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Press Availabilty With UN Secretary General Kofi Annan; Foreign Minister Franco Frattini of Italy in the Capacity of European Union Presidency; European Union High Representative Javier Solana; and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov of the Russian Federation

Secretary Colin L. Powell
United Nations Headquarters
New York, New York
September 26, 2003


(11:15 a.m. EDT)

MODERATOR: Welcome, ladies and gentlemen. We'll start with a statement by the Secretary General.

SECRETARY GENERAL ANNAN: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. On behalf of the Quartet, I wish to read out a very brief summary of the Quartet meeting. The full text of this statement is being distributed as we speak, unless you've already got it.

The Quartet members view with great concern the situation in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. Each party must do more to address immediately and simultaneously the core concerns of the other, as described in the roadmap. The Quartet members reaffirm their commitment to the roadmap, and to resume progress by the parties towards its rapid implementation.

The Quartet members condemn the vicious terror attacks of August and September. They call on Palestinians to take immediate decisive steps against individuals and groups, conducting and planning violent attacks. The Quartet members recognize Israel's legitimate right to self-defense in the face of terrorist attacks against its citizens.

In this context, and in the context of international humanitarian law, they called on the Government of Israel to exert maximum effort to avoid civilian casualties. The Quartet members reaffirm that, in accordance with the roadmap, settlement activity must stop.

The Quartet looks forward to continuing to work closely together, as well as in association with regional parties, to help achieve progress between Israelis and Palestinians, as well as toward the goal of a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East. To this end, they hope to meet again at principals' level before the end of the year.

I would now like to say a few words and share my own thoughts on the current situation in the Middle East. This is not a Quartet statement. This is my own words.

I am alarmed at the trend toward increasing violence and ever-greater suffering among Israelis and Palestinians. The two parties seem unable to find their way out of the current quagmire without outside help. The international community, represented by the Quartet, has presented the parties with a roadmap towards peace. Unfortunately, both of the parties have failed to take steps along this road, and the international community has been unable to induce the parties to move ahead.

The fragile peace process remains stalled, but facts on the ground are being created which make the vision of two states even more difficult to achieve. I would like to take this opportunity to remind the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority -- and the entire international community -- that the only alternative to this two-state solution is long-term conflict and instability.

It seems to me that bold steps, in keeping with the roadmap, are now necessary to salvage peace. Small steps have not worked; they are unlikely to work in the future. Such actions should simultaneously address the core needs of both parties: security for Israelis and an end to occupation for the Palestinians. They should be firmly supported by an international presence.

Bold steps cannot be taken without consent of the parties. Equally, the current dangerous impasse can only be broken through a revitalized and active international involvement. I urge the international community to help the parties to show that there are responsibilities to their peoples. If these steps are not taken, I believe that all of us will pay a heavy price.

Thank you very much. The floor is now open for questions.

MODERATOR: The first question goes to the President of the Correspondents Association, Tony Jenkins, of Expresso, Portugal.

QUESTION: Thank you. My question goes to the Secretary of State.

Sir, there have been three times as many Palestinian casualties in this latest round of the conflict as Israeli. Israel engages in illegal activities such as extra judicial assassinations, and is now building a wall that is illegally swallowing Palestinian lands; yet, we constantly hear from Washington that the lion's share of the blame for this conflict belongs to Mr. Arafat.

In many quarters of the world, there is a growing perception that the USA is not neutral in this conflict and some of us have suggested that this perceived bias encourages terrorism and, thus, ultimately endangers American security. I wonder how you respond to such criticism.

SECRETARY POWELL: I think we have tried to show by our actions and by our support of the roadmap and by the position the President took at Sharm el-Sheikh and Aqaba that we want to be a partner with both sides, bringing them together to find a way forward.

The roadmap put down reciprocal obligations for both sides, and we did see some initial movement on that roadmap: with Israel restraining itself with respect to targeted assassinations, to ticking bombs coming its way; with the beginning of the destruction of illegal outposts, with the clear understanding that something had to be done and the President expected something to be done about settlement activity; the initial beginnings of prisoner releases; opening of Gaza and Bethlehem to security control by the Palestinians, and more cities were being prepared to be turned over.

So there were some beginning efforts on the roadmap that made it clear that the United States was encouraging Israel and putting pressure on Israel to meet its obligations.

On the Palestinian side, the major obligation -- the bold step that is needed -- is to end terror activity. It becomes very difficult to move forward and to expect either side to move forward if it is against the backdrop of continued terror on the part of organizations such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad that do not have the same purpose that the international community does, the United States certainly has, of the creation of two states to live side by side in peace -- the state of Israel which exists and the Palestinian state which the President has called for -- by the year 2005, should that be possible.

But Hamas and PIJ don't want that. They don't want Israel to exist. And as long as they keep operating in that manner and Palestinians do not organize themselves in a way to deal with this continuing terrorist threat, we will find ourselves continually frustrated.

But the United States is prepared to play the role of a open, honest broker, pressing both sides to meet the obligations and commitments that they have made and have under the roadmap.

QUESTION: - and as you explained to The New York Times, the Iraq situation, the notion of six months for a constitution, when would elections be held. In other words, we would like to get some sort of a fill on the thinking.

And with Mr. Putin coming this weekend, would this be an occasion to -- for the United States, and with Russia by its side, be more explicit about the transition?

SECRETARY POWELL: On the second point, I'm sure it will be a subject of considerable discussion between President Bush and President Putin at Camp David. I have spoken on a number of occasions -- it got a lot of attention this morning -- a number of occasions about Ambassador Bremer's seven-step plan to the point where we can turn full authority back over to the Iraqi people. And part of that plan included -- and we're approaching that point now -- the writing of a constitution, and the Governing Council is debating and discussing, and throughout Iraq there are discussions taking place on the constitution of -- of the group that would write the constitution.

And it is our feeling -- and Ambassador Bremer has discussed this publicly, as have I -- that a period of about six months seems to be appropriate for such a group to determine the form of government that they would like to have embedded in the constitution and the form of representation that the people will have in that government embedded in a constitution. And if it is possible to meet that goal of finishing the constitutional work in six months, then it is quite appropriate to consider that shortly thereafter the people will be able to ratify such a constitution and prepare for elections.

I really can't be precise. Some people have said it would take another six months for elections, but we really can't be precise about it. And this is a work in progress, but six months seems like an appropriate amount of time for a constitution of the kind that we expect the Governing Council and the constitutional commission to prepare -- to prepare.

QUESTION: Would the U.S. remain in that period to help make sure the transition -- "unhurried," as the President said?

SECRETARY POWELL: The U.S. is prepared to remain as long as it is necessary to put in place a representative form of government in Iraq, and to help the Iraqis create that government and the ministries and the institutions of government and a constitution which determines how power will be distributed, and from that constitution, elections that will bring in place -- put in place -- excuse me -- a representative leadership of the Iraqi people to take full authority back from the coalition.

MODERATOR: Abdur Rahim Fuqara, Al Jazeera.

QUESTION: Given that the Israelis are wary of the Europeans and that they generally feel that the United Nations is hostile to their interests, and that Russian influence in the Middle East is no longer what it used to be, how accurate is it to characterize the Quartet as an exercise in futility?

SECRETARY GENERAL ANNAN: No, I think the Quartet works in partnership, and obviously, at any one stage, the influence of one or the other of the members with one or the other of the parties may be greater than the other. But we pool our efforts, and we pool our efforts to make things happen. For example, yes, it is a fact that the U.S. does have greater influence with the Israelis than other members of the Quartet. But other members of the Quartet, the Europeans, for example, have considerable influence on the Palestinian side, given the support, the guidance they have given them with reform. And it was true the pressure of the Quartet and other efforts by the Quartet as a whole that led to the reform of the Palestinian institutions, leading to the creation of a prime minister.

So each member brings something to the table. And the fact that the U.S. may have a greater influence does not mean the others don't have a role. Obviously, the process, as I said, is in a bit of a distress, but it is the only option we have and we are going to press the parties to honor their commitments on the roadmap. And all of us here on this podium have a role to play, and the importance of our influence may differ from time to time and differ from party to party.

Thank you.

SECRETARY POWELL: Can I have a word? I think the Quartet process has also allowed the different perspectives and different approaches that each of us take to the region to come in to harmony so that we all are united in providing a common front, in the form of a roadmap, to the parties, as opposed to each member of the Quartet and many other individuals and countries and organizations represented by the Quartet would be going off with different plans and suggestions every day of the week.

And it was as a result of the creation of the Quartet that we could then focus on the development of a roadmap. That roadmap is still valid, and we are now waiting to see whether or not the Palestinian people are able to put in place, through their own system, a prime minister who will enjoy political authority and control over all the security forces so that we can start moving again down the path laid out by the roadmap.

MODERATOR: Mr. Gramaglia, the Italian News Agency ANSA.

QUESTION: (Via translater.) A question for the President of the European Council of Ministers.

Minister Frattini, the European Union today presented to the Quartet new proposals for greater involvement in the implementation of the roadmap. And if so, how were these proposals received?

And for Secretary Powell, a mission in the Middle East before the next meeting of the Quartet?

FOREIGN MINISTER FRATTINI: (Via translator.) With regard to the position of the European Union, I can say that we have supported the need for an involvement of all the members of the Quartet in the implementation, in the important implementation of monitoring the roadmap. It is clear, as Secretary of State Powell has just said and as he mentioned earlier -- as the Secretary General Kofi Annan mentioned earlier -- that each of the members of the Quartet has an ability to contribute more in an area of monitoring, rather than in other areas.

I believe that Europe -- and here this is good -- this is a reference to the final communiqué -- can give -- make a strong contribution to that indispensable action of institution building and in the action of support for an exchange, and also a cultural and a real exchange with the Arab -- with the key Arab countries in the region, because Europe has a tradition, and this tradition is reaffirmed today, just as giving a perspective of social, economic reconstruction of the entire region, and it is clear that these proposals that are found in the document today see Europe satisfied.

There is also a point that I think is important. The Quartet decided to return to meeting at the highest level, today's level, by the end of the year in order to be able to, as Secretary General Kofi Annan said, to assess concretely the state of progress of the actions that the Quarter considers and is reconsidering -- has taken and is reassuming today full coordination of, the idea of Europe -- the ideas Europe are satisfied in the expression of the final communiqué of today.

Thank you.

SECRETARY POWELL: [We have a mission] in the region now under the leadership of Ambassador Wolf and he remains in touch with both parties on a daily basis and reports back regularly to me, and we will be sharing his reports more broadly with my colleagues in the Quartet. And as a result of our discussions today, we decided that our envoys should more regularly travel to the region and assemble in the region to assess progress and the prospects for moving forward.

MODERATOR: Steve Weisman, New York Times.

QUESTION: Thank you. A question for Secretary of State Powell and Secretary General Annan.

Does the United States, and does the Quartet have a view of President Chirac's proposal for an immediate international conference on this situation?

Or anyone else who wants to, such as -- Mr. Frattini, you were shaking your head. If you want to say something.

SECRETARY POWELL: There have been regular proposals for an international conference, and French colleagues raised it again this week. But I don't see an immediate purpose in such a conference in the absence of some change in the situation on the ground, and at the moment we don't have a Palestinian government that is seen as a partner who could participate in such a conference.

So it's a possibility, it's an idea that's out there, but I don't see any immediate prospects of holding such a conference.

MODERATOR: (Inaudible) Abu Dhabi TV.

QUESTION: Secretary Powell, you've just tried to give us an example of being the honest broker that you are, also exerting pressure on Israel; however, lately you said that the Israeli Prime Minister Sharon is not responding to your pressures on settlement, he is not responding on the wall, which is an affront to everything you stand for in the roadmap, he is not responding on extra judicial killing with, I must say, many bystanders, innocent ones, are falling by the byside.

He is not responding in many aspects; however, you are showing understanding for his not giving in to your pressure and saying that Israeli Prime Minister can't be seen to giving in to American pressure. Isn't it time to contemplate going to the Security Council and giving some teeth to this process if the Israelis are not responding to your pressure?

The question is also open to other participants, if going to Security Council is a good idea at this time.

SECRETARY POWELL: The Israelis were responding to the overtures made by the United States and the Quartet and others in the international community when they came to Aqaba and when they entered into a set of obligations and commitments, and we had begun to march down that path. The Palestinians also entered into a series of obligations and commitments, as did the Arab states and the members of the Quartet.

Unfortunately, as we started down that road and were able to apply pressure on both sides to meet their obligations, terrorist attacks began again. Even after there was a period of ceasefire that gave a little bit of a respite to both sides and to the region, Hamas elected to turn it on again. And they have control of the switch; they can turn the terror switch on and they can turn the terror switch off. The point I was making about the Prime Minister is that when he is being pressed to comply with the obligations and to do more on his side of the ledger, and he sees from the other side of the ledger not enough action being taken to do something about these terrorist attacks, and terrorist attacks once again inflicting themselves upon innocent people, it becomes very, very difficult to more forward in that set of circumstances. And that's the point I was trying to make.

Whether or not it's appropriate for the UN to take action at this point or not, we had some discussion of that but we haven't pursued this at any level of detail this morning.

MODERATOR: Foreign Minister Igor wants to say something.

FOREIGN MINISTER IVANOV: (Via translator.) First of all, I should like to associate myself with the words of the Secretary General of the UN and to stress the great importance of the Quartet in regard to finding ways to resolve the situation in the Middle East.

The Quartet, of course, represents the States, represents the European Union, the UN, but we're entitled to say that the Quartet basically speaks on behalf of the entire international community since we have very active consultations with the Arab states and with other states of the world. And the roadmap that was prepared and submitted by the Quartet has received general support form the world community and it was adopted by the parties although Israel did enter some reservations on it.

So there's no doubt, in the view of Russia, that the work of the Quartet was necessary, it was useful, and we think that the work must be continued. We made that point before.

However, we do see that the implementation of the roadmap is confronting some serious problems, and in that connection, of course, we need to think about how to increase the powers, the authority of the Quartet so that the roadmap can be implemented in practice. It could be through a resolution of the Security Council. That might be by some other steps that could be taken. But we agreed to continue consultations amongst ourselves.

Thank you.

MODERATOR: Evelyn Leopold of Reuters.

QUESTION: The first is, is the Quartet united? We noticed last week there was a split in the Security Council amongst EU members and within the EU and with the United States, and another one on a resolution in the General Assembly.

And secondly, to Secretary of State Powell, when does that six-month deadline begin on the constitution? The Governing Council, at a press conference, spoke about a May date.

SECRETARY POWELL: If I can take the second part and let my friends deal with the first part. (Laughter.)

The six months we anticipate would begin with the formation of the constitutional group and the beginning of their work. So we are waiting for a report from the people who are working on that, how to go about it, and Ambassador Bremer, I think, believes that once they start their work, six months is an appropriate amount of time.

I wouldn't see it -- you have to have some sense of time on this, and so six months is a good date to put out there, but the term "deadline" suggests that something awful happens at the end of the six months, and I wouldn't want to convey the impression that it falls of the end of the earth at the end of six months. The six months seems to be a good timeline to put out there for the creation of this constitution, and also to give a sense of momentum and purpose to the effort of moving toward full restoration of authority over Iraq to the Iraqi people.

HIGH REPRESENTATIVE SOLANA: Let me try to answer the first part of the question. The Quartet is united. I think they proved this today. The very important statement has come out today. It may be difference of opinion on particular issues, but of course they do not affect the unity of the Quartet. And let me say on behalf of the European Union that I don't see the Quartet as an exercise in futility; on the contrary, I think it's the most important achievement for many, many years to have a common position for the countries which are represented here as far as the peace process is concerned. I would say it was the opposite of an exercise in futility.

And I would like to say to my good friend who asked that question, who mentioned that, that without the participation of the European Union, probably the Palestinian Authority would not exist today.

QUESTION: By the way --

MODERATOR: Sir -- you're out of order, sir. Thank you.

Ministers, thank you. Secretary General, thank you, ladies and gentlemen.

Released on September 26, 2003

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