Press Availability With Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas

Secretary Condoleezza Rice

January 14, 2007

PRESIDENT ABBAS: (Via interpreter) In the name of Allah the Most Merciful, the Compassionate, I am happy to welcome Dr. Rice in our country once again here in Ramallah today, and I thank her always for all of the efforts exerted to make peace in this country possible and achievable.

We have discussed today with Dr. Rice several topics, on top of which lies the peace process, and that it is indeed to provide the appropriate circumstances and conditions to revive the peace process so that it has a meaning and leads to ending the Israeli occupation that commenced in 1967, as stated in the roadmap and achieving President Bush's vision by establishing an independent, contiguous, viable Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital living side by side with Israel in security and stability.

In order to give the political process the opportunity it deserves and to regain its credibility and the trust of the region's people therein, it is primordial to immediately halt all Israeli colonial activities in the Palestinian territories, stop the separation and expansion wall and put an end to the siege and closure in its various forms imposed upon our people and planned. It is also primordial to release our prisoners in the occupation's prisons and stop the policy of incursions as read as collective punishment, the last of which was the incursion into Ramallah and the killing of four innocent Palestinian citizens with tens injured along the damage in property.

We have stressed on the importance of continuing the consensus truce in the Gaza Strip to expand it to the West Bank, considering that including this truce to all the Palestinian territories is a guarantee for maintaining it. And along that truce and because we are committed to maintaining the truce, I would like to commend the important efforts made by Egypt to ensure the release of Palestinian prisoners and the Israeli soldiers gradually.

We have also noted to Minister Rice our decision to end any temporary or transitional solutions including a state with temporary borders because we do not believe it to be a realistic choice that can be built upon. We have also emphasized the importance of active and continuous mobilization by the various regional and international parties to put an end to the conflict and its repercussions to achieve a durable and just peace and all of the repercussions of six decades of conflict to achieve a comprehensive, just and a durable peace at all levels and in all tracks so that the region and its people will enjoy peace and stability.

Also we explained to Dr. Rice our efforts to form a national unity government with a program capable of lifting the siege and boosting the peace process through which we will regain control over our occupied land and establish our independent state, regain all of our national legal rights which are recognized by the whole world as our right. And we hope and we endeavor to achieve this as soon as possible so this would lead to a happy end by which the (inaudible) government will be established, otherwise we will go back to the people and we will hold legislative and presidential elections, early elections.

We have also discussed the meeting I had with the Israeli Prime Minister Olmert. It was a good meeting in which we tackled various issues that concern the future of our peoples and peace, and we are waiting for the application of our agreements. We have also stressed on the importance of the Palestinian national unity and our absolute refusal to solve any disputes regardless of what the nature they are with violence or to reach internal domestic violence. Thus, we will do our utmost to impose the rule of law and restrict carrying arms to the legal security forces who abide by the official policy.

Again, on my behalf and on behalf of the Palestinian people, I welcome you, Dr. Rice, and I hope her efforts will bring fruit.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much, Mr. President. Thank you again for welcoming me here to Ramallah to your headquarters here. We've had a very fruitful discussion. We have had a chance to review a number of issues, including some of the questions concerning movement and access. We have had a chance also to review the results of the successful meeting between President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert, and I've pledged that we will do everything that we can to help build on the success of that meeting so that we maintain the momentum that was created by that very important meeting.

I came here to Ramallah as I am going around the Middle East to say to everyone that the United States is deeply committed to finding ways to accelerate progress on the roadmap. The roadmap, after all, is the internationally recognized guide to the establishment of a two-state solution and we should fulfill all of its terms.

I am also here to talk about how we can build on the momentum that is currently in Palestinian-Israeli relations to look at the political horizon and to begin to show to the Palestinian people how we might move toward the establishment of a Palestinian state, something that President Bush has clearly set out as an objective of American policy all the way back in 2001.

I want to say to you, Mr. President, as I will say to others, that I have heard loud and clear the call for deeper American engagement in these processes. The United States is absolutely committed to helping to find a solution where Israelis and Palestinians can live in security, in which they can live in peace and in which they can live in democracy. These are our goals and I've heard again the call that America deepen its involvement, and you will have my commitment to do precisely that. President Bush sends his regards as well.

And I want everyone to know, particularly the Palestinian people, how much we admire the leadership of President Abbas as a leader of the Palestinian people. I know of the struggles, Mr. President, to improve the circumstances of daily life for the Palestinian people, particularly in the difficult circumstances now in which there are internal conflicts among the Palestinian people. But I want you to know that our desire is for the Palestinian people to be able to live in unity and in democracy and in peace with a government that can get the respect and the support of the international community. That is something that the Palestinian people deserve. Thank you very much.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Dr. Rice, why have you come to Ramallah, especially under circumstances that speak of a state with temporary borders? Or is the visit, like your previous visit, is just for listening?

President Mahmoud Abbas talks of access, national dialogue. To what extent have you reached an understanding?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, it's not a bad thing to listen because sometimes you hear what parties need. I just want to say, you know, there have been many failed attempts to resolve the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis and to make progress, and we need to learn that it is important to listen and to talk and to understand where we're going. And we've made a lot of progress over recent years in particular because of the hard work of President Abbas and we are going to continue to press forward.

I have also heard the President today about how he sees the end state. I've heard how he sees the roadmap and how to get to that end state. And so I think it's not a bad thing to listen. But you're absolutely right, it's also important to act and we'll look for ways to act.

PRESIDENT ABBAS: (Via interpreter) Regarding the efforts to form a government of national unity, you know that we have been exerting tremendous efforts over the past six months to come with a government capable of lifting the siege. When I say capable of lifting the siege, it is known that there are requirements that must be met by this government. We want the world and all of the countries of the world to lift the siege imposed upon us and this government must be in conciliation with the Palestinian legitimacy and with the resolutions of the Arab summit and international legitimacy.

These efforts, as I said, have been halted now. There are new efforts. There are many who want to make efforts on their own. We do not object. The important thing is to achieve results, which is to form a national unity government. I cannot say now that we have achieved the tangible thing because we still — unless we achieve all, we will not be speaking of anything.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, can you be more specific about exactly what the proposed $85 million U.S. grant for the Palestinian security services would be used for and what guarantees or controls you envision to make sure that that money is not used, for example, to settle old scores?

And for the President, would you prefer that this money go primarily to purchase weapons or to arrange training for the forces, and what guarantees can you offer that the money will not be misused?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, Anne, let me make the point first that the American contribution is a part of an international effort to train and equip the Palestinian forces. It has been foreseen going all the way back to Oslo, certainly in the roadmap, that there would be professional, unified Palestinian security forces that would be trained and equipped, and the expectation was that the international community would take that responsibility. And so this is a part of that effort.

General Dayton has been working with his international colleagues to develop a specific plan for that training and equipping of the security forces, and it would be according to that plan. But let me be very clear: It's not as if tomorrow there will be a U.S. contribution should the Congress approve it of X million dollars; rather, this is a train-and-equip program that will unfold over a period of time. I am sure that President Abbas and his people will want to be attentive to the requirements of the plan, including attentive to concerns about human rights which are there in all of our train-and-equip programs around the world.

And so again, let me emphasize it's a part of an international plan, this is not a U.S. plan; and secondly, that it is a classic train-and-equip program that is tailored obviously to the circumstances of the Palestinians, but it will unfold over a period of time according to a plan that General Dayton has worked out.

PRESIDENT ABBAS: (Via interpreter) Regarding the question of arms for Palestinian security forces, I would like to say when we returned to our homeland there was an agreement signed between us and Israelis about the weapons that will be carried by the Palestinian security forces to fulfill their role. However, unfortunately, in a period of time and for many reasons these weapons were destroyed. Additionally, the infrastructure of the security forces was also demolished, and here we ask for weapons. We don't want to purchase weapons — not in a legal or unlegal way. We achieve weapons from our friends upon Israeli agreement and approval. We do not let weapons enter unless it is in a lawful manner. It is the way we started. We deal in total transparency with this issue. We have a need and we said that we needed these weapons and we ask that the security forces be provided with these weapons so that it will be compensated for the losses not only in terms of weapons but also various transportation and communication devices and all of the infrastructure which security forces need in order to impose security and the rule of law and order on our land. But be confident that we will not misuse any aid that we receive from any party.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, you met yesterday with Avigdor Lieberman. Can you confirm that he told you that the major military operation in Gaza is only a question of time and that in that case a NATO force would have to be deployed? And also, don't you think you take the risk having a meeting of being seen as supporting or giving credit to his extremist views?

And Mr. President, did you receive any support from the Secretary to the national unity government you are trying to form?

SECRETARY RICE: Sylvie, I am obviously not going to discuss what was said in meetings that I've had with members of the Israeli Government, and Mr. Lieberman is a member of the Israeli Government and frankly I'm going to enlist the support of anybody I can to try and move forward a Palestinian state living at peace side by side with Israel. That is the goal here.

And I think we really need to stay focused not on issues of what might happen in Gaza if we don't — if the situation there doesn't improve. The President and his team are trying to improve the situation and we're trying to support that. But ultimately, my work is going to be best targeted, I think, in these next months on trying to accelerate progress on the roadmap, which after all would lead us then to a Palestinian state, and to helping the Palestinians and the Israelis think through the political horizon. And that's what I'm focused on, but it's a good thing to hear from as many people as possible.

PRESIDENT ABBAS: (Via interpreter)The position of the United States is known regarding the government of national unity. It is repeated in every occasion whether in the declarations made by persons or from the government of the U.S., also in the Quartet, and I don't think they need that we repeat this position at every occasion. We know it and we understand it very well and we're trying to have good relations with every country in the world.

QUESTION: Dr. Rice, what plans did you come with here as we can see that you are here to listen to both sides, Palestinians and Israelis? Don't you think it's only because of the issue of Iraq and Iran you are here so we can see also here the plan of (inaudible)? And Mr. Olmert promised President Arafat that he will give back the money, he will release the prisoners and nothing happened, so what do you think will go on?

(In Arabic.)

SECRETARY RICE: First of all, I have offered with President Abbas to do what I can to continue to move — help them move forward on what was agreed between the President and Prime Minister Olmert. This is my eighth time in the Middle East as Secretary and my third since September, so obviously the impetus and the impulse to come here comes out of an understanding that we need to make progress here in the Middle East.

I remember very well that it was a little over a year ago, actually it was on my birthday — I won't tell you which one — that I was here to negotiate the agreement on movement and access. So I've been very involved with the Palestinians, with the Israelis, since I became Secretary and I expect to try to deepen that involvement. But of course, this conflict, this issue, the establishment of a Palestinian state, should be pursued on its own merits, not because of anything else, not because of Iran, not because of Iraq, not because of anything.

The Palestinian people have waited a long time for their own state. The Israeli people have waited a long time to live in security and peace with their neighbors. And if there is anything that I can do and that the President can do to finally realize that day when the Palestinian people — who everybody understands to be an entrepreneurial people, a people who are predisposed toward democracy and tolerance — for the Palestinians to have their own state that they can live in security and peace with Israel and that Israel can therefore have a secure and a democratic neighbor, why wouldn't we want to do that? And it's on its own merits, not because of anything else.

PRESIDENT ABBAS: (Via interpreter) Regarding the first part of your question, Madame Secretary has answered. She has spoken eloquently on that. For the second part, this is preempting events.