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Remarks With Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Amman, Jordan
March 31, 2008

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PRESIDENT ABBAS: (Via interpreter.) Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Masterful. I have met today and yesterday with Dr. Rice. I would like to extend my thanks to the efforts that President Bush and Secretary Rice are extending to make the year 2008 a year of peace and a year to implement the Roadmap, as well as the international legitimate resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative and President Bush’s vision to have two states. And I have discussed with Secretary Rice, here in Amman, a number of the issues of the final status.

I do extend my thanks to his – to President Bush for his invitation to me to visit Washington, where I will meet in the third month – in the third part of next month in April, (inaudible). We do assert our commitment to the peace process and we will extend every effort possible to implement our obligations and the Roadmap. And we hope that the American referee or judge will make sure that Israel will meet its obligation, in particularly, namely, to stop settlement activities, in particular in Jerusalem, and also to fix a comprehensive reciprocal or mutual truce and also to release the (inaudible) detainees as well as to ask for the return of the (inaudible) and to reopen the institutions in eastern Jerusalem and to reinstate the situation before 2000 – year 2000. And all of these are agreed under the Roadmap.

Dr. Rice, I recognize that we are striving to work for disarmament of our -- the weapons and we will spare no effort with the Israeli party and all (inaudible) to reach a peace agreement for all the issues of the final status. They are, in particular, Jerusalem, frontiers or borders, settlements, refugees, as well as water, security and other relationships in addition to the captives or detainees. We do support all efforts exerted to fix the – to remove siege on Gaza, and these efforts are being exerted by Egypt in particular. And we do support these efforts.

I have asked Dr. Rice to continue in delivery of pharmaceuticals, water, electricity to our people in Gaza with practical steps in order to relieve the siege and the closures at the Palestinian internal affairs level. I do reiterate our situation that Hamas should retreat or decline from throwing out of the authority in the Gaza and also, it should announce its obligations at the regional and international levels. And we should go together to early elections and this has been (inaudible) in the Yemeni initiative, which has been approved – which was approved yesterday during the Arab summit in Damascus. We are committed to this initiative if Hamas is committed to restore clearly the situation before the events in June last year and also, to have early elections.

Thank you, Dr. Rice, for your efforts and we would like to extend efforts to President George Bush. Thank you.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much, Mr. President, and thank you for welcoming me twice on this trip. I have had the opportunity to spend time with you, with Prime Minister Olmert, and this morning, I had a very good and extensive meeting with Foreign Minister Livni and with Mr. Abu Ala, your negotiators. And I can say that these are serious people who are engaged in serious work. I know that your teams have a lot of hard work ahead of them, but I have to say that I find very impressive the work that is being done and the seriousness of the process, and I think it’s all moving in the right direction.

Thank you also for our conversations. They have helped me to understand better some of the challenges and opportunities before us. We will indeed continue to pursue the Annapolis tracks, each of them, the improvements on the ground. And in that regard, I want to thank Prime Minister Salam Fayyad for his meeting yesterday with me and with Defense Minister Barak to begin the process of trying to improve the lives of the Palestinian people. I want to thank General Fraser, who is here with me, who will return often to the region in his role in helping the parties to meet their Roadmap obligations and, of course, the third track of Annapolis, the political negotiations, which are aimed and focused at achieving an agreement by the end of the year that can lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state, subject of course, to Roadmap implementation, which is why we're working so hard on the Roadmap as well.

But that is our goal. I fully believe that it is a goal that we can reach. And so I look forward to seeing you in Washington, as does the President looks forward to inviting you there.

Thank you very much.

MODERATOR: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible) President, you were optimistic, especially after Annapolis, for the establishment of the Palestinian state within the tenure of President Bush. Are you still optimistic with that?

PRESIDENT ABBAS: (Via interpreter.) We said, actually, that we are interested in reaching an agreement, a comprehensive peace agreement, in 2008, and this was also said by President Bush. And it is apparent through the extensive efforts that are being exerted by the President and the American Administration, in particular, in order to reach such an agreement. I am confident, God willing, that we will reach comprehensive peace in 2008. And we are, and the Israelis as well as the Americans and all stakeholders, we do work (inaudible) in order to reach this goal.

SECRETARY RICE: We have a question here. Arshad.

QUESTION: Secretary Rice, this morning the Jerusalem municipal authority, just after you left Jerusalem, announced that it is going to proceed with building 600 additional housing units in (inaudible). What is your reaction to -- the latest announcement of settlement building by -- or additional housing units by the Israelis?

Secondly, Israeli officials are telling us that you are trying to get some kind of an interim agreement or interim document by the time the President is expected to come back in May. Is there any truth whatsoever to those reports?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, Arshad, on the second point, I'm not going to respond to comments by unnamed Israeli officials. I can tell you that what my work is focused on, and it is what the President said, our work is focused on achieving agreement by the end of this year that can establish a Palestinian state, subject to the Roadmap, which means we have to work hard on Roadmap obligations and we have to improve the lives of the Palestinian people. I don't see any purpose in talking about anything but getting to an agreement. And we need to, by the end of 2008, which is what Annapolis has set out, get to an agreement that will establish a Palestinian state. That's what we're focused on.

As to settlement activity, we continue to state America's position that settlement activity is - should stop, that its expansion should stop, that it is indeed not consistent with Roadmap obligations. That is why, nonetheless, we have a committee that deals with Roadmap obligations. And it is my very strong view that the best thing that we can do is to focus on getting this agreement, because then we won't have these discussions about what belongs in Israel and what belongs in Palestine; we will know. That is why we need a Palestinian state. But let me say very clearly that nothing that is undertaken under any guise from the point of the United States can prejudge a final status outcome. And that has been our position and continues to be.

QUESTION: Dr. Rice, reactions, Arab reactions, that you are not exercising any pressure on Israel. In contrast, when you want to say that or when you wish that other Arab leaders will not attend the Arab summit, don't you think that you will embarrass American friends? And this is an interference in the Arab affairs.

Another question to President (inaudible). Were there a dispute between you and Muammar Qadhafi in the Damascus summit, and what was your -- what is your comment on (inaudible) visit for you to visit Gaza?

SECRETARY RICE: First of all, on -- I think the first question was about what the United States does in getting the sides to meet obligations, and the United States is extremely active in doing that. I don't think that I've been hesitant in making very clear our views about activities, for instance, concerning settlements. The President was very clear about that as well. And I believe that you are seeing the results of the United States being very active in the kind of agreements that we had yesterday on improving life for the Palestinian people. It's a start. It is not the end of what must be done, but it is a start.

As to the Arab summit, Arab states make their own decisions about whether they will attend what summits.

PRESIDENT ABBAS: In the Arab summit, there was no dispute whatsoever, neither was discussion with (inaudible) Muammar Qadhafi. There was no dispute between me and them, and regardless of any problems or issues.

But for the other part of the question, there is no answer and it does not need an answer to it, in fact.

MODERATOR: (In Arabic.)

SECRETARY RICE: American, yes.

MODERATOR: Last question to Sylvie Lanteaume.

MODERATOR: American, American.


QUESTION: Khaled Meshaal offered President Abbas to go to Gaza to have talks about reconciliation. I would like to ask both of you if you think it's a good idea. And also, Mr. President, when do you next meet Prime Minister Olmert?

PRESIDENT ABBAS: I have answered the first part of the question. But for Prime Minister Olmert and the meeting with him, this meeting will be in shortly, to be on the 7th of next month, so the 7th of April.

SECRETARY RICE: The President has answered the question. (Laughter.) Thank you.


Released on March 31, 2008

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