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Remarks with Foreign Minister of Egypt Ahmed Maher Following Meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Foreign Minister Maher

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Itihadiya Palace
Cairo, Egypt
May 12, 2003

FOREIGN MINISTER MAHER: Let me first of all welcome Secretary Powell. It has been a long time since he was in Egypt and we are happy to welcome him, and the President was happy to receive him and have the opportunity to discuss with him questions related to the situation in the Middle East with regard to the roadmap. The question of Iraq was touched upon also; the bilateral relations were also discussed. We come from this meeting encouraged that the United States has reaffirmed its commitment to the implementation of the roadmap and the Secretary has been exerting efforts and will continue all through his trip to exert effort to push the roadmap forward. The Palestinians and the Israelis need peace and the roadmap provides them the opportunity to do that. So, again, I welcome the Secretary and I think he has a statement to make and then he will be happy to answer a few questions and I will be available also to answer questions.

Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you very much Mr. Minister, thank you so much. It is a great pleasure to be back in Cairo and as the Minister noted we had a series of useful and productive discussions over the past couple of hours with President Mubarak and with the Foreign Minister. We spoke about the important changes that are taking place in the region. I briefed them on my trip to Syria last week and my trip to Jerusalem and Jericho yesterday and we all agreed once again that we need to take this moment, we need to seize this moment of opportunity that we have in the region with the end of the regime of Saddam Hussein and with the President's new commitment, determined commitment, to move the peace process forward in the area.

There are no doubt challenging times ahead and it is a challenging road ahead to reconstruct a democratic Iraq governed by Iraqis for the benefit of its people, to restore hope to Palestinians and Israelis and a peaceful, secure future and to improve the lives of people throughout the region. To realize this ambitious agenda, we know it will take leadership and I appreciate the opportunity today to exchange ideas with President Mubarak and the Foreign Minister on how we can move forward.

Last week in his speech in South Carolina President Bush added a new dimension to our agenda and that is with his expressed desire to achieve a Middle East free trade area by 2013. We will be pursuing that in greater detail with our Egyptian friends. In my meetings yesterday with Palestinian Prime Minister Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Sharon I emphasized to them President Bush's strong commitment to his vision of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and in security and to the roadmap aimed at implementing that vision. It is important to get started quickly and I believe that Prime Minister Sharon has announced a variety of steps and measures he will be taking in the near future that in effect constitute the beginning of the roadmap process.

On the Palestinian side, my conversations with Prime Minister Abbas, I focused on the need for rebuilding of Palestinian security organizations and come up with a plan that would put an end to terror and violence with the use of an effective reconstituted security force. It is important that we all come together and not deal with the most difficult issues on the road to peace, issues such as right of return and the status of Jerusalem, but start moving now on those earlier steps that are provided for on the roadmap and we've seen progress already. The selection by the Palestinian legislature of a Prime Minister, the Prime Minister getting down to work with a new cabinet, and I thank my Egyptian colleagues for the help they provided in bringing about that political result. And now with Prime Minister Sharon taking some steps and with the expectation that Prime Minister Sharon and Prime Minister Abbas will meet together face to face in the not too distant future, I think these are all hopeful signs, hopeful signs that I hope will put us firmly on a path to peace. And you can be sure that President Bush and his Administration are committed to this, just as I know President Mubarak and his government are committed to this and into this prospect.

Thank you very much again for your hospitality my friend.

QUESTION: I'm Nihal Saad for Nile TV, the Egyptian television. Secretary Powell, we heard that loud and clear from the Palestinian side, from Mr. Mahmoud Abbas, that the Palestinians accept the roadmap as it is without reservations. Did you get the same response from the Israeli side? Thank you.

SECRETARY POWELL: The Israeli side did not use the word "accept." The Israeli side has made it clear over the months that they had some comments with respect to the roadmap; but the roadmap as it was finished in December, is the roadmap that was released a few weeks ago. So, we will listen to additional Israeli comments that might come forward and more importantly, it is important for the Israelis to talk directly to the Palestinians, which they have the opportunity to do and visa versa in the very near future, to see what differences exist and see how those differences can be bridged between the parties with the assistance of the United States and the other Quartet members. And so, rather than focus on that particular issue, I am focusing on it, appropriately so, on the steps that we can take. It makes no difference whether you have a word "accept" or not have the word "accept." What makes the difference is whether or not both sides find enough in common with the roadmap that they can begin the process of moving down this road. If we don't get started now on issues related to security, on issues related to going after terrorists and terrorism, on improving the lives of the Palestinian people by granting access in the territories again, making it easier for the Palestinian people to go back and forth to the workplace, making it easier for them to start to restore their basic lives again and to pursue their lives. If we don't get started on these issues, we will never reach the point where we can deal with these more difficult issues that are on the path ahead.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, we understood that there were specific things you were going to ask of the Egyptians to help in the Palestinian process -- to help with security, to help with reform, even to help on a constitution. Could you tell us if you're bringing these things up, and Mr. Minister, is there something you might want to say about Egypt's response to this appeal for support, in specific?

SECRETARY POWELL: We did discuss some of the areas in which Egypt has already played an important and leading role in assisting the Palestinians in coming up with a Prime Minister designee, and then assisting with a process by which Mr. Abbas assumed the office, and the Egyptians, I'm sure, will play a helpful role with respect to security issues. I cannot think of an area that we have to work on in the months ahead, dealing with this problem, where the Egyptians cannot play a role. And I will have further meetings this afternoon to expand on this.

This also allows me to say that, as we move forward -- the Israelis, the Palestinians, the Quartet assisting -- there is a very important role to be played by the Arab nations in the region, because it is just not President Bush's vision of last June 24th that we try to achieve. It is also the vision that was put forward by the Arab League at their Beirut meeting last year, and I am sure that Minister Maher might want to add to that.

FOREIGN MINISTER MAHER: In answer to your question, I think we all know that both sides have obligations, and we are agreed with our American friends that we both have to work, helping and urging both sides to respond and respect their obligations.

I would like to comment on the former question and comment on what the Secretary said. I appreciate what he said, that it is important to move forward, but it seems to me a little strange that if you are willing to do things, you are not ready to say that you are willing to do that. I think the word "accept" is not a very difficult word to pronounce and we certainly would hope that both sides, the Palestinians have already done so. It is important for both sides to indicate, at least their intention, to implement what is in the roadmap and the word "accept" is not a dirty word. I think it will be a very useful word.

Thank you very much.

SECRETARY POWELL: I have one more word in response to that question. In my meeting yesterday with Prime Minister Abbas, he did provide me with the latest draft of the Palestinian constitution, which we will have a chance to look at.

QUESTION: Secretary Powell, the roadmap is supposed to be a document to be implemented, not to be of eternal debate. What are the mechanisms and the (inaudible) of the Quartet and the U.S. to enforce this implementation?

SECRETARY POWELL: The Quartet stands ready to assist the two sides in meeting their mutual obligations and we have always said that the United States is prepared, as we start down this road, to provide monitors, if monitors would be useful to assist the two sides in meeting their obligations. Ultimately, the international community, beyond just the Quartet, will be watching what happens and I am sure that Arab nations in the region and many nations throughout the world will do what they can to assist in the process. But, in the first instance, where monitors might be required, the United States has expressed a willingness, readiness, to provide monitors to monitor the performance of the two sides as we move forward.

Keep in mind that there will be more conversations between the parties and between members of the Quartet and the parties. Mr. Solana, the High Representative of the European Union, is on his way into Jerusalem this afternoon to have further conversations with both sides. And so, this is still a work in progress and, hopefully, as we move forward, any concerns that one side or the other might have, any reservations that one side or the other might have, we should be able to work out over time. And I look forward to the results of the meeting between Prime Minister Abbas and Prime Minister Sharon. And I look forward to the opportunity to meet with Prime Minister Sharon next week when he meets with President Bush.

So this is a work in progress. It is a difficult work, and we have to keep pressing forward and keep trying to make progress in every way that we can -- security, political, life of the two peoples, improving the economies of both the Palestinian people and the economy of Israel. People are unemployed. People are having difficulty. Tourism is down. And all of these things need to be reversed, and what we have to do is get started, get on with it, as we deal with difficult issues of who will accept what, who doesn't accept what.

The outline is there. It is not a complicated outline. It is complicated to achieve every element of that outline, but once we start down this road, I think that both parties will see the importance of continuing down this road. I am looking forward to working with the two parties and our friends in the region, the other members of the Quartet, as we go forward.

QUESTION: Hello Mr. Foreign Minister, could you give an assessment of what you think of the Israeli gestures yesterday, did you find it significant, meaningful in any way? And, secondly, the United States has tried to emphasize Abu Mazen and de-emphasize Yasser Arafat, and in the future, is Egypt going to spend more of its dealings with Abu Mazen rather than Yasser Arafat?

FOREIGN MINISTER MAHER: On the first question, I think that the gestures that you said that had been announced by Israel maybe would have been a good indication had they not been accompanied by actions on the ground that certainly go contrary to a desire to solve the problem, to ease the tensions, that the measures that have been taken in themselves could be an indication of more gestures that are needed and that are absolutely essentials if you want to go forward.

On the second one, I think you know that Yasser Arafat is the elected leader of the Palestinian people. Abu Mazen is the Prime Minister chosen by him and confirmed by the legislative assembly. We continue to deal with the both of them as representatives of the Palestinian people. Yasser Arafat is and we continue to recognize him as the leader of the Palestinian people.

QUESTION: Hi. This is Niveen Khalil from Al- Ahram Weekly. I have a question on Iraq. Secretary Rumsfeld said that Washington will not tolerate an Islamist-elected government in Baghdad. I wanted to know your position on that and the other question is it seems very important in Washington that Abu Abbas, Abu Mazen, sorry, succeeds in his mission. What are you going to do to actually help him do this?

SECRETARY POWELL: With respect to Iraq, I believe that our commitment is for an Iraqi government to be created that is representative of all the people of Iraq and that all the different elements of the Iraqi population get to participate in it. I think it would be unfortunate if a government arose that is so fundamentalist in nature that it did not respect basic principles of democracy or did not respect the rights of all the people of Iraq and I think that is what Secretary Rumsfeld was referring to. It is certainly our point of view. And what we was trying to do is hold meetings around the country, make sure we develop leaders who come up and represent all elements of the population and that they will put in place the kind of government that the Iraqi people will be proud of.

Ultimately, it will be the Iraqi people who make this judgment and I think that we can help them make a judgment that will bring them into a form of government that is democratic but yet, is respectful of the faith of the people, the Islamic faith, and I don't think Don Rumsfeld was suggesting in any way that we should be disrespectful of Islam, it's just that if you bring into being a fundamentalist regime that does not have democratic elements to it, but just fundamentalism as its driving political force, this would not be in the best interest of the Iraqi people or its neighbors.

With respect to Prime Minister Abbas, we are doing what we can to support him. When I was in the region yesterday I announced once again a $50 million dollar supplemental appropriation that our Congress has passed that will help the Palestinian people. We will be helping him rebuild his security organization so that he can go after those in the territories, Hamas, PIJ, and others who continue not to support two states living side by side but who are committed to the destruction of Israel and are not helping to achieve the dream of the Palestinian state which is what the Palestinian people want. We will help them with developing security infrastructure, $50 million I mentioned and other assistance that we can give to improve the lives of Palestinian people and we stand ready to help them with any other request that they might have.

QUESTION: Mr. Minister, I'd like to ask if, in the discussions that touched on what Egypt is willing to do and how Arab states can help, whether or not you would consider sending an Ambassador back to Israel to help as long as you are helping Palestinians and helping in that regard with security, are you also willing to do that to show that you're willing to help on both sides?

FOREIGN MINISTER MAHER: We have always indicated that as the peace process proceeds regularly and positively that we would consider sending back the Ambassador. In the meanwhile, we have contacts with the Israelis, we do have a diplomatic mission in Israel that is performing its duties normally and, naturally, there is the Israeli Embassy in Cairo. But the reasons that we indicated our displeasure by recalling the Ambassador have to go away before the Ambassador can go back to Tel Aviv.

Thank you.

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