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 You are in: Under Secretary for Political Affairs > Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs > Releases From the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs > Remarks About Near Eastern Affairs > 2002 Remarks About Near Eastern Affairs > May - June

Excerpts: June 28, 2002 Press Briefing (Mideast)

Richard Boucher, Spokesman
Washington, DC
June 28, 2002

Link to the entire briefing.

MR. BOUCHER: Let me review where we are, and I'll get to the Middle East-related travel with Mr. Burns -- Ambassador Burns.

As you know, first, the President discussed developments in the Middle East with Group of Eight leaders in Canada. The Group of Eight issued a statement yesterday that supported the President's vision for two states living side by side within secure and recognized borders. The Group of Eight leaders also stressed the urgent need for reform of Palestinian institutions and its economy, and for free and fair elections.

The Secretary and other officials continue to discuss with the parties and the regional leaders how best we can move forward with the strategy that was laid out by the President, a strategy that we firmly believe is the only realistic path to two states living side by side in peace.

Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Bill Burns will travel to London early next week to hold a meeting with Middle East envoys of the Quartet -- that is of Russia, the European Union, the United Nations and the United States. They will review steps to support and to implement the President's vision for progress on security, institution-building and reform, economic reconstruction and resumption of an Israeli-Palestinian political dialogue.

There is wide agreement with the people that we have talked to and expect to talk to that a new dynamic is needed to bring peace to the region. Israelis need to be able to live free from terror and violence, and Palestinians deserve a stable, democratic and prosperous state under new and responsible leadership. This approach will require real reform of Palestinian political, economic, legal and security structures, and we're discussing with a broad group of international leaders how we can actively support those efforts.

I point out that we continue to look to the parties, the Arab world, and the international community to contribute to those efforts, including the Palestinian reform effort that's already underway.

And in that regard, I would note, a lot of -- a number of steps, a number of positive steps are being taken in the Palestinian community to move forward on a broad range of institutional reform. There's movement underway on judicial systems, independence of the judiciary, giving more power to the legislature, more power to the judiciary; a lot of advocacy, and some steps being taken on financial responsibility; and to end corruption and things like that.

So this is a movement within the Palestinian community that we look forward to supporting and working with them as we can to see those things go forward.

QUESTION: Is that just a one-day meeting?

MR. BOUCHER: At this point, yes, that's what's planned. That will be a one-day meeting. I think we're shooting for Tuesday, but I don't think it's fixed yet.

QUESTION: Then does he go on from there, or does he come back to celebrate the holiday?

MR. BOUCHER: I think he comes back to celebrate July 4th.

QUESTION: Did you say which day that was?

MR. BOUCHER: We're shooting for Tuesday, but it's not fixed.

QUESTION: And those are the same --

MR. BOUCHER: It could be earlier.

QUESTION: This is Larsen --

MR. BOUCHER: Yes.

QUESTION: Terje Larsen --

QUESTION: Moratinos --

MR. BOUCHER: Moratinos -- Larsen, Moratinos and Vdovin. Yes. At the envoy level.

QUESTION: And we talked about aid yesterday. I see today that the European Union has in fact made new pledges of assistance directly to the Palestinian Authority. Do you approve of this? Do you think that they're wasting their money, or you welcome it?

MR. BOUCHER: I think you'd have to check with them. I think I pointed out yesterday that the Europeans and Arab donors, as well as others, have always been concerned about the way the money is spent, and look for financial accountability, and you can ask them what sort of accountability they expect for their money.

QUESTION: Well, you're not taking a position, though, on -- I mean, wouldn't that be undermining your goal of seeing new accountable leadership?

MR. BOUCHER: If there was a good system of accountability attached to the spending of the money, and it went to support reform, no.

QUESTION: What if it was the same leadership?

MR. BOUCHER: But let's -- I don't --

QUESTION: Well, I mean, not "if"; it is the same leadership.

MR. BOUCHER: No -- Eli, I mean, you're talking like they're putting a bag of money on the table in front of a leader. I don't want to assume that about European programs. That's generally not the way we or anybody else, including the Europeans, do business.

QUESTION: Yesterday, in some remarks she made in Canada, Condoleezza Rice referred to Fatah and Tanzim as a group that traffics in terror. I know that there's been some thought before about whether or not Tanzim should be considered a Foreign Terrorist Organization. Is there any change in thinking on that in the last week?

MR. BOUCHER: That's very consistent with what we've always said, that those are groups whose members, and some of the associated organization, including al-Aqsa, which I think has been associated with them, where there have been people involved in terror, and people who have been involved in working with terrorists.

So I don't think that's -- that's not a new designation.

QUESTION: Well, why is Tanzim not on the list then?

MR. BOUCHER: The list is an exact list based on a precise legal standard, and we put people on if they meet that standard. But Al-Aqsa does, and we haven't made any decisions to list those other people.

QUESTION: But you believe Tanzim does traffic in terror?

MR. BOUCHER: Absolutely. She said so; we agree, too.

QUESTION: Can I just -- on that one issue? Is there a distinction the US Government is making between organizations that are terror organizations, and then organizations whose members -- or have some members who traffic in terror or are terrorists. Is there such a distinction?

MR. BOUCHER: There is a distinction because of the way the law is written, in terms of how we list states on the one list, and organizations on the other list. And there's a legal definition that we examine groups and activities against. At the same time, we don't think any of these groups should allow their members or tolerate their members to be involved with terrorists and have ties to terrorist groups.

QUESTION: Richard, does the United States take any position or have any position or any reaction to the decision yesterday by UNESCO to condemn the destruction of Palestinian heritage sites and to list several places, such as the Church of Bethlehem, as World Heritage sites?

MR. BOUCHER: I didn't see those decisions, so I don't have any reaction. I'll look into it for you.

QUESTION: Richard, it seems fairly clear that the President's campaign to persuade the European Union and others, and the United Nations, that Arafat must go was only a partial success. When the Quartet meets in London, will Mr. Burns be -- will continue trying to persuade them, or are you willing to cooperate without agreement on that particular point?

MR. BOUCHER: I really appreciate your judgment on this, Jonathan, and I really thank you for waiting so long before you rendered it. But what the President laid out is the only realistic path to achieving a Palestinian state. Palestinians, as we've said, deserve better institutions, better leadership, and a chance to establish their state. The path that the President laid out is one that we firmly believe is the only path to achieving that, and for them to achieve that. We will continue down this path, to pursue this path, because we are committed to that vision that he laid out. It's not something where after two days we're going to say, oh, well, it didn't work.

The President looked at this carefully with his advisors, studied it carefully, determined this is the way forward, and it's the way forward that we intend to pursue, not only next Tuesday, but in the weeks and months to come.

QUESTION: But Richard, perhaps you misunderstood my question. I'm not --

MR. BOUCHER: Perhaps I did.

QUESTION: I'm not suggesting that you would change your position in --

MR. BOUCHER: You asked me if we were going to --

QUESTION: I said -- my question was whether it's possible for you to cooperate with the other members of the Quartet, and with other members of the international community, despite your disagreements over this particular point.

MR. BOUCHER: First of all, you're assuming a disagreement that is not there. You have seen the support that we had in the G-8, in the President's consultations. You've seen statements and comments, for example, by Tony Blair about the situation with the Palestinian leadership. You've seen, frankly, movement in the Palestinian community for reform, and again, I think a lot of support in the statements from the Arab world on the issue of supporting the reform and moving down the road the President laid out to a Palestinian state.

So this is something where we do think there's considerable support, and we will continue to work with all the parties to achieve that. But I guess I assumed, since you asked whether we'd be still be doing this early next week, I wanted to remind you we'll not only do it next week, but we'll do it thereafter as well.

QUESTION: Richard, you mentioned a number of positive steps that the Palestinians are taking on reform. Do you give Chairman Arafat any credit for these positive steps?

MR. BOUCHER: I think we generally give the broader Palestinian community the credit for this. That includes some of the people who are in positions of responsibility right now, and several of these -- the actual decrees and laws were signed by Chairman Arafat. But I think there's a general movement in the Palestinian community that has led to many of these things, and that's something we want to work with and encourage. And people at whatever level that do that, it's a good thing.

QUESTION: But those are the Palestinian Authority people, right?

MR. BOUCHER: Some of them are, yes.

QUESTION: There are reports in Israel today that there is a proposal to send oversight teams from the United States and from other interested parties to supervise the reform process. Have you heard of this idea, and can you --

MR. BOUCHER: I have not heard of this idea. I'd have to go back --

QUESTION: It seems to be quite separate from the old monitoring thing. This is a --

MR. BOUCHER: Yes. I think it must be some kind of interpretation of the lines in the President's speech where he did talk about the fact that the international community would be there and would help and would work and try to be involved. But I hadn't heard any proposal of oversight teams at this point.

QUESTION: I'm not expecting much of an answer, but the Berlusconi --

MR. BOUCHER: Oh, come on.

QUESTION: -- the Berlusconi-owned Italian newspaper -- newsmagazine Panorama has a report that says that the US --

MR. BOUCHER: Well, Berlusconi had some interesting comments as well, in addition to Tony Blair.

QUESTION: Yes, right. But this -- the magazine reports that you had reports about -- that Arafat's health was declining, and that may have led to the decision to give the -- to call on the Palestinian people to seek new leadership. Can you comment on that at all?

MR. BOUCHER: I can't comment on that. I don't -- first of all, we're not going to comment on any foreign leader's health. Second of all, there's an assumption in there, if that's the way it's reported, that is really a premise that we don't accept. The issue is not an individual and his health; the issue is how do we create these institutions? How do we create the institutions that can take responsibility on the Palestinian side, that can support a state, that can be a partner to live side by side with Israel? And that's a much more fundamental question than an individual leader or an individual person's health.

QUESTION: Right. But you would wish him well if he were ill?

MR. BOUCHER: We don't wish ill of anyone.

QUESTION: Oh, really? I seem to remember --

MR. BOUCHER: There are a few, but --

QUESTION: -- Castro and Saddam Hussein as being people who --

MR. BOUCHER: There are a few, but we don't provide a list.

QUESTION: Richard, what are your comments that Sheikh Yassin, who is under house arrest in Gaza, showed up at a so-called rally in Gaza, and he's the leader of course of Hamas? If he's supposed to be under house arrest, are you either asking the PA --

MR. BOUCHER: I think, if you remember, about a week ago -- was it a week ago? -- when the announcement was made that he was being put under house arrest, I expressed a bit of skepticism, noting that he had been under house arrest in January, and that was relaxed over time. And we have said again that the issue is to put these groups out of business, not to temporarily put them under house arrest. So unfortunately, it fits a pattern, a pattern that we've noted and a pattern that the President noted in terms of the kind of decisions he made about where we had to go if we were going to achieve anything.

QUESTION: So disappointed, but not surprised?

MR. BOUCHER: That's a good way to put it.

QUESTION: Richard, did you see the photograph of the Palestinian baby in bomber outfit?

MR. BOUCHER: I saw the photograph; I don't have any information on it. I realize it's being discussed out there. Certainly, it's a highly objectionable display.



Released on June 28, 2002

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