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Quartet Press Conference

deQuartet Press Conference

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
New York City
May 9, 2006

Press Conference with United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan; His Excellency Javier Solana, Secretary General of the Council of the European Union and High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy; European Union External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner; Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov; and Austrian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ursula Plassnik.

MODERATOR: Good afternoon. Welcome to this press conference. The Secretary General will read out a statement on behalf of the Quartet and then we will open up the floor for questions.

SECRETARY GENERAL ANNAN: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. As you know, we have just concluded a day-long series of meetings. The Quartet would like to thank the Foreign Ministers of Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia for traveling so far to join us today. Their perspectives enriched our decisions. We have also written to our former envoy, James Wolfensohn, to express our deep appreciation for his outstanding services. We have just issued a statement, but let me give you some of the highlights.

The Quartet underscored its continued commitment to a two-state solution, as embodies in the roadmap, as well as a need for both parties to avoid actions which could prejudice final status issues. We reiterated our grave concern that the Palestinian Authority government has so far failed to commit itself to the principles of nonviolence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the roadmap. The Quartet's donor members -- actually, we all did -- the Quartet expressed their willingness to work towards the restoration of international assistance to the Palestinian Authority once it has committed to these principles.

The Quartet condemned the Palestinian Authority's failure to take action against terrorism and its justification of the April 17th suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, which President Abbas rightly condemned. The Quartet expressed concern over Israeli military operations that result in the loss of life, loss of innocent life, and asked Israel to bear in mind the potential consequences of its actions. We also expressed concern about settlement expansion and the route of the barrier. The Quartet expressed serious concern about deteriorating conditions in the West Bank and Gaza and about the delivery of humanitarian assistance, economic life, social cohesion, and Palestinian institutions.

We call on the international community to respond urgently to assistance requests by international organizations, especially UN agencies, and urges both parties to take concrete steps to implement their obligations under the Agreement on Movement and Access.

We also express our willingness to endorse a temporary international mechanism limited in duration and scope and fully accountable that ensures direct delivery of any assistance to the Palestinian people. The Quartet also welcomed the EU's offer to develop and propose such a mechanism and invites donors and international organizations to consider participating. The Quartet urges Israel, in parallel, to take steps to improve the humanitarian situation of the Palestinian people.

The Quartet also welcomed Prime Minister Olmert's call for negotiations with a Palestinian partner committed to the roadmap as well as President Abbas' continued commitment to a platform of peace. The Quartet is encouraged by these statements and intent.

Finally, we reiterated our previous statements and a commitment to relevant Security Council resolutions. We will now take your questions. Thank you very much.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much. If we could try to limit yourselves to one question, since we don't have too much time.

QUESTION: (Off Mike) Correspondents Association. I welcome you. My first question is to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Madame Secretary, it is stated in the statement that there is a temporary mechanism which has been developed to ease the aid to the Palestinians and how soon will it begin, because it says as soon as possible, but not -- as soon as possible is the word, but how soon will it begin? And the other thing is there is -- Israel is holding all kinds of duties and all kinds of other things collections that it makes on behalf of Palestinian people. When will it be able to release those monies back to the Palestinian people?

And for Foreign Minister Mr. Lavrov, would you like --

MODERATOR: (Off-Mike.)


SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. First of all, the European Union will take the lead in developing and proposing such a mechanism. We do believe that a well designed, temporary and clearly defined in scope and duration mechanism. I think the full statement refers to reviewing the need for such a mechanism after a period of three months.

But let me just say that the thrust of the statement is that the international community is still trying to respond to the needs of the Palestinian people. We have -- the United States is today making available $10 million in "in-kind" assistance to meet the emergency needs on the medical side and the international community is trying to respond. We call on Israel to respond. But ultimately, the resolution to this is a Palestinian government that accepts its responsibilities for governing; that accepts the Quartet's requirements and the norms that would help us get to a two-state solution and back on to the roadmap. But since the EU is, in fact, going to take the lead, perhaps I could ask Benita to talk about the timing.

COMMISSIONER FERRERO-WALDNER: Thank you very much. Yes, indeed, what we propose is to have a meeting of experts as soon as possible in Brussels in order to really draw up the parameters. And thus, of course, try to get this together as speedily as possible. But of course, since it is not an easy mechanism, it's not a matter of days. But I do hope it's a matter of weeks. Thank you, sir.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Evelyn Leapold, Reuters.

QUESTION: Hi. Evelyn Leapold from Reuters. Can we be more specific about this mechanism? Is this the proposal from the EU that was supposed to go through the World Bank and is this to pay Hamas salaries, or salaries of those people in the government that Hamas controls? And how limited -- how long would this survive? I mean, have you -- you talk about a limited -- do we know how limited that is? And while I have the mike, should Israel and Abbas have direct talks, Secretary of State Rice?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, again I -- the European Union is going to take the lead in it. In fact, we looked at several proposals. We have said that after three months this will be evaluated and so the goal is not here to transfer responsibility for meeting the needs of the Palestinian people from its government to the international community. It is to provide assistance to the Palestinian people so that they do not suffer deprivation and do not suffer humanitarian crisis; that's the goal here. That is why it is of limited duration and of limited scope.

And as to talks between the Prime Minister and President Abbas, they have both noted that there have been talks before that have been useful and, obviously, we always want people to talk but I think it's going to be up to the governments as to whether or not and when those might take place. But they have been partners before and I suspect that won't stop.

MODERATOR: (Off-Mike) Al-Hayat. Sorry.

COMMISSIONER FERRERO-WALDNER: Let me say that, well, we will invite the World Bank, United Nations and other international donors in order to see that really a big group of people can come in. On the question of what will be there, of course, it is particularly for the basic human needs, thinking of health, of education, for instance. But of course, now we have to set it up, so I cannot give you any details at this stage, but I can tell you it's about on the one hand of a fiscal clear transparency and control and on the other hand of a distribution directly to the Palestinian people without going through the Palestinian government.

QUESTION: Your statement to the Quartet welcomes the Prime Minister of Israel's readiness to talk, but they say that he needs a partner. President Mahmoud Abbas wrote to all of you today or yesterday saying: I am the partner, according to the laws of Oslo. And there is no such recognition of his readiness to be the partner or to encourage an acceptance of him by Mr. Olmert to be the partner. Why is that, Secretary Rice? Why is it that you are not endorsing Mahmoud Abbas as a partner in these negotiations? And Mr. Lavrov, do you still think there is a way to engage Hamas, one way or another? What are you proposing? I hear that you said that there's still ways to engage Hamas. If that's true, what do you mean?

SECRETARY RICE: We have the deepest respect for Mahmoud Abbas and I think you can see it throughout this statement. We respect him for what he has tried to do for the Palestinian people, for his personal integrity and for the fact that he has condemned terrorism and tried to lead the Palestinian people along the roadmap. So I think the Quartet has the deepest respect for him.

We have a new situation on the ground. There have been elections in both the Palestinian territories and in Israel. The circumstances politically in the Palestinian territories are complicated. What we are committed to is that we would like to see the political conditions evolve in a way that would permit a return to the roadmap and, indeed, that would permit parties to reengage each other on how to get to a two state solution. But I think it is early to start to prescribe precisely how that is going to go forward. What we are doing is welcoming the intent of Prime Minister Olmert to seek a negotiated solution and welcoming the intent of President Mahmoud Abbas to remain committed to the two state solution and I think we'll have to see how the political situation evolves.

FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV (through interpreter): As regard to the second question, and of course we feel it's essential to continue to work with the government of Hamas. The same view is also supported by the countries in the region and that was clearly confirmed today during our meetings of the Quartet with the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. We note that Hamas has still not implemented those conditions which were formulated by the Quartet and supported by the international community and our position remains unchanged. Hamas must make progress in this area.

The first, although insufficient, sign that the signal has been heard from Hamas is to be seen in the expressed readiness of Hamas to meet under the Arab peace initiative if Israel recognizes that initiative. And also we note Hamas' intention -- or rather that it's not against President Abbas meeting with Prime Minister Olmert. And we have expressed our support for President Abbas, taking into account all his authority -- he does have the right to resolve the questions relating to negotiations with Israel as regards to Hamas. We feel that only through joint efforts and through a joint involvement of Hamas can we achieve results. Isolation will not help (inaudible) reach the goal we all wish to reach. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Fox news.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, my question is on Iran. Given the discussions that were held between political directors earlier, what kinds of incentives would Iran be offered if they did agree to suspend uranium enrichment? In the letter that they wrote yesterday, the U.S. largely dismissed it as purely philosophical, when actually they do refer to scientific and technical progress which surely is referring to their nuclear program.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I would just point you to what has been on the table with the Iranians for some time. There is a European proposal. There is a Russian proposal. I think that the political directors were to look at the ways in which the Iranian government could be, once again, apprised of ways that they could pursue a civil nuclear program that would be within the context of the international consensus that Iran should not have the fuel cycle.

Now, Iran can have a civil nuclear program. No one is disputing that. They can have scientific progress. No one is disputing that. But because of the history here, the fuel cycle, enrichment and reprocessing on Iranian territory is a problem and that is what the international community has asked them to suspend and to come back to negotiations. But I want to be very clear, any discussion of the Iranian -- what Iran might be able to do on the civil nuclear side, now takes place also in the context of Iran's having repeatedly refused to live up to the obligations that the international community has placed on it and it takes place in the context of a discussion that is going on in the Security Council about a resolution that will make very clear to Iran that it has to, indeed, live up to those obligations. It has to accept the Board of Governors resolution.

So this is not Iran gets incentives; this is a question of showing Iran that there is a course that they could adopt that would get them to a civil nuclear program that the international community would support. But also saying to Iran there is also a price to be paid for continuing to defy the international community. This all takes place in the context of the discussion of a resolution, which we fully expect to take to the Security Council that compels Iran to live up to its obligations.

QUESTION: Sorry. The so-called (inaudible) then would all be proposals that are already on the table; that we've already heard about.

SECRETARY RICE: I did not say that. What I said is that the political directors are examining how to show Iran that there is a path that could lead them to a civil nuclear program that would be acceptable to the international community. We are also, however, very clear that there is a path -- that if Iran continues down it -- is going to lead them to isolation. And that is why we are continuing to discuss and, indeed, intend to propose and pass a resolution that makes very clear to Iran that living up to their obligations, the obligations set out by the Board of Governors is obligatory.

MODERATOR: (Inaudible) Austrian News.

QUESTION: A question for the Foreign Minister of Austria. Can you tell us more specifically Israel and the Palestinian Authority will have to do so the principles of the roadmap can be implemented. Can you be very specific? Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER PLASSNIK: Well, we have been specific. We have been consistent and we have been clear with our message -- (audio break) -- of the Quartet principles. And we are not changing our course. There has to be renunciation of violence. There has to be a recognition of Israel to exist and there has to be the acceptance of the agreement that (audio break) -- has been expressed. We have been taking a very close look to see whether there were detectible -- there was detectible progress on moving (audio break) -- direction and so far the result has not been encouraging. So I think the signal we have been giving -- (audio break) -- international community is also very clear.

And here I thank the Secretary General for inviting the partners from the region also. We do care for the Palestinians. We do care for the Palestinian population and their needs and we are ready to take concrete practical steps. The European Union is proposing (audio break) -- to setup an international mechanism to be able to channel assistance (audio break) -- with that respect. And we are going to work on that very rapidly (inaudible) going to work on that with the international partners.

MODERATOR: We will take one more question. (Off-mike) Israel Radio.

QUESTION: Foreign Minister Lavrov earlier said that he expects the statement to include a very strong statement about unilateral motions by either side. Obviously, the Israeli side has said that if the Palestinians do not fulfill those conditions that's set on them, they will take unilateral moves. What is your position on unilateral move by the Israelis?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, I would note that Prime Minister Olmert has said that he would like to have a negotiated solution, and that we totally agree with. Secondly, we have not had a chance to discuss with the Israelis what their thoughts are about what the future might look like. And I'm not going to have that discussion in the press; we're going to have that discussion with the Israelis.

I would just note that the disengagement from Gaza, which was in fact a unilateral decision by Israel, in fact led to the first return of territory to the Palestinians in this entire period of time and that was a very good thing. But I think we would all like to see a negotiated solution. The political circumstances have got to be right and one of the political circumstances that has to change is that the Palestinian government needs to be committed to the principles on the basis on which negotiation with a partner takes place. And that is, at the very least, you have to recognize the right of your partner to exist and to renounce violence against that partner. And so I think we're all working to see if we can get to that situation.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Mr. Secretary General.

SECRETARY GENERAL ANNAN: Yes. If I may add, the Quartet is on record as saying that, in fact, in the context of Gaza (inaudible) such withdrawal ought to be coordinated with the Palestinians. And we are also clear that the final borders will have to be negotiated, regardless of how withdrawal takes place.

SECRETARY RICE: Let me just support that. The President, for instance, has been very clear the final status is something to which parties have to agree.


Released on May 9, 2006


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