"We have no conflict with Lebanon and its people."

(Communicated by the Prime Minister’s Media Adviser)

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert today (Tuesday), 25 July 2006, met with US Secretary of State Dr. Condoleeza Rice. The Prime Minister’s Chief-of-Staff, Dr. Yoram Turbovitz, his Diplomatic Adviser, Shalom Turgeman, his Military Adviser, Maj.-Gen. Gadi Shamni, and his Media Adviser, Asaf Shariv also attended the meeting, which lasted approximately two hours and was held in an excellent atmosphere, as did US Ambassador Richard Jones, US Asst. Secy. of State for Near Eastern Affairs C. David Welch, National Security Council Director for Near East and North African Affairs Elliot Abrams  and Deputy National Security Advisor Dr. J.D. Crouch II.

Prime Minister Olmert made the following remarks at the start of the meeting: "Good morning. I am privileged to welcome to Jerusalem the Secretary of State of the United States of America, Dr. Condoleezza Rice. Unfortunately, Madam Secretary, your visit to Jerusalem occurs during a very complex time for Israel. 

Israel was forced into war on two fronts simultaneously – both in the south and in the north. For over 12 days, more than 15% of the population of Israel has been forced to live in shelters because of the continuous rocket and missile attacks coming from Lebanon into the major cities of Israel, and into almost every village and township in the north part of our country.  All this is perpetrated by a brutal terrorist organization.

We are very conscious of the humanitarian difficulties that are a part of the life in Lebanon these days. And we will talk about it, and work together in order to help meet some of these needs of the Lebanese people.

I think it is very important, Madam Secretary, that I share with the enormous difficulties that hundreds of thousands of people, both in the south of Israel, and over a million and a half people in the north part of Israel are going through for a prolonged period of time. In the south, there are so many Israelis who were subjected to Kassam shootings in different cities for a long period of time. And in the north part of Israel, life almost has stopped completely, and people are sitting in these small, packed shelters, without air-conditioning, in the heat of the summer. They are not working, are unable to meet the basic elementary needs of their lives. This is an intolerable situation, and the primary responsibility of the Israeli Government is to try and somehow relieve those people from this terrible situation.

We are using the basic, elementary rights of self-defense against terrorist organizations, both in the south and in the north, and we will have to continue to fight against these terrorist organizations. We will fight against Hizbullah. As you know, we are not fighting the Lebanese government, and we are not fighting the Lebanese people. The Lebanese government, I hope, will make efforts to distance themselves from Hizbullah and from the terrorist organizations, and once they do it, they will find in us partners for all kinds of accommodations that will make life for the Lebanese easier and better, and certainly will help facilitate an arrangement that will end the war. But Hizbullah is a brutal terrorist organization, manipulated, operated, sponsored, financed, equipped and inspired by countries which are not interested in any major development in our part of the world. And Israel is determined to carry on the fight against Hizbullah. We will reach out for them, we will stop them, and we will not hesitate to take the most severe measures against those who are aiming thousands of missiles and missiles against innocent civilians for one purpose – to kill them.  This is something that we will not be able to tolerate.

Finally, Madam Secretary, Israel will work in complete compliance with the statement of the G8 Summit, which first and foremost calls for the release of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers and an end to the shelling of Israeli territory, and the full implementation of Resolution 1559 of the United Nations, which includes also the dismantlement of the Hizbullah as a terrorist organization, and the deployment of Lebanese forces in Lebanon, particularly in the south part of Lebanon, without the presence of any terrorist organization. 

You came yesterday, Madam Secretary, from Lebanon. We are aware, as I said, of the humanitarian needs of the population in Lebanon as a result of the brutality of the Hizbullah. I think, in complete sincerity, that I can say that the Lebanese and the Israelis are the victims of this brutal terrorist, murderous organization, the Hizbullah. And I think we have to work together, through your good services, to find ways to make it easier and better for the Lebanese. The Israeli people, the Government of Israel, will do everything in our power to reach this conclusion to the benefit of the uninvolved and innocent people, both in Lebanon and in Israel, and we are always so grateful to you for the good work – for the hard work – and the unlimited energies that you invest in order to make the lives of our people and of our neighbors better.

Thank you very much."

US Secy. of State Dr. Rice made the following remarks at the start of the meeting: "Thank you for welcoming me here. Let me say first that we do know that this is an extraordinarily difficult time for the Israeli people, and our hearts and thoughts and prayers go out to the Israeli people who have indeed suffered under terrorist attacks and the launching of missiles. That cannot be tolerated by a civilized community of states. We also note that this began with the abduction of Israeli soldiers by extremist organizations, and we ask for their safe and unconditional return to Israel and to their families. This is a part of the international consensus about what must be done.

I appreciate very much your recognition that innocent Lebanese are suffering, that it is extremely important that we find ways to deal with the humanitarian situation in Lebanon, and we will talk about some ways in which that might be done. Because the Lebanese people and their government deserve a better future than the one that they have been forced to… in the past that they have forced to live under for the last 30 years of foreign domination and extremist activity. We have a framework for a way forward, which is of course Resolution 1559, which was also expressed in the G8 Statement. That is, after all, a Security Council Resolution. Its implementation will help to bring stability, and it will help to bring peace, and it will help a democratic Lebanon to fully emerge. I have no doubts that there are those who wish to strangle a democratic and sovereign Lebanon in its crib, and we must not let that happen either.

I want to note too, Prime Minister, that while we are in extremely difficult circumstances at this moment and while we must respond immediately and urgently to the humanitarian needs, we of course urgently want also to end the violence so that innocent people can return to a free life. We need to do that, of course, in a way that is enduring. And that means that we cannot return to a status quo ante, in which extremists at any time can decide to take innocent life hostage again, by using their missiles or using their capabilities. And that is why we have, and the president, President Bush, has talked about an enduring ceasefire, an enduring cessation of violence, which would, indeed, make the security situation better than it was before, because- Prime Minister, I’ve said several times – I have no desire to be back in three weeks or 3 months or 6 months when, once again, extremists have decided to use their advantages to destabilize the peace.

I think that the international community has hard work ahead of it. I look forward to going to Rome to talk with members of the international community about what we can do in terms of the humanitarian situation, for particularly the people of Lebanon. There is increasingly a displaced persons problem, we need to be able to deal with that; for the future reconstruction of Lebanon; but also what we can do to begin to really lay the groundwork for an enduring peace in this region. 

The people of this region, Israeli, Lebanese, indeed Palestinian, have lived too long in fear, and in terror and in violence. A durable solution will be one that strengthens the forces of peace and the forces of democracy in this region, and I think there has been no stronger believer in that course than President Bush, and it is why he has asked me to come at this difficult time, because as we deal with the current circumstances, we need always to be cognizant of and looking to what kind of Middle East we are trying to build.  It is time for a new Middle East, it is time to say to those who do not want a different kind of Middle East that we will prevail, they will not.

Thank you very much."

US Secy. of State Rice updated Prime Minister Olmert on her meetings in Lebanon. The Prime Minister updated her on the situation in Israel’s northern and southern communities in the wake of the missile fire against Israel and on the IDF’s actions against Hizbullah and Hamas.

Prime Minister Olmert said that he was very sensitive to the humanitarian situation in Lebanon; therefore, he told the Secy. of State that Israel had decided to expand the humanitarian corridors in order to assist the Lebanese population. The Prime Minister noted that Israel would – with advance coordination – allow planes carrying humanitarian assistance to land at Beirut International Airport. Israel would also allow a land corridor from Israel to Lebanon in order to transfer international assistance to the Lebanese population. The Prime Minister said that Israel would continue to allow humanitarian assistance to arrive via the seaports of Beirut, Sidon and Tyre.

Prime Minister Olmert said that Israel would see to the opening of humanitarian land corridors inside Lebanon in order to facilitate the distribution of humanitarian assistance to all parts of the population. It was agreed that a team of international military experts would meet today with Israeli military officials in order to find the most efficient way of operating these corridors forthwith.

Prime Minister Olmert emphasized that Israel has no interest in harming the Lebanese population and added that Israel’s war is against the Hizbullah terrorist organization and not against either the Lebanese Government or the Lebanese people.

The two also discussed the Rome conference and various ideas for a diplomatic solution that would – in the end – lead to a permanent resolution of the crisis.

The sides agreed that any such settlement would have to be based on the principles of the G-8 declaration and on the full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution #1559, including the integration of international forces that will assist the Lebanese Army to fulfill these decisions.

The two sides also discussed the situation in the Palestinian Authority.  Prime Minister Olmert said that the actions’ defined goal is to bring the abducted soldier back home and halt the firing of Kassam missiles and terrorist actions against Israel – goals that were reapproved in the G-8 declaration. The Prime Minister said that Israel would continue to act against the Palestinian terrorist organizations, led by Hamas, and would pursue the terrorists in order to prevent the firing of Kassam missiles and the carrying out of other terrorist actions.

Prime Minister Olmert thanked US Secy. of State Rice for her efforts to bring about a solution to the crisis in the region and for the support shown by the US for Israel, especially by President George Bush.