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Quartet Press Availability

Quartet Press Availability

Secretary Condoleezza Rice

United Nations Headquarters

New York City

September 26, 2008

Other Attendees:
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon,
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov,
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner,
High Representative for European Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana,
European Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner, and
Quartet Representative Tony Blair


MODERATOR: (In progress) – the statement, you can have it later outside of the room. We will start.

We have with us the members of the Quartet. On the far right, the Quartet Representative Mr. Tony Blair; Mr. Javier Solana, High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union; Ms. Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State of the United States; the Secretary General; and Mr. Sergey Lavrov, Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation; and Ms. Benita Ferrero-Waldner, European Commissioner for External Relations.

We’ll start with the Secretary General.

SECRETARY GENERAL BAN: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. We had a very good Quartet meeting this afternoon. We were briefed by Secretary Rice on the status of negotiations between the parties concerned, and by Quartet Representative Tony Blair on the situation on the ground. We had a very fruitful meeting and exchange of views on the way forward, and agreed to continue to support the negotiation process between the parties and to improve humanitarian situation in Gaza.

To save time, I’m not going to read out the statement – all, but I’d like to draw your special attention to the last paragraph, which will be distributed.

“The Quartet” – this says, “The Quartet noted with appreciation the parties’ suggestions to brief the Quartet on their ongoing negotiation process with due regard for the confidential and bilateral nature of the discussions. The Quartet expressed its interest in coordinating such a meeting in the region for a date to be determined.” This is going to be the first one and the parties suggested that they could brief their negotiation process to the Quartet. We welcome and we are going to determine the date in the region later, sometime this year.

Thank you very much. We are ready for Q&A.

MODERATOR: The first question is FrankUcciardo, CBS.

QUESTION: Yes, I’d like to welcome you all on behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association and thank you for the opportunity for us to talk with you this evening. My name is Frank Ucciardo from CBS News Up To The Minute. I’d like to direct my first question to Madame Secretary Condoleezza Rice.

Earlier today, the League of Arab States and Saudi Arabia said that they thought the Middle East peace process is failing, and they said primarily because of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories. I’d like you to respond to that and also, can you identify within the last three months any real concrete progress that you can point to with regards to the process?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, we have a process, which we did not this time last year. It is the most serious process in which the Palestinians and Israelis have been engaged in seven years. When this Administration came into office, we faced an intifada, we faced terrorist attacks on the territory of Israel. And I think they have come quite a long way from those dark days. Indeed, they’ve come quite a long way from even this time last year.

I could cite the quite considerable efforts that are being made on the ground by the parties, including by the Palestinians, to reform and improve their security forces, to take up security responsibilities, the work that Quartet Representative Tony Blair is doing on the economic side, the improvements in places like Bethlehem and Jenin and Nablus that are taking place on the ground.

As to the negotiations themselves, I have been very active with the parties, but I respect their need for confidentiality in their negotiations. But the very fact that on the day after she was asked to form a government by the President of Israel, Tzipi Livni and her counterpart, Abu Ala, met, I think shows the seriousness of these parties. And so I am quite certain that this is a process that is ongoing, robust, and that is bringing the parties closer to their goal.

It is a difficult process; there are difficult issues. Had this been easy, it would have been solved 30 years ago. But they are indeed working very hard, and I think it is a process that deserves the support of all of the parties and the encouragement of all of the parties. And I would ask all parties, including those in the region, to be encouraging of the parties.

MODERATOR: Ms. Dana Zimmerman.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) and I’m from Israel. I’m a reporter for Ynet. My question is twofold and it is also to Ms. Rice. A couple of days ago, our President Peres said that he does not think that an agreement should be reached until the end of the year. I would like to hear your opinion on that. And also, do you think that the current government change in Israel can somehow affect the process? Thank you.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, obviously, on the last point, this is a matter for Israelis to resolve. But as I understand the – to the degree that I understand the process, Minister Livni will now try to form a coalition and to bring a government into being. And we are continuing to work and have worked with Prime Minister Olmert. We will work with whatever government emerges, but I think it’s no secret that the fact that there is a lot going on in the Israeli political process means that the negotiations, while they are continuing, are obviously having to take account of the circumstances there. Nonetheless, I want to repeat the very fact that she met with her counterpart the very day after she was asked to form the government portends well, and as I understand it, expressed her desire to see the process continue and to progress.

As to the – I’m sorry, you asked also about –

QUESTION: Shimon Peres.

SECRETARY RICE: Oh, Shimon Peres, yes. Look, I have enormous respect for President Peres. He’s a long-time friend. I think the best thing that we can do is to continue to work with the parties. They will continue to work themselves. I do believe they can still get an agreement by the end of the year. It was never going to be easy. It’s certainly no easier now. But the issues are also pretty clear. And I don’t think this is a matter of time; I think it’s a matter of working urgently and, at the very least, they certainly have a process that is robust, and I think that they want to continue. But I believe they still have an opportunity to reach agreement.

MODERATOR: We’ll take just two more questions. (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Ms. Madame Secretary, do you believe (inaudible) time for Lebanon to initiate direct talk with Israel?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, this is a decision that the Lebanese Government must take as to how it will achieve the goal that we all have for there also to be a resolution of any issues in the Lebanese-Israeli track. You will remember that at Annapolis, we talked about a comprehensive peace, ultimately having to have an Israeli-Palestinian settlement, a Syrian-Israeli settlement, and a Lebanese-Israeli settlement.

There is, of course, work that is yet to be done under Resolution 1701 by the United Nations and by the Secretary General concerning the matter of territory and Shebaa Farms delineation of the border that needs to take place, work that needs to be done by the cartographer. So there is a lot of groundwork that needs to be done. But, you know, it is a remarkable thing that as much as we think about the turmoil in the Middle East sometimes, a lot has happened.

There is a Lebanese Government with a Lebanese President with whom I met yesterday, who is engaged in a national dialogue. There is an Israeli-Syrian, at least indirect, negotiation being brokered by the Turks. And there is a Palestinian-Israeli negotiation that is well underway. And so at some point, I would hope that the Lebanese would take advantage of what I think is an improving atmosphere to find a way to resolve whatever differences they may have as well.

MODERATOR: I’ll take the last question – I’ll go to Emile Baroudi.

QUESTION: Yes, I’m – Dubai TV. Maybe Mr. Blair can answer this one. Mr. Musa had some harsh words about the Quartet. He was saying it’s becoming powerless and irrelevant after the settlements talk at the Security Council.

MR. BLAIR: Yeah, it’s – it’s perfectly possible to focus on the difficulties and to be negative about this, particularly in relation to issues like settlements. But I think if we were to take a step back and characterize what has happened in the last year, I mean, for seven years, this whole process was spiraling down. In the last year, the challenges are very obvious, but there has been progress.

We have a political negotiation that is underway where the parties are talking and talking about the real issues, and that’s the first time this has happened for a long time. Secondly, we have major security sector change on the part of the Palestinians that is being supported by the international community. When you go to Jenin, go to Nablus and talk to the people there, the Palestinian security forces are making a difference. And thirdly, after years of contraction on the West Bank – we leave aside Gaza for obvious reasons at the moment – but on the West Bank, there are things that are happening. Not just small-scale projects and the larger-scale projects being agreed in the industrial parks, but a new platform for housing with support from the international community, the new mobile telephony license agreement that is being done.

So you can, of course, say – and pick out the issue of settlements, and the Quartet today has made a very strong statement on that question. But the fact is that we have the possibility now of substantial change around the politics, on the security, and on getting the right changes on the West Bank to the economy there, which will allow us some hope for the future.

Now there’s a massive amount still to do. Nobody’s under any illusion about that at all. But there has been some change and some progress, and what is more, we now have an agreed strategy and framework from the international community upon which we can build.

And if you look – just to finish on this point – if you look at what is happening in the Jenin area, in the north of Palestine, the Palestinian security forces are performing. There is the possibility now of some economic and social development there in Jenin. And if we make this work – and we’ve still got work to do there as well, but if we make it work, then as well as the political process of negotiation, you will have the bottom-up capability being created for a Palestinian state for the future.

So you know, I don’t – the last thing anyone should ever be in this situation is foolishly optimistic. We know what all the challenges are. And as I say, it’s possible to be totally negative. But that’s not my perspective. My perspective is that this was going down and down and down for seven years. It has stopped going down. It is moving back up. It has to move far faster back up. But there is, for the first time, an agreed strategy around politics, the security situation, and how we lift the pressure of occupation that gives us a genuine platform for the future, in my view.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MODERATOR: Well, actually, we have – do you want –

QUESTION: It’s about the resolution on Iran, please? Can I –

MODERATOR: Well, we have just – do you want to answer this one?

QUESTION: One question for Secretary Rice and Minister Lavrov?

MODERATOR: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Minister Lavrov, earlier in the week, you spoke about the fact that it wasn’t time for another sanctions resolution on Iran. What was it about this particular resolution that you proposed that you thought would benefit the process of getting Iran to suspend its nuclear activities?

Madame Secretary, in your address today the Security Council, you seemed a little bit frustrated with the lack of Security Council, kind of, action – not necessarily on the nuclear front, but about President Ahmadinejad’s comments towards Israel and the like. Do you think that the Security Council, on the whole, has been tough enough on Iranian behavior across the board?

Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: (Via interpreter) Thank you. I will begin by answering your question. We, it’s true, did believe and do continue to believe that it is not timely to, at this time, consider at the ministerial level or at any other level this proposal on new sanctions against Tehran. This position has in no way changed. We are certain that, based on those assessments that are contained in the latest report of the General Director of IAEA, Mr. El-Baradei, that we can and do need to continue efforts to create conditions for the beginning of negotiations based on the proposals that our group, the 3+3, or the 5+1 – you can call it several different ways – has tabled for consideration by the Iranian side.

With respect to the resolution that today was tabled on behalf of the six Security Council, it pursues the primary goal to clearly reaffirm that no one will have any doubt that the six continue to maintain their unity with respect to the very primary goal that unites us. The goal is to help the IAEA to ascertain that there is no military aspect to the nuclear program in Iran. This goal remains valid despite the practical differences in terms of how to move towards that at a time do emerge. The six are committed to that aim, and having reaffirmed the existing resolutions of the Security Council and by calling on Iran to fully implement them, I believe that we all would send an important signal that there should be no attempts to cast doubt on the crucial task related to strengthening the nonproliferation regime.

SECRETARY RICE: As to the statement that I made today, it was simply a statement that I think needs to be made in the Security Council. It is really quite an extraordinary circumstance to see one member of the United Nations call for the destruction of another member of the United Nations and have nothing said about that by the Security Council, which after all is charged with threats to international peace and security. And I think when we have general debates, general discussions in the Security Council that it is important to take note of the really terrible things that have been said by the Iranian president about the state of Israel, including in his most recent speech before the United Nations General Assembly. I think it simply isn’t appropriate in civilized company, and I wanted to make that point.

As to the Security Council and its continued efforts, we are working on a dual-track strategy. We did want to show the unity of the six in continuing along that dual-track strategy, but I would just note that we have had three Security Council resolutions and I think it speaks well for the Security Council that it has been able to do that. We have not yet convinced the Iranians that the negotiated track is in their interest, but I hope that there are reasonable people in Iran who might want to take a way out and to stop deepening their isolation.

MODERATOR: Okay, we will have to end it here. Thank you all so very much. Participants have had a very long day.

ENDS

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