Washington, D.C. May 2, 2001
Secretary Powell: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It has been my great pleasure to receive an old and a dear friend, Foreign Minister Peres. We had an excellent conversation reviewing the situation in the Middle East. I made sure the Foreign Minister continued to understand America’s commitment to do everything it can to help solve the problems that we see there now, to do everything we can to bring down the level of violence so that we can get economic activity moving again in the region, and hopefully soon get back to negotiations which will lead to peace — peace that all parties need, peace that will finally bring an end to this difficult situation.
I explained to the Foreign Minister that President Bush will be engaged, and is engaged and continues to be engaged on a regular basis, as I will be. We also talked about the negotiations that might be in the future as a result of the non-paper that the Foreign Minister has been discussing with the Egyptians and the Jordanians and the Palestinians. It is the beginning of a dialogue, but of course that dialogue cannot really get under way until violence is brought down, brought significantly down.
The United States continues to deplore violence and terrorist action in every manner that we see it. I just wanted the Foreign Minister to know of our continued engagement and the good offices of the State Department and of course the good offices of the White House will be available in any way that can be useful to the efforts that are under way.
Mr. Foreign Minister, a pleasure to have you, and I would ask you to say a word or two.
Foreign Minister Peres: Thank you very much. For me, it was a good occasion to express our gratitude to Secretary Colin Powell on two issues. One is Desert Storm, which took place ten years ago and saved the Middle East for ten years from the danger of nuclear bombs in the hands of a crazy leader. I think it was a historic event, and we shall always carry our deepest gratitude to the United States, its army, and the then-commander of the army. And then I apologized for not letting the Secretary fall asleep. We call him day and night to let him know what’s going on in our region.
Right now, the situation is worrying. There is no end to terror and violence, which overshadows the real need to start again the negotiations in order to bring peace to all the people, Palestinians and Israelis. Israel is determined to bring an end to the violence and to bring a beginning to peace. Actually, we would like to stop violence as soon as possible because we are interested to start the negotiation at the earliest possible date.
We see eye to eye with the American position: standing against terror by anybody, not only the Palestinians. We are not fighting the Palestinians; we are fighting terror — today terror has become an un-American act, which is right in my judgment. And also encouraging us to return to the face-to-face negotiations, where the United States will serve as a facilitator and not a negotiator.
We shall try to coordinate our efforts to bring tranquility to all people in the Middle East and try again our hands as seriously as we may to pacify the region.
Q: Mr. Secretary, could you clarify a little bit? You spoke of the hope that negotiations could be resumed soon. You didn’t speak of violence must end. You said it must go down.
Secretary Powell: We need violence to start going down. We need to start going down the escalator of violence. You can’t have the kinds of negotiations that will be needed between the parties under the current conditions of violence.
What the Foreign Minister has been doing is exploring with the Egyptian interlocutors and Jordanian interlocutors and Palestinian interlocutors some ideas on a non-paper that has been well covered and well reported. But you can’t move in that direction until we really see the violence go down, and until I think economic activity gets started up again between the two sides.
So it is not going to happen all at once, and it is not going to happen all of three pieces at once, but we have got to get started. It has been my judgment from the very day I became Secretary of State that the first thing that has to happen in a serious way, in a way that everybody can see, in a demonstrable way, is a lowering of the level of violence.
Q: Mr. Secretary, Israeli Television. Do you think that the Palestinians should get anything in return for ceasing the fire — for instance, that Israel will stop building in the settlement — or it should be something unconditional to cease the fire?
Secretary Powell: I think the Israelis have indicated that they are anxious to work with the Palestinians and reduce the level of violence. We have security coordination going on between the two sides at several levels, hosted by the United States, and I think once the violence level goes down more will be forthcoming from the Israeli side.
The Foreign Minister described to me a number of things that the Israeli side is doing now to give greater access to the workplaces of Palestinian people, to allow commerce to start to move back and forth, and they are going to be moving more aggressively in that direction, even at the current level of violence.
But what really is at the end of this process of eliminating, reducing, getting rid of violence is peace, peace that will bring a new hope to all the people of the region. So this is not the time to do anything but work on getting the violence down, and that is the primary goal of American policy at this moment.
Q: Mr. Foreign Minister, did you raise the question of the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon? Did you demand that?
And my second question, if you are so keen to help the Palestinian economy, why don’t you release the $50 million-plus in taxes instead of asking the Americans?
And, Mr. Secretary, the Foreign Minister is meeting the Qatari Foreign Minister, an unscheduled meeting. Was that in your prompting? Was it your idea, sir?
Foreign Minister Peres: We certainly raised the situation in Lebanon. My view is as long as Lebanon will have three armed forces, there won’t be one Lebanon. There is not a country which is so interested in the real independence of Lebanon, her territorial integrity, more than Israel. We really wish all the best to Lebanon. But Lebanon is being destroyed by an occupation of one army and by the terror of another armed group, and this is dangerous to Lebanon.
Lebanon is saying that they have expelled the Israeli army. It’s not true; they forced us to come in to Lebanon against our wish, and we don’t want to see it again. We want really to bring an end and good relations.
The problem of the money — the money is Palestinian money. But as long as Palestinian policemen, who are on the payroll of the Palestinian autonomy, are participating in shooting and bombing, it will be unacceptable to us to supply them with the necessary money to do so.
About the meeting with the Qatar Foreign Minister: it won’t be the first; it won’t be the last; and I hope that our relations will improve with time.
Secretary Powell: I was aware of the meeting, but I did not arrange it. They do not need me to arrange meetings between two foreign ministers.
Q: Secretary Powell, what kinds of assurances did you get from Foreign Minister Peres to permanently freeze all settlement activity?
And for Foreign Minister Peres, what specific ideas did you have to offer on the Egyptian-Jordanian peace plan? You said it’s too one-sided. What Israeli ideas would you like to add to the plan?
Secretary Powell: We talked about settlements obviously, and there are no new settlements. We have that assurance. We had a good discussion of the controversial issue of growth and expansion of existing settlements, and that obviously will be something that both sides will have to talk about in due course. We had a full discussion of the whole issue of settlements.
Foreign Minister Peres: It is a guideline of the present government not to establish new settlements. Period. About existing ones, we think that we have to enable them to continue their life uninterrupted. I know there are some feelings that we may use it wrongly. It’s not our intention. And if there are any suggestions on settlements, the right place to do so is around the negotiating table.
Now, about the ideas of the Egyptian-Jordanian paper, we said the following principles: Everything that was agreed should be implemented; things that were not agreed should be negotiated. You cannot put in a paper agreements before negotiations.
And, by the way, I think we have to learn from our own mistakes. Previously, we paid too much attention to the print and too little attention to the deeds. This time, we have to emphasize the implementation, not just the definition of words.
We told the Jordanians and the Palestinians that we are seriously and sincerely anxious to re-enter in the negotiation, provided the bombing and the shooting and the fire will stop.
Secretary Powell: Thank you very much.