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Rice With Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

Remarks With Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas After Their Meeting

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
The Muqata
February 7, 2005

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Secretary Rice with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

PRESIDENT ABBAS: (in Arabic, unofficial translation) In the name of God, the most Merciful, the most Gracious. Gentlemen, I would like to express my warmest welcome to Secretary of State Dr. Rice's visit, from which we are expecting a lot and hope to build on regarding many issues related to the Middle East peace process. On this occasion, I would like to congratulate her for receiving President Bush's confidence and for her confirmation by Congress. And, as always, I would like to tell her, you are in the right place. Also, on this occasion, I would like to thank President Bush through the Secretary for his many positive positions and for his enthusiasm and help, which he has expressed and provided to the Palestinian people, as well as for the full American dedication toward the Middle East peace process. Of course, we look forward to an effective and essential American role in the peace process, especially considering that the U.S. is the main member of the Quartet.

I would also like to take this opportunity to ask for the continuation of assistance in issues related to the issue of settlements, the wall, as well as those issues related to Jerusalem. We thank the American administration for its involvement in the issue of the Absentee Property Law. For our part, we have said and still say, and have worked and still work toward fulfilling our obligations concerning the Road Map, and we hope that the Israeli side will likewise fulfill its obligation, because this is the only way to realize President Bush's two-state vision of establishing an independent, viable and contiguous Palestinian state next to the State of Israel, as well as peace and tranquility. Also, we have started the reform process, including financial, economic, legal and other reforms, and we are continuing on this path in order to lay a steady foundation for building the Palestinian state.

Tomorrow, we will go to Sharm el-Sheikh. There are some issues that have been agreed upon, and we hope for a positive outcome from this summit so as we can build upon it, and that there will be more meetings between the Israeli prime minister and myself. On this occasion, I would like to thank President Hosni Mubarak for his much-appreciated invitation and for his initiative. I would like to also thank his Majesty King Abdullah, who will attend this summit and will participate as a representative of his country and as a king in supporting the Palestinian Authority and the peace process. Again, I would like to welcome Dr. Condoleezza Rice. Welcome.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much, Mr. President. I want to thank the president and the Palestinian leadership for the very productive discussions that we have just held. I'm honored to be here in what is really a promising moment. The Palestinian people have a right to be very proud of the elections that they've just held and I wish them well as they continue this year with municipal and legislative elections.

Palestinians voted last month for a president who ran on a platform of democratic reform, a negotiated settlement to the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians and an end to violence. That in our view is the right approach, and we're pleased that President Abbas is following through on his mandate to take concrete steps on security and to restore law and order. We are also pleased that security coordination has begun taking place directly between the Israelis and the Palestinians and that other constructive contacts have resumed. This is indeed the way forward, and we hope that this bodes well for the summit tomorrow in Sharm el-Sheikh.

I want to join the president in thanking President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt for arranging that summit and for the attendance of King Abdullah of Jordan. The United States will do its part. We will be active in this process with our partners. We will help with the consolidation of security and the rebuilding of the Palestinian security forces. We will work with our friends in the international community and here in the region to revive the Palestinian economy and to assist Palestinian efforts to build and strengthen democratic institutions. And we will work hard to remind all parties the Israelis, the Palestinians and the regional states that they all have obligations to make certain that we can realize the vision of two states living side by side in peace.

As you are aware, President Bush recently announced an increase in U.S. aid to the Palestinians of $350 million this year, all aimed at achieving these goals. I look forward to working with the Palestinian leadership and the ministers to determine the proper course for that spending. I'm happy now to announce today that over $40 million will be provided over the next 90 days in a quick action program to make an immediate impact an immediate positive impact on the lives of the Palestinian people, through, for example, job creation, private sector development and infrastructure development.

This is a time of hope, a time when we can hope for a better day for the Palestinian and the Israeli people both. As we move forward, I would like to underscore to everyone what I know that President Bush's commitment is, and that is to pursing and achieving the vision of a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace. Thank you very much, Mr. President.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, you talked briefly yesterday about the municipal elections in Gaza but we know that in a few months there is another election there, and Hamas looks likely to win that election, too. I'd like to ask you, what do you think the Palestinian Authority should do to make sure that doesn't happen? And Mr. President, what can you do to persuade the Palestinian people in Gaza to vote for someone who does not use violence to achieve their goals? Thank you.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I would just note that in the Palestinian national elections, President Abbas got numbers that would have made any American president extremely happy. It was a very strong vote for his program of a peaceful resolution to the conflict, of peace with the neighbor Israel, of democratic reform and of reconstruction and development to improve the lives of the Palestinian people. I have to believe that what the Palestinian people were responding to is the opportunity to have their children grow up in an environment of peace and opportunity and that is what the president won his election on. We are going to be supportive partners for him and for his leadership as they try and realize that vision for the Palestinian people.

PRESIDENT ABBAS: (in Arabic, unofficial translation) In regards to the municipal elections and other elections, including the presidential elections and the upcoming legislative elections, we have adopted a free and fair democratic process and thus there won't be any interference to prevent or to facilitate anyone in these elections because people are free to choose. That said, we have presented a program to improve economic, financial and social conditions and we will start the implementation of this program, based on which I was elected, and through which people will judge our actions.

QUESTION: (in Arabic, unofficial translation) Mr. President Mahmoud Abbas, tomorrow you will head for the Sharm el-Sheikh summit. Has there been an agreement on the summit's agenda? Will there be an announcement of a reciprocal cease-fire? Which political issues will be discussed? It seems that there are Israeli reservations toward discussing political matters during the summit.

(In English) [Secretary] Rice, you mentioned in your visit to Israel that Israel should not take actions in Jerusalem. Could you please clarify? Were you referring to the wall or to the law of annexing Palestinian land in Jerusalem?

PRESIDENT ABBAS: (in Arabic, unofficial translation) Concerning the Sharm el-Sheik agenda, I would like to say that extensive negotiations have preceded this summit to discuss a number of Palestinian issues and demands in light of a cease-fire declaration by the Palestinian side. These demands are related to Israel's commitment to stop its operation against the Palestinian people as well as demands related to its withdrawal from Palestinian cities and the resolution of the issue of wanted men. Other issues were also discussed, including those related to settlements, the wall and the widely asked-about issue of Jerusalem. What we care about is that we have started a campaign that will surely consume a lot of time in Sharm el-Sheikh, which, of course, won't be the last such meeting. There have to be more meetings held at the highest levels between us and the Israelis, as well as follow-up on all these matters, including the withdrawal from Gaza and the implementation of the Road Map.

SECRETARY RICE: Yes, this is an extremely important time because we do have a new opportunity before us and as I said to President Abbas, we recognize the very important steps that the Palestinians must take for a secure environment, to make certain that violence cannot take place, that there is, as the president, says, one authority and one law and one gun, that the security forces are united and that they are able to fight terrorism. The Israelis have obligations, too, and I said to them that in addition to the obligation to do everything possible to help the emergence of a democratic state, that it is especially important that there not be unilateral steps, unilateral changes to the status quo.

I think that it is well known that we've had concerns about the route of the fence; I think it's well known that we've had concerns about settlement activity, and of course on the law on absentee landowners. We discussed this with the Israelis and it is my understanding that the Supreme Court has set that aside. We've had a number of issues and we've talked about them. The larger point is that it is time for both parties to make their maximum efforts to give this chance for peace a real chance, and I've been encouraged by my conversations here and my conversations with the prime minister in Israel that, in fact, both parties understand the moment before them and understand their responsibilities.

QUESTION: Mr. Prime Minister, what did the United States indicate they were willing to do in helping provide monitors in the event of a cease-fire? And Madam Secretary, despite your concern, did you ask the Israelis to do anything, or did the Israelis promise to do anything on the issue of dismantling outposts and stopping the growth of settlements?

PRESIDENT ABBAS: (in Arabic, unofficial translation) Indeed, the United States has agreed that there will be observers to help prevent any confrontation and to remove all areas of trouble between the Israeli and Palestinian sides, and I think that Dr. Rice has informed us of the need to deploy a high-ranking envoy from the American administration, who will assume many tasks related to issues on the table between the Israeli and Palestinian sides.

SECRETARY RICE: Let me just speak to that, as well. I will later on today talk about the appointment of a security coordinator for the United States - and I'll talk about that shortly but, the idea is to have someone who is responsible for helping the Palestinians in reform of their security forces, for helping with monitoring, and not to supplant the activities and the efforts of the parties. I do believe it's most important that the Israelis and the Palestinians have security cooperation that is bilateral, that is strong, that is robust, that is dealing with most of the problems. When the United States can be helpful, we would be prepared to be helpful and we will have therefore a security coordinator, and I'll talk to you a little bit about that later.

In addition, of course, I am available, as I've said, to be very active in this process as will the members of my staff and people from the White House, because this is the time that we want to seize the opportunity, but the president is referring to this idea of a security coordinator I've raised it also with the Israelis earlier, and it really is to provide a focal point for training, equipping, helping Palestinians build their forces and also for monitoring, and if necessary to help the parties on security matters. But again, I want to emphasize we believe the best security cooperation is between the parties themselves.

QUESTION: And the settlements?

SECRETARY RICE: Oh, I'm sorry. I, of course, had certain understandings with the Israelis when I was national security advisor on behalf of the president and on behalf of the prime minister, and we did talk about the need to make sure that those obligations are carried out concerning settlements and outposts.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, for the past four years and more, the U.S. administration has been always anticipating a democratically-elected Palestinian leadership and has supported that all the time and you wanted it. And now you are the first high-level American official to be here, and still tomorrow, we have the Sharm el-Sheikh summit, which is the first meeting held between Palestinians and Israelis but still you are not participating. Can you elaborate and tell us how you can explain this regarding your vision on the peace process? And the same time, the focus has been shifted - the American focus - on the Palestinian state vision. Now, it is only mainly focused on security, either through the financial support or your moral support from the administration. Any idea of how this process will go on forth before we see any political movement from your side? Thank you.

(In Arabic, unofficial translation): Mr. President, you have been able to attain a cease-fire agreement by the Palestinian factions, and you have repeatedly confirmed during you election campaign the need to stop the militarization of intifada and on the Palestinian's willingness to participate in the political process with the Israelis. Tomorrow, there will be the first summit with the Israelis, and at the same time, it has been reported that a number of Palestinian prisoners will be released, among other issues. Is this what you really expect from the first political summit with the Israelis?

SECRETARY RICE: The summit that is going to take place at Sharm el-Sheikh is an extremely important step forward and we are very pleased that the Egyptian government has taken the initiative to do this. There should be no doubt about the commitment of the United States to this process at this point in time; no doubt about the commitment of the president; no doubt about my own personal commitment. I'm here in my first ten or so days as Secretary of State to demonstrate that commitment.

Not everything has to involve the United States, but the United States has to be there when it is needed. We will be very active. We are going to be active with the parties on security. We're going to be active with the parties on reconstruction and economics. We're going to be active with the parties on political development and democratization. And indeed, we will be active with the parties on getting back onto the Road Map, which is a reliable guide to the president's June 2002 speech for two states living side by side in peace.

So, there should be no doubt about the commitment of the United States. But it is a very good thing when the parties can do as much on their own as the Israelis and the Palestinians have done in recent weeks. It is a good thing when the regional actors are able to call a summit and to bring the parties together so they can continue to make progress and momentum. I have been in contact with my Egyptian counterpart and my Jordanian counterpart. I've now seen both the president here and Prime Minister Sharon. The United States is actively involved in this process and will be. And we have a lot of steps ahead of us: the continued reforms here that the president and his team are carrying out, the Israeli disengagement from the Gaza and the four settlements in the West Bank. We have a lot of work ahead of us and we have a lot of work ahead of us on the Road Map, as well. So, please understand: the United States will be very, very involved, but we actually think it's a very good thing when the parties can make progress on their own, as well.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) financial eight or the moral eight but what about, how long can (inaudible) security (inaudible)

SECRETARY RICE: I don't think we can have a timetable on security, but I will say that there has already been faster progress with President Abbas' leadership than we've seen in quite a long time: the deployment of security forces, the work that the Israelis and Palestinians are doing in security cooperation, discussions about how freedom of movement might be improved for Palestinian people and what responsibilities the Palestinian security forces might take over for the Israelis these have all happened in a matter of weeks. And so, it is an important and long road to the reformation of the security forces, to fighting terrorism. Theses are all things we understand will unfold over time. But the Road Map is a reliable guide to getting to a two-state solution. We know that the Palestinians are committed to it and Prime Minister Sharon has said that he too is committed to the Road Map.

PRESIDENT ABBAS: (in Arabic, unofficial translation) Concerning our election campaign, which we presented on the eve of elections, we presented many issues and we are committed to fulfilling them. We did not raise peoples' expectations, and at the same time, we told them the truth, which we believe in without exaggeration or elimination. In this program, the issue of the militarization of the intifada was clear as well as the issue of one authority and the one legal weapon and the political diversity and others. We didn't try to mislead anyone, nor did we promise to do anything we didn't intend to do in the future. Based on this, we have reached a cease-fire agreement with all the Palestinian factions, and this reflects not only our desire to realize calm, security and an acceptable life for people, but also indicates the desire of all the factions and the people themselves. I believe that everyone is committed to this. What we expect now is for the Israeli side to present its position on these issues.

As for the Sharm el-Sheikh summit, there are many issues that we have presented, starting from the mutual cease-fire and the matters to follow, both short-term and long-term. All this has been discussed. Now the summit may not resolve all the demands or issues that we will present, but this will not mean that the summit will be a failure; on the contrary, the intentions are going toward resolving security, economic and political matters, and we have to deal with the political issues in all seriousness in order not waste any more time and to be able to reach a final agreement that will lead to the establishment of our independent state.


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