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Condoleezza Rice Briefing En Route Shannon Ireland


Briefing En Route Shannon, Ireland


Secretary Condoleezza Rice
En Route Shannon, Ireland
February 24, 2006


SECRETARY RICE: Last night's GCC meeting was, of course, the last in a series of consultations with our allies and friends in the region about multiple challenges that the region currently faces. We talked last night, as I talked with others, about the situation in the Palestinian territories as well as about the challenge faced by Iran. We also talked about the situation in Iraq. I think you'll notice that in the GCC statement all of those elements are discussed. People expressed, in particular, their desire that it be known that Arab states are fully committed to a unified Iraq in which all Iraqis can participate and fully condemn the violence against holy places of Shia and Sunni that Iraq has experienced over the last 48 hours.

The discussions on the Palestinian territories affirmed for me the sense of an emerging Arab consensus about the necessity of having an outcome in the Palestinian territories that allows a continuation of the roadmap, a continuation of the agreement to which Palestinians have been committed for more than a decade now and the need for all entities of the Palestinian government to be committed to that. And I think that over the next several weeks as this plays out, you will see that that consensus is very strong. In that sense, the requirements of the Quartet statement are consistent with the, I think, emerging Arab consensus about what needs to be done by Hamas in order to continue along a path of peace and cooperation. At every turn, these states emphasized that it is the Arab consensus that there's no way but a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that the roadmap remains the only way to achieve that peaceful consensus. And I think you'll see in the GCC statement the mention of the roadmap.

On Iran, more discussion of the need for Iran to allow a peaceful resolution and a negotiated settlement to the questions concerning their nuclear program, concern that the Iranians understand that it is important for them to come back inside the international consensus to suspend the activities that they've been engaged in and to negotiate in good faith, and so we had that discussion. We also discussed the activities that Iran has been engaged in in Lebanon, in Iraq and a general sense that it's extremely important that those countries be able to develop peacefully without outside interference. So we had broad ranging discussions.

We all agree that the next several weeks are going to be crucial in the Palestinian territories. The fundamental agreement that humanitarian assistance ought to be continued for the Palestinian people and quite a bit of concern about how to support Abu Mazen in this interim period, in particular. But given that he is the elected president of the Palestinian Authority, how support to him can be solidified so that he can carry out this important transition and discussions about the formation of a government. So that was the basics of the discussion last night and I'll take questions.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, in your discussions with the Gulf states, either in Riyadh or in the UAE, did any of them express concern that the ethnic violence in Iraq might spread across their borders? And did you ask them to do anything to make sure that Sunni or Shia from their own populations don't go and joy the fray, as it were?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I do think that there's a concern that the sectarian tensions that outsiders are stoking in Iraq, that those same outsiders might try and stoke sectarian tensions in other parts of the region. And a very strong commitment not to let that happen both by working across lines in their own countries and also encouraging Iraqis to work across the lines, particularly the UAE and Jordan and Saudi Arabia have been very active in encouraging Sunni participation in the Iraqi Government. I think they will redouble those efforts. The region has really been very active in doing that and I think that everybody believes that the Iraqis are coming close to the formation of a national unity government. And that, in fact, those who don't want to see a national unity government are likely behind the kind of violence that you saw a couple of days ago that was clearly meant to stoke sectarian tensions.

So it was a very -- we did have an extensive discussion of this issue and there was a very strong commitment to supporting the Iraqis in their unity and to calling on all groups, all sects, to be a part of that unity and not to give in to this sectarian -- to these efforts to stoke sectarian tensions.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, the other day two senior administration officials told us that the policy of the United States in regard to funding Abu Mazen was to help him with specific projects but not to give large aid that might somehow filter out to Hamas. Now, we're told that the EU is deciding that they may just turn over their entire aid package to Abu Mazen -- hundreds of millions of dollars. Is that a problem? Did they talk to you about that?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, I think the EU has made no decision. What everyone said in the Quartet statement is they will review their assistance in light of what happens with government formation and that continues to be the position of everyone, including the United States. And we don't know what the outcome of government formation is going to be. But our position is very clear: Hamas is a terrorist organization, so we aren't going to fund anything that could end up in Hamas's hands. We've been very clear that we believe that in this interim period, it is important to fund the Palestinian Authority, to fund Abu Mazen and his activities. We have been actively supporting Jim Wolfensohn in his efforts to raise funding for the interim government in this period of time. And we've been very clear that we intend to continue our humanitarian assistance in any case. But it is my understanding that the EU will need to take a look in light of what happens in the formation of the interim government on what they fund and through what mechanisms they fund because Hamas is also listed as a terrorist organization for the EU.

I think what you're seeing, Joel, is that people are doing precisely what that Quartet statement says. They are waiting to see what Abu Mazen is going to be able to get Hamas to do when he presents -- when Hamas presents a government and Abu Mazen presents his program to Hamas, what will be the attitude of Hamas. And I think everybody hopes that they make the right choice.

QUESTION: Ambassador Khalilzad has been very involved in helping the formation of the Iraqi Government. But in the last day or so, some Shiite leaders have accused him of creating some of this violence by encouraging the Sunnis to revolt. And I'm just wondering if you have any response to that.

SECRETARY RICE: Ambassador Khalilzad has done nothing but try to help Iraqis come together. The obvious problem after the elections in January was that you essentially had an absence of a Sunni voice. And to the degree that one of the elements of the insurgency was a reluctance of certain parts of the Sunni population to become part of the political process, Ambassador Khalilzad and a lot of others, including the British Ambassador and including states in the region, have been working very hard to get Sunni participation. I think that has been achieved. That has never come at the expense of, or never come in the absence of full engagement with the Shia population as well.

You'll never get a chance to see Ambassador Khalilzad's diary, his schedule. But I would be very surprised if you didn't see on every day meetings across every element of Iraq, every potential sect, every sectarian group because the goal of the United States is to have a unified Iraq where everybody is involved and included. The people who are trying to stoke civil war in Iraq and that is, by the way, their stated aim. That's Zarqawi's stated aim, is that he wants to provoke civil war. Iraqis don't want it. Responsible leaders in Iraq don't want it.

The United States wants the Iraqis to come together and that's the goal that everybody is working towards. But I want to repeat, and this was an assessment that was, I think, shared by a lot of countries in the region, too, as the movement toward a national unity government has picked up steam over the last few weeks and as they've been trying to form a government that's going to be broadly representative, it is clear that there are people who missed their chance to destroy the basis for a political compromise because they couldn't stop the elections. They couldn't stop the constitution, so they're going to try again. And I think it's not surprising that people who don't want the political process to go forward are going to try to find some way in the 11th hour to set Iraqis against themselves. And it's -- everything that Zal Khalilzad has been doing, everything that the United States has been doing, everything that others in the country have been doing -- the UN, the British, others is to try to help Iraqis to come to a political center itself.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, before your departure, you wanted Arabs to speak out against Iran, but we didn't hear a lot of statements very aggressive against Iran during this trip, yes, against Iran. Do you want -- you wanted -- yes, you wanted them to be more vocal against Iran.

SECRETARY RICE: I think what I said was that I wanted people to support the international consensus that Iran has to live up to its international obligations, be in compliance with the NPT and find a negotiated solution, returning to the negotiations that Iran walked out on. That international consensus is pretty clear.

One of the countries, for instance, that had a chance to speak in that regard, was Egypt. Egypt spoke volumes by voting in the IAEA to refer the Iranian case to the Security Council. So I don't think anybody has been lacking in telling the Iranians that they have only one course, and that is to agree to a civil nuclear program that would allow Iran to have civil nuclear power, but would mitigate the proliferation risks that people are concerned about.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, but even there is a GCC statement -- the common GCC statement with you. It doesn't mention Iran.

SECRETARY RICE: We have an international consensus on Iran. That consensus is that the Iranians have got to get back into negotiations. There is a report before the Security Council on Iran. It's very clear where the international consensus is. The discussions that we had about Iran were for everyone to use whatever leverage they have, political, diplomatic contacts that they have with the Iranians to convince the Iranians to do precisely this. For instance, the Foreign Minister of Oman had just been in Iran. And he reported that he said to the Iranians, you know, you need to find a way to get back to the international consensus on this. So I found the support of the international consensus on Iran thorough and complete and very strong.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, can I follow-up on that? During the -- before you started out on your trip on the plane and while -- you said you wanted to get states to further Iran's isolation, unless they do the things that you said that they should do -- negotiations and things like that. So do you sense a willingness on the part of Arab states to use those levers, isolate Iran, if they don't do that, because when we saw the GCC it seemed as if they didn't want to come out very strongly against Iran, which indicates they may not want to use that pressure?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, let's see what happens in the Security Council. This is one step at a time. The international consensus has put the Iranian case into the Security Council. The Iranians now have an opportunity to react to that in a positive way. I think people are going to wait and see whether Iran reacts in a positive way. If Iran does not react in a positive way, then it will be in the Security Council and there will obviously have to be some action by the Security Council to try and again convince Iran that it has to respond.

So, I think every -- it's very clear where the entire international community stands on the Iranian case. When I said that I wanted them to -- people to be prepared to increase Iran's isolation, that is if Iran does not respond. And if you remember in London, we gave the -- by delaying until March 6th any Security Council action, we've given the Iranians an opportunity to respond. And I wouldn't expect any further statement or "pressure" until we know what Iran has done.

But I do know that lots of states are visiting Iran, talking to the Iranians. I believe Russians and Chinese have recently been in Iran, may even still be there, I think. There are a number of countries that are pressing the case with Iran that it Iran that needs to respond, not the international community.

QUESTION: Did you sense the same concern that you've been sharing about Iran becoming a destabilizing force in the region when you take their nuclear ambitions into account along with the support for terrorist groups, things like that?

SECRETARY RICE: There is broad concern about Iran and Iranian activities and these are countries that have relations with Iran and I believe are trying to get the Iranians to take a more constructive course.

QUESTION: Back on Iraq for a minute. You said yesterday that it doesn't do the Iranians any favors -- excuse me, the Iraqis any favors to talk about the threat of civil war. But are you watching what's happened over the last few days, concerned that the effort to divide really could work?

SECRETARY RICE: Iraqis have demonstrated time and again that they have a political -- let me call it political maturity that allows them to overcome, time after time after time, efforts of outsiders and violent people to separate them and to pit them against one another. This is an extremely hard and extremely delicate moment, obviously, for the Iraqis because there's been a strike against Iraqi unity; I'm quite certain, by those who do not want to see a political resolution. And it has obviously heightened sensibilities and it's heightened -- you know, people's -- actually, nerves are a bit on edge when you have this kind of strike against Iraqi unity.

But what I see is leaders struggling to overcome that, to talk to one another. Yes, there will be undoubtedly some period of time in which it is hard to have a completely unified response to what has happened, because it's very terrible what's happened to these communities. But I have a lot of confidence in Iraqis who have demonstrated time and again that they are capable of overcoming these efforts by outsiders to divide them and I fully believe they're going to do it again.

QUESTION: A quick follow-up. Do you have an opinion about exactly who carried out the original violence in Samarra?

SECRETARY RICE: I don't think we know, but I think one thing it's obvious, it's some force, some party that wants to destroy the basis for a national unity government and -- you know, I'm not going to speculate, but it's rarely been Iraqis who talked about civil war. It's usually been outside foreigners, outside foreign forces that have talked about civil war like the al-Qaida forces that are operating there. But I don't think we know enough about what happened or who did it to point blame.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) I just wanted to follow up on my compliment to you yesterday when I talked about you visiting Lebanon. Did you get any -- I was struck by the fact that we flew over Iraq and that we came near Iraq. Did you give any consideration to going to perhaps shore up the negotiations on the government even before the violence erupted?

SECRETARY RICE: I'm definitely going to go back to Iraq fairly soon. I just frankly think when they're in the midst of trying to form a national unity government, it probably isn't the best time for a high-profile American visitor. But it just didn't seem like the right time.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on the previous questions, foreign fighters certainly want to start a civil war, but have there been claims that suggest that this is what caused the bombing? What you're saying is just very confusing. Yes, there are foreign fighters that are agitating, but there are internal insurgents too who are indigenous.

SECRETARY RICE: Elaine, I said I don't know enough to know who caused these particular bombings, but they'll know that in good time. What I said was it's clearly somebody who does not want a national unity government to form. Yes, there are also Iraqis who do not want a national unity government to form, so don't misunderstand. I didn't say that foreign fighters caused this. I said that there are a couple of different groups that don't want a national unity government to form and it appears to me that this is aimed at the efforts of the Iraqis to come to a national unity government. I don't have any information about who might have done it.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SECRETARY RICE: I talked to the Ambassador three times yesterday and he is -- I'm going to talk to him just after we've had a chance to talk here.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, how much more difficult is it, do you think, for Iraqis to form the national unity government now that the sectarian violence has exploded?

SECRETARY RICE: Could you hear him?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SECRETARY RICE: Pardon me?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SECRETARY RICE: Well, let's give this a little time, all right? Again, this is a very difficult and complicated time for the Iraqis and every time there is a patch of turbulence, someone writes, "It's all over, they've had it, they'll never get this done," and the Iraqis -- pretty close, pretty close -- and what happens is the Iraqis go through a period in which they come back together and they get back on the course of -- that they're all trying to stay on, which is to form a national unity government.

I think we need to give this a little time, but all of the evidence is that they believe the only way -- the only real salvation for their country is a national unity government. Yes, this makes it harder today and perhaps tomorrow, but I'm confident that the Iraqis are devoted to -- dedicated to the formation of a national unity government and I think they will get back to that process very shortly. But this has been -- it's been -- you know, difficult and it's obviously it's a blow to go through this kind of violence.

But they've always demonstrated that they -- that whenever someone tries to tear them apart, they find a way to come back together and I think it's going to happen again this time.

Thank you. 2006/T3-7

Released on February 24, 2006

ENDS


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