TRANSCRIPT OF PRESS CONFERENCE ON MIDDLE EAST BY SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN KI-MOON, QUARTET PRINCIPALS AT UNITED NATIONS HEADQUARTERS, 26 SEPTEMBER 2008

27 September 2008
SG/SM/11834

TRANSCRIPT OF PRESS CONFERENCE ON MIDDLE EAST BY SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN KI-MOON, QUARTET PRINCIPALS AT UNITED NATIONS HEADQUARTERS, 26 SEPTEMBER 2008

27 September 2008
Secretary-General
SG/SM/11834
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, 26 SEPTEMBER 2008

Michèle Montas, Secretary-General’s Spokesperson:  We have with us the members of the Quartet: the Quartet Representative, Mr. Tony Blair; Mr. Javier Solana, High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union; Ms. Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State of the United States; the Secretary-General; Mr. Sergey Lavrov, Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation; and Ms. Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the European Commissioner for External Relations.  We will start with the Secretary-General.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon:  Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.  We had a very good Quartet meeting this afternoon.

We were briefed by Secretary Rice on the status of negotiations between the parties concerned, and by Quartet Representative Tony Blair on the situation on the ground.  We had a very fruitful meeting and exchange of views on the way forward and agreed to support the negotiation process between the parties and to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

To save time, I am not going to read out all the statement, but I would like to draw your special attention to the last paragraph, which will be distributed.  It says that the Quartet noted with appreciation the parties’ suggestion to brief the Quartet on their ongoing negotiation process with due regard for the confidential and bilateral nature of the discussions.  The Quartet expressed its interest in coordinating such a meeting in the region at a date to be determined.  This is going to be the first one, and the parties suggested that they could brief on their negotiation process to the Quartet.  We welcome, and we are going to determine the date in the region later, sometime this year.

Thank you very much.  We are ready for Q and A.

Question:  I’d like to welcome you all on behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association, and thank you for the opportunity to talk with you this evening.

I’d like to direct my first question to Madam Secretary Condoleezza Rice.  Earlier today, the League of Arab States and Saudi Arabia said that they thought the Middle East peace process is failing, and, they said, primarily because of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories.  I’d like you to respond to that.  And also, can you identify, within the last three months, any real, concrete progress that you can point to with regards to the process?

Condoleezza Rice , United States Secretary of State:  Well, first of all, we have a process, which we did not this time last year.  It is the most serious process in which the Palestinians and Israelis have been engaged in seven years.  When this Administration came into office, we faced an intifada; we faced terrorist attacks on the territory of Israel.  And I think they have come quite a long way from those dark days.  Indeed, they’ve come quite a long way from even this time last year.

I could cite the quite considerable efforts that are being made on the ground by the parties -- including by the Palestinians, to reform and improve their security forces, to take up security responsibilities; the work that Quartet Representative Tony Blair is doing on the economic side; the improvements in places like Bethlehem and Jenin and Nablus that are taking place on the ground.  As to the negotiations themselves, I have been very active with the parties, but I respect their need for confidentiality in their negotiations.  But the very fact that, on the day after she was asked to form a Government by the President of Israel, Tzipi Livni and her counterpart, Abu Ala, met, I think shows the seriousness of these parties.

And so, I am quite certain that this is a process that is ongoing, robust and that is bringing the parties closer to their goal.  It is a difficult process; there are difficult issues.  Had this been easy, it would have been solved 30 years ago.  But they are indeed working very hard, and I think it is a process that deserves the support of all of the parties and the encouragement of all of the parties, and I would ask all parties, including those in the region, to be encouraging of the parties.

Question:  My question is twofold, and it is also to Ms. Rice.  A couple of days ago, our [ Israel’s] President [Shimon] Peres said that he does not think that an agreement should be reached until the end of the year.  I would like to hear your opinion on that.  And also, do you think that the current Government change in Israel can help somehow affect the process?

Ms. Rice:  Well, obviously, on the last point, this is a matter for Israelis to resolve, because, to the degree that I understand the process, Minister Livni will now try to form a coalition and to bring a Government into being.  And we are continuing to work -- and have worked with Prime Minister [Ehud] Olmert; we will work with whatever Government emerges.  But I think it’s no secret that the fact that there is a lot going on in the Israeli political process means that the negotiations, while they are continuing, are obviously having to take account of the circumstances there.  Nonetheless, I want to repeat; the very fact that she met with her counterpart the very day after she was asked to form the Government portends well -- and, as I understand it, expressed her desire to see the process continue and to progress.

You asked also about Shimon Peres.  I have enormous respect for President Peres.  He is a long-time friend.  I think the best thing that we can do is to continue to work with the parties.  They will continue to work themselves.  I do believe they can still get an agreement by the end of the year.  It was never going to be easy; it’s certainly no easier now.  But the issues are also pretty clear, and I don’t think this is a matter of time.  I think it’s a matter of working urgently.  And, at the very least, they certainly have a process that is robust, and I think that they want to continue.  But I believe they still have an opportunity to reach agreement.

Ms. Montas: We’ll take just two more questions.

Question:  Madam Secretary, do you believe it is time for Lebanon to initiate direct talks with Israel?

Ms. Rice:  This is a decision that the Lebanese Government must take, as to how it will achieve the goal that we all have, for there also to be a resolution of any issues in the Lebanese-Israeli track.  You will remember that at Annapolis we talked about a comprehensive peace ultimately having to have an Israeli-Palestinian settlement, a Syrian-Israeli settlement and a Lebanese-Israeli settlement.  There is, of course, work that is yet to be done under resolution 1701 (2006) by the United Nations and by the Secretary-General concerning the matter of territory and Sheba’a Farms, delineation of the border -- that needs to take place -- work that needs to be done by the cartographers.  So, is a lot of groundwork that needs to be done.

But, you know, it is a remarkable thing that, as much as we think about the turmoil in the Middle East sometimes, a lot has happened.  There is a Lebanese Government with a Lebanese President, with whom I met yesterday, who is engaged in a national dialogue.  There is an Israeli-Syrian, at least indirect, negotiation being brokered by the Turks.  And there is a Palestinian-Israeli negotiation that is well under way.  And so, at some point, I would hope that the Lebanese would take advantage of what I think is an improving atmosphere to find a way to resolve whatever differences they may have as well.

Ms. Montas:  I’ll take the last question.

Question:  Maybe Mr. Blair can answer this one. Mr. [Amre] Moussa had some harsh words about the Quartet.  He was saying it’s becoming powerless and irrelevant after the settlements talk at the Security Council.

Tony Blair, Quartet Representative:  It’s perfectly possible to focus on the difficulties and to be negative about this, particularly in relation to issues like settlements.  But I think, if we were to take a step back and characterize what has happened in the last year, I mean, for seven years this whole process was spiralling down.  In the last year, the challenges are very obvious, but there has been progress.  We have a political negotiation that is under way, where the parties are talking, and talking about the real issues.  And that’s the first time this has happened for a long time.

Secondly, we have major security-sector change on the part of the Palestinians that is being supported by the international community.  But you go to Jenin, go to Nablus and talk to the people there; the Palestinian security forces are making a difference.

And thirdly, after years of construction on the West Bank -- we leave aside Gaza for obvious reasons at the moment -- but on the West Bank, there are things that are happening; not just small-scale projects and the larger-scale projects being agreed and the industrial parks, but a new platform for housing, with support from the international community; the new mobile telephone license agreement that has been done.

So, you can of course say -- and pick out the issue of settlements -- and the Quartet today has made a very strong statement on that question.  But the fact is that we have the possibility now of substantial change around the politics, on the security and on getting the right changes on the West Bank to the economy there, which will allow us some hope for the future.  Now, there’s a massive amount still to do; nobody is under any illusion about that at all.  But there has been some change and some progress. And, what is more, we now have an agreed strategy framework from the international community upon which we can build.

And if you look -- just to finish on this point -- if you look at what is happening in the Jenin area, in the north of Palestine, the Palestinian security forces are performing; there is the possibility now of some economic and social development there in Jenin; and if we make this work -- and we’ve still got work to do there as well -- but if we make it work, then, as well as a political process of negotiation, you will have the bottom-up capability being created for a Palestinian State for the future.

So the last thing anyone should ever be in this situation is foolishly optimistic.  We know what all the challenges are and, as I say, it’s possible to be totally negative.  But that’s not my perspective.  My perspective is that this was going down and down and down for seven years.  It has stopped going down; it is moving back up; it has to move far faster back up.  But there is for the first time an agreed strategy around politics, the security situation and how we lift the pressure of occupation, that gives us a genuine platform for the future, in my view.

Question:  One question for Secretary Rice and Minister Lavrov?

Ms. Montas:  Yes, go ahead.

Question:  Minister Lavrov, earlier in the week you spoke about the fact that it wasn’t time for another sanctions resolution on Iran.  What was it about this particular resolution that you proposed that you thought would benefit the process of getting Iran to suspend its nuclear activities?

Madam Secretary, in your address today to the Security Council, it seemed a little bit frustrated with the lack of Security Council action -- not necessarily on the nuclear front, but about President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad’s comments towards Israel, and the like.  Do you think that the Security Council on the whole has been tough enough on Iranian behaviour across the board? Thank you.

Sergey Lavrov, Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation(interpretation from Russian):  Thank you.  I will begin by answering your question.  It is true that we believed and continue to believe that it is not timely to, at this time, consider at the ministerial level, or at any other level, this proposal on new sanctions against Iran.  This position has in no way changed.  We are certain that, based on those assessments that are contained in the latest report of the Director General of the [International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)], Mr. [Mohamed] ElBaradei, we can and must continue efforts to create conditions for the beginning of negotiations, based on the proposals that our group -- the three plus three, or the five plus one: you can refer to it in several different ways -- has submitted for consideration by the Iranian side.

With respect to the resolution that today was submitted on behalf of the six in the Security Council, it pursues the primary goal of clearly reaffirming that no one can have any doubt that the six continue to maintain their unity with respect to the primary goal that unites us.  That goal is to help IAEA to ascertain that there is no military aspect to the nuclear programme in Iran.  This goal remains valid.  Despite the practical differences that emerge at times in terms of how to move towards that, the six are committed to that goal.  And by reaffirming the existing resolutions of the Security Council and by calling on Iran to fully implement them, I believe that we all would send an important signal that there should be no attempts to cast doubt on the crucial task related to strengthening the non-proliferation regime.

Ms. Rice:  As to the statement that I made today, it was simply a statement that I think needs to be made in the Security Council.  It is really quite an extraordinary circumstance to see one Member of the United Nations call for the destruction of another Member of the United Nations and have nothing said about that by the Security Council, which, after all, is charged with threats to international peace and security.  And I think, when we have general debates, general discussions in the Security Council, that it is important to take note of the really terrible things that have been said by the Iranian President about the State of Israel, including in his most recent speech before the United Nations General Assembly.  I think it simply isn’t appropriate in civilized company, and I wanted to make that point.

As to the Security Council and its continued efforts, we are working on a dual-track strategy.  We did want to show the unity of the six in continuing along that dual-track strategy, but I would just note that we have had three Security Council resolutions.  And I think it speaks well for the Security Council that it has been able to do that.  We’ve not yet convinced the Iranians that the negotiated track is in their interest, but I hope that there are reasonable people in Iran who might want to take a way out and to stop deepening their isolation.

Ms. Montas:  Okay, we will have to end it here. Thank you all so very much. Our participants have had a very long day.

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