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Rice Joint Press Availability With Egyptian FM

Joint Press Availability
With Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit


Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt
June 20, 2005

FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: (Arabic remarks not translated.) The meeting lasted for an hour-and-a-half between the Secretary and the Egyptian President. The discussions took place around the situation in the Middle East, the Palestinian problem, the efforts that are being exerted for a settlement, a disengagement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, as well as the situation in Iraq and around Iraq, with an emphasis on the borders between Syria and Iraq.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. Yes, we had a very, very good meeting; and I want to thank very much President Mubarak with whom I had not only a very good meeting but a very good breakfast. And I want to thank the Foreign Minister as well for the hospitality here.

FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: (Inaudible.)

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it was excellent, though. And I don't need to eat lunch now, that's for sure. (Laughter.)

I also had an opportunity to talk with the Foreign Minister on our way here, and then with the President, about the very interesting developments that are going on here in Egypt and about the course of reform here in Egypt. I think our relationship is very strong. It is a strategic relationship. It is a relationship that has deepening economic ties. And, as I will say in Cairo, Egypt has often led the way in this region on so many issues; and we look to the Egyptians and the Egyptian people to also take a major role in leading reform in this region, which is reform that is well under way here in the Middle East. So thank you very much.

QUESTION: A question for both speakers (inaudible). How do you -- you had mentioned here the Egyptian and American relations. How do you (inaudible) about other things? And the second part, please, (inaudible) Iraqi scenario concerning Syria. So how do you see that? Thank you.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, I believe that the relationship between the United States and Egypt is very strong and that we are working together in so many ways. We had an extensive discussion of how we might both help the Palestinian-Israeli issues. Egypt is central to the security that needs to exist in the Gaza so that it can be a peaceful and orderly withdrawal. We talked about that in some detail.

We also talked about Iraq. And I would say that we have no differences on the fact that there needs to be a strong and stable Iraq where the Iraqi people can fulfill their aspirations now for a united and democratic Iraq. In fact, we had extensive discussions about how to increase Sunni involvement. We had extensive discussions about how to get Iraq's neighbors to be more responsive so that the border between Iraq and Syria or Iraq and Iran is a border that does not contribute to instability.

As to Syria, the United States has been very clear that our concerns are with Syrian behavior. And what we need from Syria is we need a Syria that takes seriously the changes that are happening here in the region. Syria needs to stop its support for rejectionists in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. As Prime Minister Abbas and -- or President Abbas and President Sharon get ready for this major disengagement, it is the Palestinian Islamic Jihad that says it's going to sit outside of the agreed calm. Syria (inaudible) now headquarters in Damascus. There's something Syria could do to be in step with the region. Syria needs to control its border and make sure that it's territory is not being used for insurgents in Iraq. That is something Syria can do. And Syria needs to fulfill completely its obligations under Resolution 1559 in Lebanon. The Lebanese people are demonstrating that they wish to have a very different future than they've had over the last 30 years of the past.

Now, as to internal developments in Syria, just like every other country in the region, we believe that the Syrian people deserve to have an open political system in which they can express their beliefs.

FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: The Secretary characterized the Egyptian-American relations as strategic. And they are strategic. And they have been strategic over the last 25 years. We are working together. And we are exchanging views and attitudes on affairs of the region, as well as developments in the region. And I think we see eye to eye on many of the issues that have been raised. We are working together on the Palestinian-Israeli exchange and the disengagement.

On Iraq, the Secretary and myself will be in Brussels tomorrow. And as I will be chairing the Political Committee with Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of the United Nations, she will be chairing with the Minister Solana the Security Committee. So again there we are working together. We have been hosting the Steering Committee in Cairo over the last few weeks in preparation for that conference. So again, Egypt and the United States are working together.

On the issues, the wider issues of the region, again we are consulting, exchanging. Often, we receive American opinions on this or that problem, and often we respond to their concerns as well as to concerns of the regional powers. That is on Syria, what I said.

QUESTION: Can you discuss preparations for the elections in the fall? And are you satisfied that elections in Egypt will be open, free and fair?

SECRETARY RICE: We have discussed preparations for the elections with the President and also earlier with the Foreign Minister. We have made very clear that we believe that Egypt is such an important country, now that President Mubarak has opened this door and taken this important first step, that it is going to be essential that these elections be free and fair, that there be an opportunity for opposition to have access to media, that there is a sense of competitiveness in the elections.

And I think that the Egyptian -- our Egyptian friends understand that and, I believe, will take their responsibility seriously. Because people will watch what happens in Egypt, because this is an important country in the region -- a region that is changing very much. And so we did have discussions of that, and I look very much forward to those elections.

FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Secretary, if I may comment on this? And who would object to fair, transparent elections? Everybody wants a fair, transparent election, and they will be so, I assure you.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. My name is -- (inaudible).

SECRETARY RICE: Good catch.

FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: One further question for the Secretary and then --

SECRETARY RICE: And then we have to go. Right, I have to go to Cairo.

QUESTION: My question is for you, Madame Excellency Secretary of State. You said in Ramallah and also in Jerusalem, successful withdrawal from Gaza will lead to more steps on the roadmap achievement. What's your assessment of the ability of both sides to do so at this stage? I'm asking about guarantees. You know that Sharm El Sheikh understanding are not implemented. So what's your assessment and what are the guarantees to do so, to have a next step after the withdrawal from Gaza?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first on the Sharm El Sheikh agreement, the Prime Minister and the President are going to meet tomorrow. And so I think they will try and make further progress on their Sharm El Sheikh agreements. They have a series of agreements that are going to take some time to implement, but I found a good spirit in wanting to move that forward.

In terms of the withdrawal, we really do have to concentrate on getting this to be a withdrawal that is successful. That then will create a momentum, it will create trust, it will create confidence between the two parties. Already, the fact that the parties are coordinating in the way that they are will help to create some sense of confidence.

Now, I believe that if you listen to what Prime Minister Sharon said yesterday, he said that he believed that a successful withdrawal could energize -- reenergize the roadmap. And I think we all feel that way. We need to be on the roadmap because it is the reliable guide to getting to a two-state solution. And it is, after all, a document that is supported by the Palestinians, the Israelis and the international community as a whole. So that is our guide for how to move forward. But again, right now, we need to concentrate on making sure that the Gaza withdrawal is successful.

FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: May I comment here? The Israeli withdrawal, we believe it has to be complete and comprehensive, meaning that Israeli forces as well as the settlers should come out and withdraw from the whole of the Gaza Strip, as well as we have to ensure for the Palestinians the harbor as well as the airport and the connection to Egypt on one and to the West Bank on the other. That is crucial. Why is it so? Because it should not be a prison; it should be a place where the Palestinians can breathe and can prosper.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, when you speak out for political reforms in the region, how do you assess U.S. credibility here? I ask because many people in the Arab world actually question whether the United States has the moral authority to be passing judgment given the treatment of U.S. soldiers of detainees and, some people say, the United States applies a double standard when it criticizes governments it doesn't like but goes soft on governments that it does.

And, Mr. Minister, how do you think Egyptians feel about the United States passing judgment on Egypt's own reform process? And if I could, Mr. Minister, a follow-up on something you said earlier? When you said that, "Who would object to an election that was fair and transparent," I noticed that you didn't say "free." Was that deliberate?

FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: No. No, no, no, no. No, no. Free, fair and transparent. And there are lots of legislations that are being enacted these days to ensure that particular issue.

SECRETARY RICE: Yes. Well, the United States is not passing judgment. What the United States is doing is speaking to a set of core values and principles that the United States holds, but that we believe are universal principles. I think you're seeing that universality throughout this region.

What people on earth don't want to be able to say what they think or worship as they please or educate their boys and girls? What people on earth want to be subject to the knock of the secret police at night? What people on earth do not want the human dignity that comes with democratic values? And so that's what the United States is speaking up for.

And I think the United States, of course, has had a long history of trying to live those values. But we also have to be humble about the fact that it has taken us a long time to live up to those values. After all, the United States was born as a slave-owning state. And it took us almost 100 years to end that -- that tragic condition. Americans were only completely guaranteed the right to vote in my lifetime, with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

So Americans understand that democracy is a process and that it's difficult. But we're going to continue to speak up for these principles, and it's not a matter of judgment.

And as to what happened, for instance, at Abu Ghraib, democracy does not guarantee that people will not do bad things; sometimes, people will do bad things. But what democracy guarantees is that they will be openly and transparently debated, in large part because there is a free press -- which Thomas Jefferson called "the fourth estate." And you can pick up the New York Times or you can pick up the Denver Post -- to plug a hometown newspaper -- or any newspaper in the United States, and there's an open debate about what has happened at Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo or any other place. And you can go to the halls of Congress and you can hear debates about it, you can hear the Secretary of Defense have to testify, and the President of the United States have to address the issue. And you can go to the American court system -- in this case the military justice system -- and see that people are being held accountable for their actions.

So that's what democracy allows you to do, and that's why I think that democracies hold the moral authority to talk about their principles and to assume that their principles are universal.

FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: When -- in answer to your question -- when, as the Foreign Minister of Egypt, condemns the I pronounced ourselves on the desecration of the Koran, I also said -- and that has to be registered for your benefit -- I also said that it was American sources that revealed this, as well as the Pentagon. So this is something that we appreciate, that it is you who are telling the world that things are wrong in certain aspects.

However you recall, Secretary, that I told you also in the car that there is anger in the region. And there is anger in the region. And we have to control that anger, and we have to work on the anger to build American-Arab, American-Muslim relations. And I think you and us will be successful in doing so.

SECRETARY RICE: I think we will, too, Minister, because we have mutual respect.

FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Absolutely.

SECRETARY RICE: And we recognize that the situation in this region is one that cannot continue to persist. When people strap suicide bombs onto themselves to blow up innocent people or drive airplanes into buildings, something is wrong. And that's what we together are trying to address.

FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: And, if I may, finding a settlement for the Palestinian problem. That is crucial.

SECRETARY RICE: That's what we're working on. Thank you very much. 2005/T10-10

Released on June 20, 2005

ENDS


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