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Briefing en Route Brussels

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Brussels, Belgium
March 5, 2008

SECRETARY RICE: We’re off to Brussels and this is a NATO ministerial which is in preparation for the NATO summit that will take place at the beginning of April. And I’m sure we’ll have discussions of the full range of issues: Afghanistan, Kosovo, and as I said, preparing for the NATO summit. So why don’t I just take questions. Anne, you want to start?

QUESTION: I’ll actually ask you a NATO question.

SECRETARY RICE: A NATO question.

QUESTION: The recent poll discussion over whether or not the NATO allies will produce the troops that Canada has asked for seems to have died down in the last couple of weeks, but are you confident that either at this meeting or by the time President Bush goes for the full ministerial, that either of those troops will have materialized or you’ll have firm commitments from the allies to get them?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, people have obviously been working very hard on this issue. The Canadian contribution is highly valued and so we need very much to be able to meet the circumstances that would allow Canada to continue and to continue in a way that is going to contribute in a way that Canada has to the – oh, sorry, I didn’t see you – to the mission in the south of Afghanistan. And so a lot of work has gone into it. I think people are making progress.

And I think we’re hopeful that NATO is going to meet the commitments that it needs to meet, but Bob Gates has been very, very engaged with his counterparts in particular.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: I’d like to ask you about today – about today. I’m not ready to move to NATO yet. It seems as if we are putting an enormous amount of pressure on Abu Mazen to come back to the table and he has, but he’s taking a political risk. Is it time now for Israel to make some sort of specific, tangible step or some sort of something back in return? And what exactly would you like to see them send him?

SECRETARY RICE: Let me start with the point that Abu Mazen himself made, which is that negotiation is a strategic choice that the Palestinians have taken. This is not a gift to Israel, a gift to the United States. It’s, in fact, in the common interest of Israel and the Palestinians to have these negotiations go forward. The only people in whose interests this isn’t is apparently Hamas, which is doing everything that it can to prevent that from happening. And so I do understand the difficult circumstances for President Abbas, but I think he’s made the right decision.

And I said also during the press conference today, that said, that the robustness and the sustainability of these negotiations is also going to be dependent on the other two pillars of Annapolis, which means improvements on the ground, support, for instance, for the Blair mission and actually getting those projects approved and started, and then also for roadmap obligations being met. And so that’s why we’ve decided to have this trilateral next week.

So again, it is in everybody’s interests that the negotiations go forward, but the negotiations need the support of the other two pillars. And that’s what – we’ve been working on that part of it as well.

QUESTION: Some specific sort of NATO questions. The first one is, is the U.S. fully backing Ukraine and Georgia for the map plan? And also, are you backing the three Adriatic hopefuls: Croatia, Albania and Macedonia? And if Greece blocks Macedonia because of its row over its name, are you going to spurn an invitation to Albania as well? And then one other thing; on the envoy, is there any movement on the envoy for Afghanistan?

SECRETARY RICE: We have been working on the envoy, and I hope that there’ll be some movement on that front relatively soon. In terms --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

SECRETARY RICE: We’ve been working on the envoy and I – and look, this is Ban Ki-moon’s selection, as he’s in SRSG. There’s been a lot of work done and I think there’ll be some movement on that. The -- in terms of the decisions that’ll be taken at NATO, this is a consensus organization. I’m obviously going to have extensive discussions with my colleagues about each of these issues. The United States, in principle, has always said that NATO is a performance-based organization and therefore when countries are ready for these various stages, that NATO ought to have an open door to them and that continues to be our position. But I think we’re going to want to have discussions. It’s one reason to have a ministerial now in preparation for the summit.

QUESTION: Are you backing (inaudible)?

SECRETARY RICE: We’re going to take a decision with our allies at the summit. I think we’ve been very clear that we believe that those countries have all made progress toward membership, but we’re going to be able to judge that with our allies. And I think that’ll be the time to decide whether or not, in fact, this goes forward.

QUESTION: South Ossetia today asked to be recognized independent as Kosovo has been. So do you think it’s a provocation from Moscow or do you think it’s something inevitable?

SECRETARY RICE: It’s not going to happen. I don’t want to try to judge the motives, but we’ve been very clear that Kosovo is sui generis and that that is because of the special circumstances out of which the breakup of Yugoslavia came. The special circumstances of the aggression of the Milosevic forces against Kosovars, particularly Albanian Kosovars, and it’s a special circumstance.

QUESTION: Just to get back again to this morning, were you annoyed at Abbas – yeah, well --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Right, sorry. Well, we have different deadlines than they do. The – I mean, you can see from the conflicting statements that Abbas made today some of that pressure that he’s on. Were you annoyed at him when you got those news reports that he had actually said there was a – you know, that the – put the condition of a truce there? I mean, were there elements that he needed to bring to the picture since this Frasier meeting to help him make this statement?

And you know, more tangibly, are there things that you’re asking the Israelis to do to really show some progress on the ground? For instance, the Palestinians are going to have this investment conference in Bethlehem. You know, the Palestinians are very worried that those guys won’t be able to get visas that will get them past those roadblocks. So are those the sorts of things that they’re asking for and you’re asking for?

SECRETARY RICE: On the first issue, I talked directly with President Abbas. He said he – there was not to be a condition. I mean, there is no conditionality here. It’s obvious that he feels strongly that there needs to be a calmer environment and there needs to be a cessation of violence. I said that all of this will, of course, be greatly improved if the environment is calm. But we’ve been working on this with the Palestinians over the last – really, before I got here, but the last two days pretty intensively to try to come up with a way of going forward that would not just resume negotiations, but make the ground for those negotiations more robust and more resistant to the kind of turbulence that we’re bound to see. This happens every time there is movement toward peace somebody tries to disturb it.

And so, yes, I have spent a lot of time with Israelis as well as with the Palestinians about how we could really get moving forward on some of the projects that the Palestinians want to do, that Tony Blair wants to do. I understand the security problems quite well. I'm the one who negotiated the movement and access agreement. I understand that it's hard.

I remember in, I think it was actually in an answer to Helene some time ago, that I said that one of the reasons after '05 that I really became convinced that without political momentum it was difficult to just make things on the ground work was the experience with movement and access. It's -- the reverse is also true. Without movement on the ground, it's also hard to make the political negotiations sustainable. That's why when we constructed Annapolis, it was constructed deliberately with different pillars. So we've spent time on that. We're going to continue to spend time on that.

I hope that we can help on some of the impediments that might be there, to get some of the major projects that Tony Blair would like to get moving, moving. And on roadmap obligations, there really is need for improvement on both sides. No one is doing this particularly well. And so I think it's a good time -- I got the first report from General Frasier, who is going about this in a very systematic way and I think it's now -- and he believes it's now time for a trilateral. But I'm quite aware of the fact that that was important for Abu Mazen as a part of the way to make sure that the ground is really there for the negotiations to go forward.

But, you know, ultimately the parties are going to have to sustain these negotiations in the face of turbulence. And we can help make it more robust in this way, but they're going to have to sustain it in the face of turbulence.

QUESTION: Is Frasier going to make a report to the Israelis and the Palestinians and say, here's what you're not doing, what you need to do?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the report is to me, and it wasn't a judgment on roadmap obligations, it was sort of his first take on what needs to be done. But I expect that he will clearly talk directly to them about what needs to be done and ways to get it done. I don't personally like the term "judge" very much, because it sounds like somebody who sits above and hands down decrees. This is more an iterative effort of working with the parties to see if we can't really make some group movement on these roadmap obligations, and that's how I expect Will Frasier to carry it out.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Livni today said that there's a better understanding that the future -- the pathway to a future of a Palestinian state has to deal with Gaza, that it can't be a terrorist state, it can't be a failed state. It seems that the only option that the Israelis are looking at is a military option there. Is there any talk about implementing (inaudible) negotiations?

SECRETARY RICE: Hamas is -- has tried to hold the people of Gaza hostage and they tried to hold the process hostage and they tried to hold Israeli towns hostage with missile fire. That's the reality in Gaza.

Now that has to be addressed. In the ultimate sense, it will be best addressed by an agreement that shows that there will be a viable Palestinian state and then provides a vehicle for unity for the Palestinian people, and then let Hamas answer whether they’re going to be outside of that consensus.

Now, in the short term, nonetheless, people have tried to deal with the humanitarian situation. I think Abu Mazen would make the point that more than 50 percent of the PA budget is actually going to the needs of the people in Gaza. And that’s something that’s sometimes missed. They are still dealing with the needs of the Palestinian -- innocent Palestinians in Gaza from the PA.

And finally, dealing with things like the buildup through the tunnels and that like will provide an agenda for the Israelis and the Egyptians. And we will help to the degree that we can to try to deal with some of the effects of Hamas there in Gaza.

The Egyptians, the Israelis, the Palestinian Authority, the United States, the European Union, all have a role to play in moving toward a more sustainable situation in Gaza. And I think those discussions are going to go on.

Nick.

QUESTION: There was a (inaudible) kind of a fourth pillar to Annapolis, which was the other Arabs in the region. I wonder, yesterday while you were meeting with President Abbas, some of his aides came down and some of them said that many of the Arabs have not only not been supportive of the process and of President Abbas, but some of them have actually been supportive of Hamas, like your ally Qatar. So how are you going to leave Hamas outside the consensus if Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others are not only helping but actually hurting?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, let me not comment on their comments because I didn’t hear their comments and are -- on Qatar. I think Saudi Arabia has been supportive. Abu Mazen was just there to see the King -- I’m sorry, Salam Fayyad was just there to see the King. I think he -- the Saudis are trying to be supportive. But the Arabs -- the Arab could do more. And you’re right, that is -- I meant the three pillars between the Israelis and the Palestinians, but absolutely the Arabs, who have said that they want a process, who have said that they want the United States involved, who came to Annapolis, are going to need to find ways to support the process going forward.

The Egyptians, I think through the work that they’re trying to do in the Gaza and the way that they’ve reacted to this recent situation has been -- it has been helpful. But we’ll be looking to the Arabs for -- to fulfill their Madrid pledges -- not Madrid, Paris pledges, and to make certain that the Palestinians have the support that they need. Absolutely, we’ll be working on that.

QUESTION: Qatar was actually -- Qatar was very helpful to you in Annapolis because they were rounding people to come to Annapolis. And at the same time, they’re still giving Hamas millions of dollars. I mean, it’s --

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I wouldn't just take at face value everything that you hear about those issues.

QUESTION: All right.

SECRETARY RICE: Okay. Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you.

2008/T7-5



Released on March 5, 2008

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