The press conference with FM Livni concluded the visit to the region by US Secy of State Condoleezza Rice in preparation for the November international conference.
Joint Press Conference with Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
Jerusalem, 17 October 2007
FOREIGN MINISTER LIVNI: I would like to welcome Secretary Rice once again and express our appreciation for efforts to promote the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. I have long been an advocate of dialogue with pragmatic leaders on the Palestinian side, and I believe that despite all the difficulties we must take advantage of this opportunity.
As you know, I was appointed this week by Prime Minister Olmert to lead the negotiating team with the Palestinians. The teams have held one initial meeting this week and plan another one later this week.
Our goal is to reach understanding on the widest possible common ground in the time available in order to enable progress on the way forward toward the realization of President Bush’s two-states vision. I believe this is a common vision shared by Israelis and moderate Palestinians even though, of course, there are gaps between the sides that we must try to bridge. And as I’ve said before and as we have learned from previous experience, success will require compromises by both sides.
Israel is ready for compromise in a way that will enable us to realize the goal of two states while protecting our national and security interests. We hope to discover that the same willingness on the Palestinian side.
As the two sides take risks for peace, we expect the international community and regional states in particular to offer maximum support to the bilateral process. I would like to express the understanding that we carry a heavy responsibility on our shoulders and we know that as we try to lay out a path for a better future with the moderates, we must simultaneously address the reality on the ground, including the situation in Gaza.
In all our efforts, we will be guided by the goal of two states, two homelands for two peoples, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security, as expressed by President Bush.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much, Minister Livni – Tzipi. Thank you very much for your efforts in this moment of opportunity. We have had a very good discussion of the path ahead. I have talked with the Minister about the various conversations that I’ve been having here, in the Palestinian territories and also in the region. I do think that it is a moment of opportunity, but of course there’s very hard work to do. I am going to do everything that I can to help the parties as they try to come to understandings on a wide variety of issues, outstanding issues that must be resolved if there is to be a Palestinian state.
But this is the beginning of a process, not the end of it. And one thing that we discussed is that it is very important that the parties work together to build confidence, not just in the document that they are creating but also confidence on the ground, confidence that they are going to carry out their obligations, obligations under the first phase of the Roadmap, obligations that will help to improve the atmosphere of trust and confidence.
There will, of course, be an international meeting at which we hope that the international community and the regional players can show how much we support the bilateral track on which they have launched. And of course, there will be the day after that meeting as well; and if we work hard throughout this process, if we work hard to resolve these issues, I think we have a reasonable chance of success in moving forward on the vision of two states living side by side in peace and freedom.
I just want to add that what I really come away with this during this trip is a sense of the seriousness of purpose of everybody involved, the understanding that this is a time to try and push forward. I believe that, as I’ve said, the appointment of Foreign Minister Livni to head the Palestinian team, and on the other side the experienced negotiator Abu Ala, that it means that there is an understanding of the seriousness of this moment. And I look forward to working with you.
I do know that these are the most serious discussions that the parties have had about the core issues between them in quite a long time, and so I will continue to work with you and I’m sure I’ll see much more of you, Tzipi.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, Ms. Livni, I would like to ask two questions for both of you. Following the Russian President Putin to Iran, do you think there is still a chance that Russia will vote for another round of sanction against Iran? And what is the meaning if they don’t? And do you think this is why Prime Minister Olmert is going urgently tomorrow to Moscow?
The second question is regarding the Annapolis summit. Did you already started to delay the summit, as I heard your hints in Cairo and here, the delay being delayed until December? And do you even consider to cancel it rather than another dangerous failure if you can’t reach an agreement with the Palestinians?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, let me take the question about Iran first. In New York, during the United Nations General Assembly, the six parties – the United States, China, Russia and the three European representatives – came to an agreement about the path forward. The path forward is that in this November timeframe we will await the reports of Mohamed ElBaradei and Javier Solana, who is to meet with Mr. Ali Larijani, and to see how we’re doing on the diplomatic path.
At the same time, we’re finalizing the text of a Security Council resolution; and should we not have reports that are favorable, I fully expect that we’re going to move forward on the other track, which is the UN Security Council, because our view has always been that we are trying to resolve this diplomatically and through negotiation, but the Iranians have not yet showed that they are prepared to do that. So we will continue to work in the Security Council track.
And that is the path that we are on. I was just in Russia myself. I saw no evidence that Russia intends to do anything but stay on that path that we’ve laid out. It is very clear that Russia also recognizes that there is a problem if Iran achieves intellectual breakthroughs that lead to the creation of a nuclear weapon. So I’m pretty confident about the road ahead.
As to the Annapolis meeting, it is a little hard to postpone or cancel something that we haven’t yet set a date for. And so I continue to say that the President has said this will take place the fall. There are two months left in the fall, November and December. But we are working quite actively and urgently to help the parties to show that there is a basis for movement forward.
But again, I just want to emphasize the November meeting is a stop in a process. There are discussions that are going on now, negotiations that are going on between Palestinians and Israelis, to try to come to understandings about how they move forward toward the establishment of a Palestinian state. There will be an international meeting at which we would expect the regional actors and the international community to rally around this bilateral vision as well as to help with issues of how we get support for the development of Palestinian institutions, economic development and so forth.
And there has to be a day after, because everyone knows that we are not going to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in November or December. And so I just want to emphasize that this is a process that we are beginning, but it is the most serious process that we’ve had in many, many years. And that gives hope, I hope, to both Israelis and Palestinians.
FOREIGN MINISTER LIVNI: Well, on your first question, I do believe that there’s a need for another Security Council resolution. In the past, the need to get everybody on board including Russia and China has led to some compromises on the nature of the sanctions. I hope this will not be the case this time. And I believe that the world understands that it cannot afford a nuclear Iran, an Iran with a nuclear weapon. And the Prime Minister went to meet President Putin to discuss regional and bilateral issues of importance.
Talking about the summit, I hope that global warming is not going to influence the end of fall. Just joking. But basically, as Secretary Rice said, we are just at the beginning of a very serious dialogue. As we said, there was a first meeting, there’s going to be another one this week. And the most important thing is the dialogue itself. I mean, everyone is talking about that meeting, that paper, but the most important thing is the bilateral track, the need to achieve an understanding on the widest common ground. Everything is on the table. Let’s see what can be achieved and don’t be that pessimistic, if I may say.
QUESTION: I’m not bold enough to try for two each, so I’ll just settle for one each, if I could.
Madame Secretary, I’d just like to ask you about what your impressions were this morning driving into Bethlehem through the wall, the security fence, and what you saw or heard about what happened, how those impressions will affect you – or as you’re moving forward in the process.
And for the Foreign Minister, for several months you have been saying that it is dangerous to move too quickly to discuss the core issues. And I’m wondering if now, since you’ve been named to be head of the Israeli negotiation team, if you don’t think it’s time to perhaps delve a little deeper earlier, including talking about the ’67 borders as a basis for new borders and refugees to be put into the joint statement that you’re working on.
SECRETARY RICE: My impressions of Bethlehem. Well, first of all, I really was very pleased to have the opportunity to go to Bethlehem both for personal reasons and to engage with members of civil society in Palestinian life. And it was very interesting, sometimes sobering, to hear the difficulties that Palestinians encounter. And yet it was very good to hear that these are people who still believe in tolerance and hope and working together. And every single one spoke about the importance of the two-state solution, and I found that very heartening.
Let’s be real: There is a security problem. No one wants to have barriers, but there is a security barrier there. We’ve been told many, many times and been assured that it’s not a political barrier and it cannot be a political barrier.
I look forward to the day when security is brought about in a different way, which is two states living side by side, states that are at peace with one another, states that have capable security forces, the kinds of capable security forces that the Palestinian themselves need and are trying to build. Because by the way, when we hope to build Palestinian security forces, we’re not just building them for terrorism and for their international obligations, but also for the security of the Palestinian people. The Palestinian people don’t want to live in lawlessness. They don’t want to live with gangs running in their streets. And that’s why we’re committed to the creation of Palestinian security forces that can actually exercise the duties of the state. And that is to have a monopoly on the use of force and to provide security for its citizens and to carry out its international obligations.
But there is no stronger advocate of the security of both Palestinians and Israelis than the United States of America. We’ve been devoted to the security of Israel throughout this Administration, as American administrations have been throughout the history and the existence of the state of Israel, and we’re going to maintain our commitment to the security of Israel. We believe that this ultimate security will be tremendously helped and tremendously pressed forward by the creation of a Palestinian state that can live in peace next to Israel. But let’s be very clear. There are security problems and they have to be addressed.
FOREIGN MINISTER LIVNI: Thank you. My position and my view of the dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians is the same as the last few months. I think that Secretary Rice can be a witness to this. I believe that the dialogue is necessary. I believe that we need to make this distinction between the moderates and the extremists, and to make this dialogue and negotiate with the moderates, even though there are these extremists and even though the Gaza Strip is being controlled by Hamas. Because I believe that is a window of opportunity here. I believe that the Arab world – the entire Arab world – understands now that the division in our region is not between Israel and Palestinians, but more between extremists and moderates, so there is an opportunity. I would like to explore it. So I supported this dialogue even before it started, in a way, and pushed towards this dialogue in the past.
The idea is to do it the right way. I’m not trying to avoid any kind of an open issue between Israel and the Palestinians. Excuse me for not dealing with what is the Israeli position in each and every one of the core issues, because I believe that the right thing to do is to discuss it in a closed room with the Palestinian side. But basically, the idea is not to raise expectations that can lead to frustration and to violence, because we need to learn from past experience. In the past the idea that maybe we can find the way to end the conflict in a few days led to frustration and violence. And it’s not my policy just to find way to blame the Palestinian side for this. The idea is to reach an understanding, to find a common ground, to find what is the common denominator on the open issues. But it is not less important to know that if we cannot bridge the gap in some of the core issues – not because I don’t want to discuss it; because I know and as I said before, we need to understand that there’s a need for compromises by both sides. Israel is willing to do so.
You just mentioned one example, of the refugees. I believe that the creation, the establishment of Palestinian state is the answer to the Palestinian people and I hope that they will be in a position to accept this vision of two states. I believe that the way to explore all of this is during the dialogue. But it is not less important to avoid a situation in which we find ourselves in a kind of a dead-end, giving the extremists the opportunity to say or to act in terms of "terror is the only way" when it comes to the conflict. This is part and parcel of stability.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, first question again about Iran. President Bush said earlier today that a nuclear Iran can cause another world war. What are the practical ramifications of such a statement? And does that mean that the United States is thinking about a military option regarding Iran?
And the second question about the Annapolis summit. Apparently, there’s a disagreement between the U.S. and Israel about the core issues in the Annapolis meeting. So do you think that the core issues should be discussed in the Annapolis meeting?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, look, first of all, I think I just heard the Foreign Minister say that she was going to explore all of the outstanding issues between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Now, the process on which we are embarked is to lead to the creation of a Palestinian state. There are many issues that have to be resolved to lead to the creation of a Palestinian state, including the core issues.
But we’re at the beginning of a process. And what we are going to do is to help the parties when needed. First, let me say, I hope the parties are able to come to these understandings without any help because the very best thing that can happen is that Palestinians and Israelis are able to work these issues out on their own. We, the United States of America, can’t substitute for bilateral discussions or bilateral agreements between the parties. But we will try to help when it becomes obvious that perhaps someone is stuck and our help is needed. We’ll try to help.
But we are in the most serious process in at least seven years to discuss all of the issues that can lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state. The meeting that will take place in November is to give support to the bilateral discussions of the issues that must be resolved before the establishment of a Palestinian state. And we’ve been very clear that this process has to address core issues. So I think that this is not a problem.
By the way, I’ve been saying to our press corps, so let me say it for all assembled here: This is also a process that requires all of us to be circumspect in talking about what we talked with the parties about and what they talked with each other about. It is not going to help anybody to discuss or negotiate these issues in the newspaper. And so if you hear a kind of caution about what we talk about or about what I talk with the Palestinians about or what the Palestinians and the Israelis talked to each other about, I think you should take that as a sign of the seriousness of this process. This is neither a photo op, nor is it an attempt to gain headlines. It’s an attempt to make progress.
As to Iran, the President has long said, and I think no one would want the President of the United States to take his options off the table. He has also said that we can resolve this diplomatically. It does require a diplomatic response that is strong. It requires a diplomatic response that holds Iran accountable for its continued defiance of the international system. And that means that we need to continue the Security Council track. And by the way, the Security Council track is having the effect that there are people who are reconsidering their economic relations with Iran, their banking relationships with Iran, because when a country is under a Chapter 7 resolution, there are investment risks and there are reputational risks. And so this is a very comprehensive policy toward Iran, but it is, in fact, a diplomatic one.
QUESTION: Foreign Minister Livni, President Bush said today in a press conference in Washington that based on what he’s heard, he’s optimistic about the progress on the ground here and about the fall meeting. Do you share that sentiment and how do you respond to Mr. Abbas’ claims earlier today that the Israeli team is not serious enough?
And for Secretary Rice, Mr. Abbas said today he won’t attend even a framework-setting meeting at any cost. Do you think you’ve made enough progress today with Foreign Minister Livni that you can now assure Mr. Abbas it won’t be at any cost?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I don’t expect anybody to attend at any cost, including us. This is a meeting that is to be serious, substantive, that allows the parties to address the outstanding issues between them, including the core issues between them. It is a meeting at which the international community is to signal its support to what the Palestinians and the Israelis are trying to do. And I’ve been very clear. The United States of America has much better things to do than call a meeting in Annapolis for a photo op, when that’s not what we’re going to do and it’s not what we would do.
Now, I think that the optimism comes from the fact that this is a very serious process with very serious people involved in it. And one thing that we can do is to communicate our own sense of the seriousness with which the two parties are engaging. There is a long legacy now, many years of distrust, many years of conflict. And so one role that the United States can play is helping to help build confidence between the parties that they are indeed engaged in a serious process. But I am quite impressed with the Israeli team and I’m impressed with the Palestinian team. They have a lot of work to do. But I know that these are people who want, if they can, to end the conflict between them.
FOREIGN MINISTER LIVNI: I would like to say that I’m not going to participate in this blame game, where each side blames the other for being less serious or being less willing to make compromises, in making statements and to make any kind of compromising impossible for the future. I’m not going to do that. I’m going to adopt what was suggested – not to make public opinions while talking about these serious negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
And I do hope, as I said before, that the understanding of the Palestinians is that what we are talking about, more than the Israeli interests, is about Palestinian interests. We are talking about the creation of the Palestinian state as part of the vision of two states living side by side in peace. So it’s not like we are asking the Palestinians to come or to speak. It is the basic interest of the Palestinian people. And I’m sure and I believe that Abu Mazen represents this interest. So I’m sure that we can find a way. I don’t want to use the word optimistic or not. Living in the Middle East, I need to be realistic. I think that it is part of my responsibility, but I support President Bush in his vision.