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State: Special Briefing on Annapolis Conference


Office of the Spokesman
Washington, DC
November 20, 2007

Special Briefing

U.S. Department of State Spokesman Sean McCormack and Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch on the Annapolis Conference

MR. MCCORMACK: Good evening. Good evening to -- may I start? I'm pleased to announce that on Tuesday, November 27th, the United States will host Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, President -- Palestinian Authority President Abbas, members of the Arab League Follow-on Committee, permanent members of the UN Security Council, members of the G-8 and other key international actors, for a conference in Annapolis, Maryland to take place at the U.S. Naval Academy. This conference will signal international support for the courageous efforts of Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas and will serve as a launching point for negotiations with an eye towards establishing an Israeli and Palestinian state.

I'm going to turn over the briefing to David Welch in just a minute here, but I wanted to give you an -- yes?

QUESTION: Could you ask people to turn off their cell phones, because it's interfering with the mult? So if anybody -- even if you -- if you have it on vibrate --
MR. MCCORMACK: Is that something we should have done --

QUESTION: Thank you very much.
MR. MCCORMACK: -- before we began briefing? But if everybody would turn off their cell phones, that would be much appreciated.

I'll turn over the briefing in a second to David Welch, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, who has been deeply involved in the preparations and planning for this conference as well as making sure the substance is right.

The Annapolis conference will -- is essentially three days. On Tuesday, that will be the conference that actually takes place at Annapolis. President Bush, Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas will open up the proceedings in the morning, then they go to a lunch hosted by Secretary Rice and a series of plenary sessions in the afternoon and will finish up with a press availability at the end. David can talk a little bit more about the substance of it.

On Monday, the 26th, President Bush will host Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas separately for bilateral meetings. There will be a Quartet meeting hosted by Secretary Rice and Secretary Rice will host a dinner here for the delegations on Monday night. President Bush is expected to deliver some remarks at that dinner.

And then on Wednesday the 28th, President Bush will host, once again, Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas for bilateral meetings at the White House. My colleagues at the White House will probably have a few more details about the President's participation both on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.

QUESTION: The bilateral meeting (inaudible)?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, I'll leave it to David to talk a little bit more about some of the details of the conference and maybe some of the geometry of the different meetings that we expect to take place.

QUESTION: The dinner is here at State on Monday, not at the White House?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, that's correct, yeah. But President Bush will be making remarks.

QUESTION: At the meeting --

MR. MCCORMACK: At the dinner.

QUESTION: Monday?

MR. MCCORMACK: On Monday, yeah. He'll be giving formal remarks, of course. He's going to be having the bilateral meetings at the White House on Monday and then formal remarks opening up the conference on Tuesday out at Annapolis.

QUESTION: And the bilateral meetings on Monday are separate meetings --

MR. MCCORMACK: Correct.

QUESTION: -- with Olmert and Abbas?

MR. MCCORMACK: That's right, yeah. So let me turn it over to David. He can open it up with a few more remarks talking a little bit about the schedule, some of the substance, and then take some of your questions.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: First of all, thank you for your patience. I know you wouldn't have wanted to have been kept waiting this long tomorrow. So we are sending out invitations today for the conference and those are -- there are two tranches of those. The President, of course, signs the ones to his counterparts, Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas. The Secretary of State has just dispatched invitations to her counterparts.

These invitations, which we're not going to make public at this point, reaffirm our commitment to the President's two-state vision, which is -- enjoys broad international endorsement, is a high priority for the Administration. The invitations also recall key Quartet and Security Council involvement in this process, they announce the dates of the conference, call upon the international community to support the efforts of the parties and reiterate that -- the President's call in his speech in July to look for other ways to do that by helping progress on institution-building, capacity-building among the Palestinians, look for other ways to support reform, and bring diplomatic support to the negotiations.

The conference itself, I think, is a signal of opportunity, as Sean mentioned, to launch the bilateral negotiations between the parties. As you know, when that occurs, it will have been -- it will mark a period -- a long period in which there have been no such negotiations. And that will be for the purpose of leading to the establishment of a state and the realization of Israeli-Palestinian peace in accordance with the roadmap. For that, we believe international support is essential. And that's why the President thought of galvanizing this with his invitation in July, which has now been formalized and we will kick off early next week.

As Sean indicated, there's the conference itself which will be at Annapolis, as you know, and there are the conference related events packaged around it. We've been doing a lot of work to set those up, as you might have noticed. And part of this will be comprised of direct bilateral engagement with the parties. I would expect that there will be at least those two bilaterals on Monday with each of them. Then the President will host them for the trilateral which will be a single event at Annapolis, followed by a plenary session there.

The President will -- he has remarks to make here at the State Department at the dinner, as Sean indicated. But the substantive speech that we're looking to for the President to give will be at Annapolis itself. In the morning, there the three leaders will speak. Then there will be a lunch event, where -- it's going to be a working lunch, closed to the press thereafter for the plenary sessions.

The event here at the State Department, we're building the days sort of to lead toward the dinner the Secretary of State will host with all the members of the delegations. The President will come over and deliver remarks there. Before that, we anticipate having a Quartet principals meeting. For those of you who are interested in how we usually do these things, we have very little in this case. We won't have a press availability or event after that because the President will be delivering remarks at the dinner. So we want to keep the focus there. But the Quartet principals will discuss the Annapolis events and other things going forward to support this process. In addition, I would expect that there'll be other meetings through the day and, and knowing my boss's work style, probably over the long weekend as well.

At the conference itself, as I said, there'll be the leaders' speeches in the morning with the President's substantive address to open it. Then we'll break the proceedings and move to a closed plenary session which will begin with a working lunch. I would imagine, but we haven't set it yet that the speaking order will be roughly in an order of precedence thereafter. So I think the Secretary General of the United Nations, who's the next ranking guest, would be after the Secretary of State the first to speak then.

We have an agenda sketched out where we hear from some of the key leaders, and the plenary sessions will be divided roughly speaking into three parts: Demonstrating International Support for the Bilateral Process; Looking at Economic Development, Institutional Reform and Capacity Building; and finally, a session that will address Comprehensive Peace.

Our boss, my boss will be the sort of organizer of the ceremonies, if you will, the emcee and she will afford to all the delegations present, within reason, some opportunity to speak.

I don't know exactly when we expect the conference to wrap up, so if you're looking ahead and planning, we're looking at 90-minute tranches for each of these agenda sessions, so it could be quite a long afternoon. I apologize in advance for that. There's a great deal of interest and probably a lot of people who will want to say things.

Following the conference on the next day, the 28th, Wednesday, the White House may well want to host some additional bilateral meetings. Again, the President has got a very high priority on this set of events and I'll leave it to the White House to announce how he intends to orchestrate that. But that opportunity is there.

I know you're curious about who's going to attend. I believe by now you have seen the list of invitees. Those invitations are going formally tonight. Of course, it's been somewhat of an ill-kept secret as to what the dates are for this and who, as we've indicated in the past, some of the natural participants are, to use Secretary Rice's words. So I think some of the invitees already knew that this was coming.

But generally, the list is broken down to include the parties themselves, the foreign ministers and the Secretary General from the Quartet; there's the Arab League Follow-up Committee, which consists of 12 member-states and the Arab League Secretary General, they will be invited individually; the five permanent members of the Security Council, and Russia, of course, and the United States are already in the Quartet but in addition to them the other three; and the G-8 countries.

We've also invited other key members of the international community who, in our estimation, have played a leadership role in helping to bring peace and are making current energetic contributions.

You may ask, I'm sure, about the status of responses to these invitations. It's too early yet for me to give you a reading on that. The Arab deliberations in particular will formally begin on Thursday. I think you'll see Arab diplomacy kick into higher gear now in the several days. They have an Arab League meeting planned for Thursday evening and Friday morning. And I think we will hear from them about their own attendance.

We are hopeful and expectant that Arab countries will participate because, as we've indicated to you before, this is a serious effort, it's devoted to a serious purpose; that is, the launch of negotiations toward a two-state solution, and that has long been a request from the Arab countries and now they will see it being met. And it's, in our judgment, a perfect time for them to play a role in exercising their responsibility to lead toward comprehensive peace in the Middle East, too.

I think you have the list of the Arab participants in the Follow-up Committee there in front of you. I'll pause there and ask if you have any questions. I know you've been waiting and I don't know how many of these I'm going to be able to answer at this point, and but I'll do my best for where we are right now.

Helene.

QUESTION: You said that the -- Secretary Rice has sent invitations to her counterparts. Does that mean she specifically sent an invitation to Prince Saud?

AMBASSADOR WELCH: She has sent invitations to the foreign ministers of all the countries on the Arab Follow-up Committee list, including Saudi Arabia, yes.

QUESTION: Did you have any indication ahead of time, any pledge from the Saudis, that they would be willing to attend? And separately, I didn't hear you mention anything about the joint statement, document, whatever it is. Where does that come into play and is it done?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: To be honest, because we've not formally invited anyone, we don't have an answer from anyone yet. I think we have reason to expect that some will be there and I believe some are already booking their hotel rooms. But each has a decision process to go through and they'll make it according to their judgment about the event and its purpose and its seriousness.

We believe that we've communicated with great transparency and with considerable fullness a good answer on most of the concerns raised by all the potential participants about the purpose and seriousness of this event. And so we're hopeful and expectant, as I said about their answers, but we don't have any yet. They have to go through their decision process.

On the issue of -- that the parties are working for some form of a joint document or statement that might, for them, represent a depiction of the way forward, they're still working on that and I'm -- we are involved in trying to help them in that process. That said, it's going where it will and we'll see what they come up with, but it's not finished yet.

Yes.

QUESTION: Ambassador, everybody talks about lowering the expectation and being realistic. In your opinion, what is the minimum expectation or achievement coming out of this meeting or conference that you would call a success?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, let me answer that in two ways. First, let's consider the moment here. If, as I say, this is the launching pad for serious efforts between the two to negotiate the establishment of a Palestinian state, part of the realization of a comprehensive peace in the area, that is a signal moment, that is a total change in the picture that we have seen for quite some time. It's not been easy to get to that moment. There's a lot of serious political decisions on both their sides to -- that have been made to enable us to get to this point, but this transforms the situation and offers now the -- I think the real possibility that they can get seriously at work between the two of them on the day after to try and achieve those goals.

That is hugely serious and very important to our national interests in the region, to fulfilling their own aspirations: security for Israel on the one side, statehood for the Palestinians on the other side. And you know, I think that's, just as I said, a complete change.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) When you talked about -- they're working on the joint statement right now, but if you talk to both sides, they're talking about huge obstacles. And I don't know if they can reach common ground between now --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, it's been my experience that, you know, on the one hand, America is always called upon to judge, are we optimistic or pessimistic or realistic. And on the other hand, those who are directly involved feel great intensity and -- about what they're doing. I think I've always said to all of you that, you know, we'll be measured and objective, but serious in how we approach this. It's not my job to set the expectations high or low. It's my job to try and get it done and move it forward. We think we're doing that here. We think this is a -- a really important moment.

I don't diminish the difficulties that each side has had in trying to work out, as they try to put a way forward that they might have in common on this. There is substantial understanding on certain points about what to do. In particular, there is a common understanding that this is the moment in which they can change the picture and get a serious negotiation started. And that is hugely important to each of them and I believe now they are going to signal to the international community their desire for support in that regard.

I point out that Prime Minister Olmert visited Egypt just today and -- in order to begin to generate that support with those countries in the region with which he does have relations.

Jane.

QUESTION: Will you be satisfied if the Saudis send their ambassador and not Saud al-Faysal? And please don't say that they have to make the difficult decisions because you already said that. And secondly, what do you make of Walid Muallem's visit to Tehran today on the eve of the conference?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: On the second, I mean, I don't generally follow the Syrian Foreign Minister's itinerary and he's there, you know, he'll do whatever he's going to do. With respect to the invitations that have gone out, I think we're going to give the respect that's necessary for people to make their own decisions. I didn't say it was a difficult decision. I said that I thought that we had answered most of the questions that people had and gave to us about the purpose and the seriousness of what we have going here. I believe those answers are good and credible and I'm hopeful and expectant about a positive response.

QUESTION: For a follow-up. What is the significance --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: But they will make their decision and I want to give them the opportunity to do that.

QUESTION: What is the significance of, with all due respect to Slovenia and Greece, of Saud al-Faysal being there with Olmert, in your view?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, I don't want to parch the list for you, but in each case, we think these are countries that either have contributed or can contribute or have some institutional role in the future that might be useful. So you know, again, you just have to take a look at the list in that regard.

What was the question about? A follow-up on the Saudis? Sorry.

QUESTION: Well, I was just sort of trying to, you know, like what -- is it -- are you hoping that by having the -- everybody knows the Saudis and the Syrians are the main people we want to get here. What does -- how does that translate for Olmert? Does that -- do you think it then gives him the power to make difficult decisions? Like, why is it so important to bring those specific countries?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, I think that's a question best addressed to the Israeli Government, not to me. But we've said all along that it's important to provide a regional and international framework that would support steps toward peace. And I mean, I think that was -- what the President was trying to signal with this idea of holding an international meeting, we announced it in July. We feel we have a critical mass now here to move forward. But what is the central element of that critical mass? It is the desire of the two parties to move this to a new stage, beyond talking about a political horizon, beyond having a conversation to now having a negotiation.

QUESTION: And the Syrians want the Golan Heights to be on the table. Will it be on the table?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: You know, I have sketched out our agenda here. We think it represents an opportunity for all those who would like to make meaningful steps toward peace to come and represent their views. You know, we're the United States, we're affording a platform here for responsible opinion and they're entitled to express their views and their national interests as they see them. We won't turn off the microphone.

Charlie.

QUESTION: David, can you go into a little bit of detail about contacts that either you and/or the Secretary have made to foreign leaders in the last couple of days to get this finished and to where we are now?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: I tried to shed some light on that and concluded that probably close to midnight last night and began it again at four this morning. And that's pretty much been the work schedule for the last three weeks or so. This requires a lot of face-to-face diplomacy. We did that with successive trips by the Secretary to the region, with using other international events to gather some of the same people together, whether that's in New York or Istanbul, by a lot of telephone contact. Secretary Rice has -- I honestly could not catalog for you the number of phone calls she has made in the last two weekends. And you can take a look at the list and you can assume with great surety that we have been down that list with not one but several calls to every single government represented there.

QUESTION: What is --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: I'm sorry. I didn't --

QUESTION: I just wanted to see if you might be able to elaborate on President Bush's phone calls with King Abdallah and with the Russian President today. Was that something that Secretary Rice encouraged him to do to gin up more support?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, the President has set his own agenda for what he wanted to do in terms of reaching out and I wouldn't lead you to conclude that he hasn't made calls before this. These are the ones the White House announced today. There may be others as well.

QUESTION: Well, did he get any assurances from King Abdallah that --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: We're doing our work -- trying to communicate. We've got a -- the President is following up on an idea he had in July. We've constructed here a platform that will offer the opportunity for the parties to go to negotiations. It is serious and purposeful and it is intended to have a day after. And I -- we're doing everything we can to communicate that, so everybody will understand it.

QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit about that day after? What does that look like?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: I think there were others. I'll come back to you. Way back.

QUESTION: You said there would be a session about comprehensive peace. How do you expect this session to work?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, we'll see how we design the participation in what has now turned into potentially quite a large gathering, because everybody may want a chance to speak. And the specifics of the agenda we'll elaborate on later. But there will be those opportunities, broadly speaking, as I've called them out for you.

I think there's sort of a natural speaking order when you look at the responsibilities of some of those that are coming, for example, who are representing key regional organizations and the Quartet, you know, the P-5 members. So I can't tell you in advance who will want to speak on certain issues. As I said, I think part of the responsibility of the host country is to do this in a respectful way and allow people to speak if they wish to speak, as long as they stay serious and on the intended subject.

QUESTION: Does this mean that the representative from Lebanon and Syria will be -- have a chance to give speeches in this session?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: You know, they've been invited. And if they come, as I said, we will not turn off the microphone for anyone.

I'll come back to you.

QUESTION: David, I have just two quick ones. I know that you haven't received responses yet, but would you say that you expect all these countries and organizations on the list to be represented at some level, if not foreign ministers, at least at some level?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: I can't say. You know, honestly, I don't want to go into that right now because I do believe for some of them, this is a question that they would like to deliberate on and talk to each other about, and we want to give them that opportunity (inaudible) some respect for their decision-making.

QUESTION: And also the Secretary has been sort of avoiding the term "final status issues," which both the Palestinians and the other Arabs have been really wanting to discuss at this conference. Do you expect such issues to be discussed?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Look, I can't foresee in that kind of detail what people will raise at the conference. So the purpose of this conference is to give a launching pad to the bilateral negotiations, to address issues surrounding that and to afford others an opportunity to speak. You know, I don't know exactly what they will say. I haven't had the chance to discuss that with even the parties yet. I imagine they will treat all the issues that are involved between them and the ones leading up to the establishment of a Palestinian state. That's -- you'll have to ask them or wait to hear their speeches.

MR. MCCORMACK: All right. Let's just do another question.

QUESTION: Can you tell us a little bit more about the dinner on Monday night? Who's going to attend? Only Olmert and Abbas and the President or other participants?

AMBASSADOR WELCH: Well, I don't know who the participants will be yet at Annapolis, so everybody who has been invited to Annapolis will be invited to the dinner.

QUESTION: Okay.

AMBASSADOR WELCH: And if they're coming to the conference, I don't think they'll want to miss the dinner. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Are we coming to the dinner?

MR. MCCORMACK: All right --

AMBASSADOR WELCH: I don't know what the press setup is yet.

MR. MCCORMACK: There will be coverage. Okay, let's do Farah and then Anne, and then wrap this up.

QUESTION: You talked about having three tranches. Does everybody participate in all of them or are they working group type events?

AMBASSADOR WELCH: Good question --

QUESTION: If they are working groups --

AMBASSADOR WELCH: Good question. I think you have to allow us a little flexibility right now on that because when we started looking at what might be sort of logical subjects to address in this kind of a forum, we had the idea in mind that we'd do a working lunch in order to take advantage of that time as well, and then have these -- broadly speaking, these three agenda items.

That said, you know, this is quite a considerable number of delegations that have been invited, and one can anticipate if they all come, that's a prodigious speaking order. (Laughter.) And I think Secretary Rice is going to have a tough job in seeing that.

QUESTION: If there are working groups, which one would you see Syria falling into?

AMBASSADOR WELCH: You know, it's not my call.

QUESTION: They would choose which group to participate in?

AMBASSADOR WELCH: You know, they will be treated like each and every other participant. If they wish to speak, they get a chance to speak. I mean, this is the natural protocol of an event of this sort. It's not a political thing.

Sylvie, one?

QUESTION: What is the name exactly of the conference? What's the --

AMBASSADOR WELCH: Annapolis conference.

QUESTION: For Middle East? For --

AMBASSADOR WELCH: Annapolis conference.

QUESTION: That's all?

AMBASSADOR WELCH: And I love Annapolis. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: It's one --

QUESTION: So it's not a meeting anymore? It's --

AMBASSADOR WELCH: It's (inaudible) with the American.

QUESTION: A quick follow on the -- can you just conclusively say that the final status issues will be addressed in some form during the Annapolis --

AMBASSADOR WELCH: I answered that question earlier the way I wanted to answer it.

QUESTION: That doesn't say whether that's -- but that's not a conclusive answer.

AMBASSADOR WELCH: Then I answered it perfectly. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Does the United States -- how about this? Does the United States want to see those issues addressed?

QUESTION: No, it's an important question, David.

AMBASSADOR WELCH: I'm not cutting off anybody's microphone on that.

QUESTION: Okay. And then I wanted to ask you about going forward. You're talking about the day after Annapolis. What --

AMBASSADOR WELCH: Sean, after we cut this off, we're going to let you -- (laughter)

QUESTION: What's the United States --

AMBASSADOR WELCH: Aren't you like the dictator of this room?

QUESTION: -- role the day after? Do these ongoing bilateral negotiations have a U.S. imprimatur of some sort? How do they -- where are they -- what are they --

AMBASSADOR WELCH: Well, I think you can expect the United States to play a continuing role in this process. Absolutely. We have nurtured this for not just during this President's time in office, but this is a feature of every administration going back decades. This is a national interest of the United States and we intend to stick with it.

MR. MCCORMACK: Thanks, guys.

AMBASSADOR WELCH: Thank you all very much. I'm sorry I'll miss you tomorrow afternoon.

QUESTION: Happy Thanksgiving.

AMBASSADOR WELCH: Happy Thanksgiving.

2007/1028

Released on November 20, 2007

ENDS

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