FM Peres: It is with pleasure that we receive the Secretary of State Colin Powell on an extremely important visit, at a very sensitive period of time in the Middle East. For us, the Secretary is really a symbol of a major change in the Middle East, when he stood at the head of the American army and a coalition of armies, including Arab armies, in order to stop aggression in the Middle East – I am referring to the Desert Storm, which I believe has had a very deep impact upon the developments in the Middle East, and now again he is heading a policy which is aimed to bring an end to violence and renew the negotiations.
I am aware of all the difficulties, but I don’t think the situation is hopeless. I think as far as the government of Israel is concerned, we are committed to the Mitchell Report as a whole. We think it’s a map that can lead us from the cessation of fire to the beginning of negotiations. It’s not an easy road, or an automatic way, but I think we can make it.
Israel will fulfill all the obligations which are included on our part in the Mitchell Report and the Tenet document, but we expect, likewise, that the Palestinian side will do the same.
I think the talks of the cease-fire, while they are not yet conclusive, are a good beginning, and the sooner we shall arrive to the cessation of fire and the cessation of incitement, the train of peace can leave its first station and go through the entire sequence mentioned in the Mitchell Report until we shall reach the most important station, where the political negotiations in order to attain a permanent solution based on 242 and 338 will be attained.
Our discussions were, as usual, very open, very friendly, and we are really trying to see eye to eye in order to start the movement.
Secretary Powell: Thank you, Mr. Minister. It’s a great pleasure to be back in Israel, and I thank you for your hospitality and for the frank and open discussions that we have had this morning, and that we always have whenever we get together.
I thank you for your support once again, as you’ve just given it, to the Mitchell Committee report in all of its elements. It is a package, and no part of that package can be separated from any other part of the package, and it begins with the ending of the violence, it begins with a ceasefire, it begins with a cooling-off period where confidence can be restored, where trust can be rebuilt, and where we can take this cooling-off period to collect ourselves for moving to the next phase quickly of the Mitchell Committee plan and that is confidence-building measures. And as the Minister just said, all of the confidence-building measures are important, all of them are part of the report, and the Israeli government has indicated its support for every element of the confidence-building section of the report. And then, ultimately, through the confidence-building measures you must reach final status negotiations based on 242 and 338.
The whole thing is a package, but we can’t start opening the package until we end the violence, until we have a period of quiet for a number of days where we can let the wounds begin to heal, let the passions begin to drop, let the situation improve to the point where we can start the cooling-off period. So, my message throughout this trip will be to end the violence, end the incitement, begin the rebuilding of trust and confidence, make sure that the security consultation that are taking place are productive and honest and straightforward, and have, as their purpose, the resolution of difficulties; that we speak out against terrorism, that we bring the rhetoric under control so that confidence and trust can be restored and rebuilt.
I am pleased that the Mitchell Committee Report enjoys the endorsement of the entire international community: the United Nations, the European Union. Countries around the world support this effort. This is the only game in town, to coin an American expression, and we have to make sure that this game is played out. In the beginning, as, to use another metaphor the Minister used, the train leaves the station with the ending of violence, and that will be my consistent message in the course of my visit. Even after this visit is over and I return to Washington, I and President Bush and the other members of President Bush’s administration will remain deeply engaged on a daily basis to make sure that this process moves forward.
I thank, once again, the Minister for his graciousness and his hospitality. Thank you, sir.
Q Mr. Secretary, you spoke of moving quickly toward confidence building measures. Is that a concept or do you have a sense now of how long now in terms of days or weeks Israel would like that to be?
Secy Powell: I think I do have a sense of timing, and my thoughts of timing I would like to share with all the parties in the course of the day, and see if we can come to a common understanding of how long a cooling-off period might be and how long the confidence-building measures period might be.
I think all sides are interested in moving through these phases as quickly as possible, but one has to be practical and realistic with respect to what can be accomplished in certain periods of time. And so, we don’t want to move so quickly that are guaranteeing failure because we know we cannot accomplish things in the time we set for ourselves. But at the same time we can’t use extended periods of time as a basis for delay, or for not getting to what we are all after, which is final status negotiations and the final phase.
Q Mr. Secretary, is there any reaction to the Sharon plan as presented in the United States, giving back fifty percent of the land, keeping the Jordan valley, etc.
Secy Powell: We don’t have a specific government proposal; I think what has to be determined will be determined when we get to final status discussions, and I’m sure that when we get to final status discussions, at the end of the Mitchell process, at that final phase, both sides will come to the table with their positions, where they would like to start out those negotiations, and then it is through those negotiations we will determined what direction to take and what the final solution will look like. So I would not prejudge or comment now, at this point, on what the two sides might bring to the table when we get to final status negotiations.
Q: Mr. Foreign Minister, is it your view that we’ve already had three or four days of almost complete calm, and that therefore we need another six days before the cooling-off period can begin, and also, do you plan to go to Lisbon this weekend and see Yasser Arafat?
FM Peres: On the first issue, even if we are talking about 100% effort, we can see three missing links: One is clear orders to the different police or semi-military organizations under the authority of the Palestinian Authority. Our feeling is that not all of the commanders understood that there is one clear policy given by Chairman Arafat, and we can see variations on the ground where some give different interpretation to what is permitted and what is not, and we think there is an immediate need for clear instructions and orders to stop the shooting and violence. The second is, both in the Mitchell Report and in the Tenet Report there is a call to arrest people who carry a potential of explosives or bombs or shooting. This, again, was not done. And the third is really the cessation of the incitement.
Now, no meeting has yet been fixed between Chairman Arafat and myself in Portugal. As you may know, I am the Honorary Chairman of the Socialist International, and I understand that they are going to have on the agenda a discussion on the Middle East where I was asked to deliver our point of view, which I shall do. I understand that Mr. Arafat was invited as well, I don’t know if he will come or not, and he will probably do likewise.
This is not the first time that we are meeting under the auspices of the Socialist International, and this may happen again.