Israeli PM Ehud Olmert and British PM Gordon Brown held a joint press conference following their meeting in London.
British PM Brown: Can I say first of all what a pleasure it has been for me to entertain Ehud Olmert, the Prime Minister of Israel, for lunch today and for us to be able to talk about many of the common challenges that we face with terrorism, the challenge we face on the world economy, but challenges we face also in the Middle East and we are as anxious as he is to move forward with a process of peace and prosperity in the region.
We look forward to the talks that will take place in Annapolis with a wide group of people present. We are not complacent about the outcome, we have no false hopes about the outcome, but we do believe that it is an important step forward and I wish Mr Olmert well in the work that he is doing to prepare for that. I have said that we stand ready to give economic help to the Palestinian people. We have published in the last few weeks our proposals for an economic road map that would provide for industrial development in the Palestinian areas, would provide for small business incentives, would provide for micro credit for small Palestinian firms, but that of course is dependent upon security and dependent on agreement to this two state solution which protects the security of Israel while making it possible for there to be a viable Palestinian economy.
As many of you here know, I have been a long term friend of Israel. I have enjoyed my visits to Israel. Over many, many years my father spent many months in Israel and I have a strong sense of Ehud Olmert’s belief that he can move the peace process forward and we want to give him every support we can. Therefore it is a tremendous privilege to welcome him to London.
I just wanted to say one other thing about Iran. We are absolutely clear that we are ready and will push for further sanctions against Iran. We will work through the United Nations to achieve this. We are prepared also to have tougher European sanctions. We want to make it clear that we do not support the nuclear ambitions of that country. Mr Solana is of course meeting the Iranians today in Rome and the E3 Foreign Ministers of course have also expressed views recently about what needs to be done. But we are ready and will press for further sanctions because we believe that this is the way in which we can make it absolutely clear to the Iranian regime that we will not accept the course that they are embarked upon.
It is a great pleasure to welcome Ehud here and I will ask him to say a few words.
PM Olmert: Thank you very much, Prime Minister Brown. Indeed I enjoyed the privilege of being a friend and a guest of the Prime Minister when both of us were Finance Ministers. I will never forget the stamina that you manifested Prime Minister when as a Minister of Finance you came one morning to Israel and we had a breakfast meeting at 7.30 am and at 7.00 I got a telephone call from the airport and the Finance Minister tells me: I am sorry, I just landed and I have to go right back to London for an important vote in parliament. And then I asked you: OK then Minister, when will you be back, and he said: tomorrow morning, same time, same place. And he did.
Since then we had several occasions to meet as Finance Ministers and I am very proud, Prime Minister Brown, that you hosted me with my colleagues for lunch in this great place, 10 Downing Street, and we had an opportunity to discuss some important issues which are on both of our agendas.
You mentioned Iran and I can say indeed we think that it is time for the international community to step up the efforts to make sure that the Iranians understand the absolute determination of the nations of the world to prevent them from acquiring nuclear capacity. I think that the economic sanctions can be effective, I think they were already effective. I think that if they will be stepped up by the international community it will increase the effectiveness and may yield very important results and I congratulate you for your determination and leadership in not just supporting it but in making it very explicit and clear-cut speaking for Great Britain on this very important issue.
I am encouraged because I heard similar words yesterday from President Sarkozy and I am very happy that both you and him are leading this policy together with the United States of America and I hope these other European countries.
We also discussed naturally the coming international meeting in the United States. The purpose of this meeting, as we said several times, is to provide an umbrella of international support for the efforts that the Palestinians and ourselves are making in order to start serious detailed negotiations that will lead to the creation of a two state solution – Israel as the state of the Jewish nation, and the Palestinian state as the state of the Palestinian people. And we are definitely anxious to move up these negotiations and hope that the meeting in Annapolis when it will take place sometime towards the end of November will be very helpful in creating the necessary mood, will create the necessary international environment that will strengthen both sides in their efforts to move forward. Annapolis will not provide a solution but it will set the direction. It therefore will not be a negotiating process because we will continue the direct negotiations between us and the Palestinians as was agreed between us and them all along the way, but it will help create the necessary international environment which is of great possible consequence.
And finally we have discussed some other issues, the bilateral relations between Israel and Great Britain. We are a major trade partner with Great Britain, as you know. We are a big buyer, the biggest buyer from the Middle East in Great Britain which is of some consequence and considering the strength of the British economy under your leadership for so many years, and the growth of the Israeli economy in the last few years, which is a source of great pride for us, I believe that in the bilateral relations we can do many things. And in the European Union, which naturally Great Britain is one of the major forces, Israel is a serious partner and will continue to be a serious partner and we look at Europe as not just a major trade partner for the state of Israel but also under your leadership, the leadership of friends like you, is a very important political partner for the State of Israel.
Again Mr Prime Minister thank you so much for your hospitality and friendship.
Question: On Iran – I wonder if I could ask you about the new Chief Nuclear Negotiator, Saeed Jalili who I think is meeting Javier Solana in Rome today. What would be your message to this man because he is seen as even more hard-line perhaps than his predecessor. And I suppose the question to both of you on Iran is what if increased sanctions don’t work, what if Iran simply refuses to stop enriching uranium, at what point do you cross a line and consider military action?
PM Brown: I believe sanctions are working, I believe that we should step them up if it becomes necessary and they will be shown to be working even more successfully. I believe the combination of our willingness to go through the UN process, which we will do, and our ability to take sanctions as a European Union sends the strongest possible message to Iran and that will be a message that will be communicated by Mr Solana today that we take this seriously, we are determined on our course and we believe that they must take notice of the very strong and concerted and agreed international pressure on them. So the pressure will be maintained, the pressure will in fact be stepped up and the sanctions, both the United Nations and European Union sanctions that we consider are designed to achieve that purpose. And I think we leave people in no doubt about the strong views we hold on this issue.
PM Olmert: I think I entirely agree with Prime Minister Brown. The message is very clear, I think the message that has been spelt out by Prime Minister Brown with regard to sanctions is the right message and I hope that it will be repeated by Mr Solana today to the new representative of the Iranians on this issue. Economic sanctions are effective. They have had an important impact already, but they are not sufficient, so there should be more. Up to where? Up until Iran will stop its nuclear program.
Question: Prime Minister Gordon Brown, though you were very clear about the sanctions on the Iranian issue, the American President has stated that a nuclear Iran can cause a third world war. Do you agree with him? And to the Israeli Prime Minister, if you may answer in Hebrew, though I am not a football fan my colleagues urged me to ask you about the meeting with Avram Grant, the Manager of Chelsea.
PM Olmert: This really was the main item on the agenda between Prime Minister Brown and myself.
PM Brown: We had a very interesting discussion about who was going to win the Premier league and how the change in management at Chelsea was going to make a difference, and we speculated about the performance of all the different teams over the next few months.
I say, just to repeat on Iran, we have got the report in mid-November on the IAEA work plan, we will be able to see what Iran’s implementation of it actually is. It is on that basis that we are prepared to push for further sanctions at the United Nations. I believe we leave people in no doubt about both the risk that is entailed for the world community, as you have rightly mentioned, by Iranian ambitions for nuclear weapons, but at the same time our determination as nations working together, and this is a concerted international action, to be able to take and wish to take the action that is necessary through sanctions. So I think we leave Iran in no doubt about the concerted opinion of the international community.
Question: A question for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. A Palestinian prisoner died earlier today in an Israeli jail after a riot. This has heightened tensions, it has caused protest in the Palestinian territories and this of course weeks before the US sponsored meeting that you referred to between the two peoples. To try to ease those tensions is Israel perhaps planning to release more Palestinian prisoners?
PM Olmert: First of all I heard, as you mentioned, that there was an incident started by the violence of Palestinian prisoners, Hamas Palestinian prisoners arrested by Israel for murders of Israeli civilians, and as a result of this incident one of the prisoners was severely wounded and subsequently unfortunately he died.
Now I think that the unrest amongst the Hamas prisoners is because we don’t release prisoners. We release Fatah prisoners because Fatah is a political movement which is prepared to negotiate with Israel, to make peace with Israel and to refrain from further terror. Hamas is involved in terror and all the Hamas prisoners that will be released will immediately engage in terrorist actions against innocent Israeli civilians. So as you know we have released hundreds of Palestinian prisoners and we will consider the release of more, but none of them will be Hamas because Hamas continues to be engaged in terrorist actions against Israel.
Question: Prime Minister Olmert, is there anything you can tell us about the joint document that is trying to draft ahead of the summit, specifically whether there is any effort to address the final status of issues such as borders, refugees and dividing Jerusalem?
PM Olmert: As I said before, this is a short joint statement that will not provide solutions but will refer to the core issues. I think what we need to do is to set the direction. No-one seriously can expect that within this short span of time between now and the end of November we can achieve what we haven’t been doing in the last 40 years, which is to agree on a comprehensive solution of all the core issues outstanding between us and the Palestinians and to define it, to present it and to have the support of our peoples for it. This is somewhat presumptuous.
What we want to do, and this is what we said is the purpose of Annapolis, is to set the direction, that is to refer to the core issues but not to offer solutions on these issues, and to set the direction for negotiations. After the ratification of the statement in the respective Israeli and Palestinian political bodies, we will immediately commence in continuous negotiations on the details of all the core issues and we will try to come up with agreed solutions.
PM Brown: And that is the approach, the framework and then the detail to follow and I hope there will be the widest possible support when it comes to Annapolis later in November.
Question: The first question please to Prime Minister Olmert. Regarding the talks that you had in the last few days and the meeting that you had with Prime Minister Brown today, are you willing to say that there is a unified front being crystallised lately against a nuclear Iran? And Mr Brown are you willing to say today that Iran will not be in possession of nuclear weapon eventually, that is the bottom line, and if everything should fall apart, if the worst comes to the worst, within the framework of the tougher sanctions will you be considering recalling your Ambassador from Tehran?
PM Olmert: I think it will be a little bit presumptuous to talk of a united front: Israel, America and Great Britain. America, Great Britain, France, others are leading this. This is a major issue for the entire world, this is not an Israeli issue, we never said it is. But we are very much part of the international effort and as you could hear from Prime Minister Brown today the content of the British position, the determination, the leadership which Prime Minister Brown manifests is precisely what we think is the way in order to achieve the goals that we set forth on this very delicate issue.
And with your permission Prime Minister I want to take this opportunity, since you will be the last to speak today, that you know on this occasion I have the opportunity to thank the retiring Israeli Ambassador, Ambassador Zvi Heifetz, that was serving here for the last three and a half years. He was an outstanding Ambassador for the state of Israel and I enjoyed very much the judgments, the wisdom, the determination and the emotional involvement that he has manifested over these last three and a half years as Ambassador of the state of Israel. So on this occasion in front of the Prime Minister of Great Britain I wish to thank you very much Ambassador Zvi Heifetz for your great determination. Thank you very much.
PM Brown: Let me also thank the Ambassador who has been a great friend of Britain and a very powerful advocate of Israel’s cause in London and is highly respected amongst the whole community of diplomats in this capital. And let me also thank you for coming to London today to renew our friendship and to be able to talk about the issues that we share in common.
And if I could just reply to the question. We have made it absolutely clear that the behaviour of Iran is unacceptable. That is why the IEA work plan has got to be implemented by Iran, that is why we will hear the report in mid-November about what is really happening on the ground, and it is on that basis that we are prepared to step up sanctions, both UN sanctions and EU sanctions, and nobody should be in any doubt about our resolve on these issues and our determination to bring together the whole international community to make it clear to Iran that such behaviour that is unacceptable has got to be brought to an end.