Excerpts from Joint Press Conference by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and British Prime Minister Tony Blair
Jerusalem, 9 September 2006

 Joint Press Conference by PM Olmert and British PM Blair


Photo: Reuters

PM Olmert: Good evening. It is a great pleasure to welcome a good friend, the Prime Minister of Great Britain Tony Blair. Prime Minister Blair is a true and proven friend of the State of Israel, and a dedicated friend of the Middle East. Britain is Israel’s staunch ally and a trusted partner in advancing many of the issues that stand in the forefront of our national agenda.

Prime Minister Blair’s visit to Israel is of great importance to us all and is in direct continuation of a positive role that Britain plays under the leadership of the Prime Minister – and will continue to play. Prime Minister Blair is working actively and intensively to promote progress in all tracks to create stability throughout the Middle East and his contribution is invaluable. In the last few months I had many talks with Prime Minister Blair in which he inquired, suggested, promoted and asked me to make every possible effort to advance the track for negotiations between us and the Palestinians. His concern, his care, his involvement with regard to the Palestinian issue is something that I personally greatly appreciate. He has exhibited a very powerful manifestation of leadership and concern for us, for the Palestinians, for the humanitarian problems of the Palestinians that he raised with me time and again, and I value his support, his advice and his proposals.

I place great importance on advancing the dialogue with our Palestinian neighbors, I remain dedicated to advancing the political process with the Palestinians according to the Roadmap, and in accordance with the sequence of all its phases, starting with implementation of the first phase which calls for the dismantling of terrorist organisations and their infrastructure. There can be no shortcuts in implementing this process. I assured Prime Minister Blair that I am ready to work closely with the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, to implement the Roadmap and we discussed at some length all kinds of ideas and interesting suggestions that Prime Minister Blair has in regard to these issues. I also told Prime Minister Blair that I intend to meet with Chairman Abbas in order to make real progress on the outstanding issues on our mutual agenda. The issue that is our first priority with the Palestinians naturally is the immediate release of Corporal Gilad Shalit.

The Prime Minister and I also spoke about the events in Lebanon, and I thanked Prime Minister Blair for the central role that Britain played in achieving UN Security Council Resolution 1701 which led to the cease-fire with Lebanon, especially in ensuring that at the top of that resolution was the release of the two abducted Israeli soldiers. I know how close this issue is to you, Prime Minister, and I appreciate very much the fact that in this very constrained timetable that you have in your visit you offered to meet with the families of the abducted soldiers. Thank you very much for this.

Another central issue affecting the complete implementation of Resolution 1701 is the deployment of the international force along the Lebanese border with Syria and preventing the re-armament of Hizbullah by Iran and Syria and enforcing the arms embargo. I told Prime Minister Blair that Israel has no conflict with the Lebanese government or Lebanese people. I emphasized that I am ready to advance a dialogue with Lebanon in all matters and to achieve real progress on this important track.

We also discussed the Iranian and Syrian issues which are of deep mutual concern. Prime Minister Blair continues to play a critical role in leading the international effort to stop Iran’s nuclear project. History will mark and thank you for your efforts in this crucial objective.

I am looking forward to continue our fruitful discussions over dinner, and again, Prime Minister, it is a great honor and a great pleasure to welcome you and your delegation, and I thank you for your friendship.

PM Blair: Thank you very much, Prime Minister, and thank you for your very kind welcome of me and my delegation here in Israel and to your house. 

I know from my own experience as a leader how difficult situations of conflict are, and I would like to pay tribute to the quite exceptional character you showed in leading your country through what I know has been a traumatic and difficult time. It is only if you have handled these situations and taken these decisions yourself that you have some understanding of the burden of that decision making, and you have my sympathy and solidarity in that.

It is also, as you rightly say, an issue to do with the stability of the Middle East, and one of the most changed aspects of leading a country such as Britain today is that the stability of this region also now affects the stability of my country, that we live in a world in which how you fare here, how Israel does, issues to do with the Lebanon and Palestine, are issues that also concern how my country fares, and that is the same right across the world today.

What has happened in Lebanon has of course been a terrible situation in which many, many innocent people have suffered, and I expressed my sympathy for all those who have suffered loss during the course of the events of those weeks. But as you rightly point out, we worked very hard to get the only cease-fire that was ever going to be sustainable, and that was one based on a political framework set out in Resolution 1701. And I do believe that if Resolution 1701 is implemented fully in the way that it should be, as I believe it will be, then this will be a major strategic advance for peace in the region. And I want to assure you, as I will the others that I speak to on this visit, that we will do everything we can as the United Kingdom to make sure that that resolution is implemented in full so that we enable the Lebanese government, a proper democratically elected Lebanese government, to be in full charge of the whole of its country, with the Lebanese armed forces under the control of their government, rather than militias or anyone else trying to disrupt that proper process of statehood.

In addition, as you rightly said, we of course have discussed Iran and I want to assure you that our position remains as it has been throughout, which is to make sure that the will of the international community in respect of Iran’s nuclear weapons aspirations, that the will of the international community is properly adhered to. And I can assure you so far as we are concerned that we will hold absolutely firm on that issue.

We also, as you rightly just indicated, had an opportunity to discuss ideas about the Palestinian issue, and of course as you indicated there is a tremendous suffering, not least amongst Palestinian people, as a result of the inability to make progress here. And I welcome very much what you said about the two state solution and the road map. I think as you indicated that it is very important that we see what we can do to re-energise this process. Now we are in a very preliminary stage of debating and talking about these things, but I hope very much in the time to come that we can make progress, and of course it is important that Corporal Shalit is released.

So I would like to say to you in conclusion that it must have been a very difficult time when Israel is beset on all sides, but I think and know that the majority of people here, I am sure, want to see what the majority of people in my country want to see, which is a Middle East that is stable and democratic, with people living side by side in peace. It is very easy to be pessimistic in the light of everything that has happened recently, but I do believe that with goodwill and the right leadership it can be done. I thank you again for your most kind welcome to me here today and I will do all that I can to make sure these issues are taken forward in the right way.

Q: Prime Minister Blair, now that Gaza and the Lebanon have become a war zone, do you think that the unilateral approach is off the table for good? And now that you have also declared that you are leaving your office next year, looking backon your 9 years of service, do you think that the alliance with George W, Bush, the President of the United Sates, was a mistake?

PM Blair: No, I don’t think it has ever been a mistake to stand shoulder to shoulder with America in the aftermath of 9/11, and I think a strong relationship between the United States President and the Prime Minister of the UK is important too. And I will tell you something very, very simple about all this. I see the world in these terms, and for me this is non-negotiable because I believe it deeply, I think we face a global threat based on this global terrorism, I think it threatens not just the stability of this region but of the wider world, I think there is a link between 9/11, what happened on 7 July last year in London, what happened in Madrid, what happens in the terrorism right round this region, what is happening today in Iraq and Afghanistan where we are trying to help democratic governments, elected by their people, be free and liberated from terrorism. I think these things are together and however difficult it is and however unpopular it may have been, I will continue to stand up for an alliance of people who believe in peace, and tolerance, and democracy, against those who believe in terrorism. There is no bigger or more important struggle in the world today.

Of course I want to see a situation in which this region has Israel confident and secure, where we have a Palestinian state, democratic and viable, and where we have Lebanon with a Lebanese government, elected by its people, able to make its writ run in the entirety of its country, and where Iraq has a democratic government. And if we get to those positions then I think this will be of tremendous benefit to the whole of the world. It is a big struggle and may take some time to do, but it is worth struggling for in my view.

In the end there only ever are two alternatives in a situation like this, and we faced this for years in Northern Ireland – you either get agreement or you have to operate on your own. But it is obviously better, and I know the Prime Minister said this to me back in June before this ever arose, it is far better of course to be able to come to an agreement. But the only agreement that is ever going to stick is an agreement where people resolve their differences through politics and not through violence. Now I think everybody wants to see a solution to this, and the irony is we have an end point – a two state solution – we have a plan to get there – the Roadmap. We have got to find the means of getting back to it.

Q: You have both talked about the stability of this region, there is of course great instability in British politics at the moment. You have also both made it very clear how staunch an ally you regard Tony Blair as being of Israel, and he has made his views just now very clear on the war on terror. Given all that, isn’t there a real danger that this visit could actually be rather more damaging than constructive, inasmuch as we have a prime minister who is weakened, who is on the way out of office partly because his own party disagrees with his policy, coming here and clearly laying himself down on one side of the Middle East argument rather than the other.

PM Olmert: I met with Prime Minister Blair a couple of months ago in London, and we talk on the phone very often. The kind of interest and concern manifested by the Prime Minister on sensitive issues, not always in agreement with us, sometimes in criticism, was very significant. We don’t always agree on every issue and the Prime Minister never hesitated to present his point of view about these issues to us and to request that Israel address itself to many issues concerning the humanitarian needs of the Palestinians. He repeated time and again the desire of Great Britain to allow a political process between us and the Palestinians to take place as soon as possible. The Prime Minister is very powerful in presenting a point of view which is not always necessarily identical to ours and which we discussed in complete sincerity and frankness over the last few months.

He also came today with many points regarding the future of the Palestinian process and we are determined, both he and myself, that this issue must be dealt with seriously in order to avoid some of the unnecessary consequences that are so typical of this part of the world, in light of the history of terror and everything that we have experienced. I think that this is a very important visit, a very valuable visit, and the position of Great Britain, the position of Prime Minister Blair, is very important for us.

Q: Prime Minister Blair, it seems that the UN is not going to impose any sanctions on Iran, is that so? The American President is going to impose sanctions, is that so?  Do you have any plans or intentions to take part in President Bush’s plans?

PM Blair: I think on that there is a process in front of the UN Security Council, and I don’t think you can rule out a successful resolution on this at all. So I think we have got to take the UN process forward and that is the most important thing at the moment, and I believe that people recognize that it is important that Iran abides by its obligations, and this has been an international community position and I believe it is important we keep it that way. On the issue of Iran and sanctions, obviously we are in the course of discussing the right response now in respect of that, but you know it is important that the will of the international community is obeyed, and so if the UN resolution is put down and then it is breached then it is important that action follows. Now the precise nature of that obviously is something we will discuss with allies in trying to make sure that we get the right agreement to a resolution.

Q: Prime Minister Olmert, do you fear for an absence of leadership in the war on terror once Prime Minister Blair has stood down?

PM Olmert: Tony Blair has been one of the greatest world fighters against terror, we hold him in the highest esteem for his determination and for his courage in facing terror. For a country like Israel, which has been living with terror for the last 60 years, which is still perhaps the country most threatened by terror and by hostile countries than any other country in the world, when there is a world leader in the calibre of Tony Blair, who is ready to stand up, as he did for such a long period of time, even when it was not very pleasant or very easy for him politically, that shows leadership, that shows character, that shows determination and courage and we very much respect him because of it. I don’t want to go into the other part of the question, which I will leave to Tony Blair, I just can say that we are very, very proud of the manner in which the Prime Minister of Great Britain stood up for principles which are so important for the western civilization.