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Powell Press Briefing with Foreign Minister Maher

U.S. Department of State Office of the Spokesman

For Immediate Release June 27, 2001

Press Briefing by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell And Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher

June 27, 2001 Press Conference at Borg El-Arab Airport, Egypt

FOREIGN MINISTER MAHER: (greeting and introduction in Arabic)

FOREIGN MINISTER MAHER: Mr. Secretary, I just said, because maybe Gamal didn't translate correctly what I said, I said that we welcome you, that the President was very happy to see you, that there was a very lengthy discussion on the ways to implement the Mitchell report, and our mutual desire to see it implemented in its totality as soon as possible. I also said that we talked about our bilateral relations which are in good shape, that there was general agreement about where to go from here, and that is the important point that I wanted to stress. Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you Mister Minister, and I thank you for your warm welcome. It's a pleasure to be back in Egypt, and I agree with everything you have just said with respect to the meeting that we had with President Mubarak. I always welcome an opportunity to meet with President Mubarak when I am in the region to benefit from his experience and his wisdom.

As President Bush has said, President Mubarak is one of the most important leaders in the region, in fact he has called him the indispensable leader in this region, for moving the peace process along and for a number of other issues that are of interest to the United States. Our bilateral relationship with Egypt is quite sound, and we went over that and affirmed that, and we look forward to continuing to work with Egypt on areas of mutual interests that strengthen that relationship.

My mission on this trip is to do everything I can to keep the process moving forward. It's been about six weeks since the Mitchell report was issued, and it's been two weeks since Mr. Tenet was in the region and issued his workplan. I'm anxious to see this work move forward, and I'm anxious to see the level of violence come down. I am anxious to see the cooling off period begin, and I think the cooling off period can begin and the beginning of the Mitchell process take place if we have a period of quiet where the violence goes down to a level that both sides can come to a conclusion that we have reached a level that will permit us to move into the cooling off period. And this will be the subject of my discussions with Chairman Arafat and with Prime Minister Sharon. We all believe, and I don't think I'm overstating this, but all of us, both sides, Israel, Palestinian, Egyptian, Jordanians, all of us believe that the Mitchell Committee report is an essential plan, the essential document that must be used to try to bring a resolution to this crisis. It gives us a clear roadmap ahead. It provides for a cooling off period. It provides for confidence-building measures to restore trust. It provides for a way to get to final status negotiations as the Minister mentioned a moment ago. It enjoys the support of the entire international community, the United Nations, the European Union - all are united behind the Mitchell plan. And the Mitchell plan comes as a package.

All pieces must be implemented over the course of time and I hope that everybody will enter the Mitchell plan with a sense of confidence and optimism and in good faith. And as both sides have said they accept the Mitchell plan in its totality in all of its aspects. So I'd like to thank President Mubarak for having received me today and my colleague, whom I've known for many, many years, for his friendship and for his warm welcome. And now we'll be pleased to take questions, two from each side, as the Minister indicated.

QUESTION: All the way back to 1977, when there has been peace making, Egypt often was the innovator, the beginning, the starting point, going all the way back to President Sadat's visit to Jerusalem. There was an Egyptian-Jordan initiative. Is there something Egypt is doing particularly to supplement the Mitchell Commission report? How is Egypt exerting its considerable influence?

FOREIGN MINISTER MAHER: The Mitchell recommendations that have been accepted by both parties and by the international community in its totality has to be implemented. The job before us is to have it implemented. It is as the Secretary said: a roadmap that should lead us as soon as possible to the resumption of the final status negotiations, which as you know are based on the principles we all agreed upon, which are the United Nations resolutions, particularly 242 and 338, the Madrid principles, and also the land-for-peace principle.

So we are headed towards the resumption of these negotiations, which is a very important point, because the negotiations have been interrupted for a long time. So I think that what we have to do, what we have to concentrate on today, is the implementation of the Mitchell report. As I said and as you understand, we would like to see this done as soon as possible.

We consider that there has been a period of calm in the region, and that in order for it really to be stabilized and in order for it to be durable, there has to be accompanying movement on the political side. I do not say that this should happen exactly in a simultaneous way, but they have to follow each other very, very, very quickly. So this is what we're trying to do in cooperation with the Secretary and the other parties interested in peace and security in the Middle East.

QUESTION: (inaudible) Mr. Secretary, don't you think that there should be a concrete timetable to resume the ... negotiations as soon as possible? SECRETARY POWELL: There will be a timetable. But even with the timetable, events on the ground will tend to determine what happens next. But what we're looking at now is for a period of quiet where the violence goes down in a way that people can have confidence in moving forward, and then we begin the cooling off period which will last a number of weeks, and then from there move immediately into the confidence building period, and we're debating and discussing amongst the parties how long that should last. That would lead immediately into final status negotiations, and then we'll have to discuss how long that will go on, or at least what is our goal.

You can't project how long such difficult negotiations might take. There are some expectations one might be able to do it in a year. But I think it would be difficult to predict now exactly how long it would take to resolve these terribly difficult issues that have not been resolved in many, many years. But the important point, and I just want to emphasize it after the previous question, is that you can't take one part of the Mitchell Committee report and not the others. They all are linked. They are in a sequence, but they all linked, and you cannot start down the path without expecting to go to the next step.

Otherwise, you're not being faithful to the Mitchell Committee report, and both sides understand that. That was the commitment made by Senator Mitchell and his committee, and that was the expectation of the people who commissioned the report at the Sharm El-Sheikh meeting.

QUESTION: (inaudible) ...Did you come to put pressure upon Chairman Arafat to cooperate with what has been called "complete fires easing" or did you come with an accurate time schedule for the implementation of Mitchell's report ...(inaudible) .the building of settlements....on the Palestinians?

QUESTION: (inaudible, to Foreign Minister Maher in Arabic)

SECRETARY POWELL: I came to talk both sides about all elements of the Mitchell Committee report, the obligations that both will have during the confidence-building period, and the obligations that both have to get the violence down, the obligations that both will have during the cooling off period to keep the violence down and also to allow access to be improved... so that people can get to work so that food and fuel can flow into the regions that need them, so we can start removing the barriers.

All of that is part of the cooling off period, as confidence is built, as people talk to one another again, as the security units start to speaking to one another again, and as we put in place a way to monitor this and keep it all in check. As confidence is built, we expect both sides to meet their obligations under the Mitchell Committee report. So I am here to talk to both sides about respect for obligations.

FOREIGN MINISTER MAHER: (answering Arabic question in Arabic - informal translation): The question directed to me has many aspects. Firstly, we discussed with the U.S. Secretary of State the situation in the Middle East and the peace process and how to hasten the transfer from one stage to another in implementing the Mitchell report recommendations. We also discussed overall bilateral relations.

Regardless of one subject or another, I can say that we are in total agreement on working on reinforcing this relationship in all aspects. I will not discuss any details, but I would like to say that some issues that you raised were discussed and some issues were not discussed. But I do not want to discuss any details. As to the issue of abandoning the Egyptian-Jordanian initiative, I cannot, and no one can say that we abandoned it. The same principles in the initiative, which gained broad international support, were included in the Mitchell recommendations.

These recommendations were presented by a committee formed by the U.S., Europe and others, in our estimation, and work as basis for further progress. What is required is that these recommendations are implemented as soon as possible and that each stage follow the other rapidly without any gap, because time is very important. We realize, and I believe our American friends realize, that achieving security is impossible unless there is simultaneous movement on the political aspect. The political aspect supports the security aspect.

And both, as the Secretary mentioned, are part and parcel and cannot be separated. This is our position and this is what we seek. About the issue of pressure, I did not feel that the Secretary intends to pressure one party or the other, but we know that the American role is important in the peace process and the Egyptian role is important in the peace process and the roles of other parties, the European and the U.N. are important in the peace process.

There is no contradiction that everyone seeks one purpose, and that is achieving a comprehensive, just peaceful settlement that achieves the hopes and aims of all parties and guarantees the security of all parties. (end of informal translation)

QUESTION: Secretary Powell, you have just said that after a period of quiet, a cooling off period could begin. But the Israeli Prime Minister has said that there has to be absolute quiet. How do you square those two, and in your opinion what is the definition in your eyes of a period of quiet? And, for the Egyptian Foreign Minister, sir, do you believe that Yasser Arafat has been doing all he can to implement this ceasefire?

SECRETARY POWELL: Mr. Sharon has been quite clear that he is seeking absolute quiet and by that he means absolute quiet. I'm not going to try to put words in his mouth and interpretations in his mouth. President Bush was speaking yesterday of a realistic level of violence, something that makes it clear, it seems to me, to all sides that there has been a change, that the cycle of violence has been broken, and we're down to a level of quiet -- whether it is zero or something that some others might call realistic.

But the real key to this is that at the end of the day it is the parties that will have to decide whether there is an adequate level of quiet and lack of violence in order to move forward. That leader is Prime Minister Sharon. So we will be watching along with him and with Chairman Arafat and all the others that are interested to see how events progress in the days ahead.

We've had some quiet over the last several days. Nobody is claiming that the level of violence is down to where anybody can say that it is either realistic or zero, and so we have got more work to do, and we hope we will reach a situation in the next few days, in the next couple of weeks, where everybody looking at it, including Mr. Sharon, will say it seems like we have reached a level of quiet and lack of violence that satisfies our requirements to move forward into a cooling off period. But at the end of the day, it is Mr. Sharon who will make that judgment.

QUESTION: So you're saying that maybe we're still a week or two away before the cooling off period can begin?

SECRETARY POWELL: I can't say anything. What we have to see is a period of quiet break out and continue, and the level of violence go down considerably. As President Bush noted yesterday, there has been progress, and we hope that progress continues, it keeps moving in the right direction, and that all parties will do everything they can to keep moving in the right direction. Then we will have enough elapsed time under circumstances required where the parties together believe that they can move into the cooling off period. And we will be monitoring that, of course, and encouraging the right kinds of actions to move in that direction.

FOREIGN MINISTER MAHER: The short answer to your question is yes. We think Yasser Arafat is doing the most he can do. On the other side, we hope that the other side does the same, because we still hear and see provocative words and provocative actions from the Israeli side. So I wish, I hope, that the Israeli side will do as well as Mr. Arafat in promoting quiet in the region. This is all I can say about it.

FOREIGN MINISTER MAHER: (translation of above answer into Arabic)

# # #

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