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Quartet for Middle East Peace Press Conference

Remarks With Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, and European Union President Jean Asselborn After Their Quartet Meeting

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Moscow, Russia
May 9, 2005

(3:05 p.m. Local)

During her travel to Russia with the President, Secretary Rice and members of the Quartet for Middle East Peace held a press conference.

SECRETARY GENERAL ANNAN: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. As you know, we've just completed a meeting of the Middle East Quartet in which we covered a lot of important ground, as you will see later from the statement or the communiqué we will be issuing. We emphasized that this is a hopeful and promising moment for both Palestinians and Israelis. They both deserve the full support of the international community and we reaffirm our support for the Israeli initiative to withdraw from Gaza and parts of the northern West Bank.

We strongly reiterate our commitment to the two-state solution, and to Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the northern West Bank as a way of re-energizing the roadmap. We stress the importance of full and complete Israeli withdrawal from Gaza as an important step paving the way towards realizing the vision of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.

A new Palestinian state must be truly viable, with contiguity in the West Bank. No party should take unilateral action that will prejudge the final status issues.

The Quartet urges both parties to take steps to fulfill their obligations under the roadmap.

We express our full support for our Special Envoy for Gaza Disengagement, Mr. James Wolfensohn. There is also an urgent need for the Israelis and Palestinians to coordinate directly and fully on withdrawal preparations. This will require close coordination with both Israel and the Palestinians to identify and implement those actions and policies that will ensure smooth and successful withdrawal. Creating the environment conducive for a long-term sustainable and viable economic development of all the Palestinian territories would constitute a suitable basis for additional assistance efforts by the international community.

The Quartet recognizes that economic development and progress on security go hand in hand. Security reforms and the reestablishment of rule of law are necessary to create an enabling environment for economic growth and political progress.

We also recognize the need for additional efforts by the international community to assist the Palestinian Authority in accomplishing these tasks, including by rebuilding the capabilities of the Palestinian security services.

In that regard, we welcome the recent concrete steps that President Abbas has taken towards reform of the Palestinian security services, and stress the need to continue implementation of these reforms.

We commend the Palestinian Authority's commitment to democracy and look forward to the holding of free, fair and transparent multiparty legislative elections in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem under the scrutiny of international observers.

We also took advantage of today's meeting to introduce Alvaro de Soto, my new Envoy to the Quartet and also welcome Mr. David Welch, the new U.S. Envoy to the Quartet.

Finally, the Quartet reaffirms its commitment to a just, comprehensive and lasting settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict based on Resolutions 242 and 338, and will remain engaged with all the parties to that end.

We will take your questions.

QUESTION: Could you discuss the Russian proposal about the international meeting which Putin made in Cairo? And what are the results of your discussions? Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: (Via interpreter) On the whole, we agreed that the Quartet should remain in permanent contact with the Quartet and with each other. We all agreed, as it was reflected in our communiqué, that our final goal lies in a comprehensive and just settlement for the Arab-Israeli conflict.

And the proposal by President Putin about thinking of the future means we need not only to concentrate on the immediate tasks of the Palestinian-Israeli settlement but to regard this process as a whole and to think about the future. This also includes our thinking about the multilateral aspects of the international settlement. We agreed to pursue our exchange of opinions in this regard. All the members of the Quartet believe that this is a very important aspect.

MODERATOR: Other questions, please.

QUESTION: Diane Sekirkan (ph), Associated Press. The question for the Secretary of State, please.

There had been a few basic steps that needed to take place in order for the roadmap to get underway. You know, the release of prisoners by the Israelis, the disarming of militants by the Palestinians. You know, what's going to happen to the roadmap when you can't even get these basic steps underway? Thank you.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, we are all in agreement that this is a time when we must seize the opportunity before us, an opportunity that is presented by the Palestinian elections and the new Palestinian Authority and the coming Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza and four northern territories of the West Bank.

We also believe that the parties should intensify their efforts to fulfill their Sharm el-Sheikh agreements. But I would just caution, this process will have its ups and downs over the next several months. The obligation of the international community, represented here by the Quartet, is to help the parties to move through these difficult issues to make achievements so that we can complete the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza and the four settlements in a way that accelerates our ability to make progress on the roadmap.

And so, for instance, we had a report today on General Ward's efforts with the Palestinians and on behalf of the international community on security reform with the Palestinians, which I think will contribute to this effort.

So we will intensify our efforts and we expect the parties to intensify their efforts as well.

QUESTION: My question is addressed to Secretary of State and to Secretary General, Mr. Annan. How can you assess the Arab initiative under the roadmap because this initiative proposes the peace not only to Palestinians and Israelis, but rather to Arabs and Israelis?

SECRETARY ANNAN: I think when you see the communiqué that we are not limiting our efforts. We are focusing on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, but we do indicate the ultimate objective is to see settlement in the region based on UN Resolutions 242 and 338. And, of course, we are also very conscious of the Arab initiative which was put forward in Beirut, and I think that's what you are referring to, which is still part of the basis on which we are going forward. In fact, when you look at the UN situation and the Arab initiative, in effect, there's change in land-for-peace and showing that the whole region is not only at peace and security, but that they move on to have normal, neighborly relationship.

In this broader context, the initiative put forward by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia in the Beirut summit was an important contribution and we bear that in mind as we move forward.

SECRETARY RICE: Let me just underscore that I think that we all believe that the roadmap does incorporate many of these ideas and we are devoted to moving forward on the roadmap. And obviously, the true goals here is to have two states -- Israel and the Palestinian state -- living side by side in peace and democracy, but in a region that is also at peace.

But let me just emphasize that many opportunities have been missed in the Middle East and we have a real opportunity before us in the next several months to have a successful disengagement of Israel from the Gaza and the four West Bank territories. We then have a very strong possibility of the establishment of democratic, transparent institutions that can be the basis of a Palestinian state; of economic development in this region that can improve the lives and the hopes of the Palestinian peoples; and what you hear here is a commitment not to miss the opportunity that is just in front of our very eyes.

And so when we talk about this next four or five months, it is not because we do not have a bigger vision; it is because we recognize that we have to seize the opportunity that is right before us if we are to build confidence and trust to move forward.

PRESIDENT ASSELBORN: We know that, in the international community, Europe is between Russia and the United States. But Kofi Annan seems (inaudible) that Europe has a voice.

So just two sentences from our side and they can say. First, we want that withdrawal from Gaza becomes a success. Second, we want also, and we have to work and we have to help the Palestinians, that the elections, parliamentarian elections, now in June or in July, will be a success. That's a short time, two very important aims.

Then, we are in the transitional period. In this region, we have to have to change mentalities. That's very, very important. We have to help that hate disappears between both populations. And I think that on the Israeli sides, a lot of positive things happened already. But it will be also an after or post withdrawal Gaza period. And there, what Condoleezza Rice said and what Kofi Annan said to go forward, to have a perspective, is very, very important.

And on the other side, the Palestinian side, a lot of positive things happened also to increase security and so on. And there, they have to do everything -- everything -- and we have to encourage them to -- oh sorry. (Laughter.)

[Interpreter translates into Russian.]

So I think that on the Palestinian side -- that's my last sentence -- a lot of positive things happened also. But also here they have to make more efforts -- more efforts to really -- to destruct all the nets of violence. And I think in the European Union, I just want to mention it, we, every year, give 250 million Euros to the Palestinians, that is, on the Commission side, my colleague, Benita Ferrero-Waldner and all the other member states also help -- to help really the Palestinian Authority and in the Quartet. That's a very, very important organization. We have to bring a lot of solidarity, international solidarity on the table, to put and to pull on the -- in the same way.

So thank you very much.

FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: (Via Interpreter) In conclusion, I would like to thank all my colleagues for holding this meeting in Moscow.

It's very symbolic that this meeting takes place in the victory date -- in the date when we mark the 60th anniversary of our victory in the World War II.

At that time we united our effort to combat our common enemy and today we need also to unite our efforts to fight a new enemy, primarily it's international terrorism.

The Arab world-Israeli conflict is the holdover of the past which we have now. And this conflict nurtures extremism and, in some parts, terrorist acts which occur in the region.

It's only together -- it's only through our combined efforts -- that we can achieve the settlement in the region, both through the Quartet as well. And I hope, as my colleague Condoleezza Rice mentioned, this chance which we'll have this year won't be missed.

Thank you very much. 2005/488

Released on May 9, 2005

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