in Paris?

SECRETARY RICE: As I understand it, a lot of people are going to attend the celebration of Bastille Day. My understanding, and we had long discussions with the French, this is in accord - it's in conjunction with the Mediterranean summit that they hold, which, as I understand it, is about trying to make relations among the states of the Mediterranean more harmonious, has more of an economic and practical caste to it than a political caste.

But I also know that the - we and the French have completely consonant views on the situation in Lebanon, as evidenced by - evidenced by the joint statement that President Sarkozy and Bush issued today. We have consonant views on the Annapolis process and what needs to be done there. President Sarkozy will be going to Israel, I think at the end of the week. And then we certainly have very similar views about what needs to be done in the Middle East in total. So I don't have any doubt that any contacts with Bashar al-Assad will be, from our point of view, contacts that communicate the right messages in what are shared French and American goals and objectives for the Middle East.

QUESTION: You talked about the importance of deciding on the borders because that's one way of -- and I wonder if you've given any serious thought to the possibility of trying to reach an agreement just on borders.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, part of the difficulty in negotiations like this is that the issues are intertwined. You know, borders and security, issues concerning Jerusalem, and issues concerning borders, and issues concerning refugees -- they're all part -- and by the way, not only the big four of final status, but also issues of state-to-state relations, issues of economic relations. They're all very intertwined. And I believe the parties have adopted the right strategy here, which is that they work on all of them, recognizing that some may move more quickly than others, but also recognizing that nothing can be agreed till everything is agreed.

And it's just very difficult to imagine a circumstance under which you could separate somehow the border issue from these other important issues. That doesn't mean that you can't work on the border issue separate from the others, but it's hard to imagine that you could really resolve it without dealing with the companion issues.

[The only real issue requiring negotiations is the territorial compromise, i.e. the determination of borders.

The other issues mentioned basically call for the Palestinian Arabs to decide they're interested in peace and thus stop putting forth the false issues of redividing Israel's capital and flooding Israel with descendents of those who left in 1948 in order to facilitate the hoped for destruction of Israel.]

QUESTION: I'd heard that you were thinking of this, and it made no sense to me, which is why I wondered.

SECRETARY RICE: No, I was not thinking of that. I've encouraged the parties not to hesitate to push ahead if something is moving, but the idea that you could have a separate agreement, I think that just doesn't make sense.

QUESTION: The Israeli political situation has probably gotten even more complicated since you were there last. And I know you don't like to comment on internal politics, but you're going to be seeing sort of a lot of the relevant parties here. To what extent are you concerned that their own internal political positionings and so forth will make things difficult for you to have a receptive ear?

SECRETARY RICE: I can only go on what I've been told by all of the relevant parties, as you call them, which is that they're committed to the Annapolis process, they're committed to trying to move the negotiations forward, they're committed to trying to meet Israel's obligations under the various tracks of Annapolis. And I will treat the parties in their respective roles: prime minister, foreign minister, defense minister. Those are the meetings that I'm having. And we'll have an opportunity to talk about moving forward on the peace process and moving forward on Israel's obligations. And you know, as I said, the Middle East is never uncomplicated, so best just to focus on the task at hand.

[One would be more hopeful if the Secretary of State was interested in talking about the important obligations that aren't being met, the Arab obligation to end terrorism.]

QUESTION: Do you still plan trilaterals?


QUESTION: And also, do you want to speak about the roadblocks again, or it's something that is (inaudible)?

SECRETARY RICE: I am having a trilateral with -- I think the -- is it the Barak -- I'm trying to remember the order. I think Barak and Fayyad is tomorrow, and Livni and Abu Alaa is Monday, I believe. And yes, in the trilateral that is really about Roadmap implementation and improving the lives of the Palestinians, we will talk about movement and access issues.

Now, if you remember, we've tried to make this more concrete by having, for instance, a focus on an area, like Jenin, where you have security forces come in for the Palestinians; Israelis can then step back and allow Palestinians to have more freedom of action. You can then just work on the movement and access issues, as we've done between Jenin and Nablus, for instance. And then economic projects of the kind that Prime Minister Blair is doing and some smaller ones of the kind that USAID and the Palestinians themselves are doing can then fill in.

And so I think this is a more concrete way to go about it because just focusing on numbers, I mentioned to you that focusing on 50 roadblocks and then you learn that only some proportion of them really matters to movement and access, I don't think we want to get into a quantitative game. And so I think this is really a better way of going about it.

[The roadblocks are only necessary because of Arab terrorism. If the Palestinian Authority would adhere to its obligation to eliminate its terror infrastructure, the roadblocks could also be eliminated.

Until that time, eliminating roadblocks is actually counterproductive, since it makes it easier for terrorists to act.]

QUESTION: A quick one on that?


QUESTION: I mean, let's not -- let's actually talk about the qualitative issue then. Do you think, in a qualitative sense, that the Israeli Government has made significant efforts to keep its obligations since you announced the 50 to actually substantially improve movement and access?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, again, if you look at trying to do this by area, I do think that there are improvements in Jenin on all of the elements, improvements on security with the Palestinians having those -- having responsibilities there, improvements in terms of movement and access, and the beginnings of improvements in terms of the economic side. I am told that there are other areas where there have been some improvements in movement and access as well; for instance, you know rather than -- more random stopping of vehicles rather than every vehicle, that kind of thing.

But it's not enough, and there certainly and clearly needs to be more. And I understand the security considerations as well as anyone, but the obligation was undertaken to improve the lives of Palestinians and we're going to have to work very hard if we're going to make that true in a broader sense.

[The only action which will really improve the lives of the Palestinian Arabs will be the dismantling of their terror infrastructure.

It sounds like a broken record, but it's really simple at heart: if the Palestinian Arabs decide to live in peace, everything is possible; until then, nothing is really possible.]

Okay, thank you.

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