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Interview with Egyptian newspapers Al Ahram, Akhbar Al Youm, and The Middle East News Agency

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

QUESTION: Can we ask you to give us a briefing about your visit to Cairo and Jerusalem?

SECRETARY POWELL: Here in Cairo it is a pleasure to once again spend time with a very distinguished leader of the Arab world, President Mubarak; but beyond that, he's an old friend of mine. We have known each other for twenty, twenty-five years now, and I have the greatest respect and admiration for him, so it is a pleasure to meet him. We always have good, solid, candid discussions.

Today, I briefed him on the situation in Iraq, where we are in our efforts at stabilization and providing security for the people and the beginning of our reconstruction efforts and the beginning of the political process to put in place an Iraqi government that will be democratic and that will represent all of the people.

I then told him about my trip to Syria last week and the strong message I gave to President Bashar Assad. I hoped, in light of the changed strategic circumstances in the region, the changed strategic situation, Syria would review its policies with respect to providing a place in Damascus for Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front and other organizations to do activities which would be destabilizing to Israel and the Occupied Territories.

Then, I briefed the President on my time in Israel and Jericho yesterday with Prime Minister Sharon and with Prime Minister Abbas. From my conversations yesterday, I came away with a sense that both Prime Minister Sharon and Prime Minister Abbas want to take advantage of the new situation that is before them. With the confirmation of Prime Minister Abbas, we now have a Palestinian leader that the United States is comfortable working with and talking to. I'm the first senior official to have the chance to meet with Prime Minister Abbas since his confirmation. And Prime Minister Sharon now has somebody that he can talk to and is comfortable talking to.

I told President Mubarak that both sides seem to me to be taking steps, preliminary, but steps nonetheless, down the path that is laid out in the roadmap. On the Palestinian side, the appointment of a Prime Minister, the formation of a cabinet. These are steps that were expected, anticipated in the roadmap. Mr. Sharon has announced some steps that he is taking and will be taking in the days ahead, and he gave me some other steps privately that will be taken in the days ahead, which shows to me anyway that he is willing to start moving in this direction. Both of them know that President Bush is now prepared to engage very, very intensely and more fully in this process. The roadmap is a way of capturing President Bush's vision of last June 24th. I think it also reflects the vision that the Arab League laid out at the Beirut Summit meeting last year.

We support the roadmap. It is something that we wrote with our Quartet partners. The Palestinians have fully accepted it. The Israelis have not accepted, nor rejected. They have issues with respect to it. They have questions. They have comments they wish to provide us. They are a free sovereign nation. If they wish to provide us comments, we will look at them. We haven't changed the roadmap. We still think the roadmap captures the President's vision. What is important, I think, is for Prime Minister Abbas to meet with Prime Minister Sharon so that they can start talking directly to one another. As I said to Prime Minister Abbas yesterday, do you want to know why they didn't accept the roadmap? You can have the chance to ask them. And we (inaudible) when we used our good offices and both Prime Ministers have agreed to be and will be meeting some time in the very near future, and they can talk to directly to one another. We will be ready, willing and able to participate in any way that we can, any level that we have to, whether it's the level of my envoys, or me personally involved, or the President.

And the President's involvement begins next week when he sees Prime Minister Sharon—the first time he will have seen the Prime Minister since our operation in Iraq and since there has been the appointment of a Palestinian prime minister. And I hope it will be after Prime Minister Sharon and Prime Minister Abbas have spoken. I hope that is the case. It all depends on their schedules.

So, this is a time of promise. Both sides want to see the other side do more. Security remains a key issue that has to be dealt with. Whether one accepts or does not accept or remains silent at the moment on the roadmap, or whether one fully accepts the roadmap, the issue of right of return or the issue of Jerusalem and its final status, all these are interesting questions. They are important questions. But, the most important issue and the most pressing question is get started, get started on security, get started with the political transformation in the Palestinian Authority, and get started on the Israeli side with starting to open up things, open up closures, open up opportunities for people to move, and get on with their lives, increase the flow of revenue to the Palestinian Authority from the revenues that the Israelis are holding which belongs to the Palestinian Authority. And we got a commitment from the Prime Minister, increasing the rate of revenue return to assist in housing and people.

And so, that is what I talked to President Mubarak about. We also talked about our bilateral relations, which are good and strong. And I especially thanked the President and his colleagues for their strong efforts in assisting the Palestinians, finding a way forward to the appointment and confirmation of a Prime Minister. In the last days, the Egyptian Government played a very important role in making that happen as you all know.

QUESTION: You couldn't convince Mr. Sharon to accept the roadmap?

SECRETARY POWELL: We understand that he has comments about the roadmap, so I didn't feel that it was the time to try to force the issue with respect to a particular word. He didn't say he accepted it, didn't say he rejected it. He has comments on the roadmap some of which he has provided to us, others he will provide surly when he sees the President. So, everybody is focusing on this issue as if it is the life and death issue. It is not the life and death issue. The death issue is when he accepts or not accepts. The real issue is do we get started? Do we get some movement? Do we start taking some action? And I don't know how many times I have started down this road to be frustrated and not see progress made, because we are perhaps focusing on the wrong word, or the wrong issue, or the wrong concept. What I pressed both sides to do, which is more important for me to do than anything else I can think of, was to get started with security reform, get started with some relief of the conditions under which the Palestinian people live.

QUESTION: Is it just to exert or to exercise number of making this pressure on the Palestinian asking them for concrete measures, concerning security and so on and at the same time you are satisfied with only gestures from the Israeli side. Putting in mind that the new government is fragile, the situation in Palestine itself is very, very sensitive, and I think that Abu-Mazen and his colleagues cannot afford such pressure like that. Asking for a concrete measure from one side and from the other side just a humanitarian gesture here or there, opening the roads or giving some money. Is this approach…is it workable?

SECRETARY POWELL: Of course it is workable. I mean you just say a few humanitarian gestures, but these are more than just a few humanitarian gestures. If we can get the Israelis moving in this direction it is what the Palestinians has been asking for. Let us get to our jobs, let us get to our schools, let us start to live a more normal life, let us open up the area so we are not being constantly stopped at these checkpoints. Start to make life better for the Palestinian people. And I don't think what I asked Prime Minister Abbas to do was American pressure or unreasonable. After he was confirmed by the legislature two weeks ago, in his very first speech—not written by the United States or any one else—in his very first speech he stood up and said we've got to stop violence, we've got to stop terror, we have to tell the Palestinian people that this must end because it is not getting us anywhere. It is important that he said that, I am pleased that he said it, but when he said it he then put the burden on himself, correctly, to begin working to put an end to terror and to violence.

And in the appointment of Mohamed Dahlan as his Minister for Security, which was very controversial, he put in place a person who knows how to do this, has done it before and has experience and has assets available to him. Not enough assets and we will try and help him with more assets to put in place with someone who can do it. So I don't think that saying to Mr. Abbas that we should push you in these efforts and we encourage you is pressure; it is assistance to him and support of his efforts. But let's put it this way: Unless this happens, unless there is an end to terror and violence, until, unless Hamas and PIJ realize that the Palestinian people no longer want to see this kind of activity. Remember Hamas and PIJ and these other types of organizations are not interested in peace, they are not interested in finding a two state solution. They are interested in the destruction of Israel and as long as that remain their primary objective there will never be any progress toward achieving a state for the Palestinian people and Prime Minister Abbas said that clearly to his people and so I do not think I'm telling him anything that he did not know before or asking to take a position that he has not already taken.

QUESTION: There is a strong concern here in the Arab world right now that by using delaying tactics, Sharon may succeed in postponing the whole process or at least not making enough progress until the presidential election which will take or will start very soon in summer. What can be done? Not to….

SECRETARY POWELL: Well first, I do not accept the premise. In the United States presidential elections never go away, they are always there. And if President Bush was worried about his re-election and how this might affect his re-election prospects, we are only 17 months from the elections. He wouldn't have started, he wouldn't have sent me here, he wouldn't have talked about it, he wouldn't put out the roadmap, he wouldn't have written a speech last Friday, talking about a Middle East free trade area, he wouldn't have said I am now going to devote my attention to the Middle East. He would have just said sorry, it is 17 months to the elections I don't want to take any chances now so we will do this after I get re-elected. That would have been the easiest thing for him to do if it was an election issue for him. And if was anyone on the Arab side or the Israeli side who think that some how President Bush will be distracted or delayed until we get closer to the election and he can not do anything, they're wrong.

The President has committed to do something. He fully looked at the calendar; he made a close examination of the calendar when he decided to get involved. He knew if he started now, we'll still be at it when we got closer to the election in 5 to 6 months or a year from now. This is not a problem that will be solved overnight. So I suspect that is a problem that we will be working on through the remainder of this administration and after the President is certainly re-elected, we will continue to work on it in his second term. Hopefully, we made a lot more progress than we have made so far. The President looked at the situation here or the situation in Israel and the occupied territories. And now that Iraq has been dealt with in terms of Saddam Hussein regime, he realized that he had made a commitment to the world especially to the Arab world, President Mubarak, Crown Prince Abdullah, King Abdullah, Prime Minister Sharon, the Palestinian leaders and to the Palestinian people. And especially, since he calls for transformed Palestinian leadership, he asked the Palestinian people to look at where Yasser Arafat had taken them and said, "Is that where we want to be or do you want to bring up new leadership?" And they brought up new leadership in a form of Prime Minister Abbas and his cabinet. And so the Palestinians did what we asked them to do. And the President is going to do what he said he would do. No matter when the election is.

QUESTION: In spite of the fact that it's been a long time since the declaration of the roadmap, you could not convince the Israelis to accept up until now. And in spite of the very close relations, the very special relations, and everything, and you are paving the way on a worldwide strategy, and so on: Afghanistan, Iraq and everywhere. And the atmosphere, as you mentioned in the papers, a new strategic situation exists now. So, why did you not prepare the Israelis to accept and to move sincerely? You ask the Palestinians to stop violence (which is) correct. Why don't you ask Israel to stop occupation, to stop killing, to stop assassinations to stop bombarding the houses just to create an atmosphere on which you can do and your intentions and you said you are coming here for an explanation, to consult, for a number of things. What is it?

SECRETARY POWELL: Every issue that you just talked about we have discussed with the Israelis. And I think you will find that in the days ahead a number of the steps that they have taken, which has yet to be publicized, will be done and they are starting to move in the directions that we want them to move in order to create a better atmosphere. But the better atmosphere won't remain a better atmosphere if the terror continues. If I were to be able to get the Israelis to release every hold that they have over every village and city and occupied territory, if I could get them to release every road block and check point and that produced a wave of new violence. What would the Israelis do the day after? They would put it all back in. So, it does not stand alone. They have to take steps and they will slowly release their grip, and I am confident that grip will be released, consistent with the ability of the Palestinian authorities to exercise control over those areas from which suicide bombers come and from which violence originates. Violence that is driven, to a large extent, by organizations that have no desire to live in peace with Israel. And violence that also -- I am quite sure, and I don't doubt -- reflects the frustration and the anger and the difficult circumstances under which the Palestinian people live. These young people who commit suicide in the context of these acts reflect the deep anger that exists within the Palestinian community.

And what I hope we will be able to do now is to start to move forward with steps taken by the Israeli side. And the President will call for more steps, as we can demonstrate to the world and as the Palestinian side can demonstrate to the Israeli side that something is being done about terrorist organizations, that the new leadership under Prime Minister Abbas is giving one hundred percent effort and shows one hundred percent intent to bring terror under control. Then that strengthens our hand to apply greater pressure and give more encouragement to the Israelis so that they open up more and more and more.

It isn't going to happen overnight. You have to understand that while there is anger
-- you do understand, forgive me -- while there is anger and desire in the Palestinian community for a state of their own and the end of this terrible situation, there is also anger and fear within the Israeli community for the bombs that have taken so many lives, too many lives have been lost on both sides. And so we have to get started. And I don't know where to start but at the beginning. The situation, the cards that we have been dealt now, the siege situation in the West Bank towns that destroyed the Palestinian economy, that made it difficult for Palestinians to live a normal life, that has created a sixty percent unemployment rate. That is terrible. We have to get that siege lifted. The siege is there because of the terror and the terrorist actions that were coming out of these places. And so what we have to do is get that terror ended. And, as terror ends and we can get the Israelis to recognize that, then they lose any reason they have to do the kinds of things that are of such concern to you.

QUESTION: Do you believe the date in the roadmap to establish a Palestinian state by 2005 is feasible?

SECRETARY POWELL: It remains our goal. It becomes more difficult the more time passes without movement down the road. But the President still holds to that goal, but obviously it becomes more difficult unless we get started. So I hope now we can get started.

QUESTION: Can we move it back?

SECRETARY POWELL: We don't want to move it, we want to hold that goal. But you can watch the calendar as easily as I can, but let's not lose sight of that goal right now.

QUESTION: Mr. Abbas in his speech asked for an authority to watch over the implementation of the peace agreement. Do you have any ideas about this?

SECRETARY POWELL: The United States has said for two years that we would provide monitors to watch both sides, to serve as adjudicator as problems come along.

QUESTION: Monitors? U.S. or UN?

SECRETARY POWELL: This has been on the record for two years. U.S. monitors, not U.N., U.S. monitors. The President made a commitment at the G-8 Summit two years ago in Genoa, that we would be willing to do this. Not armed troops to come in as a force between the two sides, but monitors to monitor agreements made between the two sides. When disputes arise or where there are concerns or where there is tension in a particular area, the monitors would be there to calm the situation and try to resolve the issue.

QUESTION: The CIA and other United States government agencies have served as monitors before, no?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, the CIA and other people there were trying to help them form their security presence and there is one area, I forget which city it was, where there were some—Hebron—it was a small monitoring presence. But it wasn't really monitoring the agreement between the two sides. We are talking about the roadmap. We start down the roadmap, let's say that security is established in the north zone, north part of Gaza and the Israelis pull out of everywhere around there and it is now all Palestinian, this is a place where you might have some monitors, who could be there to make sure that is the way it remains and if any problems arise, the monitors would be there to assist the two sides in resolving it, or at least be an independent judge of what has taken place.

This isn't new, this is old. Both sides… the Israelis have said they are willing to accept U.S. monitors.

QUESTION: I have just a comment and a question. The comment is, I, as we noticed, you are insisting on isolating Arafat. In my opinion this is going to weaken Abbas' hand on the situation in Palestine and I think it is not in the interest of the peace process to weaken Abbas and to, in a way, to render the political basis of him rather weaker that it is. The question is… if you would like to comment on this. But I have another question, which is, in my opinion, very important about the new vision which President Bush recently declared about the free trade zone which will be established within ten years between America and Arab world and before that you have yourself, for three months or something like that, also indicated through some kind of a partnership where democracy and political reforms and education and everything should be introduced. But what is it all about, how are you going to do this and I haven't heard of any kind of consultation between you and any of the Arab countries, how are you going to do all these things? Are you going to impose it? Are you going to persuade it….

SECRETARY POWELL: Are you going to finish the question? (Laughter) No, I will sit here, and you can keep going!

On Arafat, we made a decision last year, when the President gave his vision speech, that we couldn't achieve that vision by working with Chairman Arafat because he had had many opportunities over the years to achieve the vision and he failed.

My own experience with Mr. Arafat was unfortunate and difficult. When I was here a year ago and he was surrounded in the Muqata, I said to him, we will work to break the siege in Muqata, break the siege in Bethlehem, but then you have to act. You have to act against terror; you have to act against violence. I said to him, unless you change, unless you really start leading your people in a better direction, this may be the last time I am able to talk to you, because you are not leading your people in the right direction.

We broke the siege of the Muqata. He came out and we saw no change once he was out, he was acting in the same way. And so we made a decision that we had to wait for new leadership and that is what we did, we waited. And the Palestinian people have produced that new leadership with Prime Minister Abbas.

Mr. Arafat is still receiving delegations. The Greek Foreign Minister, who is in the Presidency of the European Union, will be seeing him in a couple of days. Mr. Solana will be seeing him, Mr. Fischer saw him, Mr. Fischer, the German Foreign Minister, not too long ago. So, it's not as if he is unable to get his message out and I know that he is the elected leader of the Palestinian people. I also know the regard he is held in by the Palestinian people for the struggle that he has represented all these years. But we believe that he has missed an opportunity, that he has failed to move the Palestinian people one step closer to a Palestinian state.

Now with respect to your second question, we have a number of initiatives under way. The Middle East Partnership Initiative you made reference to which is what I gave a speech on a few months ago, which is a way to work with developing political initiatives and educational initiatives and teacher training and a number of other efforts that we have under way to work with Arab nations for social advancement and for political development and for educational development and economic development to help make young people especially, and not so young people, better able to participate in the twenty-first century globalizing world.

The President added to that on Friday when he gave a speech in South Carolina, when he talked about a free trade area in the Middle East. The President believes in free trade as a way of bettering the lives of people. So we have a free trade agreement with Jordan, we want to begin discussions on a free trade agreement with Egypt; we have free trade agreements with nations around the world. We are going to have a free trade area of Central America in the near future and then we want to have the whole hemisphere, North and South America and Central America in one great free trade agreement. Last week, in Washington, we signed a free trade agreement with Singapore.

We believe free trade agreements are good for the world. And so why not have one for this part of the world? Why not have a free trade agreement that links all of the nations of this region with the United States in open trading? And so the bottom line to your question is, are we going to impose it? How can we impose it? We have been in consultation with our Arab friends in the region. They know what we think about democracy and what we think about education and what we think about infrastructure. We briefed all the nations in the region on what the elements of the Middle East Partnership Initiative are and I am sure David, Ambassador Welch, can speak to it, but impose it? No, how can we impose it? Democracy is not something we go around imposing. Democracy is something that we present to the world, we share with the world, and each nation makes it own judgment as to how it wishes to proceed. Egypt is a sovereign nation that's had a legislature for a hundred years and has had a representative form of government for many years in different iterations. And so we offer these tools to help Egypt and to help other nations in the world move forward. Not in the spirit of "here you've got to do it our way," but in the spirit of look, here are some things that we believe can help you. Here is a menu, here is a buffet table, and how can we help you? And if you don't want the help, don't take it.

Thank you very much.

Released on May 14, 2003

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