FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: It has been my very great pleasure to welcome to London Silvan Shalom, the Israeli Foreign Minister. We have just had extremely good discussions. Those discussions were preceded by even better discussions between Mr Shalom and the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, at which I was present, along with his colleagues.
The visit has been a very good opportunity to meet in a spirit of dialogue and cooperation, and a chance for me to get to know Mr. Shalom personally. We have spoken a number of times on the telephone, but it has been really good to see you face to face.
We in the United Kingdom are completely committed to the State of Israel and completely committed to getting to a point where the people of Israel are able to live in peace and security, without the terrible scourge of terrorism. Mr. Shalom was good enough to express his condolences to me, on behalf of the State of Israel, for the two Britons who we think have perished in the terrorist attacks which took place in Riyadh two days ago. I am very grateful to you and I shall pass on those condolences to the families concerned.
In turn, we discussed the continuing terrorism that Israelis have to suffer. In that context I repeated what I had said to Mr. Shalom on the telephone, and expressed my profound regret for the fact that in a suicide bombing some days ago, it was two United Kingdom citizens who were the perpetrators. We are working very hard indeed with the Israeli authorities to do everything we can to ensure that those terrorist outrages are fully investigated, and that those behind them are brought to justice. But I would repeat my special condolences to the families of the victims and sympathy for those injured.
We then discussed the issue of the road map, and as the Prime Minister said, the British government is committed to a State of Israel living in peace and security alongside a viable State of Palestine.
We are under no illusions that the route towards this much happier condition will not be easy for either Israel or for the Palestinians, but the road map sets out a clear path to a lasting settlement, and it is for the parties, we hope, to take this opportunity to follow the path together. And I welcomed the goodwill shown by Israel, such as the release of detainees and the issuing of work permits to Palestinians, and I may say, going back to the time when you were Finance Minister, Mr. Shalom, to the work that you undertook to ensure that the finances for the Palestinian Authority were released, as well of course as welcoming actions which the Palestinians have taken so far.
Mr. Shalom confirmed to me that Prime Minister Sharon of Israel, and Abu Mazen, the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, are to meet on Saturday night at the end of this week for substantive talks. We greatly welcome that and renewed political dialogue is the only way in our judgment to reach a settlement, but it has to be one which understands and respects the requirement for security by the people of Israel.
We discussed a number of direct bilateral issues. I raised with Mr. Shalom, as we have discussed previously on the telephone, the case of Mr. Ian Hook – Mr. Hook was a DFID employee who was killed in the occupied territories now some months ago. The case originally arose when Mr. Shalom’s predecessor was Foreign Minister. We also discussed the more recent tragic cases of James Miller and Tom Hurdnall, and our requests for full and transparent military investigations. Foreign Minister Shalom assured me that Israel was investigating these cases seriously and I am very grateful to you, Sir, for the cooperation which we have received on that. And I also asked Mr. Shalom to ensure that the Israeli Defence Force reviews its rules of engagement to try to avoid further civilian casualties in the future.
One last point which I should raise, and that is our joint concern about those people who are still missing in action, something that was raised with me, and which I raised in turn when I was in Israel itself, and I undertook to raise this question again with the Syrian Foreign Minister, Mr. al-Shara’a.
FOREIGN MINISTER SHALOM: It is a pleasure to be here in London and to have the opportunity to discuss matters of mutual interest with our British friends. We have great respect for Prime Minister Blair and to you personally, we consider you to be a true friend of Israel and I am looking forward to working together with you and the Prime Minister to advance the goals towards peace.
Israel and Britain share a commitment to bringing peace and stability to the Middle East in the interests of all the peoples of the region. As I have told you, Israel is committed to peace and to implementing President Bush’s vision of 24 June. The new strategic reality in the Middle East after the removal of Saddam Hussein provides an historic opportunity to move towards this goal. We are encouraged by the nomination of Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Mazen, and we are ready to work with him to end the suffering of our peoples. As you mentioned, Prime Minister Sharon will meet Abu Mazen on Saturday night and we hope that this meeting will pave the way for effective and genuine cooperation.
But I want to be clear, terror has been, and remains, the greatest enemy of the Palestinian people. I think that this is the time that the new Palestinian leadership will realize that the time has come to take serious choices towards peace. We are determined to move towards peace and this new opportunity gives us a possibility of a better future.
I commend the Foreign Secretary on his strong remarks in condemnation of terror. Without an end of terror, it will not be possible to return to the negotiating table.
We are willing to resume the negotiations, we think that this is the time that we can do it, but our message is very clear, as I told you and the Prime Minister – end the terror and let’s get to work, let’s get started on something that can be done, and we are willing to do it. If the Palestinian leadership will fight violence, will end the terror, stop the incitement, implement reforms within the Palestinian Authority, they will find us a serious partner towards peace. We are willing to make gestures towards the Palestinians and I think that if they will enter, or will make gestures, it will ease the lives of our two peoples.
We deeply regret the loss of every innocent life. Israel has no intention to injure or cause harm in any way to innocent civilians. We are facing terror, and like every democratic country, fighting terrorism, Israel is faced with a terrorist network that use human shields and base their activists among the civilian population. The State of Israel takes with great seriousness the loss of civilian life. I have personally asked the investigation to be carried out quickly and thoroughly. I will share the findings of all investigations with my colleagues here in London.