TRANSCRIPT OF PRESS CONFERENCE ON MIDDLE EAST BY SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN KI-MOON, QUARTET PRINCIPALS AT UNITED NATIONS HEADQUARTERS, 23 SEPTEMBER 2007

23 September 2007
SG/SM/11174

TRANSCRIPT OF PRESS CONFERENCE ON MIDDLE EAST BY SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN KI-MOON, QUARTET PRINCIPALS AT UNITED NATIONS HEADQUARTERS, 23 SEPTEMBER 2007

23 September 2007
Secretary-General
SG/SM/11174
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

TRANSCRIPT OF PRESS CONFERENCE ON MIDDLE EAST BY SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN KI-MOON,

QUARTET PRINCIPALS AT UNITED NATIONS HEADQUARTERS, 23 SEPTEMBER 2007

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon:  Good evening, ladies and gentlemen of the media.  We had a very good, constructive Quartet meeting this afternoon.  I am going to read out the joint statement.  I would like to inform you that, after this press conference, we are going to have another meeting with the Arab partners over dinner, an iftar dinner.

The joint statement reads as follows.

The Quartet principals met today together with the Quartet Representative, Tony Blair.

The Quartet recognized the present opportunity for progress and the robust regional and international desire for peace in the Middle East.  The Quartet expressed its strong support for the ongoing bilateral talks between Prime Minister [Ehud] Olmert and President [Mahmoud] Abbas and welcomed the formation of Israeli and Palestinian teams to discuss the core issues that are essential to progress towards their shared goal of a negotiated two-State solution and establishment of a viable Palestinian State living side by side with a secure Israel.  The Quartet welcomed parallel steps taken by the parties to build confidence and improve conditions on the ground.  The Quartet underscored the need for immediate additional steps to meet previous commitments, including those under the Road Map and the Agreement on Movement and Access, so as to create a positive atmosphere conducive to progress towards a two-State solution.

The Quartet expressed support for the international meeting on Israeli-Palestinian peace called for by President [George W.] Bush in his 16 July statement.  Principals discussed the meeting and agreed that it should be substantive and serious, providing support to the parties in their bilateral discussions and negotiations in order to move forward urgently on a successful path to a Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza that will unite all Palestinians.  The goal of this meeting is to bring together key members of the international community in support of efforts between the Israelis and Palestinians to end their conflict and help bring a final peace in the Middle East.  The Quartet expects the meeting to affirm its support for the two-State solution based on a rejection of violence and its support for progress by the parties in their bilateral discussions.  The meeting should also review progress that has been made towards building Palestinian institutions and discuss innovative and effective ways to support further Palestinian reform.  The Quartet will work for a successful international meeting and for the implementation of its conclusions.

Quartet Representative Tony Blair briefed the Quartet on his meetings and discussions in the region, and discussed the way forward on the development of a functioning Palestinian economy and the institutions of governance that will form the foundation of a Palestinian State.  The Quartet agreed that Mr. Blair should work closely with the Palestinian Authority Government in developing a multi-year agenda for institutional and economic development, and looked forward to strong technical and financial support from the international community in support of these efforts, beginning with the 24 September Ad Hoc Liaison Committee meeting.  In that context, the Quartet called upon all countries that are able to contribute to urgently provide financial support to the Palestinian Authority.  The Quartet endorsed an extension of the Temporary International Mechanism until 31 December 2007, and expressed its hope that during this period, a mechanism would be established to facilitate the transition to direct international assistance to this Palestinian Authority Government.

The Quartet expressed concern over conditions in Gaza.  It agreed on the importance of continued emergency and humanitarian assistance without obstruction.  The Quartet called for the continued provision of essential services.  It expressed its urgent concern over the continued closure of major crossing points, given the impact on the Palestinian economy and daily life.  The Quartet further noted its grave concern over the continued rocket fire from Gaza into Israel, and recent efforts by Hamas to stifle freedom of speech and the press.

The Quartet discussed its forthcoming meeting with members of the Arab League follow-up committee to consult on next steps on the Arab Peace Initiative and regional support for bilateral talks between the parties.

The Quartet reaffirmed its commitment to a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East based on United Nations Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973).

Thank you very much.

Question:  Mr. Secretary-General and distinguished members of the Quartet, I would like to welcome you all on behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association -- and a particular welcome to Mr. Blair, who is making his first appearance in the United Nations since you assumed your duties.

In the statement, you expressed only concern over the conditions in Gaza, in sharp contrast to what’s really happening on the ground there.  Relief organizations like Oxfam International said, unless you solve the humanitarian conditions there, especially starvation, the peace process has no chance to proceed.  I wonder if you have any comment in light of the short meeting you had today, and whether you’re waiting for the meeting in Washington happening soon, organized by the White House, in order to seek real solutions for [the] Gaza Strip.

The Secretary-General:  Thank you very much.  The United Nations has borne its humanitarian responsibilities all around the world, wherever they need our assistance.  It is much more so in [the] Gaza Strip, Palestinian State.  I have expressed my concern on several occasions already about this closure of the crossings and all these difficulties Palestinian people are suffering.  There are 1.4 million people.  Among them, more than 80 per cent are depending upon the humanitarian assistance from the United Nations agencies, led by UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East], and other agencies.  Therefore, it is crucially important that the United Nations continue without any hindrance this humanitarian assistance.

At the same time, just providing daily humanitarian assistance will not help much in revitalizing their economy.  Therefore, there should be free movement and opening of the crossings.  So this is a very important aspect.

At the same time, this peace process should continue.  It is encouraging that the Palestinian and Israeli leaders have been meeting regularly.  Our Quartet Representative, Mr. Tony Blair, has been actively engaged, together with Secretary Rice and many other Quartet principals.  These diplomatic activities will continue and will have to continue, and we sincerely hope that the international meeting called for by President Bush in the fall, in November, will also address this issue overall and comprehensively.

Question:  Madam Secretary, one of your aides said that the follow-up committee of the Arab League will be invited to the conference this fall.  Based on your discussions here, how confident are you that Saudi Arabia and Syria will attend the peace conference?  And do these invitations mean that this conference is evolving into an effort to push for a full-scale comprehensive peace in the Middle East beyond the bilateral track that’s been discussed previously?

Condoleezza Rice, United States Secretary of State:  Well, I think that the contours of the meeting have been described as a meeting to encourage and support the bilateral track that the Israelis and the Palestinians have established, and on which I think there is a good deal of momentum.  The meeting, of course, will obviously take note of the fact that, ultimately, there has to be a comprehensive peace in the Middle East.  That is why its framework is resolution 242, 338; why the Road Map and the Arab Peace Initiative -- all of which contemplate a comprehensive peace -- will form the framework, the basis, for the meeting.  But we have an opportunity on the Israeli-Palestinian track to move that forward because of the maturing of the bilateral discussions between Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas.  And we should not miss the opportunity to support and push forward on that track.

I should note that the meeting will, I believe, take note, not only of the importance of that bilateral political track and will clearly need to have serious and substantive discussions about the core issues that are being discussed in that track, but it will also be very important to have this meeting take note of the importance of the capacity-building efforts that Prime Minister Blair is involved in; it will have to take note of the importance of pushing forward the improvements on the situation on the ground.  We have a series of meetings and activities coming up.  We’ve had the Quartet meeting here.  We’ll have the iftar with the Arab League follow-up committee afterthis press conference.  We have a meeting of the [Ad Hoc Liaison Committee] tomorrow, which will lay the groundwork for a donors conference in December.  And, of course, we have the international meeting.

So I think that there’s a sense of momentum in support of the Palestinians and the Israelis in their efforts to end the conflict.  Now, there’s a lot of work to do, a lot of hard work ahead of us, and so, as always the case with the Middle East, one should recognize that the road ahead is one that is very difficult.  But, given that it has been a number of years since the Israelis and the Palestinians have expressed their interest in discussing the core issues between them, it is very important that the regional players, as the international community, mobilize to support them.

Now, as to the invitations, we haven’t issued invitations as such, but it’s only natural that we would hope that the participants would include the members of the Arab follow-up committee, because that is the committee that has been charged by the Arab League with following up with the international community on the Arab Peace Initiative, which we would hope would be one part of the discussions, or one of the primary means for discussing these issues at the international meeting.  And we have a lot of work to do before we get to the question of who will accept and who will come.  But it would be an only natural outcome of all that has happened that the members of the follow-up committee would hopefully be there.

Question:  The question is for Madam Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov.  After reports of Syria going on nuclear efforts, can you explain how the international community missed that fact?  And do you think that Syria should be part of the international community?

And, Mr. Lavrov, can you tell us if the fact that your country is supplying weapons to Syria, and from there to Hizbullah, is something that helps the general peace process?

Ms. Rice:  Well, the United States has made no secret of its concerns about proliferation in general.  I am not going to comment on any specific issues, but I’ve seen press reports; I won’t comment on anything specific.  But, we obviously are very concerned about dangerous activities in a region that is already very dangerous.

We have spoken repeatedly about the need of the Syrian regime to change behaviour that is, frankly, very harmful to the region, to accept the international community’s insistence that Lebanon be able to carry out its constitutional processes without intimidation, that Lebanese sovereignty should be respected.  We have been very clear that we have grave concerns about the terrorists that are being allowed to cross the border into Iraq and are putting at danger innocent Iraqis, as well as coalition forces.  And, of course, there is the question of support for those who would reject a two-State solution.  And so this is -- obviously, the position of the United States is very clear about the need for change in the behaviour of the Syrian regime.

The process on which we are about to -- the process on which we are launched to try and support the nascent, very fragile work that Palestinians and Israelis are doing together should have the support of the entire international community, and it should especially have the support of the regional neighbours.  And, in a sense, we would hope that those who choose to come to this meeting are indeed signalling that they support the two-State solution, that they support the renunciation of violence and that they support the many agreements that Palestinians -- Palestinian leaders have signed on behalf of their people that would lay the framework for a two-State solution.

Sergey Lavrov, Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation:  I’ll speak in Russian, so get ready with your earphones.  (Interpretation from Russian) We are selling weapons to Syria, as we do to many other countries.  Accordingly, we are doing the same as many other producers of arms.  Everything that we sell fully and transparently meets our international obligations and our export control legislation, one of the toughest in the world.  When the nature of our deliveries is determined for Syria, we do not allow any deliveries that would disrupt the balance of power in the region, specifically in the Middle East.  Our deliveries to Syria are for defensive arms, and in no way can that balance be disrupted.

Moreover, given the particular delicacy of questions related to deliveries of arms to this region, in our contract we always prohibit the transfer of weapons to anyone apart from the direct recipient of such weapons.

And with regard to Syria, we have mechanisms and inspections; we can see where the arms we have delivered are -- whoever is concerned.  If there are facts indicating that obligations have not been fulfilled, if those obligations have been violated, we always investigate such instances.  But, in this instance, we have not received any facts.  We have spoken about this with our Israeli colleagues, and they are worried about this.

The last point I want to make is that, in principle, in order to attain the goals mentioned by Secretary Rice -- to make the meeting planned to be held in Washington this autumn effective, to make it truly lead to practical steps that will ultimately lead not only to an Israeli-Palestinian settlement, but to a Middle East settlement on all tracks -- the countries of the region definitely have to be involved.  One should not try to isolate them.  I am convinced that, through that policy of involvement, not exclusion or isolation, we will achieve much more than we would achieve simply through talking about who is guilty.  First you need the facts, then you need honest cooperation involving everyone in the settlement process.  We should not leave anyone out of this.

Question:  Secretary Rice, just can we have a clear answer on whether Syria will be invited or not?  I mean, yes or no.  And also, at the same time, obviously you’ve dealt with the situation in Gaza.  Can you kindly tell us how do you think the situation there will be solved.  Obviously, it can’t go on forever.  And I’d like also to hear what Mr. Lavrov said about that, because you’ve had your own talks with Hamas, Sir.

Ms. Rice:  First of all, all of the members of the Arab follow-up committee, we believe, would be natural invitees for this meeting.  It is extremely important, though, to note that the purpose of this meeting in supporting the Israelis and the Palestinians has to be a commitment to actually supporting a two-State solution.  And so, since we believe that the Arab Initiative, in effect, is intended to do that, it makes sense that the members of the follow-up committee would be natural participants.

As to Gaza, the position of the United States on Gaza is very clear: first of all, that the West Bank and Gaza are both constituent parts of the Palestinian Territory and, when there is a Palestinian State, would be constituent parts of a Palestinian State; secondly, that Prime Minister [Salam] Fayyad and President Abbas are the legitimate authorities, the legitimate representatives of all the Palestinian people, wherever they live.  And in that regard, what happened in Gaza with the undermining -- in effect the overthrow -- of legitimate Palestinian institutions does not mean that the legitimate Palestinian Authority is not still -- should not still be the recognized authority for Gaza.  Third, and most importantly, the United States will never abandon the people of Gaza simply because they live in Gaza.  We will continue our humanitarian efforts.  We have intensified those efforts over the last year and a half, increasing substantially our humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people.  And we do agree that that humanitarian assistance needs to be delivered to the people of Gaza without obstruction.  We have talked with our -- I have talked with the Israelis about the importance of maintaining a focus on the humanitarian plight of the people of Gaza.  There are innocent people there who should not have to suffer because of the political coup d’état that took place as a result of what Hamas did a couple of months ago.

So, we hope that, ultimately, the prospect, the beginnings of the -- the emergence of a concrete idea of the Palestinian State will be a unifying factor for all Palestinians.  But I just think it’s extremely important that we recognize that Gazans are a part of the Palestinian people, and Abu Mazen -- President Abbas -- and Salam Fayyad represent the Palestinian people.

Mr. Lavrov (interpretation from Russian): Again, I will speak Russian.  As I already said, we all attach particular importance to the upcoming United States meeting proposed by President Bush.  We supported that initiative, and all members of the Quartet said that they were ready, that they were interested in participating in the preparations in order to make it a success.  And today, we agreed how specifically to work in that area.  If everything comes off, that could mark the beginning, for the first time in I do not know how many years, of practical progress: moving towards a settlement not just between the Palestinians and the Israelis, but in the Middle East as a whole, on all tracks, and opening the way towards an international conference on the Middle East.  That has repeatedly been mentioned by President [Vladimir] Putin; the members of the League of Arab States have said they are in favour of it; and we in the Quartet have said that we would definitely have that prospect in mind and would plan further steps to that end.

As I said, it is clear that a comprehensive settlement is impossible if one part of a people, or one people, is left in isolation by the side of the road.  As Secretary Rice has said, the Palestinians of Gaza are an intrinsic part of the Palestinian people.  Thus, we devoted special attention during our discussions to the fact that we should prevent a situation, in this nascent process which is just getting under way, in which any part of the Palestinian people would be isolated.  That would only increase the fracture that has occurred.  I am sure that the restoration of the unity of the Palestinians is a priority.  In parallel with preparations for steps on the Palestinian-Israeli track, we need to ensure that the Palestinian side of the equation is united, which would also strengthen their negotiating position.

Of course, there is the separate question of the humanitarian situation in Gaza.  I think that many of you are aware of the draft World Bank report, which paints a very grim picture and offers very grim prospects.

Therefore, in our statement, which was read out by the Secretary-General, we particularly highlight the need for unimpeded -- I stress, “unimpeded” -- access for humanitarian assistance and emergency assistance to Gaza.  Russia is interested in this issue because the assistance -- three weeks ago we sent assistance, food and medicine -- has, so far, not been able to get to Gaza.

Question:  Secretary Rice, you saw the Saudi Foreign Minister today.  Do you have any reason to believe that he would attend the November conference?  Also, can you and Prime Minister Blair shed some more light on the substance of the meeting?  Do you expect actual agreements on the outlines of how to solve the core issue of borders, refugees, Jerusalem, even final status?

And, Mr. Blair, you had a request on [an] economic development summit from Israeli businessmen at the same time as the November summit.  Is that going to be part of it?

Ms. Rice:  Thank you, and then I’ll turn over to Tony Blair.  First of all, let me just go back for one moment to the Gaza question, because we are very concerned about the people of Gaza.  I think it bears noting that we also have to be concerned about the security situation.  We have to be concerned about rockets being fired from Gaza into Israel.  And we have to be concerned about the security situation for Palestinians.  And so, let’s remember how we got to where we are.  And the Quartet’s statement also notes that it is extremely important that the steps be taken, or that the security situation in Gaza be addressed and that the rocket fire stop.  So, I want to make that very clear.

As to attendance at the meeting, as I said, we will be working on this issue and we are very clear in our discussions with our colleagues that this meeting is going to be serious and substantive, that, of course, it has to address the core issues.  It would really make no sense for the United States to invite members of the international community, regional actors, the parties themselves to have a meeting that was not serious and substantive and didn’t address the core issues.  We have many things to do, and so I’m sure we could find something better to do than to have a meeting that did not address those issues.  And so, we also recognize that, in coming to the meeting, we hope that those who come are really committed to helping the Israelis and the Palestinians find a way through.  And that means renouncing violence, it means working for a peaceful solution, it means working on the basis of all of the many documents that, to now, have formed the framework for an eventual peace.  And so, coming to this meeting also brings with it certain responsibilities, and we hope that there will be full participation of those who want to see a Palestinian State established, as the United States and as the members of the Quartet most certainly want to see.

Tony Blair, Quartet Representative:  First of all, I think it’s important just to understand what the big picture is, if you like, arising out of the meetings that have been happening out in the region and the Quartet meeting today.  The most important thing is that things are moving again.  There is momentum back in this process.  That doesn’t mean to say that we’re foolishly optimistic after all the difficulties of the past.  But things are moving again.  And there are three parts to that.  The first is that there is a reinvigoration of the political process.  That is the importance of the meeting that the Americans are calling.  That political process, of course, is not going to be able to resolve all the outstanding issues straight away -- of course not.  But it will give a political horizon that puts credibility back into the process.  That is the aim; that’s what people want to see.  And that is something that President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert will negotiate together.

The second thing is that there is going to be then the publication of the Palestinian national agenda for action, which is about creating the institutions of a Palestinian State, because a State without proper functioning institutions is not a State.  A State’s not just about territory; it’s about capacity, capability, about governance.

And then the third aspect to this is that there have got to be things happening on the ground that give hope to people, in Israel and on the Palestinian side, that their lives are going to improve, that things are going to change, that people have the prospect of an improvement in their living standards, in their ability to live normal lives.  That is where, for example, the proposals put by Israeli businessmen, by Palestinian businessmen, by others in the international community, are also important.

So, these three things move together the whole time: the reinvigoration of the political process, the Palestinians building the institutions of a serious, well-functioning State, and things improving on the ground.  And the important thing, I think, also to realize is that, over these next few months, there will be two very important meetings -- not just one, but two actually.  The first will, of course, be the meeting that Secretary Rice has referred to.  But the second will also be an opportunity for the international community, as supporters and donors to the Palestinian Authority, to come behind the Palestinian agenda for action and support it.

So, our aim, if you like, is to get to the end of this year, the end of the period of the next few months, with real hope back in the political process, with a sense of what this Palestinian State could look like in terms of capability and governance and with things improving on the ground.  And that is -- you know, those are, in one sense quite ambitious objectives for the next few months, but I think they are achievable if the right will and the right focus is there.  And, certainly, it’s important that it is.

Question:  I understand that at the meeting, the following meeting, the iftar, that two members -- two directly involved parties in the conflict of the Middle East are not invited: Palestine and Lebanon.  I can’t understand the logic why would you exclude both Palestine and Lebanon from the next meeting coming up.  If I am wrong, I stand corrected, please.

And, Madam Rice, why is it you think, that you are, despite your goodwill, there is a lack of confidence in what you’re trying to do, to bring about this important conference.

And why is it that, for example, Mr. Lavrov, if you care to tell us, how much do you care that when you speak of comprehensive, how much do you care that the Lebanon issue is very much on the table -- for example, to safeguard the constitutional process so that there would be an elected President and that the country would remain together, at least to get the table there?

Ms. Rice:  The Secretary-General will speak to the first part.

The Secretary-General:  For the first part of your question, we have invited exactly the same countries who participated in the Arab partners meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh in May.

Ms. Rice:  No, no.  This was a meeting also with the Arab follow-up -- [unintelligible].

We’ll get you a complete guest list.  But our understanding is that it is the follow-up committee that the Arab League produced, or named, to follow up on the Arab Initiative -- that that is the purpose of the meeting.  But the Secretary-General will comment further on that later.

Yes, sure, the question about confidence in what we’re doing.  There have been many, many disappointments over many decades about moving this forward.  And I understand that.  And I understand that perhaps there is scepticism as to whether or not we can succeed this time.  As Tony Blair said, anyone who has dealt with issues in the Middle East knows to be cautious in your optimism about whether we can achieve what we’re trying to achieve.  But I would just note that we’ve come a long way since the end of the Camp David process in 2000.  We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs.  President Bush enunciated, in 2002, the desire to see two States living side by side, one Israel, one Palestine, in peace and freedom.  He was the first American President to make that statement as a matter of policy.  Even this year, we have been through a lot of ups and downs to get to where we are now.  I would remind that, I think when I was in Jerusalem and we held the trilateral in February, frankly, conditions were not very good and the atmosphere was not very good.

And so we’ve come a long way in a relatively short period of time.  We believe that the international meeting has the potential to galvanize people on the political front and to give the international community, the regional States and, most importantly, the parties something to shoot for, something to look forward to.  And, that is frankly all that we can do, and then to work as hard as possible so that the meeting has the kind of substantive, serious core that we all want it to have.

But I’m not surprised that people wonder if we’re going to succeed.  If this conflict had been easy to solve it would have been solved long ago.  But the commitment of this President of the United States, of myself personally, of the United States Government and, I sense, of the international community to try and to make progress here is very firm.  And all that you can do is to put in your best effort.  I think there is a lot of goodwill, there is a lot of commitment.  And, hopefully, this time we’ll succeed.

Mr. Lavrov(interpretation from Russian):  Raghida, I did not quite get the point of your question.  You asked about Lebanon or what my attitude is to the constitutional process in Lebanon.  Well, my attitude is one of respect for the constitutional process in any country.  I am convinced that, if no one impedes the Lebanese, they will be able to agree on how to overcome the current crisis.  We know that many eminent politicians in Lebanon are thinking about how to prevent the situation from slipping again into a profound crisis and are putting forward initiatives.  And, I repeat, the main thing is not to get in the way of the Lebanese.  Then I think everything will be fine.

Question:  There seems to be a new emphasis on, even a new urgency in pushing the proclamation of a Palestinian State, which was supposed to be at the end of the Road Map.  So, is the Road Map dead?  And, if not, how do you reconcile this new process that you’re trying to push with the Road Map?  And also, what are the concrete conditions on the ground for a Palestinian State to be acceptable in your view.

Ms. Rice:  Well, I’m very glad that you asked the question, because I think the Road Map is still a reliable guide that is supported by the entire international community on how a Palestinian State gets established.  And if you look at the phase-one commitments, it is very hard to imagine the establishment of a Palestinian State in which the phase-one commitments have not been realized or have not been carried through.  And so, absolutely, those phase-one commitments have to be met.

What is very clear is that -- after some experience over the last several years -- is that the political horizon for the Palestinian people, and indeed for the Israeli people, is an important ingredient of the momentum and the commitment and the sense of a real outcome in order for people to have the capability and the energy, if you will, to meet those phase-one commitments.  I don’t think it was ever envisioned in the Road Map that it wouldn’t be possible to even discuss or talk about or potentially even negotiate the outlines, the content of a Palestinian State.  But it is absolutely the case that you’re not going to be able to establish a Palestinian State if you don’t have a commitment to end terror, if you don’t have a commitment to end settlement activity, if you don’t have a commitment to non-violence.  All of those things have to be achieved.  The Palestinians will have to have capacities.  They will have to have security forces that can provide security against terrorism, but that can also provide security for the Palestinian people.

All of these things are integral and essential for the establishment of a Palestinian State.  So, the Road Map remains in place.  The Road Map remains a reliable guide.  It also remains a document to which the international community is committed through a Security Council resolution.  It is going to be critical that the Road Map obligations be met if the Palestinian State is going to be established.  And it’s one reason that the work that Tony Blair is doing -- and, by the way, the work that General Keith Dayton on the establishment of reliable, integrated Palestinian forces that truly report to the Palestinian Authority.

Mr. Blair:  If I could just add to that very briefly.  The Road Map remains, and, as Secretary Rice has just said, all the issues in that are the valid issues and will have to be addressed if you’re ever going to get a solution.  The important thing, I think, however, to understand about what has been happening recently, is, first of all, that for people to make advances, they need to have some sense of where the process is heading politically.  And the questions that people were asking a few months back, or a few weeks back, were all about the meeting that President Bush had called for.  Was it going to be substantial or was it not going to be substantial?  I think the importance of today’s communiqué is there’s an answer to that.  It is going to be substantial.  We want it to be a substantive, serious discussion with an outcome which allows us to see how we then move the process forward.  So that’s on the political horizon, which is taken forward, as they say, by Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas.

But the second point about the Palestinian capability.  Let me just make this very clear.  In the end, for a Palestinian State to be created, there are questions about the nature of that State -- has it got a proper security infrastructure, are its public services properly functioning, does it have the infrastructure that it needs, are the systems of governance in place? -- that are a vital part of the questions you would ask about any State.  And the important thing, I think, to keep in your mind the whole time is that these things shouldn’t be divorced from each other; they actually go together -- the political horizon, so that people know what they’re aiming for and know what they’re trying to achieve, and the practical steps necessary to make a reality of that.  And I think it’s both of those things going together, plus the immediate changes that we need on the ground to give people some sense things are really happening, that is the work of the next few months.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.