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Sec. Condoleezza Rice With Israeli FM Tzipi Livni

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
March 5, 2008

Remarks With Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni

FOREIGN MINISTER LIVNI: Hello. I would like to welcome again Secretary Rice in the region, in a very short visit, but yet fruitful, I hope - I know.


FOREIGN MINISTER LIVNI: And of course, we discussed the situation in the region and we needed to address very important issues. On one hand, the bilateral peace process between Israel and the Palestinians according to Annapolis understanding and on the other hand, the situation in which Israel is under attack coming from Gaza Strip on Israeli civilians and this is something that we also need to address.

And when -- this kind of complicated situation needs some answers and the idea is to continue the peace negotiations while giving an answer to Israeli civilians being attacked by (inaudible) and this is what the Israeli Government is going to do with the help of Secretary Rice. Thank you.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much. Thank you, Minister. Thank you, Tzipi, for having me here. We've just concluded very good discussions, as I've concluded very good discussions with all of the parties. We've talked about the need to restore calm and, of course, that means also to stop the rocket attacks against Israeli citizens. We have talked about the need to return to the path of negotiations.

There are enemies of peace that will always try to hold hostage the Palestinian cause and the future of the Palestinian people for their own state. And Hamas, which in effect, holds the people of Gaza hostage in their hands, is now trying to make the path to a Palestinian state hostage to them. And we cannot permit that to happen. We're working very hard to address the situation, particularly in Gaza. Assistant Secretary Welch is going to return to Egypt for discussions with the Egyptians about how the situation can be improved, including how to deal with issues that we have been addressing for some time, like the tunnels in which Hamas is using to smuggle goods and weaponry into Gaza.

I know too that the Israelis and Egyptians have been in touch. I'm concerned about the need to improve conditions on the ground in the West Bank and I've urged both sides to live up to their roadmap obligations and in furtherance of that goal, Lieutenant General Frazier will convene the Tripartite Committee on Roadmap Obligations next week. We have to set a date, but I believe it's likely to be on Thursday of next week, at which we will have the first of those trilaterals to deal with roadmap obligations.

And we are, of course, concerned about the humanitarian situation in Gaza. The U.S. Government has pledged to UNRWA -- that pledge has reached $148 million for 2008. I've also talked a lot about the importance of continuing the negotiations because ultimately, the answer to many of these problems has to be given in the solution that Annapolis put forward, which is two states living side by side in peace and security. And to that end, I've been informed by the parties that they intend to resume the negotiations and that they are in contact with one another as to how to bring this about.

And so thank you very much for a very good visit here and I look forward to continuing our discussions.


MODERATOR: We'll now take several questions. Sean, would you call on the American journalists.

MR. MCCORMACK: The first question to Anne Gearan from the Associated Press.

QUESTION: Abu Mazen said this morning that he wants a truce or a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas before he resumes peace talks. Is that in conflict at all with what you just said? And a majority of Israelis say they support some kind of truce talks.

Madame Foreign Minister, do you see any alternative to talking to Hamas on some level given that they control Gaza and aren't going away? And Madame Secretary --

SECRETARY RICE: Anne, that's two. (Laughter.) That's already two questions.

QUESTION: I haven't gotten to you yet. (Laughter.) Are you advocating such a deal or truce?

SECRETARY RICE: First of all, I have talked with Abu Mazen and President Abbas and he obviously would like to see calm. He would -- he has spoken publicly about his desire for a cease-fire, but this is not a condition for resumption of the talks. Secondly, as to how calm comes about, I have made clear our view that it ought to be pretty clear how calm comes about. The rocket attacks against Israel ought to stop. And as I've said, as Israel defends itself, Israel also needs to be very careful about innocent people who get caught in the crossfire, about the humanitarian conditions in Gaza. And so there is a path forward and I leave it to the Israeli Foreign Minister to give her answer to your question, but I think it ought to be pretty clear how we get to a calm situation.

FOREIGN MINISTER LIVNI: Well, clearly, since Hamas took Gaza Strip, we adopted a dual strategy. And when I say "we," the meaning is the international community and, of course, the United States of America, Israel, and the pragmatic leaders in the Palestinian Authority. And the idea is to work with diplomatic leaders, to try and find and reach a peace treaty with them, while simultaneously working in order to delegitimize Hamas as a terrorist organization and to give an answer to these terror attacks coming from Gaza Strip to Israel. In facing the threat coming from Gaza Strip, it is important to understand that Israel left Gaza Strip, we dismantled settlements. We took our forces out, so it's not part of our ideology to be there, but yet, we need to give an answer to the lives and to security of Israeli citizens who are under daily attacks coming from Gaza Strip.

And the problems there are, one, the attacks on Israel and the other is the buildup of Hamas, which has now begun to be more similar to a small army and less a terrorist organization, even - even though they are trying to get more and more weapon coming through Egypt to Gaza Strip, so we need to address it simultaneously and this is also what Secretary Rice said about the talks with Egypt, because this also need to be addressed. And of course, as was said since the beginning, Israel need to give security to its citizens and we need to give an answer to terror attacks coming from Gaza Strip to our cities. And this is the reason for the Israeli - for the Israelis' - decisions of the Israelis' military actions against Hamas in Gaza Strip.

QUESTION: (Inaudible), Israeli Radio. Please, I would like to have both Secretary Rice and Minister Livni address this question. First, if you could verify a report that we have heard that you are about to dispatch David Welch to Cairo regarding this progress. Maybe a cease-fire, maybe an Egyptian solution to the situation, please? Another question is being that, you know, the United States refrain from transferring $120 million to Egypt for a good reason, saying that Egypt doesn't do enough to stop the smuggling of weapons into Gaza from Sinai. And lately, the last visit that you had to Cairo, you actually okayed that sum, how does that met with the fact that those (inaudible) rockets are being fired -- still being fired to (inaudible)?

SECRETARY RICE: First of all, in terms of David Welch, yes, I have asked David Welch to go back to Egypt, but it is to look at the entire situation in the Gaza. We have been working all along with Egypt and with Israel, and indeed with the Palestinian Authority, to deal with the situation that has obtained in Gaza since Hamas' illegal takeover there. That means security issues, it means humanitarian issues, it means trying to do something about the tunnels which continue to be a problem. So that is the reason for David's return to Egypt. But as I said, Israel and Egypt have their own direct contacts too. We're not trying to broker something here. It's just a matter of all parties discussing.

As to the waiver, I would just note that the Administration sought the waiver for flexibility in dealing with our complex relationship with Egypt and it is called a national interest or a national security waiver. And it is, in our view, best at this point to exercise that waiver. I have said to the Egyptians that we continue to be concerned about the situation internally in Egypt in terms of democracy, human rights, and the reforms in Egypt. That was also part of the concern, as well as needing Egypt to do more to deal with the tunnels. But the waiver is a national interest or a national security waiver and I took it on those grounds.

QUESTION: (In Hebrew.)

FOREIGN MINISTER LIVNI: Oh, of course we are talking about the border, which is now between Gaza and Egypt. And when Israel decided to leave Gaza Strip according to the disengagement plan, we left what is called Philadelphi Corridor, which is now the border between Gaza Strip and Egypt. Now clearly, this border is being used -- abused by -- in order to smuggle weapon to Gaza Strip and this is something that we cannot afford. I mean, everybody needs to understand that the Israeli citizens are being terrorized by rockets coming from Gaza Strip. We were talking about the smuggling of weapon, talking about the fact that the range of the missile is now -- covers now also other civil population centers in Israel and this is something that we cannot live with. So we need to address these two major threats coming from Gaza Strip.

One, of course, is the missile attacks on Israeli civilians. This is one thing. But we cannot afford a situation in which, on the surface, there will be a kind of maybe some quiet days, but simultaneously, they get more and more weapon and decide when to use it. And also on this, this is something that when I say "we," the meaning is the region. I mean, "we," of course, is the Israeli citizens and the government official. Of course, Egypt cannot afford it. The pragmatic Palestinian leaders cannot afford it.

But there's a need to understand that when we are talking about two states -- for two peoples living side by side in peace and security, there's a need, of course - there's the peace negotiations and the peace talks that need to be continued -- Israel, of course, is willing to do so. And we believe that it is important to continue to do so because we don't want to give the keys for our future in the hands of Hamas. But on the other side, there's a better understanding now that the path of all the Palestinian states, which includes Gaza Strip, need to give an answer to the situation on the ground in Gaza Strip. We cannot afford a terrorist state in Gaza. We cannot afford a failed state as part of the future Palestinian state or an extreme Islamic terrorist state as Gaza seem to be right now. So we need to give an answer both to the missiles coming (inaudible) from Gaza Strip and to the buildup of Hamas, the tunnels, and Egypt.

And if I may say, it's in Hebrew, just the same words. (In Hebrew.)

I think that the - yes, next question? Next?

QUESTION: Next question --

FOREIGN MINISTER LIVNI: (Inaudible), it's over.

QUESTION: This is for both of you. Hamas seems to have now shown that they can hijack this peace process whenever they want --


QUESTION: -- even if there is a cease-fire. You know, we have no guarantee that this will last and they start rocket attacks again. How, given this, can you -- how can we expect this peace process to continue and to be successful if you don't either -- if Israel does not either begin negotiations with Hamas and take them into account or go into Gaza and rout them out?

FOREIGN MINISTER LIVNI: Okay. This was the understanding in Annapolis. The Annapolis understanding, based on the fact that we will negotiate with the pragmatic leaders even though they don't control Gaza Strip right now, while meeting the challenge coming from Gaza Strip in order to change the situation in Gaza Strip in the future in order to create and to establish a Palestinian state, which includes, according to the Palestinian aspiration, Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

Now, I said in advance, and I said it in Annapolis and I said it in Paris and I said it today, I knew when we signed Annapolis understanding that there will be some temptation to stop the negotiations because of the situation on the ground. And I said that the success of the negotiation is based on the determination of the two leadership, one the Israeli and the other the Palestinian's determination to continue the negotiations. And I - and even though sometimes I was accused by some leaders from the opposition and the Israeli coalition as well for negotiating on the terror, we were determined enough to do so. The same day in which there was a suicide bomber that killed Israeli in Dimona, the same day last week in which an Israeli was killed in (inaudible) in the university. And the next day, the day of his funeral, because I said clearly and I said it also in the parliament that we are not willing and we will not give Hamas control on our life and our future. And because we need to address and to continue this peace treaty and simultaneously to work against terrorism.

Now, I expect that - I am not going to enter a kind of the blame game, so -- but clearly I expect my co-partners and I said it to them as well to act the same. It is important for them as it is important for us. Peace negotiation, it's not a gift that somebody gives the other. It's a mutual interest. It's a mutual aspiration and it's a mutual agreement for our two peoples. So we need to be strong enough to face internal criticism. And it's easy to do so when we know that we are doing the right thing.

SECRETARY RICE: Look, the situation has been difficult. But in my conversations with both leaders, I've had very strong affirmation of the - not just the desire to get this agreement, but the necessity to get this agreement. And I am pleased that the parties have said that they're going to resume negotiations, they intend to do that, and that contacts will begin between them to bring that about. To be very clear, Annapolis, of course, was the point at which we recognized - and by the way, you only had to look at the history of any negotiation in this region to see that rejectionists have tried from time to time, actually, almost every time, to derail, to hold hostage the negotiations. And so we have to find a way to make these negotiations robust.

You know, one point that I have made to both sides is that one thing that will make these negotiations more robust is more robust activity on the other two pillars of Annapolis. We do need to have improvements on the ground. We do need to have the parties meeting their roadmap obligations. That's why General Frazier is going to hold the trilateral. It's why it's important that everybody look what they can do to support the Tony Blair mission on the ground. Life needs to improve for the Palestinian people. Life needs to improve, frankly, for Israelis who are under fire, as well in cities like Ashkelon and Sderot. But all three pillars need to move in simultaneously. And I believe that if the two pillars that we - that are not just the political negotiation, but rather the conditions on the ground and the roadmap obligations, if those move as well, that will help to bring some robustness to a peace process that I think is going well, but by it's necessity, cannot be in the newspapers every day with what the parties are saying to one another.

MODERATOR: We will conclude with (inaudible).

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, you were talking about the stability of the truce and the need for the end of the violence. At the bottom line, do you accept the Israeli current policy that as long as Hamas is continuing to fire rockets into Israeli towns, Israel has the right and actually has to respond in a military offensive against Hamas in Gaza? And another question for both of you, Prime Minister Olmert declared a few times lately that you agreed, Madame Secretary, with him that the issue of Jerusalem should not be discussed now between Foreign Minister Livni and Abu Allah did you agree to that position?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it is not for me to set the tactics for what Foreign Minister Livni and Mr. Abu Allah do in their negotiations. I think these are decisions that they will have to take and will have to make. The position of the United States is that in order to get to a final status agreement, you are going to have to have agreement on all the core issues. And obviously that includes Jerusalem, how they choose to organize their negotiations. Frankly, that's not my business. (Laughter.) They have to deal with all the core issues. Everyone knows that. So it's not my job to organize them.

As to the circumstances that have led to the situation in Gaza, I think I've been very clear. Number one, it's clear what needs to be done. Attacks need to stop on Israeli cities by these rockets. I believe and I think everybody believes that Hamas can do that and they ought to do it. Secondly, I understand and have said that Israeli has a right to defend itself. There are, of course, concerns about the next day and do you still have a partner and what has been the effect on the innocent citizens of Gaza who have the misfortune to live under Hamas siege. And I've made very clear that we continue to impress upon our Israeli friends, both that element and the need to deal with the humanitarian situation.

I just want to add one thing on Egypt because as Tzipi said, the Egyptians, I do believe, know that it is in their interest also to have a Gaza that is not a terrorist state, that is not a problem for the citizens of Gaza and that's why I have some confidence that the parties will work very much in coordination and cooperation to improve the situation in Gaza. And so David Welch is going there to see what can be done to help. But there are also contacts directly between the Israelis and the Egyptians.

FOREIGN MINISTER LIVNI: Well, you've heard my answer in Hebrew and I'll give you again the same answer in English. According to Annapolis understanding, Israel and the Palestinians decided to address all the core issues. In our first meeting, Abu Allah and myself decided that we will address the issues according to the order that we decide upon. We decided also that unless everything is concluded, nothing is concluded, and we are not going to share the public or the press any details of our discussions. I would like to say also clearly that the prime minister and myself are working together and there is a full coordination on these issues between us. Clearly, it is - I know that this can lead to some frustration. This - the meaning is that we don't share with the press all the details of the negotiations because everybody expect some news. Sorry, but the fact that we don't refer to this kind of question, doesn't mean that -- it's not a yes or a no and I will not answer to other questions related to the borders or the other issue. Thank you.


Released on March 5, 2008


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