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Condoleezza Rice With PA President Mahmoud Abbas

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
March 4, 2008

Press Availability with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas

PRESIDENT ABBAS: (Via interpreter) We welcome Dr. Rice who (inaudible) at time when our region is undergoing serious developments. And this is something that occurs often, that we have these dangerous developments. We've conducted today very important discussions, but we addressed the current conditions and what we can do to overcome these conditions and how to improve the situation at all levels. What is happening is not our pleasure at all. We are saddened by what is happening. Our conviction was a (inaudible).

(In Arabic)

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much, Mr. President, for having here at the Muqata again. It has been a good discussion. It is indeed a challenging time for the region. It's a challenging time for you and for your people. I fully understand that. It is also, of course, a challenging time for Israel. I will go on now for conversations in Israel with the Prime Minister and with others.

Let me just reiterate what I have said to you, which is that we are very concerned about the recent violence, the violence that has led to many innocent people being caught in the crossfire. And I reiterated to you our concern about innocent victims in Gaza. I reiterated our concern that the humanitarian situation be dealt with and that people be able to receive the needed humanitarian supplies. I also talked about the importance that the rocket attacks need to stop on Israeli citizens, where innocent Israelis are also at risk, and that overall there needs to be an end to the violence and a period in which the peoples of both nations can find a way to resume a more normal life.

I believe and I've heard you say that the strategic choice of a path of negotiation is the only way for lasting peace, security and prosperity for the people of the Palestinian territories, the Palestinian people, and for the Israelis. The establishment of two states living side by side in peace and freedom, Israel and Palestine, will lead to that outcome. And the negotiations on which you and Prime Minister Olmert have embarked are essential to getting to that Palestinian state.

And therefore, we've talked about ways to enable a return to the Annapolis process. The Annapolis process, of course, has three pillars, not just one, and I am working on all of those while I am here. We've talked about the importance of the negotiations, but of course, it was always the belief that those negotiations needed to be supported by improvements on the ground for the Palestinian people. That includes improvements in the West Bank. It includes, of course, the improvement of Palestinian security forces so that they can fully undertake their duties in support of the Palestinian people.

It, of course, also means that we must have movement on the second track, which is the roadmap obligation. And General Frazer is here with me. He has been doing work on those roadmap obligations and we look forward soon to having a process by which we can push forward progress on those very important roadmap obligations.

I understand the difficulties of the current moment, Mr. President, but as I've said to you, as I said earlier to the Egyptians and as I will say to the Israelis a little bit later, we all must keep our eye on what we are trying to achieve. And what we are trying to achieve is indeed not easy; that is, to conclude an agreement that can lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state, to conclude that agreement by the end of this year. I still believe that that can be done. I do know that there has been a good spirit in the negotiations when they have been going on. I've heard that from both sides. And we look forward to the resumption of those negotiations as soon as possible. We do need the atmosphere -- we do need the violence to come down, but we also need very much to have everyone focused on the process of bringing peace. That is the real threat to the extremists who do not want a process of peace, who do not want the establishment of a Palestinian state, and we cannot let them win.

Thank you very much.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Dr. Rice, no, we have not seen tangible results on the ground in view of the continuous assault by Israel. The second part of the question: Were the American efforts in terms of the end of aggression and both West Bank and Gaza Strip has reached?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we've been very active over the last several days in pressing for an end to the violence. We believe very strongly that Hamas, in its activities that began with the illegal coup against established Palestinian institutions in Gaza, has created conditions that have made it very difficult, including conditions that have resulted in the launching of rocket attacks against Israeli citizens in their own cities.

We have said and I have said to the Israelis that the United States, of course, understands the right of Israel to defend itself, but that Israel needs to be very cognizant of the effects of its operations on innocent people, to spare innocent life, and to do everything possible to prevent humanitarian crises in Gaza. And so we've been very active in putting that message out. I am hopeful, as the President has asked and has very much supported and wanted to move forward, that there will be the return of humanitarian convoys into Gaza because we don't want people to suffer. And so those have been some of the messages that the United States has been issuing and we've been in very constant contact with the parties and of course, I stopped in Egypt this morning for precisely that reason.

As to the negotiations, we hear that they are positive. I, frankly, don't expect that the negotiators are going to call a press conference every day to tell us how they're going. I think it's a good thing that they're not doing that and that quiet negotiations are most often the best negotiations. And so I know that there is great will to try and get to a solution by the end of the year and there will be ups and downs in those negotiations. These are difficult issues. They would have been resolved before, had they been easy issues. But I do believe that through engagement and constant engagement on the core issues, that the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, who are quite capable and quite senior figures in their own right, Abu Allah and Tzipi Livni, will be able to bring about an agreement.

MR. MCCORMACK: Sue Pleming, Reuters.

QUESTION: President Abbas, what will it take you - what will it take for you to resume talks with the Israelis? Secretary Rice has said that by halting the talks, you're handing a victory to Hamas and hence, possibly weakening yourself.

Secretary Rice, how does the U.S. plan to ease the plight of people in Gaza? Are you planning on putting any more humanitarian aid yourself into Gaza?

PRESIDENT ABBAS: (Via interpreter.) Aided by Secretary Rice on the three pillars of which mention was made in Annapolis are very significant to us, namely, the situation on the ground, the implementation of the roadmap plan and negotiations. These are the three pillars. They are very significant and important to us in order to before the end of 2008 reach a peace treaty between ourself and Israelis. Without these three pillars, I do not believe that any achievement can be made before. We should hold steadfast, believe in these three pillars and work towards their quick implementation.

SECRETARY RICE: And Sue, you asked me, what, again?

QUESTION: You had said that –

SECRETARY RICE: Oh, aid - aid for the Gaza? Oh, yes. We have been very large donors to humanitarian assistance, a significant portion of which goes to the Gaza, but we are looking to increase our assistance to humanitarian relief organizations working in Gaza and I believe we will be doing that very soon. And let me just say that President Abbas, of course, has mentioned to me several times the considerable resources that the Palestinian Authority puts into both humanitarian and daily life needs of the people of Gaza. After all, this is the president of all Palestinians. And so when we talk about assistance to relief efforts in the Gaza, we are talking about assistance that we believe will also help the Palestinian Authority.

QUESTION: Could I just follow up, please, on the issue of resuming peace talks? Do you plan to resume peace talks with the Israelis and what would that be?

SECRETARY RICE: It's not working, Sue, your mike.

QUESTION: Just to follow up with President Abbas, when do you plan to resume peace talks with the Israelis and do you plan to resume them soon?

PRESIDENT ABBAS: (Via interpreter) Negotiation is not a luxury issue. It is an important one and we are keen to these negotiations. And as I mentioned before, the three pillars of Annapolis are very significant, part of which is negotiations. As a result, all these issues should be put into implementation as soon as possible.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) There is a consensus among the public that the U.S. is capable of exercising further pressure and playing a greater role and saying that this is the 13th visit of Secretary Rice, what is she bringing new?

SECRETARY RICE: Did you say 13? That's not supposed to be a lucky number, so maybe I'd better come back soon. (Laughter.)

We are doing a good deal of work, a great deal of work, with both parties, with the Israelis and with the Palestinians. Let me just note that as difficult as the days are today, we have come quite a long way over the last year through the efforts of President Abbas and his team, through the efforts of Prime Minister Olmert and his team, and frankly through the efforts of the United States and President Bush. Because in launching the Annapolis process, we have, in fact, launched a framework, the three pillars of which the President spoke, that, if followed faithfully and if the obligations are actually met, will lead -- finally, finally -- the parties to a point at which they can resolve their conflict.

I just want to emphasize again, people have been trying to do this for a long time and it hasn't happened. But the commitment of the United States to trying to make it happen, trying to help the parties to make it happen, is that there's a great resoluteness there on the part of the President and on my own part. But to launch this process with the support of the entire international community, with the Arab world through the Arab peace initiative and the Arab consensus to attend the Annapolis process, to insist -- which is the role of the United States -- that as the judge that the roadmap obligations be met, this is what we've been doing and this is what we're going to continue to do.

And I said this morning in Egypt there could be improvement in roadmap obligations on both sides, and it's a point that I intend to make very specifically during my talks because everybody must meet those roadmap obligations. And if you think about it, as those roadmap obligations are met, we get closer and closer to conditions that help to facilitate the negotiations toward the establishment of a state. And so we're working very hard, but if it's my 13th visit, I guess I better get here soon so it can be number 14. Thank you. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Thank you. Nicholas Kralev with Washington Times. Madame Secretary, you made it very clear that rocket attacks must stop, but Hamas has also made it clear that it has no such intention. So at this point, would you support an Israeli policy of preempting such attacks, or is there someone who has enough influence over Hamas to talk it into changing its ways? And Mr. President, are you that person? And if not, who is? Thanks.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, Hamas -- I've said I suppose they have no interest in peace given that they have not been willing to renounce violence, given that they've not been willing to sign on to the Arab consensus behind a two-state solution, nor to live up to the agreements that Palestinian leaders have made over more than a decade. So if, in fact, it is Hamas' intention to destroy the peace process by launching rockets at Israel, if it is their intention to destroy the possibility for the Palestinian people to live in their own state, if it is their intention to launch rockets and make it impossible for Palestinians to have movement and freedom of movement, then perhaps they should be called to account for doing precisely that.

Now, I know that the Palestinian Authority, which -- and let me just restate, President Abbas is the elected president of all Palestinians. And so there isn't this issue of, is he representing all Palestinians. He is representing all Palestinians. And in accepting and believing in the Annapolis process, he is saying that the Palestinian people are going to be best served by a negotiated solution to their national aspirations. And that's what we're working on, but there are going to be rejectionists who are going to try to keep progress from being made.

As to the Israelis, as I've said, Israelis have a right to defend themselves. I have also said to the Israelis that it is extremely important that they remember that there has to be a day after, a partner to work with, and that innocent people who have the bad fortune to have to live under Hamas control should not be subject to injury and death. There should really be a very strong effort to spare innocent life.

QUESTION: Yeah, my question (off mike) --

PRESIDENT ABBAS: (Via interpreter.) We called and we are still calling for a truce. In my last visit to Egypt, I stated to our Egyptian counterparts that Hamas should stop firing rockets and likewise, Israel should end all its assault not only in Gaza, but also in West Bank. After that siege on the Palestinians, we ended crossings, we reopened and the Palestinians lead a normal life. And after that, we shouldn't follow Hamas' baseless allegations.

Released on March 4, 2008


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