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Condoleezza Rice With President Mahmoud Abbas

Joint Press Availability With Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Ramallah, West Bank
June 18, 2005

PRESIDENT ABBAS: (Not translated.)

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much, Mr. President. I'm honored to be here with President Abbas. Thank you for your hospitality and for the hospitality of your government.

President Bush asked me to come here in the wake of the President's very good visit to Washington to follow up with the parties about plans leading to the disengagement of Israeli forces and settlers from the Gaza that will take place shortly. We must all focus on the disengagement as our best chance to reenergize the roadmap.

I have met with Jim Wolfensohn, the Quartet's special envoy with regard to disengagement and with General Kip Ward, who is here with me, the U.S. Security Coordinator. Mr. Wolfensohn is focusing on pushing Palestinian-Israeli coordination on economic issues and on reviving the Palestinian economy, while General Ward is working on Palestinian security reform. Our diplomatic representatives in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, along with your government, Mr. President, will continue to be devoted to these tasks.

The United States will stand with President Abbas and the Palestinian people as they combat corruption, reform the security services and the justice system, and revive the economy. President Abbas has taken some concrete steps toward security reform but, of course, much more needs to be done, particularly to use actively the security forces to combat lawlessness and to combat terrorism.

We applaud President Abbas's commitment to Palestinian political reform and to a democratic Palestinian society.

I will go from here to begin to meet with Prime Minister Sharon and his team, and then I will travel to key Arab states to enlist their support for this process. My trip concludes, as some of you know, in London where the G8 Foreign Ministers will be meeting and where we will discuss broader international support for Gaza disengagement.

Mr. President, we will work with the international community to support you and the Palestinian people in these efforts. The U.S. is proud to be the single largest contributor of assistance to the Palestinian people. The U.S. is committed to working for a better future for the Palestinian people and to bringing a lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, so that we may all realize the vision of two states living side by side in peace and in security. Thank you.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, you said Palestinians must (inaudible) in providing security (inaudible). Thank you.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. Yes, there are a number of issues, and perhaps the President would like to speak to this, too. There are a number of issues that need to be coordinated and fully understood between the parties concerning freedom of movement, concerning access, considering -- concerning access between the different parts of the Territories, the disposition of assets, exactly how the various security functions will be performed. These are all issues that will need to be resolved before the disengagement begins.

That is one reason I am here, is to encourage the parties to actively now, concretely solve these problems. There is no more time to simply put problems on the agenda. This now has to be an active process of resolving these. I know that Minister Dahlan and Defense Minister Mofaz have met and will meet again. I know that Mr. Wolfensohn is working with parties on these issues. And so, yes, they are very important and they must be resolved.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, did you get the assurances that you were looking for that the Palestinians can really do what you think is necessary to maintain security, both at the beginning of the Gaza withdrawal and afterwards? And, to the President, what did you discuss about the stockpiling of Hamas arms? The Bush Administration has said in recent days it is very concerned about that. Did you make any assurances that you will do something about it?

SECRETARY RICE: On the first point, I did have an extensive discussion with the President, with the Prime Minister and the Cabinet and then with the Minister of Interior about the importance of both planning and executing security functions in support of a peaceful withdrawal of the Israelis from the Gaza. There is still a lot of work to be done.

And Minister Yusif, who is in charge of the security effort, will have the full help and cooperation of General Ward and an international team that is working with General Ward. He also will have, I'm certain -- and I will talk with Defense Minister Mofaz of Israel about this -- the cooperation and support of the Israelis in making sure that security is there so that the withdrawal is peaceful. Both parties will have to do their parts if this is indeed to be a peaceful and orderly withdrawal from the Gaza. And so this coordination function is absolutely critical. And I talked extensively with the Palestinians today about the need for coordination. I will talk extensively with the Israelis about it, and then General Ward and Mr. Wolfensohn will follow up.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary -- (inaudible).

SECRETARY RICE: There was a second part to her question. Sorry.

QUESTION: The second part of the question was to you, Mr. President, on the stockpiling of Hamas arms and whether you discussed that with the Secretary today.

PRESIDENT ABBAS: (Not translated.)

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, first, Hamas is intending to go to the Parliament elections. What would be the response of the American administration if Hamas won some possible (inaudible) in this Parliament? How would you deal with Hamas as part of the government, maybe? Would you deal with them as a partner in the (inaudible) or not? (Not translated.)

SECRETARY RICE: The United States' position about Hamas has not changed. You know that we list -- continue to view Hamas as a terrorist organization. This is going to be a Palestinian process. But I will say one thing about how the presidential elections went. And that is that the man who said that he was for peace between Israel and the Palestinian people, that he could imagine a future for the Palestinian people where they lived in a state side by side with Israel based on a process that went along the roadmap to the establishment of a Palestinian state, that he could imagine a world in which Palestinian children could grow up without fear, that that is the platform that the Palestinian people chose in the presidential elections. Because I think that is the platform that the Palestinian people -- that expresses the hopes of all people around the world.

I frankly don't think that it is the dream of mothers and fathers around the world that their children will be suicide bombers. I don't think it is the dream of people around the world that their children will have no future but one of violence. And so this is a man of peace, his government is a government that is seeking peace. And it is the goal and the policy of the United States government to support a Palestinian leadership that is, we believe, determined to come to a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

PRESIDENT ABBAS: (Not translated.)

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, when you answered the question about Hamas, you referred only to presidential elections. Hamas has done well in municipal elections and that has prompted your partners such as Britain and to some extent the European Union to have contacts on the ground level at a local level. Now, your fear and part of your visit is all about what's happening on the ground, coordinating the very -- the specifics.

Why doesn't the United States get on the same page as its partners and have some contacts with Hamas?

SECRETARY RICE: Because there's an elected President and a government with which we are dealing. We are the government of the United States, this is the government of the Palestinian people. They elected this president and he is fully capable, I believe, of representing the people who elected him, I believe by almost 60 or so percent. So that's who we'll deal with.

QUESTION: Thank you. Madame Secretary, can you categorically or do you categorically deny any contacts with Hamas at any level on your part? And also what's your view of what's the EU-Hamas contacts? And what do you think of the Israeli demands that Hamas be banned from elections, Palestinian elections? And can that be compatible with your effort to establish democracy in the region? Thank you.

SECRETARY RICE: The Palestinian people will conduct their elections as they see fit, in accordance with their laws. The United States has no contacts with Hamas because the United States believes that Hamas is a terrorist organization. We have no contacts with Hamas.

Our goal is to work with the duly elected President of the Palestinian Authority which represents now the Palestinian people who freely elected him, first to try to bring about a peaceful disengagement of Israelis from the Gaza so that we believe the two sides can gain trust and confidence which would then lead to stronger Palestinian institutions in place, security forces, economic institutions, political institutions, would have the international community's support, a hopeful economic future for the people of the Gaza and the North and West Bank, that would then use that process as a way to stimulate faster movement on the roadmap so that we can all get to the day that we all look to, which is two states living side by side, Israel and Palestine.

Now, that is a vision that this government shares with the President of the United States. It is a vision that recognizes the right of Palestinians to live in peace and security, and of Israelis to live in peace and security. That's what we are going to work very hard on and, I think, with good will on both sides and with the strong support of the international community, that we can succeed.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, Madame Secretary. I wanted to ask about the continued construction which was mentioned by the President, efforts to enclose the Shuafat Refugee Camp in Jerusalem, continuation of building a wall around Jerusalem. How concerned are you about this continued construction? And is there any possibility of some back-channel dialogue, some beginning of discussion on final status issues to allay Palestinian concerns that Gaza may have disengagement but Israel will continue to take other parts of the territory? Thank you.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you, Barbara. I think the President spoke to this and spoke quite directly and with determination about this, that the United States has told both sides, in this case the Israelis, that they should take no actions that try somehow to predetermine or prejudge the outcome of final status, because these are issues -- issues of territorial borders as we try and build a contiguous and viable Palestinian state -- these are issues that are going to have to be resolved at the time of final status between the two parties, mutually agreed. So the President has spoken on that issue and we continue to speak to the Israelis about precisely that issue.

I believe that one of the problems that we've had over the last many, many years when we've had lots of peace plans and lots of envoys but we frankly haven't been able to achieve very much progress is that there is sometimes too much of a tendency to look out into the future and not enough of a tendency to look at exactly what's in progress and what can be achieved right in front of us. What I've been very heartened by today and appreciate very much is the degree to which the President, in particular, but also many of his ministers are focused on making sure that this Gaza disengagement works. Because we've said many times that this is not Gaza only; this is the first step on a process that is outlined. The roadmap says how we get to final status, it says how we get to a Palestinian state.

And so I am confident that if we concentrate on what is in front of us and do that well, that then we're going to be in a position to make much greater progress. If we don't concentrate and do this well, then we're going to be thrown back. And so I really do think that the best task ahead of us, the best course ahead of us is to make sure that the Gaza withdrawal is successful. That means peaceful, that means orderly. It means the Palestinians are in position with stronger institutions to take over and govern. It means that the international community is mobilized to make the lives of the Palestinian people much better as a result, and that we can then use the trust and confidence that the two sides will gain in each other to accelerate further progress.

Thank you very much.

2005/T10-2

Released on June 18, 2005


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