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Press Briefing En Route The Dead Sea, Jordan

Press Briefing En Route The Dead Sea, Jordan

Secretary Colin L. Powell On Board Plane June 19, 2003

SECRETARY POWELL: Hi, you ve been with me all day long, so you know what I ve been doing, so why don t we just go to questions and keep this relatively brief?

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, the Palestinians are apparently trying to form, or discussing anyway, a national unity government that would bring together thirteen different factions including some of the religious factions. Can you tell us what progress is being made and if you think that will satisfy Israel s demands in dealing with extremist groups?

SECRETARY POWELL: I really can t talk to that until something actually happens. I know that they are talking to a variety of groups, but I don t have anything to add to what you ve been reading about, seeing, and the spot repots that I ve gotten from my staff. You ll have to bear with me. I just haven t gotten there yet.

QUESTION: Can you tell us what you are hoping to achieve?

SECRETARY POWELL: Let s keep in mind that tomorrow is another day, it is not anything special. It fit in with the rest of my schedule; it gave me an opportunity to go into the region, since I am in Jordan and to get a status report from both sides and from my team as to how the discussions have been going over the last two weeks. So it is not as if this was a special day or I that I was expecting something special to happen tomorrow.

I hope there has been progress. The reports that I have been getting is that there have been good conversations between the Palestinians and the Israelis on the security issues, but as of the time we left Bangladesh, we still don t have an outcome or result, and they are meeting again tonight. And with respect to what Abu Mazen is doing with Hamas, I ll get an update on that. But there is not reason to expect that it s suddenly all going to come together tomorrow. I ll know tomorrow what progress they have been able to make.

QUESTION: You have been using language lately that reflects the Israeli position, the demand for dismantling the groups now, whereas the Palestinians have been talking about more of a two phase, let s try to negotiate a cease-fire and if that does not work, then we try to physically disarm and dismantle them.

SECRETARY POWELL: I think I have been using my position, not the Israeli position. We believe that terror has to end and we also need to eliminate the capacity to perform terrorist activities. So I view a ceasefire or truce or whatever you chose to call it as just one step toward eliminating the capability to conduct terrorist acts. I also believe that the Palestinians understand that they have to deal with this problem in it entirety, whether it s a ceasefire or truce or whatever one chooses to call it, it has to be just one step. If you re going to start a train going in the other direction, the first thing you have to do is stop it. And I think that what we hope will be done in this first step.

QUESTION: Can you provide us with some sense of whether or not there has been a new understanding reached between the United States and Israel on the question of targeted assassinations? And furthermore, there are some that argue that restraining Israel s ability to conduct these targeted assassinations somehow sullies the war on terror, that the United States that the ability to use a Predator missile to take out a group of people in Yemen and that the Israelis should not have restraints put on their ability to attack targets that they think cause a threat to them. Just help us understand the distinction there.

SECRETARY POWELL: The point that we have made to them is that you have to consider what the consequences of your actions are. Does it help or hurt as you re moving forward trying to achieve a particular outcome or objective? And the Israelis have always made it clear that if they have solid evidence of, as they call it a ticking bomb, or they know something is coming and they can do something about it and keep a bomb from going off, they view that as legitimate self-defense, then that s perfectly understandable.

When you expand that circle out into going after targets that are not ticking bombs, then I think you are in a making a different judgment call. You can, perhaps, take somebody out, but have you improved chances to get away from this whole environment of strike and counter-strike? I think what the Israelis have been looking at in recent days is how they should go about this in a way that does not make it more difficult to achieve the goals set out in Aqaba.

In my conversations when I was with them here some weeks ago, they were talking in terms of ticking bombs. That, I believe, is the policy they are following now, but I don t want to speak for them, but that s my understanding of the kind of thinking that they are going through right now.

QUESTION: Has there been a change in the last week of what their policy, of what your understanding of their policy is?

SECRETARY POWELL: I m not going to characterize, or describe, or speak for their policy. Just laying out the kinds of discussions that we ve had with them. And I think they understand the distinction. And the targeting of the high profile figure last made it more difficult to move forward with the roadmap, and I think the Israelis understand. But I also know that they ve made it clear that if they know that a suicide bomber, a ticking bomb that s on the way in, they have a legitimate right of self-defense to preempt that attack. That s understandable, that s self-defense. It s an obligation that any nation has.

But when you expand out of that concept of self-defense into a broader targeting, you have to consider the consequences. Is that going to help us get closer to peace and does it give us the opportunity for progress toward peace or does it not?

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, can you tell us about your encounter yesterday with a North Korean diplomat? We understand now that they are talking about bilateral talks as a prelude to multilateral and maybe they are moving in that direction if you have that sense. And also, if the IAEA statement on Iran is out, can you talk about it?

SECRETARY POWELL: I just haven t seen the statement yet, it hasn t come up to me, so I can t.

With respect to the North Korean Ambassador, it was at the tail end of the minister s lunch and he was representing his country. It was a fairly modest size dining room with about four large tables in it, as various people were breaking up and heading to the doors. He was just finishing a meeting with Foreign Minister Kawaguchi. And we met by the door, shook hands, and just exchanged views for about what must have been no more than three minutes. I reinforced the points I had made in the open session, that it had to be a multilateral forum, but that the United States and everybody else at the conference wanted to do whatever we could to help the North Korean people but it had to begin with the end of their nuclear weapons program and it was in their interest to get moving in that direction. And since it was an issue that affected all parties in the region, a multilateral forum was the best.

And he expressed their desire, of course, to talk directly to us and I said that we are committed to a multilateral forum, and as I said in my intervention yesterday, once you re in that multilateral forum, you can speak to whoever you wish who is at the table. That was pretty much it. It was nothing that was earthshaking or groundbreaking an exchange of views but giving to him privately what I have been giving publicly, or in the open session.

QUESTION: I m sorry, back to Israel and the Palestinians. Is there any progress that you can measure or discuss on the outpost settlement issue?

SECRETARY POWELL: The only report I ve heard today is that they ve dismantled one outpost that was occupied. It s a little different from the unoccupied outpost that they had been removing. But that is the only thing that I ve heard. The overall policy? No, I haven t heard anything.

QUESTION: What I m asking is, there s been a concentration now on Gaza, but I think a week or two ago there was a lot of discussion of a desire by the United States for real progress. I think by now, the illegal outposts might well have all been eliminated. I think that was my understanding of the US position. Can you assess how Israel has satisfied what we want on that?

SECRETARY POWELL: They are removing the outpost. There are more outposts, but they are on track with respect to the first tranche that they said they would take care of. What they told us at Aqaba they would do, they have been doing. They initially did it with those that were unoccupied and now, I understand, they ve gone after this one, that I ve gotten a spot report on, is an occupied one. And, of course, there are other outposts and this is about the pace they said they would do it. So I think I would say they are on track with respect to that commitment.

QUESTION: Have you had any feedback from Ambassador Wolf since he arrived in the region, any sort of assessment of what he s finding on the ground? And secondly, do you know who you re going to be meeting with in Israel yet?

SECRETARY POWELL: I haven t talked to John, but I have gotten a steady stream of e-mails. He has been in almost nonstop discussions with Palestinian Authority figures and with Israeli figures and I ll get a fuller report when I land in Jordan and when I see him, probably in the morning. The schedule right now is that, subject to change upon landing of course, that I would see the Israeli leaders in the morning, Foreign Minister Shalom, Prime Minister Sharon, and then I would see Prime Minister Abbas in the afternoon. But it s still somewhat tentative, so we ll try to give you the final schedule when we land.

QUESTION: Just looking ahead to the World Economic Forum, what in your speech or your intervention or whatever it is, are you going to focus on MEPI?

SECRETARY POWELL: It will be MEPI and the President s 10-year Middle East Initiative, and some other issues, I m still working on it now. Just started working on it, really.

QUESTION: But is there anything new that you re .

SECRETARY POWELL: I ll let you know, perhaps even before the speech. No, it will be, I think I m giving it on Sunday evening, so that s a long way away.

QUESTION: You said before that this trip was a convenient diversion, you almost described it as a coincidence that you happen to be in town but since a lot of Middle East peace experts say that visits by you are necessary to keep progress going and obviously a visit by you is a target to try and make progress, I mean, isn t that part of your thinking that these interventions if you will, will push them, isn t that something that you all want to do with this visit?

SECRETARY POWELL: Sure, and I fully expect that to happen. They know I m coming and it will be a public event. We re pushing hard. But I didn t want to leave the impression that there was some big event that is scheduled for tomorrow or we knew that something is going to happen.

There s been some really tough work going on. I remember the first week after Aqaba, which is just last week, Aqaba two weeks ago tomorrow, right? Yeah, two weeks ago today, right, yesterday or was that Sharm? What s today, Thursday? Okay. Two weeks ago yesterday, and the first week we ran into some difficulties with the suicide bombings and with the killing of the soldiers. Remember we had the killing of the Israeli soldiers, and then the Israeli assassinations followed and then the big bus bomb, and so that really dominated most of the week. Then John Wolf got in place on Friday or Saturday morning and so it s really been five or six days since we got over that problem and I think that we still have a problem. As you know, there has been a suicide bomb that killed one.

And so by the Middle East standards I think not a lot of time has passed since Aqaba and we ll see where we are tomorrow morning, but the fact that we have the Palestinians and the Israeli security authorities talking about a handover, in Gaza and talking seriously and not talking past one another, and we re in the room with them, John s is in the room with them tonight, I think that is a progress. I just don t want to hype it to the point that tomorrow if that progress is continuing but has not culminated in an agreement, that I ve led you to believe that there was agreement that was imminent.

But yes, I m going to try to do everything I can to press both sides to move quickly because we just don t want to keep talking, we want to keep something done. We ll see where we are tomorrow. I hate to be so circuitous about it but that s really where we are.

QUESTION: Do you think it s realistic still given the timing to believe that we can achieve a provisional Palestinian state by the end of this year?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don t think it s out of the question but we need to see a lot of progress quickly and hopefully over the next several days and what s happening now, we ll start to see the kind of progress needed. We need to just get those few footholds and the first stage of the roadmap, start to built confidence and trust, then we should be able to move more rapidly. We ve got to build up the capability of the Palestinian Authority security forces as quickly as possible.

Now if I hadn t been going to Davos [correction: Jordan], I might have been coming here anyway. You re going to see much more engagement by the members of the Administration s team and keep in mind, in addition to my visit here, Dov Weisglass was in Washington the day I left, was it the day I left? Yeah, Monday. Condi and I had a long conversation with him on Monday, so we are engaged on a direct, personal basis, almost real time constant basis. And, sometimes it s when coming to see us, and sometimes it s one of us being here, and with the continuous on-the-ground presence of John Wolf and the team that will be building up over the next couple of weeks, I think you ll see constant engagement and you ll see us all involved. I hope we ll see progress tomorrow but I just didn t want to overstate it or overhype it before anything has really happened. [End]

Released on June 20, 2003

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