(Communicated by the Prime Minister’s Media Adviser)

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met this morning (Monday), 10 January 2005, in his Jerusalem office, with US Senator John Kerry (D-MA), who is on a regional visit in order, inter alia, to observe the election process in the Palestinian Authority (PA).

At the beginning of the meeting, Prime Minister Sharon said, “Senator John Kerry is a friend of Israel. We are certain that his visit will contribute to the strengthening of Israeli-US relations and the peace process in our region.”

Sen. Kerry said: “It’s a great honor… and a great privilege for me to be back in Israel. I have had the pleasure of visiting here many times now, and visiting with the Prime Minister, who has always received me graciously. This is a trip I’m making through the region in order to make judgments about where we stand now that the [PA] elections have taken place.”

Sen. Kerry emphasized that Israel is a special ally of the US and that the network of bilateral relations can not be torn apart: “I am proud to be here to talk with the Prime Minister about the days ahead, which are potentially historic and important obviously to all of us.” Sen. Kerry added, “The security of Israel is the paramount concern…The United States – both parties, Republican and Democrat – stand behind Israel in that effort.”

Prime Minister Sharon thanked Sen. Kerry for the clear positions on Israel that he held to during the recent US presidential race and told him about his meeting with his brother Cameron. Senator Kerry replied that while he and President George Bush had differing views regarding Iraq and other issues, in the issue of Israel there was no argument.

On the Palestinian issue, Prime Minister Sharon said: “At the current stage, after yesterday’s elections, the main thing is to focus on what the Palestinians are doing vis-a-vis terrorism. We were in constant contact with the Palestinians and provided them with all necessary assistance in order to hold a successful election process. The Palestinians are still not fighting terrorism and Abu Mazen’s statements during the election campaign were not encouraging, but he will be tested by his actions after the elections. He will be tested by the manner in which he fights terrorism and works to dismantle its infrastructures. A ceasefire is an internal Palestinian issue that Israel has no part in but if there is quiet, as a first step, Israel’s response would be quiet.”

Prime Minister Sharon added that Israel would be prepared to revive security cooperation between the security organizations and would be ready to coordinate various issues in the framework of the Disengagement plan. The Prime Minister said that if terrorism continues until the implementation of the Disengagement Plan, Israel’s response would be sharper than ever before.

Prime Minister Sharon updated Sen. Kerry on progress in the Disengagement Plan and said that Israel would fully implement the Disengagement Plan according to the timetable that has been determined. “Implementing the Disengagement Plan has the potential of returning to the diplomatic negotiations according to the Roadmap if the Palestinians do what they have committed to doing vis-a-vis fighting and eliminating terrorism and enacting comprehensive government reforms.”

Sen. Kerry said that everyone hopes that Abu Mazen will be a different leader than his predecessor and asked what the US could do to help the Disengagement Plan, especially regarding the development of the Negev and the Galilee.

Prime Minister Sharon briefed Sen. Kerry on political developments in Israel and on the government that would be established this evening.

Regarding Syria, Prime Minister Sharon said that it was important to continue pressuring Damascus and not to let up in response to Assad’s peace statements. How President Assad deals with the terrorist organizations will be a true indicator of his intentions. Syria is playing a negative role in the region and continues to be a transit country for various terrorist organizations, including Hizbullah.  Syria must stop providing sanctuary for the terrorist organizations (including Hizbullah and the Revolutionary Guards), close the terrorist organizations’ offices, dismantle the missile infrastructure in Lebanon and end the Syrian occupation there in fulfillment of UN Security Council Resolution #1559.

Prime Minister Sharon added that Israel would be happy to hold talks with all Arab countries but said that we do not see any indication of goodwill by the Syrians apart from their desire to ease the international pressure on them.

The two men also discussed Egypt’s role in the process, the unauthorized outposts and the Iranian issue.