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C. David Welch Interview With Alhurra Television

Interview With Michel Ghandour of Alhurra Television

C. David Welch, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs
State Department
Washington, DC
October 11, 2006

QUESTION: What did Secretary receive in her last trip to the Middle East?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, President Bush told the world community that Secretary Rice would be working to try to bring our friends and partners closer together in terms of peace. Trying to bring the Israelis and Palestinians closer together as well and working on security issues affecting the Palestinians and Israelis. So we were trying to have progress on each of those tracks, which of course are related to one another. We had very good conversations with the GCC countries, plus Egypt and Jordan, a very productive visit to Jerusalem and Ramallah to discuss particular questions involving Israelis and Palestinians. And the of course the Secretary of State went to Baghdad as well, which is another very important national priority of the United States to see how we can help the Iraqui people and help with their freedom and security.

QUESTION: Technically what did you do?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, let's take each one of those things in turn. First, among the regional friends, we encouraged and received broad support for trying to find peaceful solutions to the problems of the region, to do things we need cooperation and not complaint. I think all the Arab states to which we spoke support President Abbas in his effort to try to resolve the political impasse between Palestinians. Between the Israelis and Palestinians we got some understanding on both sides about the need not let this situation freeze entirely and to try and work toward a better outcome. For example, the Israelis are willing now to consider opening on a regular basis the Rafah crossing, the only international passage out of Gaza. And The are also considering positively a plan that our security coordinator General Dayton has put forward, the (Karni) crossing which is the major one for goods and services going back and forth. We also want to discuss the way forward for Israelis and Palestinians. Regrettably we still have a couple of big problems there, the situation of the captive Israeli soldiers, this is a political hurdle on the Palestinian side which Hamas led government is not delivering to its people and there is no sign of changing.

QUESTION: Do you think there was a new access born when Secretary Rice met the foreign ministers in Cairo?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: We're not seeking to create new axes, or coalitions or alliances, what we felt from this discussion is there is a grouping of responsible states whose leaderships are committed to peace and security for everybody in the region and we are determined to try and do something about the problems in the area. You know, we don't have to agree on every single step, but the important thing is to find a way forward on the issues involving Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian question. We think this would be in everybody's interest. I think now coming out of this summer, which has been a difficult summer, let's be honest, everybody wants to see some progress. So if that means a new coalition or alliance, well, so be it, if an alliance will help.

QUESTION: What would be President Abbas' way out after the failure of negotiations between Fatah and Hamas?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well President Abbas must not give up trying to convince Hamas to change its policy. So far they are resisting the legitimate demand of their own people; all of them want to see a better future. The Egyptian government has tried to mediate these differences without success. Now the Qatari government has made an effort also Secretary Rice spoke to Sheik Hamid Bin Jasin on the telephone this morning to say that she wished it could have turned out differently, that people in the Hamas government would see that accepting the principles of the international community, not the United States, everybody, is the way forward. But unfortunately he could not succeed, not because he didn't try, but because they resisted, they just don't agree.

QUESTION: What would be the way out?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: You should ask the Hamas government this question. Well we support president Abbas and we believe that he represents responsible voice and we can work with him. The international community, including coutries in the region will support him. The Hamas government is isolated, ineffective and failing and is failing its responsibilities most importantly to the Palestinian people. They are in a difficult situation.

QUESTION: Hamas has asked president Abbas to resign.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: I think the Hamas government should resign.

QUESTION: The spiritual leader of Iran Khamenei has said that his country will continue developing nuclear technology, do you have any reaction?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well we've never had an objection to Iran having access to peaceful nuclear energy. The question is not that, it is their use of a peaceful program to cover a military program effort. That is what is of concern to the international community. If Mr. Khameini's statement is genuine and they want to pursue peaceful nuclear energy that is one thing. By the way, the way they could prove that is to accept the offer made by the EU 3+3 to suspend their problematic activities, enrichment and reprocessing and proceed into negotiations about their peaceful program. That would satisfy the international community and we could be in a very different position.

QUESTION: Syrian President Assad has said the United States does not have the will or vision to pursue peace in the Middle East, how do you view this statement?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: We thank him for his advice, we ask him to step outside his office and do something about the situation in his capital city where there are enemies of peace who operate freely from Damascus and conduct terror activities in the Palestinian territories and in Israel where his own authorities have been interfering in internal Lebanese affairs, even after Syrian troops withdrew from the country. If his desire and vision for peace are accurate and real the he would do something about those things

QUESTION: But President Assad acknowledged that Syria and Israel can live side by side in peace; do you see any progress in this statement?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: It's an interesting statement on the one hand one can say that it represents nothing new because there are of course resolutions 242 and 338 that establish the basis for this and which Syria has in the past accepted. On the other hand it's a curious statement also because he's saying something that again is (contradicted) by the activities on Syrian territory, for example, would the Hamas PM in exile, Mr. Khaled Meshaal accept this statement? If so why isn't the Hamas government making them itself? I realize that if this is a sincere intention there are many ways in which he could prove it and then everyone would notice it and we're done.

QUESTION: Last question. Ehud Olmert was quoted as saying that the Americans asked the Israeli administration not to talk to the Syrians at this time, is this accurate?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: We want more people not only talking about peace, but acting on the basis of a sincere and real approach of achieving it. We don't advise the Israeli government on their national interests in that manner, if Israel were to see a real and effective Syrian desire for peace I think they might have a different view. But so far statements from the president are one thing, but action on the ground is another.

Released on October 13, 2006


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