Remarks With Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas After Their Meeting
(11:00 a.m. EDT)
PRESIDENT ABBAS: (Via interpreter) …including our relations with various countries in the world searching a peace process that will end the Arab-Israeli conflict. And so the Palestinian question by means of setting up an independent Palestinian state that would live peacefully alongside the state of Israel.
We discussed the issue of forming a national unity government, and we addressed the issue of how talks on the national unity government have been disrupted, and today we say that any government to be formed has to be fully committed to all the commitments of the Palestinian Authority towards the Arab world and to the international community and has to honor all kinds of agreements that were signed in the past between the PA and the Arab parties. Up to this moment, there are no indications that these conditions are going to be met.
We also spoke about the prisoners. And we said that Egypt is making a big effort to release the Israeli soldier and in return it is a must to release Palestinian prisoners incarcerated in Israel.
And finally we spoke about the crossing points and we raised the issue of the need for keeping (inaudible). In addition to this, we spoke of the security condition, the deteriorating security conditions especially the events of the last two days, the reasons of which are very well known and I don't want to go into details of what happened in those days.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much, Mr. President, and thank you for a warm reception. May I begin by wishing Ramadan Karim to everyone. This is, of course, a time when Muslims around the world are celebrating this holy time of Ramadan, a time of family and a time of faith. I might note that many Americans of Muslim faith are these very days also observing Ramadan, and it is in part why the United States has such great respect for the great religion of Islam. It is a part of us as Americans as well.
I want to thank you, Mr. President, for your leadership. I had a chance to brief the President on the fact that we met last night in the GCC+2 and that much of the conversation was about how to support the Palestinian people in this time of considerable difficulty, how to support President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, and how to create the conditions in which the Palestinian people can be served by the kind of government that the President talked about in his United Nations speech, a government that is able to deliver for the needs of the Palestinian people, that observes the Quartet principles and that can form the basis then for movement forward on what we all desire, especially President Bush, and that is a two-state solution, a solution in which a democratic Palestine and a democratic Israel can live side by side in peace.
We discussed a number of specific issues. I told the President that we are very concerned, of course, about the humanitarian conditions in the Palestinian territories, about the economic situation. It is a great sadness during this time, of course, of Ramadan that Palestinians, many of them are deprived of basic needs. And I said to him that we would double our — redouble our efforts to improve the conditions of the Palestinian people. The Quartet talked about this. We talked about this last night. And we want very much to work toward better conditions for the Palestinian people.
We talked also about the security situation, the need to improve the security forces, the President's — of the Palestinian Authority. And of course, as the President said, we understand that some of the economic hardships are of course caused by the lack of mobility, the lack of movement and access, and I will of course see what I can do to make sure that some of those crossings are indeed open longer and more frequently so that economic activity can return.
Mr. President, I think that you know that we have great admiration for you and for your leadership, that President Bush when he met with you restated again his strong commitment to a process by which Palestinians and Israelis can move forward to the day when there are two states. We know we have a lot of work to do in between, but you have the strong commitment of the United States to that cause and the personal commitment of me and the personal commitment of the President.
Thank you very much.
PRESIDENT ABBAS: (In Arabic.)
QUESTION: (In Arabic.)
SECRETARY RICE: First of all, let me say that I think President Abbas has enormous respect from the international community and in the United States. And it is indeed because of that respect for the President that the United States, even after the election of the Hamas government, which we fully recognize the Palestinian people’s elections as legitimate — but after the refusal of that government to accept the international norms, the agreements that the Palestinians have accepted, the United States found a way to get humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people by reprogramming some of our assistance for the Palestinians. That’s, in large part, because of our respect for President Abbas and what he’s trying to do. There is an international mechanism for support to the Palestinian people and again, I think in recognition of what the President is trying to do.
But obviously, we would like to be able to do more. And I’ve been discussing with the President ways that we might be able to better address some of the great needs that are there with the Palestinian people, but more than that, how we can facilitate a dialogue, how we can facilitate discussions between Israel and the Palestinians about the key issues that really do relate to economic development, to the ability of the Palestinian people to move within their territory, ways to end the violence, ways to make possible a life for the Palestinian people that is not subject to the kind of daily humiliations that we know have been associated with the occupation.
That is my program here with the President and because he is a leader that people respect, he is going to continue to have not just the attention of the international community, but its very intensive efforts to try to break through some of the deadlocks that have been there. And I think we will make progress.
QUESTION: President Abbas, do you think it's possible that the next step will include elections and what specifically are you doing to prevent a civil war?
And to Secretary Rice, first of all on Iran.
QUESTION: Sorry. President Abbas, do you think it's possible that the next step will include elections? And secondly, what are you doing to prevent a civil war between Hamas and Fatah?
And to Secretary Rice on Iran, how dead do you think negotiations are? Are they finished with Iran? And do you anticipate holding a meeting this week with your P-5+1 counterparts to discuss what specific sanctions to impose on Iran? And secondly, what specifically, tangibly, concretely do you expect to get out of this trip and are there ways that you anticipate restarting the peace process?
SECRETARY RICE: How many questions, Robin? (Laughter.)
PRESIDENT ABBAS: (In Arabic.)
SECRETARY RICE: Let me take the second question first since it relates actually to the Palestinians. The first is that I do hope that we can come to some understanding about how to make the agreement on movement and access more functional. Clearly a lot has happened since that agreement was signed, but it's still important that Carni be able to operate. It's still important that there be at least some openings at Rafah. I'm glad to know that it was opened a couple of times during Ramadan, but I think we need to work on those issues. Those are the kinds of on-the-ground things that make it easier for the Palestinian people.
I think we will also discuss ways that we might make more resources available at least for some of the needs that have been identified by the international community for the Palestinian people. And finally, I am here to hear from the President what we can do to support him. I think that General Dayton is here. We are working very closely on some security plans. I think that we want to make sure those security plans are now really implemented and that we can move them forward. Because obviously security, the movement and access, economic development, well-being are all interlinked.
And sometimes, Robin, what is necessary is to go step-by-step and try on the ground to really improve conditions. And so I'm trying to facilitate that. I know there have been some good meetings between the Israelis and the Palestinians at the official level, and we hope that those will continue. General Dayton is working on some of those security issues, but it's my hope that it will not be very long before there can be a meeting between the President and Prime Minister Olmert. I know that they will choose the time, but we hope that it will take place in the near future.
As to Iran, I have read very briefly the statement that Javier Solana made to the European parliamentarians. I would share his assessment. Iran has not decided to suspend its enrichment and reprocessing activities. There have been months of negotiations. There has been patience beyond the August 31st deadline that was set by the UN Security Council resolution. There has been a lot of patience when you go all the way back to the fact that the Paris agreement is now more than two and a half years ago.
So I think we have come to a time when the Iranians have to make their choice and the international system has to act accordingly. And it seems to me that acting accordingly is very much spelled out in Resolution 1696 that means action under Article 41 of Chapter 7. I will tell you whether or not we're actually going to have a meeting on Friday. I think we have left open that possibility. But when we do, I have to say that I think the logic of the — of bringing to a close the open-ended negotiations with the Iranians that that's become — that it's become quite evident that that's what we're going to have to do.