Remarks With Egyptian Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: (As translated.) Dr. Rice, of course this is Luxor, and we are very happy and delighted to have her here in this beautiful part of Egypt. The Secretary of State met with President Mubarak and she had an intensive discussions about the general situation in the Middle East, specifically about the Iraqi situation, the Palestinian issues and how to control the situation in Iraq and how can we secure for Iraq the stability.
There is an Egyptian conviction that President Bush's plan to deal with the situation in the Baghdad area is a plan that we hope that it will achieve success and would lead to that desired level of stability in Iraq.
Of course, there was a discussion and the American side explained the elements of that plan and the basis for that plan, as well as the rationale for it. Also, there was discussion regarding the various meetings that Dr. Rice had in Ramallah and in Israel and how can she see the movement of the peace process and how to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian relationship, and how can we succeed in moving the peace process forward.
SECRETARY RICE: …
We have also had an opportunity to talk about the recent discussions that I had in Israel and in the Palestinian territories that we hope will lead to further work on a political horizon for the Palestinian people that would lead, ultimately, to the establishment of a Palestinian state. I think that our conversations about this were rich. I've always valued the advice and counsel of President Mubarak on this issue. I explained that I will soon meet with Prime Minister Olmert and with President Abbas to have discussions about the broad issues on the horizon so that we can work on the road map to try and accelerate the road map and to move to the establishment of a Palestinian state.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, what did you hear today and yesterday that leads you to believe this three-way meeting will lead to anything more than frustration and disappointment in the region, given the political weakness of Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas? And could you also explain what you specifically mean by this new buzzword "political horizon" and how that fits into the context of the road map?
And for the foreign minister: Would Egypt be willing to attend this meeting or host this meeting? And will Egypt now finally end the smuggling that has been allowing Hamas to build up its military might?
SECRETARY RICE: I count four questions that you just asked, but let us endeavor to answer them. First of all, it's very interesting — I came, I said we were going to deepen American involvement. We were really going to try to help the parties come together to look at how they can move through the road map. And it's very clear what we mean by "broader issues." We mean what would lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state. And there are a number of issues — some old, some new — that will ultimately have to be resolved if there is to be a Palestinian state. And I appreciate very much that Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas, within the context of the road map, want to start that discussion.
Now, the parties haven't talked about these issues for a long time. It's been at least six years since they talked about these issues. It seems wise to begin this, as — what President Abbas has called an informal discussion, to just really sit and talk about the issues.
I am very clear that the one thing that you do not want to do is to try to rush to formal negotiations before things are fully prepared, before people are fully prepared. But that doesn't mean that there can't be progress as we're moving along.
We, obviously, are also working with the Egyptians not just on the issues on the horizon, but on the issues that are there day to day — as Egypt works at Rafah, as Egypt works to help with the reform of the security forces of the Palestinians, as Egypt has been a very important political support for President Abbas and, frankly, tireless in trying to secure the release of Corporal Shalit, which would clearly accelerate the process of reconciliation.
So Egypt is really a partner. But before we say that this is going to end in frustration, let's be glad that after six years and a long time that the parties want to engage in an informal set of discussions about the future between them.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: You want me to respond to the question after that explanation? Very well, then.
Listen, there is an objective. And the objective is the establishment of a Palestinian state on the territories that have been occupied since 1967. In order to do this, you have to negotiate. Prior to negotiating, you have to talk, to resume discussions. They have been — as the secretary said, they have been not doing anything but fighting against each other for the last six years.
So, first, there should be what I call a stabilization phase, where you stabilize the scene — you stabilize the scene internally within the Palestinians as well as the relation between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Then you would start the second phase, hopefully, very soon, whereby everything is discussed in relation to the establishment of this state. We and Egypt feel that the end game is important; that perceptions on what do we mean by the end game. And then, in reverse, how to implement whatever that has been agreed between the Israelis and the Palestinians in relation to the end game.
Whether Egypt would host the parties, as well as the secretaries, you are always welcome, where, hopefully, in this beautiful setting, hopefully in Sharm, hopefully every- or anywhere in Egypt.
SECRETARY RICE: Let me just say, Egypt has a lot of beautiful places. That's very obvious. Could I just add one thing? I want to be very clear — we have no — I have no intention of supplanting what is a developing, fruitful channel bilaterally between Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas. It is not the intention of the United States that every time the Israelis and the Palestinians want to meet that the United States has to be there. We'll see when American presence is needed. But I do think they have established, on that first meeting, a good channel.
And secondly, the road map remains for all parties the internationally agreed way of leading to a Palestinian state. But I'm just very glad that we're going to be able to have these informal, broader discussions.
QUESTION: (As translated.) Mr. Minister, are there any specific plans or specific steps that will aim at reviving the peace process and were introduced by Egypt during this visit on the basis of Mr. Mubarak's letter to President Bush?
SECRETARY RICE: …
And on the second point, we've been having consultations, not sharing specific plans, because, as I said, I think we want to prepare anything that may go forward. It doesn't mean, by the way, that, as we're working along the road map, we can really intensify our efforts also on the road map, because this is all in the context of the road map. The first phase really needs to be accelerated. And I think both parties should really adhere to the obligations that they have in the first phase of the road map as well.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: (As translated.) Regarding the question, the objective is to launch negotiations once again. In order to launch the negotiations once again, to achieve the objective of establishing a Palestinian state, we must move through various phases. For example, the first phase is to implement the agreements the two sides have signed in the past, the Israelis and the Palestinians.
For example, two weeks ago, the Israeli Prime Minister met with the Palestinian President and they agreed both on a series of steps. Until now, we have not seen implementation of these steps. We have to accelerate the implementation of what they agreed on. We hope that we will be able to expand carrying out the various steps that might reach to a total calm. And we hope to achieve this phase of stability. Then after that, we can move into a more advanced phase, either to implement the roadmap in an accelerated way, or we can talk about the phase of permanent status agreement and what are the elements of a permanent status agreement and how can we achieve that through discussions first, then through negotiations, and after that you carry out the agreements. Right now, we are at the first phase, which is confidence building, and to prepare the ground, so to speak, to bring back an active peace process.