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Rice Presser After Middle East Quartet Meeting

Press Availability After Middle East Quartet Meeting

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
United Nations Headquarters
New York City
September 20, 2005

Press Availability with United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan; United Kingdom Foreign Secretary Jack Straw; Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov; European Union High Representative Javier Solana; and European Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner

(12:00 p.m. EDT)

MODERATOR: Good afternoon. We will start off -- the Secretary General will start off the press conference by reading off his statement on behalf of the Middle East Quartet and then we will open it up to questions.

Secretary General, sir, please.

SECRETARY GENERAL ANNAN: Thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, let me apologize for keeping you waiting a bit longer. The meeting lasted longer than we had anticipated.

The Quartet met today to discuss the Israeli withdrawal and the prospects for movement towards peace in the Middle East. The Quartet welcomed the successful conclusion of the withdrawal and the opportunity it brings to renew efforts on the roadmap. The Quartet paid tribute to the political courage of Prime Minister Sharon and expressed its appreciation for the responsible behavior of the Palestinians.

The withdrawal is an important step towards achieving the vision of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and in security. The Quartet applauded the close coordination between the Israeli and Palestinian security services and their cooperation with the U.S. security coordinator General Ward.

While noting that the Palestinian Authority has condemned violence, the Quartet further urges it to maintain law and order and dismantle terrorist capabilities and infrastructure and reaffirms the continued support of comprehensive security sector reform.

The Quartet encouraged the work of Jim Wolfensohn, the Quartet's Special Envoy for Disengagement, to facilitate discussion between the parties to build on the success so far.

The Quartet will continue to lead international efforts to support the sustainable growth of the Palestinian economy and to help strengthen the capacity of the Palestinian Authority to assume its responsibilities through an aggressive pursuit of state building and democratic reform efforts.

The Quartet urges an easing of the system of movement restrictions that prevent Palestinian economic recovery consistent with Israel's security needs.

Beyond disengagement, the Quartet calls for renewed action in parallel with both parties on their obligations under the roadmap. The Quartet urged both sides to return to the cooperative agenda reached at Sharm el-Sheikh. Contacts between the parties should be intensified at all levels.

The Quartet discussed armed groups and the political process. The PA leadership has condemned violence and has sought to encourage Palestinian groups who have engaged in terrorism to abandon this course and engage in democratic process.

We also agreed that ultimately those who want to be part of the political process should not engage in armed group or militia activities, for there is a fundamental contradiction between such activities and the building of a democratic state.

The Quartet reaffirms that any agreement on final status issues must be reached through negotiations and that a new Palestinian state must be truly viable with contiguity in the West Bank and connectivity to Gaza.

The Quartet believes that settlement expansion elsewhere must stop and Israel must remove unauthorized outposts.

The Quartet continues to note with concern the route of the barrier, particularly as it results in the confiscation of Palestinian land and undermines Palestinians' trust in the roadmap.

Finally, the Quartet reiterates its commitment to the principles outlined in previous statements, including those of 4 May 2004, 9 May 2005 as well as June 23, 2005, and reaffirms its commitment to a just, comprehensive and lasting settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict based on Resolutions 242 and 338.

We will now take your questions.

MODERATOR: United Nations Correspondents Association, Vladimir Kikilo, ITAR-TASS. If you could please press the button, the microphone button.

QUESTION: I'd like to thank you all for this briefing and to welcome you on behalf of the United Nations Correspondent Association. And my first question would be in Russian because I am asking it as a reporter for the Russian News Agency TASS and I address it to both U.S. Secretary of State and Russian Foreign Minister.

How do you evaluate the prospects for the proclamation of the Middle East as a zone free of nuclear weapons in view of the Egyptian initiative? And do you not believe that this issue with regard to various governments in the region is an approach which is based on a dual standard?

Thank you.

SECRETARY GENERAL ANNAN: Can you repeat the question? There was a technical problem here with the --

SECRETARY RICE: I didn't get it in either Russian or English. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: How do you evaluate prospects for the proclamation of the Middle East as a nuclear weapons free zone in view of the Egyptian initiative? And don't you think that with regard to this issue as it pertains to various states in the region that what we're doing here is applying a double standard?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the question of weapons of mass destruction or nuclear weapons in the Middle East, I think is a longstanding question, but our perspective is that this is a region where, as the peace process goes forward and as security is assured for all of the participants, that there should be a circumstance in which the security is based on political circumstances in which there are two states living side by side. And we have generally believed that such a Middle East should not need certainly weapons of mass destruction.

But I think the primary question here is to deal with getting to a circumstance in which you have a Middle East in which there is confidence, in which there is security and in which the parties, all of the parties -- not just the Israelis and Palestinians but the Israelis also with their Arab neighbors -- are living in a state of peace. This is really an issue of politics and I think the questions of the actual security arrangements are secondary to that.

FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: I, for my part, would like to add that Russia supports the proposal of declaring the Middle East a nuclear weapons free zone, or free of weapons of mass destruction. This, in fact, is the position of the Security Council of the United Nations because this support, in fact, was to be found in a resolution which took stock of the war in Iraq in 1991, 667, which clearly states that it is in support of the idea of proclaiming the Middle East a zone which is free of nuclear weapons.

I agree with my American colleague, Secretary of State of the United States, that in order to achieve this initiative, of course we have to build up trust in the region and only in that context would be able to make progress in regard to the whole series of issues in the Middle East. And I think that the complexity of the situation in the Middle East is such that we should not over-dramatize the situation if we are to consistently make progress in the direction of a settlement. That way, we will achieve our goal.

I would like to emphasize that a good additional condition for such work is the Arab initiative with regard to relations between the Arabs and Israel. And of course, in this context we could have some practical steps taken in connection with the proposal to establish the area as one free of weapons of mass destruction.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, as you well know, the economic and social situation in Gaza remains dire in spite of the recent Israeli withdrawal. Gaza has no air or sea ports. Its border with Egypt remains closed. In fact, many would argue that Prime Minister Sharon's withdrawal from Gaza is tantamount to giving the Palestinian Authority a powder keg.

How concerned are you that if this situation is allowed to continue it could undermine the authority of the PA and strengthen the hand of Hamas? And what is the United States doing to ensure that Prime Minister Sharon complies with the recent supreme court ruling in Israel with regard to the separation wall, which is creating facts on the ground and further complicating negotiations?

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. First of all, I believe the Quartet's assessment of the Gaza withdrawal is that, in fact, it has been a successful withdrawal, that it demonstrated that the Israelis and the Palestinians can work together in the most detailed circumstances, in the most difficult circumstances. I think there has been excellent security coordination and cooperation that allowed the withdrawal to take place peacefully and effectively.

Our task now is to build on the momentum of that withdrawal to help the Palestinians create in Gaza a model for a Palestinian Authority that can indeed govern. And the international community is very actively involved in that. We talked today about security reform and the Ward mission that has been trying to improve the capabilities of the Palestinian security forces.

We did discuss the need for freedom of movement, not just in Gaza where the Israeli forces are gone, but also in the West Bank, and we are working on that issue.

We talked also about the plans of Special Envoy James Wolfensohn for projects that will improve the economic prospects of the Palestinian people, so-called quick action projects to which all of us have contributed substantial sums of money so that job activity can be created rather quickly in the Gaza.

As to Rafah and the passage between Egypt and the Palestinian territories, it's a somewhat more complicated issue. But Egypt, Israel and the Palestinians have been working toward a solution for Rafah, believe there will be a solution for Rafah. It is extremely important that the Palestinians be able, with the Egyptians, to control that international border so that movement of people and goods is not a security risk for anybody in the region. But they are well underway to trying to come to that conclusion.

As to Israeli activities that might try and prejudge a final status, we've been very clear. President Bush has been very clear that we do not expect Israel to engage in activities that will prejudge a final status because questions about the final border are indeed final status issues. We've been clear that activity in the settlements, for instance at E-1 or with the separation barrier that have an effect on Palestinian livelihood, that the international community expects Israel to live up to its roadmap obligations here, to its obligations not to engage in that activity.

So I think the messages are clear, but this meeting was very focused on how to move ahead, how to take the momentum of what has been a successful disengagement from the Gaza to build the institutions that will form the foundation of a Palestinian state and to make the lives of the Palestinian people better.

QUESTION: You say this meeting was very focused on how to move ahead and that there was some specific discussion of ways to improve the economy in Gaza. But how does that momentum translate beyond Gaza? Was there specific discussion and what's your current view of how fast there could be dismantlement or changes in settlements in the West Bank?

SECRETARY GENERAL ANNAN: We did discuss that and, obviously, we have a series of events on the ground. The Palestinian elections are coming up. There is a political development on the Israeli side. We are not sure whether it leads to elections or not. Obviously, we are monitoring these events very closely and would want to see that settled before one takes any other bold initiatives. But what happens in the West Bank is very much on our mind for, as the Quartet, it's Gaza first and then the next stage would be West Bank. Not Gaza first and Gaza last. And so prospectively we are looking forward. We realize that the Palestinians have to be given hope and a sense of horizon and that is very much our approach to it.

SECRETARY RICE: If I may just add that we did also talk about, for instance, the Sharm el-Sheikh understandings which could improve substantially movement in the West Bank, and that is a program that was laid out when the Prime Minister met with President Abbas. And so we would encourage that those understandings be put into place.

But we also talked about the fact that the security situation simply has to improve, that you cannot have a sense of lawlessness, that the Palestinians have to do a better job on the security front and in beginning to deal with terrorism. We talked about that. But I believe we think that between the roadmap obligations and the Sharm el-Sheikh understandings there is plenty to do to sustain momentum.

QUESTION: First of all, Secretary Rice, we just got the statement, but basically it said in the statement something about militias not candidates for -- armed militias not being candidates for elections. So let me put it another way. Prime Minister Sharon said last week that he will not -- that Israel will not help in -- if Hamas is part of the election. What is your view on that?

And also for the Europeans, what is there -- maybe Foreign Minister Straw. Since the EU said yesterday that it's about to, I think, 215 million Euro was the number to Gaza, what do we do to assure that money that goes into the Palestinian territories will not go into, you know, failed projects that might go to waste?

SECRETARY RICE: Before turning to my European colleague, let me just say that I think the Secretary General has said very well that there is concern that any democratic process must observe that you cannot have kind of an armed option within the democratic process. But we understand that the Palestinian political system is in transition, that it is in transition toward a democratic system, and that that has to be a Palestinian process.

We would hope that the elections can go forward and that everyone will cooperate to make those elections go forward because elections are fundamental to the continued evolution and development of the Palestinian process. That said, again, we have noted that ultimately it is the case that there is a fundamental contradiction between armed activities and the political process, armed activities that are outside the monopoly of the state on violence and the political process. And so that is a matter of principle ultimately.

We understand that this is a transition and I think everybody understands that this is a transitional process.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

SECRETARY RICE: This is going to be a Palestinian process and I think we have to give the Palestinians some room for the evolution of their political process.

I think they asked the question to the Europeans as well.

FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: I'm asked whether money put in by the European Union and other donors might end up as "failed projects" which might go to waste. I say this, that in recent years, not least thanks to the work of Salam Fayyad, the Finance Minister of the Palestinian Authority, there has been higher and higher levels of accountability for the spending which has been financed by external donors, including the European Union. And for the European Union's part, there has been intensive scrutiny too to ensure that the money is spent for the purpose intended.

We are always alive to complaints that it is not being spent in the way intended, but Commissioner Patten and Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner, his successor, are very tough in assuring that the money that is allocated is spent properly.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, Mr. Secretary General, we're talking about movement toward peace in the Middle East. Yesterday, you met to discuss the international conference aid to Lebanon. The main conditions were the issues of political, economical and -- like this? Do you hear me like this? Okay.

The main conditions were the issues of political, economical and institutional reforms, and also the implementation of Resolution 1559 and 1595. Are there hidden requests as the implementation of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and also the signing of an agreement or a peace treaty between Israel and Lebanon?

SECRETARY GENERAL ANNAN: 1559 does call for dismantling of the militia and disarmament of all militia in Lebanon. On the question of relationship between Israel -- I mean between Lebanon and Syria -- sorry --

SECRETARY RICE: Israel and Lebanon.

SECRETARY GENERAL ANNAN: Oh, I said the agreement between --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

SECRETARY GENERAL ANNAN: Can you repeat? Sorry.

QUESTION: The question is the implementation of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and also the signing of a peace treaty between Lebanon and Israel.

SECRETARY GENERAL ANNAN: The dismantling of Palestinian militia in Lebanon does come under 1559, but this is something that the Lebanese authorities will have to handle. And of course, we have discussed this issue with them and they will do it their way in time and organize themselves to do that.

The other aspects of 1559 that we have implemented were discussed here in this house and in this room.

As to the signing of a peace agreement between Lebanon and Israel, that is a matter that the two countries will have to discuss. I'm not sure that on the Lebanese side they are ready to do that as long as they believe the Shebba Farms is still under contention. And I think in time that may happen, but I don't see it on the cards today.

MODERATOR: One last question. Andrea Koppel, CNN.

QUESTION: This question is for Secretary Rice and for Foreign Minister Lavrov. Just one day after North Korea, during six-party talks, agreed to suspend and eventually dismantle its nuclear program, it's coming out and saying that it expects this agreement -- first they expect to get the light-water reactor for a civil nuclear program. Does this mean that the deal is sort of null and void as it stands right now? Do you have to start from scratch?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think we'll just stick with the text of the Beijing agreement to which the North Koreans signed on. And the text of the agreement says that we'll discuss a light-water reactor at an appropriate time. There were several statements afterwards that make clear what that sequence is.

This issue doesn't really arise because let's remember that North Korea is not a member of the NPT, North Korea is not in good standing in the NPT, they have not agreed to IAEA safeguards, and they are running a military program that is clearly outside of the international obligations that they undertook when they were a member of the NPT.

So I think that we will not get hung up on this statement. We will stick to the text of the Beijing statement and I believe that we can make progress if everybody sticks to what was actually agreed to.

FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: I also think that we have to be guided by the text of the agreement. The text was very carefully agreed upon and it was the subject of very difficult compromises, but it clearly sets forth the consistency of the steps which have to be taken so that we might talk about cooperation in the development of nuclear energy in North Korea.

I think that we shouldn't rely on oral statements which, in fact, could be interpreted differently, but we need the text of the agreement itself. The most important thing now is to see to it that this agreement be carried out in practice and this involves a great deal of work ahead and we hope that it will begin soon.

Thank you. 2005/T13-33

Released on September 20, 2005


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