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 You are in: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice > Former Secretaries of State > Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell > Speeches and Remarks > 2003 > May

Interview with Al-Quds Newspaper

Secretary Colin L. Powell
David Citadel Hotel
May 11, 2003

QUESTION: This is your first meeting with Mr. Abu Mazen. What are your impressions about the meeting and how do you envision your partnership moving forward? What did you learn from him about his objectives and his commitments?

SECRETARY POWELL: We have met before, but this was the first time that I was able to officially meet him as a prime minister, and the first prime minister of the Palestinian people. I was impressed by his understanding of the responsibilities that he now has; I was impressed by some of the first moves that he has taken to form a cabinet. I was impressed, frankly, by the fact he was able to prevail in the political fight that took place with respect to his appointment. I think he understands clearly that he has to move aggressively with respect security and with respect to ending terror and violence, and I think he is anxious to begin discussions directly with Prime Minister Sharon so that the two of them can start talking directly to one another and move forward, as opposed to always talking through interlocutors. The United States will continue to remain engaged and be an interlocutor, as will other nations, but it is important for the two sides to begin a dialogue with each other. And he appears solidly committed to having that dialogue as soon as possible.

History has placed an enormous burden on his shoulders, but I saw a man today who understands what history has called upon him to do, what the Palestinian people have called upon him to do, and I saw a man who is confident in his ability to respond to this call and to perform. And so I was very, very encouraged by my first meeting and I told him that the United States would be there to support his efforts, that the President of the United States, President Bush, is committed to doing everything we can to move the process forward and to fulfill the vision that the president laid out for both sides, the Israelis and the Palestinians, in his speech last year, and that the president is committed to the roadmap as a way of moving forward.

QUESTION: We hear that you came from Mr. Sharonís meeting with no sort of guarantees or (inaudible) commitment from him. So what can you tell the Palestinian people about (inaudible) concrete results?

SECRETARY POWELL: I donít agree with that assessment. Iím not sure what concrete results you were looking for, but what I came out of the meeting with Mr. Sharon was [that] he has stated that he will be taking a number of steps that will ease life for the Palestinian people and start to improve their situation, and we will watch as he takes those steps in the days ahead. He is taking them now unconditionally, and he also said to me that he was committed to working with Prime Minister Abbas in moving forward. Mr. Sharon knows that the United States worked hard to encourage the Palestinian people to appoint a prime minister, and now there is a prime minister. And so he has a partner that he can work with, a partner for peace. Itís something he did not believe, nor did we believe, he had in Mr. Arafat. And so he reaffirmed to me today that he is looking forward to working with the new leadership of the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority in the search for peace.

With respect to the roadmap, he has concerns and he has some comments about the roadmap, but I think I can say, as I did at the press conference, that while weíre debating about various pieces of the roadmap and some of the difficult final status issues such as right to return and the final status of Jerusalem, what everybody can agree to now, and what I think there is agreement on now, is that we need to get started. We need to get started, and there is so much that people are in concurrence about with respect to the elements within the roadmap that we can get started. And I think that Prime Minister Abbas is ready to get started and what I got from Prime Minister Sharon today is that he is ready to get started. In my press conference with the foreign minister last night I specifically said, referring to him, that I believe there is no disagreement between us, that there enough in the roadmap about which there is no controversy, there is no misunderstanding, that we ought to get started. And then when there are difficult issues, such as right of return, such as Jerusalem, such as the elements of a provisional state, this will take more time. But letís get started now. Letís not sit around staring at each other, waiting for someone to come out with a brilliant solution to these difficult problems. If they were that easy to solve, they would have been solved long ago. Letís get started now and not hang our coat on a rack and say, ďIím going to wait until someone says a particular word, or somebody solves an issue that we know is very difficult.Ē Letís get on with it now.

That was my message to both gentlemen, and I think both responded. So I think this meeting of mine with these leaders, the meetings Iíve had with these leaders, have been very productive and very useful. And I would say to the Palestinian people the fact that Iím here after not visiting for a year, and Iím back in the region after a difficult visit to the region last April, when the Palestinian leadership, to include Mr. Arafat, were trapped in the Muqataía, surrounded, and it took us time and American effort to get them released, when we finally broke the problem at the church in Bethlehem, Iím now back at a time when Iím not worrying about sieges at the Muqataía or the church under siege in Bethlehem, but Iím here to talk about the presidentís commitment.

Iím here to talk about a changed strategic situation with the demise of the Saddam Hussein regime and with a new Palestinian leader. Remember, thatís what we were working for: a new Palestinian leader. We have one, and within two weeks of him being appointed, the Secretary of State of the United States is here for the first time in a year to engage both sides and to let them know the presidentís commitment, to let them know the president wants to work with both sides down the path of the roadmap. I think that is a statement to the Palestinian people that we are committed and weíre going to work with them and work with their new leadership. And itís not just the United States that wanted a new prime minister, it was the Palestinian people, through their legislature, who caused this to happen. And so we salute the Palestinian people, we salute the new prime minister and his cabinet, and we look forward to working with them.

QUESTION: So how are we going to implement the mechanism of the roadmap? How do you see it as a practical matter?

SECRETARY POWELL: As a practical matter, I see the Israeli side has some steps that it can take and will be taking, and it shows that they have started down that road. On the Palestinian side, we have to see firm action taken on the security side. And in the meetings with me today were Minister Dahlan, who has responsibility for these matters, and we have told him that weíre anxious to work with him and that United States Government agencies, to include the CIA and other government agencies, would be helping him reform, retrain and re-equip and reconfigure Ė

QUESTION: How long would that take?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I donít know. You know, itís going to take time. These things donít happen with the snap of a finger. A lot of damage has been done. But at the same time, the Palestinian Authority does have a presence, a solid presence of security forces, in certain parts, in Gaza. And so it should be possible to reconstitute these forces, or use those forces that are already there Ė not to take over the whole area at once, both Gaza and the West Bank all at once. And if the capacity right now is too small to do that, then letís focus on one area and secure [it], and make one area free of violence and free of terror and free of provocateurs, and demonstrate to the other side that we are serious and we have secured this area, and cause the other side to respond to that. And as we build up capacity within the Palestinian security forces you expand it. But to think that we can just sit around and wait for six months to a year until weíre able to take over or the Palestinian services are able to take over everywhere at once, weíll never get there. So we need to use the capacity thatís there now, get started, and then grow that capacity, increase that capacity over time and ask for reciprocal action on the other side. And what the prime minister has said clearly, and he said clearly to me today, as soon as the Palestinian side has demonstrated their ability to handle an area and make it secure, Israel will respond, and respond in a positive way, and respond even more than around that immediate area but in other areas as well.

QUESTION: But for instance, OK, we secure a town like Ramallah. Tomorrow morning Israel goes and shoots somebody in Bethlehem, one of the high-level figures of Hamas or Jihad. What do you think? You know, this is a provocative sort of action that doesnít help the big people in Ramallah to control the street. This is the vicious circle that we have to get out of.

SECRETARY POWELL: Itís a circle, a cycle that we have to break. And we can talk about the cycle all the time and say, ďwhat if this happens or that happens?Ē and weíre right back to where we started Ė in which case weíre going to be right back where we started. So we have to start someplace, and I think it starts with securing an area and demonstrated that area is secure. The Israelis Ė we discussed this earlier today Ė understand that occasionally their actions are provocative. And so I think that they will try to limit their actions to the greatest extent possible because they do understand that bulldozing of houses, and the kinds of targeted assassinations we have seen, are provocative. And their concern, of course, is if they find somebody and they know somebody is coming at them with a bomb or a weapon or is intending to cause harm, should they sit and wait, or do they have a responsibility to their people to try to stop that from happening?

I hope we can reach the point where, when you secure an area, it no longer becomes a problem for the Israeli side, because Palestinian forces, Palestinian police, Palestinian security institutions will be able to intercept and stop these kinds of people. But what will really do it, what will really do it, is if the new Palestinian leadership, Prime Minister Abbas and all of his other leaders and members of the legislature, say to the Palestinian people, ďthis must stop. We have been at this latest Intifada for 2-1/2 years. I understand the frustration that you feel, I understand the anger that you feel, I understand your desire for your own homeland, for a Palestinian state. But what we have been doing for the last 2-1/2 years has not moved us one inch closer to that vision. And so what has it gained us? What has it done for us?Ē ďAnd so, my fellow citizens,Ē I would say if I was a leader of the Palestinian people, ďitís time to end this kind of activity and itís time to show that we are a peaceful people and we want peace and we want our own state, and ask the other side to reciprocate and ask our friends, the United States, other members of the Quartet, other members of the international community, to help us and to put pressure on the other side.Ē But as long as terrorist acts are conducted and bombs are going off, then it makes it more difficult to put pressure on the other side for the kinds of things that Palestinians would like to see.

QUESTION: Weíve been running a full-page ad for three days about the roadmap and all the peace benefits that we are supposed to get out of it. Some people are very for it, going for it, and some people are very much against it. So we have to, in the end of the day, we have to show our people, or people have to see some tangible improvement in order to be believers in this Ė

SECRETARY POWELL: Of course. Of course. No, I understand that. The roadmap is just that: itís a roadmap. Itís not Ė

QUESTION: Are the dates rigid or are the dates flexible?

SECRETARY POWELL: The dates are the dates that the president originally put into the roadmap, which was his desire to see a Palestinian state by the year 2005. Of course, as time goes by without movement, then it becomes more difficult to reach that date, but he remains committed to that vision and to that date. And what we now have to do is to make up for the time we lost since last June. And so we can find a thousand reasons why we shouldnít do something, we can find all sorts of people who will say, ďIím for the roadmapĒ or ďIím not for the roadmap.Ē You have to be for the process. You have to be for the roadmap. And if the roadmap does not satisfy every wish, every dream, and if there are still objections that one side or the other will have on the roadmap, fine, thatís understandable.

Iíve never been down a road that didnít have curves, that didnít have obstacles, that occasionally didnít have detours. But the fact of the matter is, this is the road you must go down. There is no other way to move forward. Unless we take the steps that are called for in the first part, the first phase of the roadmap, there will never be a second phase where we can argue about what we want. And there will never be a third phase which will require more arguments in order to get through. And so one has to start. This is the time to start, in this new strategic environment, with Iraq dealt with, with the president making a full commitment to the Middle East peace process and with a new prime minister and a new cabinet, new leaders representing the wishes and dreams and the ambitions of the Palestinian people Ė this is the time to move forward and not find reasons and excuses and arguments about cycles that we can never get out of unless we take this opportunity to start breaking out of the cycle, both sides breaking out of the cycle.

QUESTION: Last question. What about this government, what is the priority of the government, the settlements Ė are you going to freeze this kind of settlement, make more Ė

SECRETARY POWELL: President Bush has spoken to this, and he has spoken to it repeatedly: settlement activity must end. The camps that are out there, the temporary facilities, that cannot remain; those all have to be dealt with. Now, what you actually do with settlements that are already there, not to be constructed and not camps and whatnot, that is going to be a difficult issue. But President Bush understands that itíll have to be dealt with, because the settlements that are there make it difficult to envision what a Palestinian state would look like. And this has been a subject of intense negotiations in the previous Administration and will be in this Administration. But I donít have an immediate answer for you as to how we will deal with the settlements that are already there. There are some who say they have to Ė some of them have to be removed in order to have a contiguous state as a possibility, and there are others who say, ďWell, no, letís just allow natural growth but no new settlements.Ē So this will be one of those most difficult areas. But, as opposed to right of return or Jerusalem, it has to be dealt with earlier. It cannot be dealt with in final stages. You have to know what you are going to do with respect to settlements before you can get to even discussions or descriptions of what a provisional state with provisional boundaries would look like.

Thank you.

Released on May 13, 2003

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