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US State Department Comments On Israel Violence

US State Department Comments On Israel Violence

- Powell Urges Israelis, Palestinians to Reduce Violence
- Boucher Calls for Israelis, Palestinians to Lower Tensions


Powell Urges Israelis, Palestinians to Reduce Violence

(Comments on plane returning to the U.S. from APEC meeting) (870)

Secretary of State Colin Powell said he encouraged Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to show restraint when sending Israeli forces into Palestinian areas to make arrests.

Powell said he also urged Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to make maximum efforts to capture the people responsible for the recent assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi and bring down the level of violence.

Powell commented about recent developments in the Middle East while speaking to reporters aboard his plane while traveling back to the United States from Shanghai, China, October 22 from a meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

Following is an excerpt of Powell's comments about the Middle East from the transcript of his in-flight press conference:

(begin excerpt)

QUESTION: Following up in India and Pakistan, that group of I's and P's, you have another group of I's and P's that are at each other's throats now. The tensions rose quite significantly, during your time away next week in both places. How do you see that calming down, if you do, and what's the effect of that on the coalition?

SECRETARY POWELL: You know, this was not a good week in the Middle East. It started out as a promising week. The first day was the most promising day I had seen in many months with the Israelis opening up some crossing sites, pulling back their forces from Hebron or a number of other places. You may recall Mr. Sharon, also that same day, once again, indicated in due course the existence of a Palestinian state. We had security meetings going on (inaudible) getting better.

So for the first time in a long time, I was seeing some progress toward the Mitchell plan and I was very encouraged. But the very next day, we had a terrorist attack, killed a minister who had just left government. He would have been out of the government in another hour and he left the government because Mr. Sharon had been asking actions that were starting to move in a direction of trying to get the process going. So it could not have been a more tragic incident as a personal matter of course for the minister and his family, but for the region. So, as a result, we had a deterioration all week long with the Israelis feeling the need to go back into a number of these Zone A cities and towns and making demands on the Palestinians with respect to arresting the perpetrators. Mr. Arafat is trying to find the perpetrators.

New demands have been placed on the table. I spent most of yesterday working on this. I spoke to Prime Minister Sharon. I spoke to Mr. Arafat, Foreign Minister Maher, King Abdullah, Igor Ivan, of course, maybe a couple of others that Richard can get to you. And trying to see, not forget where we have been a week before.

Mr. Sharon had indicated he felt it absolutely necessary to go in and arrest those who are planning terror and he did not want to remain in those zones and would be coming out as soon as he could. I encouraged him to exercise all the restraint that he could because we have to think about the day after. I also encouraged Chairman Arafat to do all he could in order to arrest those who are responsible for this latest act of terror and to continue to do all that he could to reduce the violence to hopefully zero, the lowest level possible. So it was not a great four days. So far today, there's been violence but it hasn't been as bad as yesterday. We will see where we are tomorrow. It's a day-by-day thing, I regret to say.

QUESTION: Did the Palestinian party just outlaw the armed group of the PFLP?

SECRETARY POWELL: I heard they were getting ready to do that, and I think that is a good move. I think the (inaudible) have given instructions to his various organizations to implement a cease-fire. If they don't follow his instructions and violate that, it's a challenge to his authority. I'm glad to see that he's responding to that challenge.

QUESTION: (inaudible)

SECRETARY POWELL: I would hope that both sides would make whatever reciprocal moves they can in order to reduce tension. As I said a moment ago, Mr. Sharon said he does not want to stay into these occupied areas, so as the violence is ended in those areas, in the Zone A areas he went into(inaudible). As soon as the violence has gone down and he has done whatever arresting he planned to do, he wants to come back out. He also gave me his assurance that he is still committed to the Mitchell committee process. I look forward to my conversations with Foreign Minister Peres. I can't give you a specific yes, if they do that, they should do that. I can just give you a general, I hope both sides will look for every opportunity to go back down the ladder of escalation and try to do everything they can to reduce tensions.

(end excerpt)

(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov) NNNN

Boucher Calls for Israelis, Palestinians to Lower

Tensions (Calls for immediate withdrawal by IDF, arrests by PA) (4160)

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the Israeli government needs to withdraw its military forces "immediately" from Palestinian areas and the Palestinian Authority needs to act decisively to arrest terrorists in order to lower tensions.

"We think the IDF [Israeli Defense Force] should be withdrawn immediately," Boucher said in his daily press briefing at the State Department in Washington October 23.

He said the Israeli military incursions into Palestinian areas contribute to escalation in violence.

Israel has sent its forces into Palestinian areas after an alleged Palestinian terrorist from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine assassinated Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze'evi last week.

Boucher said it is up to the Palestinian Authority, not Israel, to arrest suspected terrorists in the Palestinian jurisdiction.

"We look to Chairman Arafat to act immediately to arrest all those responsible for the assassination of Minister Ze'evi, as well as move decisively against any of those who are planning or conducting acts of terror," Boucher said.

The spokesman said the Palestinian decree outlawing terrorism and terrorist groups is a "positive step," but added, "actions are required, not words."

Boucher said the war on terrorists in Afghanistan and the issue of terrorism in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute are two different situations.

"Israel faces a situation where its interests would be best served by reducing tensions in the region, getting back to a political path of discussing political issues," Boucher said.

"The situation with regard to al Qaeda is totally different. These are people that want to turn back the clock on civilization, that want to destroy Americans, that want to kill Americans, that want to kill Arab regimes, that want to kill people throughout the Middle East just for the sake of killing them. We think terrorism needs to be brought under control, and that what we're doing in Afghanistan is not comparable to some other situation where there's political opportunity to negotiate differences," Boucher said.

Following are excerpts of Boucher's comments about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the transcript of his October 23 briefing:

(begin excerpt)

Q May I switch topics? Could you clarify -- today, right before the briefing, Foreign Minister Peres told reporters that Secretary Powell did not necessarily use the term "immediately" when he was asking about the withdrawal of the Israeli troops, in terms of the latest incursion. And he also said that the secretary expressed an understanding that as soon as the Palestinians did what they needed to do -- his words -- that the Israelis may withdraw the troops. Could you sort of clarify your take on what Powell's message was?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't want to try to clarify my take on your take on what Peres said.

Q Okay.

MR. BOUCHER: So if I can, I'll just say the secretary in the meeting discussed the situation, made quite clear that we expected to -- the Israelis to withdraw from the Palestinian areas.

Foreign Minister Peres did note that the Israeli government -- that Prime Sharon has said he wants to withdraw as soon as possible, or immediately. I can't remember what term he used. And the secretary emphasized the importance of that.

The secretary also emphasized, as I think Mr. Reeker did yesterday at this briefing, our concern about some of the actions of the army and the deaths of civilians that have been associated with the Israeli incursions. So on both those accounts, the secretary made clear that we had expectations of the Israelis.

I would say, at the same time, he also made clear, as we have made clear directly in our discussions with Chairman Arafat, that we look to Chairman Arafat to act immediately to arrest all those responsible for the assassination of Minister Ze'evi, as well as move decisively against any of those who are planning or conducting acts of terror. The Palestinian decree outlawing such groups, such activities, is a positive step, but as we've always said, actions are required, not words. So we look to the Palestinian Authority to do all in its power to halt violence and to bring to justice those terrorists whose actions are actually betraying Palestinian interests.

Q You didn't include the word "immediately" as Mr. Reeker did yesterday. And if you don't include it, then, you know, there really isn't --

MR. BOUCHER: I hereby --

Q -- that big of a distinction between what Peres says Israel would like to do and what Mr. Powell would like Israel to do.

MR. BOUCHER: We think the IDF should be withdrawn immediately.

Q You do.

MR. BOUCHER: It's clear that its presence there is not -- makes -- its presence there contributes to an escalation in violence, and it should be withdrawn immediately.

Q All right, then, what tool is there to accomplish your and Israel's aim of having arrests made of terrorists, particularly in the assassination of the tourism minister?

MR. BOUCHER: The tool is for Chairman Arafat to do what he has to do. And we have been quite clear in that. The secretary's been quite clear in his phone calls on that. We've been quite clear in our meetings with him in the region, and we've been quite clear in conjunction with other members of the international community in making absolutely clear to Arafat that there is no question, there is no choice.

Q Was there a recent phone call?

MR. BOUCHER: He needs to arrest the people responsible for this, he needs to make sure that those planning or conducting acts of terror are also arrested as well.

Q Did the secretary speak to him recently?

MR. BOUCHER: I think the last time --

Q And to Sharon, while we're at it?

MR. BOUCHER: Let me go back. Yes, the answer is recently, yes, and it was -- the most recent phone calls were on Sunday. He talked to Prime Minister Sharon, Chairman Arafat as well as others in the region.

Q Can I just -- I just want to make sure I understand. Secretary Powell today stressed that the IDF should be withdrawn regardless of Arafat's actions, but that -- because Peres was making a link. He was saying that the IDF would withdraw and that Powell -- and that the secretary understood this, that once they took the appropriate steps they would withdraw. And you're saying and you're reiterating now that they should just withdraw, and that's the message that Powell carried.

MR. BOUCHER: Yes.

Q Richard, do you have --

Q Richard?

MR. BOUCHER: Charlie?

Q Well, I just want to clarify one point. In terms of the withdrawal -- in terms of the arrests, does the United States believe, as Prime Minister Sharon has said, that after the arrests are made that the suspects should be turned over to the Israelis?

MR. BOUCHER: We've made very clear our concern about the situation. We have certainly made absolutely clear we think Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority need to move immediately to find them, to arrest them, to bring them to justice, all those who are responsible for this act, as well as to continue arrests of other known terrorists. That kind of action needs to be taken.

As for the issue of where the -- the legal discussion, I don't think I want to be drawn into a legal discussion at this point.

The important thing is for Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority to act now to halt those activities and to arrest those responsible.

Q Richard, what makes you sure that you're not asking an impossible task of the Palestinians? Do you have some reason to believe that the people that assassinated this minister are in a jurisdiction that the Palestinian Authority has control over?

MR. BOUCHER: We have no reason to believe they're not.

Q Yeah. But you know for a fact that if Arafat gave an order to arrest these people, that they could be arrested --

MR. BOUCHER: I --

Q -- by the Palestinian Authority?

MR. BOUCHER: No -- that's -- you're asking me to identify the whereabouts of individuals that I don't know that I can identify their whereabouts.

Q No, I'm asking you if you are convinced that what you're asking of the Palestinians is not impossible -- that it's possible.

MR. BOUCHER: We are convinced that what we're asking of the Palestinians is not impossible, yes.

Q Okay, because you think that these people that did this are in areas --

MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to start talking about the location --

Q Well -- yeah, but Richard, what if they're in Egypt or something? How is Arafat going to --

MR. BOUCHER: We have no indication that they are anywhere in Africa. I mean, we have no indication they're anywhere in Europe. Every indication is that they're in the Palestinian areas. Right?

Q Okay. I don't know. I'm --

MR. BOUCHER: So let's not start speculating and letting people off the hook. As far as everybody knows, the people who did this are in the Palestinian areas and deserve to be arrested right away. If somebody has another excuse, then let them come forward. I haven't seen any statement by anyone that indicates that they're not there.

Betsy?

Q Richard --

Q Can I follow that up, please, just for a second?

MR. BOUCHER: Let's let Betsy follow up.

Q How concerned are you that if this situation continues to spiral out of control, that this will harm the president's efforts in this war on terrorism?

MR. BOUCHER: Our concern at this moment is that if this continues to spiral out of control, it will harm the president's efforts to achieve a return to the peace negotiations and to the Mitchell process in the Middle East.

As the secretary explained, I think, during his briefing on the airplane, and also as they discussed this morning with Foreign Minister Peres, I think we'd all seen about a week ago the prospect that we were beginning to move into the period of calm in the implementation of the Mitchell committee recommendations, which is what will give the region the hope that's offered by eventual peace negotiations. And we very much wanted to pursue that course; that's something that we've been working on for a long time. And it remains our goal. It remains in our interest to try to pursue that course.

So the main concern right now is that the violence, the assassination, and the failure thus far to stop those who might be conducting -- to arrest those who might've done this -- threaten to disrupt the return to negotiation.

That applies to the incursions as well. That's the way the secretary explained some of his concerns over the weekend.

Q Can I follow --

(Cross talk.)

MR. BOUCHER: All right.

Q Can I follow up -- (off mike) -- please? But one of the problems that this government faces in the region is the perception that the U.S. is siding unduly with the Israelis in this crisis and that the Palestinians are suffering, and Arab governments are fighting this perception in their street. And how serious do you-all think this perception is among other Arab countries?

MR. BOUCHER: The discussions that we have with other Arab countries -- and in some ways, the questions that we get from the Arab press -- are, are we being serious about the Middle? Are we really trying to end the violence? Are we really trying to create conditions where Palestinians can live better? Are we really trying to offer a path back to negotiations?

So I think the answer to that is definitely yes and that by our actions in this matter, by our contacts in this matter, by our consistent statements in this matter, we demonstrate to those who care that in fact we remain as heavily involved in the Middle East between the Israelis and the Palestinians as ever, and we remain very much engaged in the process of seeking peace.

Q I thought Matt was going down different roads, so let me go down the road with you. I thought he was asking -- let me -- does the U.S. government think Arafat can make those arrests and still survive politically? He's got to have a reason for not making the arrest. If you assume goodwill, then there has to be another explanation. Won't he run into trouble with the more radical elements if he acts against terrorists? I mean, you think -- you don't think you're putting him in an impossible position?

MR. BOUCHER: No. I mean, let's remember, those who operate against the authority of the Palestinian Authority, against the authority of Chairman Arafat, are also acting against the authority of the Palestinian people, against the aspirations of the Palestinian people. These terrorists, assassins, people who Chairman Arafat has outlawed, undermine the authority of the Palestinian Authority.

Both sides, we think, have to think about where they want to go, and they have to confront terror in a decisive manner. And this applies, at this moment, particularly to Chairman Arafat.

At the same time, you know, we have said that we think the Israeli incursions need to be reversed, because they also inflame the situation.

Q Richard, if I could follow up on Barry and Matt's questions, because I thought they were going in a different direction altogether as well --

Q (Laughs.)

MR. BOUCHER: I think you're all going in different directions, so let's just take them one at a time.

Q -- but does the State Department think that Arafat has the physical capability, given the Israeli bombing attacks over the summer of Palestinian Authority police stations and other institutions that were used for law enforcement, to make the arrests in that sense? Does he actually have the infrastructure to -- on the broader question of terrorism, not just find these people who are responsible for the assassination -- in general, is he able to live up to his commitments?

MR. BOUCHER: Yes. Not only able, but must.

John?

Q Richard, the incursions. Is there anything that you see in these particular incursions that you would describe as unprecedented, whether it was the scale, the scope, the amount of territory, the level of violence that particularly concerns you more than you've been concerned in the past other incursions?

MR. BOUCHER: We've always been concerned about incursions into the area, A, and to the Palestinian-controlled areas because these are serious acts. And we think there needs to be respect for the Palestinian areas, for the areas that are under their control.

There is in the incursions that have occurred recently a significant escalation in tension and violence that occurs because of these. They also have been in a situation where we think the IDF actions have killed numerous Palestinian civilians over the weekend, and we've said that we deeply regret and deplore those actions as well that have accompanied these incursions. So the incursions need to be reversed, Israel needs to ensure that its armed forces exercise restraint, and that, along with Palestinian arrests, is the only way to get us back to the hopeful signs that we saw about a week ago before the assassination.

Nick?

Q Richard, how do you reconcile the U.S. government's attitude toward terrorism, in this case, Osama bin Laden and those involved with September 11th against what you're asking Israel to do in response to an assassination of one of its cabinet members? You speak of bringing people to justice for Israel, but the United States isn't talking about bringing people to justice, we're talking about launching a war against terrorism. How do you reconcile the difference between what the United States is doing against terrorism and what Israel -- you're asking Israel to do?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't think it's a question of reconciling them. These are two different situations and two different things. Israel faces a situation where its interests would be best served by reducing tensions in the region, getting back to a political path of discussing political issues. That is what we have attempted to do. Both Israelis and Palestinians need to live in an atmosphere in which they can negotiate their differences peacefully, and the United States has been the major sponsor of the peace process.

The situation with regard to al Qaeda is totally different. These are people that want to turn back the clock on civilization, that want to destroy Americans, that want to kill Americans, that want to kill Arab regimes, that want to kill people throughout the Middle East just for the sake of killing them. We think terrorism needs to be brought under control, and that what we're doing in Afghanistan is not comparable to some other situation where there's political opportunity to negotiate differences.

Q So Osama bin Laden's demands on Al-Jazeera that U.S. forces be removed from Saudi Arabia and that Israel stop occupying Palestinian territory, you do not regard that as a political demand?

MR. BOUCHER: Those are not political demands; those are pretexts for killing people. All he's shown a desire to do over the last eight or 10 years is to kill people. That's not a political negotiation.

Q Richard --

MR. BOUCHER: We had one back there.

Q Richard, does the secretary personally approve the language used yesterday by Mr. Reeker after consultation with Dr. Rice?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. (To staff) What's the answer?

STAFF/Q(?): (Off mike.)

MR. BOUCHER: Do we want to answer? No, (let's ?) not. (Laughter.) Okay.

STAFF/Q(?): (Off mike.)

Q Richard, can I ask something about the incursions? You say that the incursions inflame the situation, but you don't say that they undermine the authority of the Palestinian Authority, like you do say that the people not obeying Arafat orders. Do the incursions also undermine the PA's authority?

MR. BOUCHER: I suppose so, yes, but I'm not quite sure why we're answering such a question. The --

Q Well, because there's --

MR. BOUCHER: -- issue with the incursions -- I mean, all along has been a violation of Palestinian-controlled areas. We think the Palestinians need to take authority and control their areas. So, having somebody else do it, obviously, undermines their authority.

Q Right. Well, no, the reason why I'm asking the question is because one of the reasons -- perhaps one of the reasons why people are reluctant to obey Chairman Arafat and the dictates of the Palestinian Authority is because they see that it is virtually powerless against the Israeli army. That's the reason I asked the question.

MR. BOUCHER: I don't think there's any excuse for not arresting the terrorists and the people who did this action.

Q In his discussions with Shimon Peres, did Secretary Powell also talk about the war on terrorism in general? And did he tell Shimon Peres that the problems in the Middle East were making it more difficult for the United States to wage that war?

MR. BOUCHER: He basically updated the Israeli foreign minister on where we stood with our actions against terrorism. He described his visits to India, Pakistan, China, the talks we had with President Putin, talks we had with President Jiang, about cooperation against terrorism, and just sort of updated on where we -- him on where we stood.

Q Did he --

MR. BOUCHER: No, he didn't --

Q -- make any linkage at all in the discussions? He did not.

MR. BOUCHER: No, he didn't.

Q Conversely, has there been any talks with either the PA or other Arab governments -- is there an element that want to specifically disrupt possible peace negotiations with the PA and the Israelis, and they're doing this deliberately? And are you talking to other governments with respect to that? And thirdly, is there any planned or any, if you would, lists of not necessarily demands, but contingencies if a certain set of circumstances were to break down as what's happened now, written in text or just with points of understanding with the PA?

MR. BOUCHER: Let's start out with the easy ones. Yes, there is clearly a group of people who want to try to disrupt the peace process, and yes, we truly believe we need to organize against them, and that that's certainly one of the reasons why people who carry out these acts need to be arrested and people who might be planning and conducting such attacks need to be arrested as well.

As far as sort of contingencies for breakdown of the Palestinian Authority, I think the concept's a little too vague to think that there's written contingencies for stuff like that.

Mark (sp)?

Q Richard, do you -- does this building feel that since September 11th Yasser Arafat has undergone something of a personal change, and whereas he used to at least tolerate considerable acts of violence and occasionally terror, now he no longer does? Or is the jury still out on that issue?

MR. BOUCHER: I think after -- since September 11th, we called them the way we saw them. When he's done certain things, when he's issued statements, when he's carried out actions, we've applauded. The president has applauded when he's done good things that we felt were positive. There's been a lot of serious action undertaken since -- you know, in the last few weeks. And one of the reasons why we think it's so important for him to continue to take actions after the assassination, to continue to take actions to arrest people, is that there was progress being made for the first time in a long time, and that he had contributed to it. And we want to see that sustained.

Go down here.

Q Could I -- (off mike)?

MR. BOUCHER: Let's go down here.

Q Although it was very hard to hear, I believe that Minister Peres had said that there was no contradiction between the American policy as far as the withdrawal from the -- the IDF withdrawal from the Palestinian territories and the Israeli policy, and yet you were just saying that there should be an immediate withdrawal. And as Eli pointed out, Mr. Peres was saying that there is a link. Is there a misunderstanding of something in the meeting, or are these two different takes on the same thing?

MR. BOUCHER: I can't compare and contrast, because I didn't hear what Foreign Minister Peres said.

Q Could I try you on --

Q Well, whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold on.

Q I'm sorry.

Q Doesn't matter whether you heard what he said or not; we all heard what he said.

MR. BOUCHER: Well, good for you. Then you can do the compare and contrast instead of me.

Q Yeah, yeah. (Laughter.)

Q Well, he wanted -- but he did say --

MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to confirm your analysis without having the same elements that you have.

Q Hold on. Hold it. Yeah, but wait, wait. He said that there was an -- the Americans understood the Israeli policy and that there wasn't a contradiction between the two of them. And then he said that Powell, that the secretary understood that once the Palestinians have taken the steps that Israel has demanded, that the secretary understood then that the Israelis would withdraw. Okay? Now, what you've just said that the secretary said to Peres was that you want an immediate withdrawal whether or not the Palestinians turn over these people or not. You have de-linked them, in effect, by saying, Yes, we want the Israelis to withdraw, but at the same time we want the Palestinians to turn those people over, not one contingent on another. Is Mr. Peres misinformed on that?

MR. BOUCHER: I find that a very interesting analysis. But as I just pointed out before you began your analysis --

Q Richard, that's not an analysis, that's a statement of fact.

MR. BOUCHER: Well, I appreciate the statements of fact. Until I have a chance myself to see the facts as in the transcript of what Foreign Minister Peres said just seconds before I came out here to brief, I'm not going to undertake the same kind of analysis that you just did.

Q Richard, without --

MR. BOUCHER: I've said that five times.

Q All right. Well, let's --

MR. BOUCHER: If you ask me again, I'm going to say it again.

Q Without getting into the analysis, did -- could you characterize did Secretary Powell say the words "We want to see an immediate, unconditional withdrawal from the Palestinian territory", or --

MR. BOUCHER: I frankly --

Q -- did he say "It would be very conducive, it would be very helpful"?

MR. BOUCHER: He didn't say either one of those things. He said -- I think it was Foreign Minister Peres who first said, you know, We want to get out of there immediately, or as soon as possible, some words like that. The immediacy was part of the discussion from the very beginning. And our position has always been -- has been, as Phil said it yesterday, that they should withdraw immediately; that remains our position.

(end excerpt)

(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov) NNNN


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