Press Briefing En Route Sharm el-Sheikh
Press Briefing En Route Sharm el-Sheikh
Secretary Colin L. Powell On Board Plane June 2, 2003
SECRETARY POWELL: I had good meetings with Foreign Minister Frattini, and I guess you ve all gotten a readout of the press conference from those who were there. I was particularly interested in speaking to him as he gets ready to assume the Presidency of the European Union and as we start to work together in that capacity, dealing with the Quartet, Middle East activities of the Quartet, and as I think I ve noted to you on a number of occasions in the past, increasingly the amount of work I do with the European Union on a direct basis grows with each passing weekend. Couldn t have a better partner than the Italians and Minister Frattini and Prime Minister Berlusconi.
The audience with His Holiness was very nice, we talked about Iraq, we talked about the situation in Iraq and humanitarian concerns. I briefed the Holy Father on what we were doing. We also talked about the Middle East at some length.
I briefed him on the President s vision and the roadmap and the acceptance of the roadmap and how we plan to use that tomorrow in our discussions with the Arabs and then on Wednesday with Prime Minister Sharon and Prime Minister Abbas in Aqaba. Continued that conversation with Cardinal Sodano and Archbishop Tauran, pretty much along the same lines, same issues. Let me just stop there and take your questions.
QUESTION: Can you begin with the agenda in Sharm el-Sheikh? How critical is it to lay the framework for your talks in Aqaba?
SECRETARY POWELL: The meeting is important to make sure that the Arab leadership is behind and supportive of the roadmap and the President s efforts and will play their part in assisting the Palestinian Authority in restoring their security organizations and capacity, and speaking out as strongly as I expect the Palestinians to do in denouncing terror and violence and any support that is given to those that practice terror and violence.
And so I think it was important for the President to stop first in Sharm el-Sheikh to see, to speak with these leaders. Then he will go on to Aqaba with the strong support of the Arab nations, and to convey that support to Prime Minister Abbas and to Prime Minister Sharon.
As you know, Assistant Secretary Burns and Senior Director Elliot Abrams have been in the region for the last several days, working with the parties on the agenda for the discussions as well as statements that might be issued if the parties agree to those statements once they actually meet and talk to one another. As I think I indicated to you, I m encouraged by the reports I m getting back from Assistant Secretary Burns.
QUESTION: Is the United States prepared to accept if Abu Mazen tries to incorporate some of the militants in the security forces as an alternative to get, you know, to end their terrorist attacks? Secondly, is there any truth to reports in the Israeli press today that Bob Blackwill will become the next Middle East envoy?
SECRETARY POWELL: Your third question is no. Bob will be returning to Harvard.
On the second question, we haven t reached any, a level of discussion that talks about who is or is not going to be in the Palestinian security apparatus, so I can t really talk to the hypothetical that you put before me.
QUESTION: Can I switch to the WMD issue? You talked the other day about the preparations you made for your presentation. Can you give a bit more detail about how much material you rejected as your presentation? What proportion of the material presented to you by the intelligence people and how you went over this as well with the British?
SECRETARY POWELL: The President asked me to make the presentation. Some work had been done on what a presentation would look like. We assembled all the work that had been done - Director Tenet has testified before the Congress so there was a great deal of material around - and what I had to do was cull the material and get it down to a manageable amount that one can give in one presentation. There was even some suggestion that it ought to be spread out over three days, or a very very long session on one day. But after thinking about it and reflecting on it, it seemed to me that if we re going to bring everybody together, it had to be done in the one day and at one session, with some practical limits on the amount of time you can devote to such a session.
As a result of that, I started to work through the material with my staff. We also know that it was an important presentation, and it had to be something that was supportable. And so as we walked through it over a period of about oh, five days, I guess, we kept trimming to make sure that everything I was to present on behalf of the United States Government was supportable by the intelligence community.
This wasn t material I was making up, it came from the intelligence community and I wanted to make sure that the intelligence community was comfortable with everything I was going to say and would support everything I was going to say. And that s why, when we had these sessions, it was with the analysts themselves, with office directors, individual analysts.
Director Tenet sat there with me throughout this entire period, as did John McLaughlin. I think they were there for the whole time.
The case we put forward on the 5th of February reflected an effort on our part to distill down the huge volume of material on weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, and human rights violations, down to something that was manageable and that I could present in a period of about an hour and 30 minutes, which is I think [turned out about an hour and] 20, something like that.
There was a lot of additional information that was very solid and substantiated that I didn t use because I didn t have time to use it all, and anything that we weren t totally comfortable with, we didn t use. Being uncomfortable with it doesn t mean that it wasn t true or there was something wrong with it.
It meant that we have to make sure that it truly is substantiated and that we can multiple-source it so that when the comments come back, we can stand behind what we ve done. Very often, intelligence comes in a form that you couldn t take to a court. You don t have nine sources, but it s true as the fact that the sun will come up tomorrow morning in the east, but you just can t prove it in the time that you get it, and that s where judgment comes into play and you have to use your instincts to tell you whether or not something should be used or not.
But in this case, because of the attention that was being focused on the briefing, and the importance of the briefing, I wanted to make sure that it was solid information, multiple-sourced, and reflected the considered and unanimous view of the intelligence community analysts who are responsible for it.
I was not only presenting on behalf of the United States of America and on my own behalf, I was presenting the work of the intelligence community and they wanted to make sure that it was solid as well.
QUESTION: Your discussions with the British, particularly, because one of the pieces of intelligence that s been most questioned is said to come from the British, this yellow cake uranium?
SECRETARY POWELL: I did not use the yellow cake in my presentation. The reason that I did not use the yellow cake in my presentation is that I didn t sense in going through it all that I saw enough substantiation of it that would meet the tests that we were applying.
Subsequent information or information that might have been known by others earlier, that it was not accurate to begin with or the documents were falsified, I don t even recall whether that came into play or there might have been a question about it. But it wasn t solid enough for me to feel that it should be included in the presentation. Not that I thought it was untrue, it s just that I didn t think that it was solid enough for the kind of presentation I had to give.
It turned out to be untrue, that happens a lot in the intelligence business.
QUESTION: To what extent did you go through it with the British on what you were about to present?
SECRETARY POWELL: I had conversations with the British, with Jack Straw, constantly during the period, but I have conversations with him all the time, so he had a sense of how the presentation was coming together and what I would be saying. But I don t think, I can t remember what we made available to him. I don t think anything, but don t hold me to that.
I was in constant communication with Jack, he knew how it was coming together.
QUESTION: Back on the Middle East, is the upcoming meeting important, in your mind, to strengthening Abu Mazen s standing among Palestinians as well as in the Arab world? And along those lines, how important is it to issue some sort of joint statement at the end of this all?
SECRETARY POWELL: I think it s an important meeting for all the parties. I think for Abu Mazen, he s going to be on the world stage as the Prime Minister of the Palestinian people standing with the Prime Minister of Israel and with the President of the United States.
I think the whole world will be anxious to hear what he has to say. Whether they are individual or joint statements, or how they will communicate their views, we will know soon enough. But yes, I think it s an important meeting and it shows the President s commitment to his vision and his commitment to the cause of peace, and the fact that we have now laid out, in the roadmap, a way to move forward.
It isn t so much whether you refer to it as the roadmap or not, but it is a series of steps that both sides need to start taking so that we can get as quickly as possible to the political dimensions of the issue. Ultimately, this will be solved when we solve the political challenge that is before us. What will a Palestinian State look like? What will be the elements within that Palestinian State? It s political elements, it s geographic elements, it s economy and a lot of other issues. How can we look forward to the ultimate solution of the difficult outstanding issues? So this will be a chance for the President, Abu Mazen, and Ariel Sharon to stand together and to show their determination to move forward. I think it s an important meeting
QUESTION: What do you plan to talk about with Foreign Minister Maher when you meet him tonight?
SECRETARY POWELL: Foreign Minister Maher is essentially our host for the meeting, so I ll see him in that light, but I ll also review with him the statements we were working on to see if there are any outstanding issues that he and I should discuss. He s one of the key players working on the statement as well as the Jordanians and the Saudis, so it will be a chance to get caught up, see where we are. The President comes in several hours later and we ll all just get ready for tomorrow.
QUESTION: Do you actually expect any hard, concrete actions to be taken by the Israelis and the Palestinians after this summit or as a result of the summit, or is all we can expect at best statements, words?
SECRETARY POWELL: Statements always come before actions, but we re expecting action. It isn t enough just to have an exchange, a statement, some words with no action of the parties. The roadmap calls for action, not for statements, so I m expecting this to be a prelude to action on both parts.
QUESTION: Such as?
SECRETARY POWELL: Why don t you wait and see the statements?
QUESTION: On the meeting in Sharm, you said that there may still be some issues with Foreign Minister Maher that he wants to work out. What have been the main sticking points with the Arabs on the roadmap, if they have been so expressive about it?
SECRETARY POWELL: There are no sticking points with the Arabs on the roadmap that I m aware of. We re just trying to see how they want to express themselves with respect to the roadmap and with respect to the meetings that will be taking place in Aqaba.
There is nothing out of the ordinary in my meetings with Maher, he is my host, he is the Foreign Minister of Egypt and I m arriving in Egypt and we will see each other just as we would any other time I come to Egypt. So don t read a lot into the significance of my meeting with Maher tonight.
QUESTION: You just said there may be something ?
SECRETARY POWELL: Yeah, if there are any outstanding issues that Burns reports to me as we go in for a landing, I can talk to Maher about them. But there are always outstanding issues when you re working on a statement. That s nothing new.
QUESTION: And what about the Moroccans saying that they weren t coming to the meeting?
SECRETARY POWELL: The King was concerned about some difficulties that he s had in the kingdom, so he chose to stay in the kingdom.
QUESTION: Domestic reasons, you mean?
SECRETARY POWELL: Yes.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, how important is it at the Sharm meeting that you get from the Arab leaders a strong endorsement of Abu Mazen as the Prime Minister and as a way of getting them to distance themselves from Arafat?
SECRETARY POWELL: The Arab leaders have already expressed their support for Abu Mazen. I m sure they will convey that again at Sharm.
QUESTION: How sincere is Israel in this process? Are you confident that they are sincere about going forward?
SECRETARY POWELL: Prime Minister Sharon says he is committed to moving forward, he is committed to peace. You will hear from him directly on Wednesday.
QUESTION: Did you speak to the Italians or the Vatican about Mr. Arafat, and the importance of isolating him? And do you plan to do that for the Egyptians as well?
SECRETARY POWELL: We ve been clear with the Europeans about our feelings with respect to Mr. Arafat. We know that he is the elected President, we know that he is held in a unique position by the Palestinian people, but we felt all along that his leadership has been a failed leadership. That s why we have not dealt with him since last year. I once again conveyed that to Minister Frattini today. As the Presidency of the EU, he will have to reflect the views of the EU on this subject, and they still feel that a purpose is served in working with Abu Mazen and showing their support for Abu Mazen, but at the same time also having conversations and meetings with Chairman Arafat so that they can present their views to Chairman Arafat. It s not a position that we share with them but that s their position.
With respect to the Arabs, we ve made the same point and they also support Abu Mazen as Prime Minister, but they are not prepared to exclude having conversations with Chairman Arafat.
QUESTION: It seems like one of the difficulties for creating a viable Palestinian state is the settlement issue. This is, the Israelis have tried to make a distinction between what they ve called legal settlements, and illegal settlements. Have you reached any sort of understanding at this point with the Israelis as this process moves forward, how one defines what settlements would need to be dismantled, moved back, frozen, in order to set the groundwork for such a viable Palestinian state?
SECRETARY POWELL: The outposts, I think, are clearly, it s clearly understood that they have to be dealt with at the very beginning of this process. Then we ll get into discussions on territorial contiguity of a Palestinian state and what will have to be done in order to provide that territorial integrity and contiguity. And I think you ll hear about this later in the week.
QUESTION: Just one completely unrelated question, an odd follow-up. While we ve been away, there s been a big crackdown in Burma. They ve put Suu [Aung San Suu Kyi] into protective custody. What is your reaction, and does this make it more likely that the Administration might support some sort of legislation for an import ban towards Burma?
SECRETARY POWELL: We have joined with other nations in condemning the placement of Aung San Suu Kyi into protective or any other sort of custody. The Burmese authorities say they did it as a way of protecting her during a disturbance. If that is the case, therefore we expect she will be immediately or promptly released. We have conveyed this through diplomatic channels to the Burmese government.
With respect to specific legislation, I won t comment because I don t have it in front of me, and secondly, let s see whether she is remaining in protective custody or not. If it s protective custody and the need for protection has gone away, we assume that she will be released and we expect her and want her to be released as soon as possible. [End]
Released on June 2, 2003