National Security Adviser Rice
and conversation with President Bush White House driveway, Washington, D.C.
Tuesday, October 23, 2001
FM PERES: We just met Condoleezza Rice and the President, who came in. We had a very good talk with the President and Ms. Rice for half an hour. The President explained to us the American policy and strategy and also what he considers can be the positive contribution of Israel to it.
I have assured the President there is no contradiction between his policy and our own, that our intention is not to develop an agenda of our own, but really to be good soldiers in a camp that must be united in a war that should be won. We don’t have an alternative.
The President had expressed his friendship for Israel. We have expressed how very deeply moved we were to see the United States in such an unlivable position: the union of the people, the determination of the government, the show of an American soul, not only of an American constitution, the togetherness, the human feelings, and the determination.
We feel that we can answer the expectation of the President. What we are trying to do is to impress upon the Palestinian people the need to move from the world of rhetoric to the world of action, and maybe the walk is not such a long distance.
While the crisis today looks very serious, maybe the solution is very near as well. We want to lower the flames of tension and fire in the Middle East. We want to do whatever we can so the United States can build a coalition of her own needs and choice, comprising Muslims and Arabs – they are not our enemies – and we do intend to do it.
I feel reassured by the American president, who has shown great courage and leadership. And we believe that this unprecedented war is in good hands. There’s a chance to win, and there is no alternative but a full and complete victory.
Q: Mr. Foreign Minister, did President Bush urge Israeli forces to withdraw from the Palestinian-controlled areas? And what did you tell him? Will forces be withdrawn?
FM PERES: He mentioned it, and we say: that is our intention. The minute the Palestinians will take over in their own hands the introduction of law and tranquility, and put in jail the main troublemakers, we shall be more than happy to redeploy our army to the previous positions.
Q: Sir, did the president set a hard deadline for you to pull out?
FM PERES: No, he was extremely friendly and forthcoming. We didn’t speak in terms of conditions, ultimatums; we spoke like real friends, in a very free air and very friendly atmosphere.
Q: So, Mr. Foreign Minister, then the forces will not leave until the Palestinians do certain things, including turning over those responsible for the assassination?
FM PERES: You speak in terms of ultimatum. And I speak in terms of policies.
Q: Mr. Foreign Minister, did the President suggest that the continued violence in the Middle East is making it more difficult for him to keep together the coalition for the war on terrorism?
FM PERES: He did. He would like very much the flames to go down, and I told him that we shall do whatever we can to reduce them.
Q: And on what basis do you believe that a solution may be near? What grounds do you have for saying that?
FM PERES: I believe that the Palestinian Authority is very sensitive to the American and the European reaction. For them, their Western legitimacy is of the highest consideration. And if they will be convinced that this is a clear message of an immediate nature comprising all the parties, I believe they will respond. And the minute they will do it, we shall be able to move ahead with the attempt to introduce a cease-fire, which is the first station in the Mitchell report.
Q: So you’re basing that on your analysis of their position. Are you basing it at all on contacts between the Palestinian Authority and —
FM PERES: We are in constant contact with the Palestinians. And permit me to say, based on my own experience – I’m an old hand in those negotiations – the Palestinians, as long as they can distinguish between ceremony, speeches and deeds, they may do the right thing.
Q: Mr. Foreign Minister, did the President talk to you about targeted killings by Israelis?
FM PERES: No, it came up on other occasions. But I want to make it clear: we don’t target any political figure on the Palestinian side. It’s not our intention.
We have a problem as you do: how to handle a suicide bomber. If you will not intercept him at his first step, everything may be too late, because the minute he begins to move, he is not afraid to be killed, he is not reluctant to kill himself in the face of a police force or a military. The only option to prevent him from committing murder is at the first station: to intercept him before he’s on his way.
Q: Did he express condolences for the assassinated minister?
FM PERES: Yes, he did. The president did so, very movingly.