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Press Briefing on Board Plane En Route Madrid

Office of the Spokesman
For Immediate Release
April 10, 2002

Secretary Of State Colin L. Powell Press Briefing On Board Plane En Route Madrid

April 9, 2002

QUESTION: Both you and the President have repeatedly called on Israel to withdraw, now. Has Israel reached the point that it is openly defying the US?

SECRETARY POWELL: It's not a matter of defying the United States. Israel is a sovereign country that makes its own decisions. It has a democratically elected leader. We made it clear, however, that we thought it would be best for them to withdraw now.

As you all noted, withdrawals began yesterday. There was another reoccupation of a village near Hebron and we'll see if that was a temporary thing. Best information is that it was just temporary. We are expecting other withdrawals to take place, sooner would be better. Now would be better in our judgment.

I talked to Prime Minister Sharon this morning. He reiterated to me what he said previously, that he feels he has to bring these actions to a close in an expeditious manner. He's trying to do that. He is trying to expedite the conclusion of these operations. He's anxious to finish them, get out, and remains committed to a negotiating process, a political process, a security process. The President is being kept informed. The President is monitoring it on a regular basis. He hopes there will be improvement in the remaining cities and towns as soon as possible.

QUESTION: The Boston Globe today had a story quoting two Administration officials, one of them at the Pentagon, saying that the Israelis have been told they have until you get there to really begin significant withdrawals.

SECRETARY POWELL: It is not a position the President has taken, nor I have taken, nor Secretary Rumsfeld has taken, nor the Vice President has taken, nor Dr. Rice has taken. Therefore, I don't know who these officials are. They have said no such thing representing the US government.

The President had said "as soon as possible" on Thursday. He asked that the Prime Minister consider the consequences of his actions and the implications of further activity of this kind. He said it more clearly on Saturday, and then spoke to Prime Minister Sharon Saturday afternoon, and then repeated it again yesterday. I think it is clear. He wants the withdrawals to begin now. And it is not linked to whether I am there to deliver the message, or I am there to hear the answer. The message has been delivered, and the answer can be given at any time And we started to get an answer last night with the beginning of the withdrawals.

QUESTION: Senior members of the Administration say in private that they're looking past Arafat. Do you yourself believe, is it the position of the US government, that he is the only address for political negotiation?

SECRETARY POWELL: When I just look at the situation that we have before us, Chairman Arafat, as you've heard me say many times, is seen by the Palestinian people as their leader. Moreover, everybody I have spoken to on this trip so far, all the Arab leaders that I've spoken to, also recognize Chairman Arafat as the leader of the Palestinian people. And you have heard a number of other organizations and political leaders around the world, the European Union and others, show recognition for Chairman Arafat as the leader of Palestinian people and as the leader of the Palestinian Authority.

Notwithstanding the circumstances under which he finds himself right now, he still has that position. And it is difficult to speculate what will happen past him, after him, or if he weren't there. The reality is he is there. I think it is important for us to stay in touch with him. I've met with him previously. I've talked to him on many occasions on the telephone and I hope I'll be able to see him and I intend to see him, if it is at all possible.

QUESTION: Spanish Foreign Minister Pique has said in the last week that Europe might consider sanctions against Israel. Have you had any conversations with the Israeli government telling Prime Minister Sharon what kind of punishment he might face if he doesn't follow your advice?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, I've seen those reports about the European Union and I'm sure they'll say more to me tomorrow when we meet. I have had no conversations of that kind with Prime Minister Sharon.

QUESTION: We heard talk of a notion of observers, monitors. Could you flesh it out a bit? How do you see it?

SECRETARY POWELL: What we had in mind with respect to monitors or observers when we introduced the concept last year was that if we got into Tenet, Mitchell -- and please see them all as linked. Neither of these stand-alone. They are linked. One flows into another. What we saw is that once they started talking to each other and the security meetings began and political discussions took place as part of the confidence-building effort, it ought to have a new element introduced, a new party introduced, monitors would be useful, some initially small number.

We're not talking large numbers of troops. We're talking about some small numbers of people that we would draw, perhaps from our diplomatic presence there, or send in some other individuals from the State Department and/or other government agencies. Some small number that will monitor activity, monitor the performance required under Tenet on both sides and measure that performance, and where problems arose between the two sides, lend their good offices. They would not be inter-positional force, trying to keep people from shooting at each other. They would be monitors and observers, trying to help the two parties keep the agreement they made, we hope, in good faith.

QUESTION: A spokesman for the Egyptian government said that the umbilical relationship between the US and Israel is such that the US has to be able to pressure Israel and take a responsibility for Israel's actions. That is the essence of what he was saying. Arab leaders seemed to be unwilling to accept the fact that we've done everything we can in the President's statements and phone calls. Is there anything more we can do?

SECRETARY POWELL: We do have a close relationship with Israel, and we're very proud of that relationship. It has served us well, and served Israel well over the past 54 years and it will continue. But Israel is a sovereign nation that makes its own decisions. We do, I believe, we have considerable influence, whichever party is in power, and we use that influence, respectful of the fact that it is a sovereign nation and a friend. You've heard my statements. You've heard the President's statement. Obviously there are other conversations going on and other discussions taking place at different levels of government between the Israeli side and the US side, but I'm not prepared to go into any details on it.

QUESTION: Could I ask a follow-up on something you said in your meeting with the Foreign Minister as well as what you just mentioned about linking Tenet and Mitchell being totally linked? When it's time for everybody to stop violence. Is it time for everybody to stop wanting conditions?

SECRETARY POWELL: I've always seen this as the Mitchell process leading to negotiations, but before you can get to those negotiations; you had to do some backward planning. Well, we're not ready to negotiate because confidence has been lost. Okay. We have to restore confidence. So, George Mitchell added that to the front end of the Mitchell Report. Remember, there was no Tenet Report or work plan when we tabled Mitchell. But we couldn't get into those confidence-building measures, or that cooling off period, so we tried to find a way to jump-start that with Tenet. And then we have tried in a number of ways over the last year to get it started.

In the course of focusing on getting it started and security consultations, I sensed that people were losing the original point and focus of Mitchell, which was the political process, negotiations. And that's why I've been emphasizing it more lately and emphasizing that we now have to bring it into the equation much quicker than the Mitchell process might have anticipated. Remember, several weeks of cooling off, several months of confidence building. Well, we're going to have to act a lot quicker, because people are looking for a political statement, a political discussion, a political negotiation, and not just a ceasefire. That is not inconsistent with Mitchell. I think it just accelerates what we've been thinking about.

QUESTION: I'm just curious, have you been surprised at all, or did you expect the level of anger that you've seen among the Arab leaders and the others, the press as well?

SECRETARY POWELL: I've been watching it build for the last ten days and it was very disturbing to me. I've got good reporting from our embassies, and within two or three days after incursions began, the embassies started making us aware of how this was affecting the street and how it was affecting the leaders in the region.

We saw things that we had never ever expected to see - the car burnings in Bahrain, half a million people in Morocco, demonstrations in Egypt. Again today, there were demonstrations. Things cause us concern, and it was that concern, that this was no longer just a clash between two parties in the occupied territories, but something that was spilling way outside that cauldron, and affecting not only US interests, but Israeli interests, and in rather permanent ways in the long term. And that's what caused the President to act as he did last week, because whatever justifications one can come up with, and there are many justifications one can come up with on both sides for what they are doing and as you know if you talk to both sides you will hear complete, comprehensive full justification for actions on both sides. But those actions are now doing serious damage to the long-term prospects for peace in the region, for Israel's strategic position in the region and Arafat's strategic position in the region, which is why the President acted. (inaudible) I watched it unfold, we were worried about it. We were worried what would happen when the next large incident took place.

You recall, I worked hard to get the Israelis to pull back from the occupied territories about a month ago, with the risk that entailed, and then we had a lot of going on, you know the mantra, and then it all went south again. We knew at that point the Israelis would respond very, very forcefully, and very, very comprehensively and we knew that that would cause problems. And within two or three days, by Sunday, we could see the dimension of that problem emerging. So the first part of your question -- the guts of your questions -- I wasn't stunned, by what I heard. I heard it in spades from everybody.

QUESTION: Have you been disappointed by the unwillingness of the Arab governments to come out strongly for a cease-fire? That is something I assume you've been asking them for.

SECRETARY POWELL: I've been pleased by the reactions I've gotten from the three governments I've spoken to so far. They are ready to engage more fully once we get the violence stopped, the ceasefire in place. A lot of work is going to be needed to reconstitute the institutions of governance and security on the Palestinian side, so that even if the Chairman or other Palestinian leaders say we want to act, they are going to need the means to act, and that has been damaged severely. So even in the best of circumstances, some reconstitution is going to be necessary, so that they can work with their Israeli partners, we hope at that point, in restoring security and holding down and preventing actions of the kind that have brought us to this terrible moment in time.

The Arab leaders I've spoken to so far are forthcoming and willing to help with that, and are also willing to help now in encouraging the Palestinian leadership to meet with us, and to quickly come to agreement on the way forward with respect to both ceasefires, Tenet and political discussions. They're been forthcoming in that regard. They realize this is a problem for all of us. And I've asked them to take a more direct role not only talking to Chairman Arafat, but to other leaders. There are many other Palestinian leaders who need to hear from the leaders of Arab countries that this is the time to stop, this is the time to find a new direction.

QUESTION: But isn't that what the Arab world is saying -- it needs to stop but first Israel needs to fully withdraw, so how do you get to that point? How do you get the Israelis to completely withdraw before the cauldron spills over further?

SECRETARY POWELL: That is why the President acted. Some things have happened that I think are significant, the beginning of withdrawals yesterday. The fact that tomorrow we will be able to get some of Chairman Arafat's associates in to talk to him, about what he might talk to me about, to empower them so that they can talk to us. Right now, they are unable to talk to us because they don't have instructions from Chairman Arafat or a place to do it. He needs to see them. He needs to go over if there is any work plan. But I think that it was an important step that they are going to be able to see Chairman Arafat tomorrow and I hope that happens, tomorrow, still a long way off.

We have been very active trying to contain the situation by speaking to the Syrians, and through a variety of contacts to the Iranians, to do everything to restrain action in north. The last thing we want right now is a blow-up of the northern border and a second front opening. So, we've been hard at work trying to keep that from happening. We're also watching Gaza quite closely and so far nothing has happened there and we hope that continues to be the case.

With respect to Ramallah, where the Chairman is, there was a great deal of concern about what might happen toward the end of last week. So far the Chairman, as uncomfortable as he is in these circumstances, the Israelis have said they will make sure that he remains safe. So, a lot of things haven't happened that don't get attention, but they are the result of our efforts. But yes, we would like to see withdrawal take place as quickly as possible because that will make it possible, easier, for the Arab governments to lend more support to our efforts.

QUESTION: Have you seen anything from the Iranians and the Syrians in terms of spoken commitments or actions that make you believe that they will be cooperative with these US representations? Have they told you anything or are they doing anything?

SECRETARY POWELL: The Syrians have taken our message as respect to Hezbollah actions seriously and said they understand the concern and will do what they can. We'll see. The Iranians, we are working through intermediaries so I don't have anything to give you on that.

QUESTION: In light of Iraq's announcement this week that it was going to cut off the oil supply, can you talk about the willingness of US allies, particularly the Saudis, to compensate for any oil taken off the market? What conversations have you or other members of the Administration had with allies about the topic? And about their concern that in this environment they may be wary of doing a favor for the US?

SECRETARY POWELL: I'm quite sure that Secretary Abraham is talking to his colleagues in the various oil producing nations. I learned many years ago not to speculate on oil. Many years ago, when I was a soldier, I remember once we thought oil was going to go to $70 a barrel because of a certain event that took place in 1990. It didn't happen. These are very fascinating markets to watch. So far it appears the market has been anticipating some heightened tension in the area and there may be a discount already built into the price. So far, I sense that the oil producing nations will make up for any temporary shortfall that might be caused by any one producer. Iraq has done this previously, and the markets have been able to accommodate Iraqi actions of this kind.

QUESTION: Even given the political environment?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't sense, even though a couple of other countries -- Iran -- said it will take note of that, but so far I don't sense that there is any kind of consensus within the oil producing nations to come together to take such an action. It is not in their interest. As Condi said in an interview she gave earlier, it is a commodity they need to sell for their own interest as well.

QUESTION: I wasn't referring to cutting production as much as the Saudis not boosting production.

SECRETARY POWELL: I think I would give the same answer. It does not appear to be that taking that quantity of Iraqi oil off the market will create a shortage. There are ways to compensate for that shortage. I wouldn't want to point to one country as the compensator.

QUESTION: What's your sense of whether Arafat has changed? I ask that in the context of this Administration about his previous promises about moving towards peace. Have you any sense that he has changed?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't know. I'll be able to make a better judgment when I am able to see him. And I hope I will be able to see him. He has disappointed us on many occasions, as the President said. He had an opportunity at the tail end of the Clinton Administration. He had an opportunity when the Mitchell Report came out, when the Tenet Report came out, when the President made his speech, when I visited with him -- we were talking about seven days of quiet and he said "I will give you that" and it didn't work -- at the time of the Louisville speech and on many other occasions - whether he now sees the seriousness of the plight of the Palestinian people, and that the vision that they have of a state is not getting closer with these kinds of actions. Hopefully, as a result of conversations with my Arab colleagues, we'll encourage them to give him that message and I have every impression that they will be giving him that message - that this is the time to act with total seriousness. We'll just see if he does or does not.

QUESTION: (inaudible)

SECRETARY POWELL: We are talking about the strategic framework. It is coming along. And I hope to have good conversations with Foreign Minister Ivanov, maybe a little bit tomorrow night and then on Thursday. And there are a couple of tough issues remaining, but I think we have enough time to work our way through them. The Russians are also optimistic as you heard recently from both Ivanov and Sergei Ivanov. It will include, hopefully, all of the transparency and rollover of previous verification provisions that we've had on other treaties that are relevant to this treaty. So I am pretty pleased. And it is not some forty-page document. It will be short, to the point. It will talk about reductions down to the levels that both presidents have announced and how we satisfy ourselves with how we will get to those levels, plus the usual other various items that one would find in such an agreement.

QUESTION: How long are you prepared to stay in the region? Are you going to shuttle forever?

SECRETARY POWELL: I haven't set a departure date. There are limits of course, but I haven't set a departure date. I am prepared to stay for some while. I just can't answer that.

QUESTION: (inaudible, regarding poultry)

SECRETARY POWELL: The poultry war seems to be over. The good Lord willing, and if nothing else happens, we should have the ban lifted tomorrow, I guess, I hope.


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