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Roundtable with Traveling Press

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
June 15, 2008

SECRETARY RICE: Hi, everybody. Okay. Lead off. Who didn’t get a question today at the press conference? 


QUESTION: Can you tell us a little bit about what the reaction from the Israeli officials you talked to today has been to the message you (inaudible) at the press conference? And have you given them any specific requests, something in particular that you want them to do?

SECRETARY RICE: No. In fact, Anne, I’ve just had a fairly long session in a trilateral to talk more about what’s going on in the negotiations. But I’ve made the position of the United States very clear. I think that there’s a lot of back-and-forth about what constitutes a tender, what constitutes this, what constitutes that. I think the issue here is to try to get back to a place that there’s some confidence that this is not an effort, in some way, to dictate or to prejudge the final status issue and to prejudge the final status outcome. 

And that’s really what I’m interested in and that’s what I’ve been raising, so I’ve been raising it in a more general sense than trying to get into a specific about that neighborhood or that tender, because I don’t think that’s really the problem. I think the problem is --

QUESTION: Where there’s confidence on your part or on the Palestinian part?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think where there’s confidence generally, across the board.

QUESTION: Could you elaborate a little bit on how you see the process intensifying? And in particular, Palestinian officials have told us that you would, in fact, do more three-way meetings with Abu Allah and Foreign Minister Livni. Is that true?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we’ll do – I’ve said, you know, we’ll use variable geometries. Whenever it seems useful to have a trilateral, we’ll do it. I think it’s been useful the last couple of times to do that. But I wouldn’t try to get into a pattern of expecting it on any regular basis, because ultimately, this really does have to be a bilateral process and the parties have to make progress bilaterally. 

And they’re doing that at three different levels. They’re doing it at the level of Abu Mazen and Prime Minister Olmert. They’re doing it at the level of Abu Allah and Livni. And they’re doing it at the level of experts – well, actually, four levels, because they also have Saab Erekat and Talbek are working, and then they’ve got a level below that that are experts that are working in committees. So there’s plenty of bilateral discussion going on. And my impression is that it is pretty intensive and it’s, you know, close to – at one of those levels, close to almost daily.

But there may be times when trilaterals help. I think today’s helped. I think the last one helped. But I don’t want it to just become something that’s formulaic. I think it ought to – we ought to do it when it’s – when it’s a good thing to do.

QUESTION: And what were you meaning when you said that you expect it to intensify?

SECRETARY RICE: I think – well, first of all, I think it’s pretty intensive, but, you know, it’s June and I expect that people are going to work harder and harder. They’re also beginning to find out where differences are. And as they do that, they’ll need to intensify ways of finding ways to bridge those differences. But I don’t want to prejudge what level that discussion needs to take place at. I think that’s something that has to flow naturally out of the work that they’re doing.

QUESTION: And just to be clear, did they actually – did you actually talk about the idea of more regular trilaterals or that (inaudible)?

SECRETARY RICE: Not more regular, no. I said that I would like to – I thought that the trilateral format has worked and that I would like to do more trilaterals. But I didn’t say that we wanted to do regular trilaterals or that we’d do them every time I’m here or anything of the sort.

QUESTION: And with negotiators or with others? With Olmert and Abbas or --

SECRETARY RICE: Oh, I think it’s – it works best at the negotiator level, with Livni and Abu Allah.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, you said you thought today’s session – trilateral session helped. How --


QUESTION: What did you specifically (inaudible)?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I hope it helped. We spent two hours. I hope it helped. Look, the kinds – we – I listen – as I said before, I listen and sometimes I can hear areas of agreement or areas of not agreement, convergence, or I can sometimes hear different ways to think about something that seems that it’s come to an impasse. And I don’t mean I’m trying to float new American proposals. That’s not the purpose of this. 


SECRETARY RICE: It’s really to listen to what the parties are saying and to try to help them to navigate. I also listen to what they think the international community can do and might need to do so that I can carry that message.

QUESTION: But did you walk out of there and in here feeling like there were some specific things that you moved forward?

SECRETARY RICE: Yes, but that’s as far as I’m going to go. (Laughter.) Look, they’ve been very – they have been very smart to not be in a position of having to report “progress” or deadlock or – because this isn’t a football game where you put up a score after every quarter. This is a process that will ebb and flow. There will be good days, there will be bad days, they’ll move forward, they’ll move back. That’s the way negotiations go. And so I think it’s good that they are doing this in a quiet way. So I’m not going to violate that either.

I just can represent that this is a very serious discussion. They’re seriously engaging the issues. They’ve got questions and problems on the table that they haven’t dealt with for seven years. And they’re dealing with it at multiple levels. And I do think it’s useful to be able to say that, because there is an idea out there that somehow, because they’re not, every other day, coming out and saying, oh, here’s our joint position on this and we agree on this and we disagree on this, that nothing’s going on in these negotiations and they must just be sitting and they’re just spinning their wheels and talking. And that’s clearly not the way that they’re doing it.

And I do need to – I do want the international community to have confidence that they are working seriously and intensively. I can’t say yes, absolutely, they’ll get an agreement. Nobody can say that. But the idea that they have no chance of getting an agreement by the end of the year, I just think is not right.


QUESTION: Richard Boudreaux, Los Angeles Times.


QUESTION: There’s also an idea out there that Prime Minister Olmert’s legal troubles are a big obstacle, something that might have slowed this down and then (inaudible). What – have you sensed any impact of that on --

SECRETARY RICE: What I sense is that they’re forging ahead. The negotiators are forging ahead, the expert level is forging ahead. They’re working hard. I think Abu Mazen was right earlier when he said this is an internal matter for Israel. The Prime Minister is the Prime Minister, and we’re working with the Prime Minister and his government. Let’s remember that -- the structure that he set up, which is that he and Abu Mazen will talk. But there’s also a structure in which Livni and Abu Allah are engaged, and there’s a structure in which Barak and Fayyad are engaged. And all of those continue to function and I expect them to continue to function.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, the issue of settlements, as you know, every – there’s kind of a cycle – circular --

SECRETARY RICE: A cyclical? 

QUESTION: Cyclical --

SECRETARY RICE: Cyclical, right. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: -- where you come and express your concerns and the Israelis say we’re not doing anything that violates the Roadmap, you know, the settlements in East Jerusalem don’t – aren’t (inaudible) obligations. Did you, on this trip, get any indication of a change in the Israeli position on this?

SECRETARY RICE: As I said, we’ve made our views very clear. And as you know, our view is the Roadmap obligations are pretty clear on this – on this point. And we read the Roadmap quite literally on this point.

Look, I understand that there’s a kind of expectation that, you know, somebody – we all say, “Stop,” and it stops. I do think that the key is to work with the Israelis and to make clear to the Israelis that this is a problem. You know, it’s a problem not because of one tender here or one house here. It’s -- the problem is that since Annapolis, there’s been a certain --


SECRETARY RICE: We don’t use that word outside of – (laughter) – there’s been a certain level of activity that raises questions. And they need to address that. And so that’s what I’m emphasizing.

Now, let me be fair. It’s not as if the Palestinians have been just perfect in carrying out their Roadmap obligations either. And so when I sit with the Defense Minister and the Prime Minister tomorrow, I have my lists from both sides. And General Fraser is scrupulously fair in documenting compliance and, shall we say, where better compliance is needed for both sides. And what is good about the process now, and I think different than the other couple of times that I’ve seen – that we’ve tried to do it, is that this is really very systematic. We have gone to great lengths to open up the possibility for us to be able, for our people to be able to go out and actually observe and see what’s going on, on the ground, and to talk to people.

We’ve changed our ways of doing things, and I think you probably know what I’m referring to, and it’s helped. And so I can have and General Fraser can have much more specific conversations about what really needs to be done. And I do think it’s having an effect. It isn’t having the grand effect that we would all like it to have, but it’s having an effect. And we’re going to just keep doing this, you know, one step at a time.

QUESTION: So there’s no change in Israeli position in (inaudible)?

SECRETARY RICE: I haven’t heard one, but I think the Israelis understand our – the concerns here.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, can I ask you about Fulbrights? I’m Ethan Bronner --


QUESTION: -- from The New York Times.

SECRETARY RICE: New York Times, right.

QUESTION: How are you? Three of the seven, we were told on Friday or on Thursday, maybe on Wednesday, that they were not getting out. They sent you a letter on Saturday --

SECRETARY RICE: Mm-hmm, yeah.

QUESTION: -- they sent me a copy of. And I was told by numerous Israeli authorities that they are big security risks, these three guys, but they won’t tell me what the security risk that they pose is. Do you feel that it’s right that they not go out? What have you talked to them about?

SECRETARY RICE: We – I’ve received the letter. We’re engaging Israeli authorities about it now. And it continues to be my belief that these – that all of the Fulbrights should be able to take up their fellowships. Look, I – we will talk to the Israeli authorities, but obviously, you know, we have procedures of vetting people for visas. And so we will continue to work with the Israelis, but it is – unless something comes forward that I don’t yet understand, it’s my view that these people ought to be able to take up their fellowships.

QUESTION: Because they did go through some kind of security procedure from the American perspective, didn’t they? There was a vetting form that was filled out for each of them?

SECRETARY RICE: Obviously, if we’re going to issue visas to people, we go through processes. And I just want to repeat, I consider it extremely important for these young people to be able to take up their fellowships. And unless there is something that I have not yet seen, and I don’t – you know, I don’t rule out that there may be some reason that we’ve not yet seen. But unless I see some other reason, I – we’re going to continue to work to try to get them help, because I would hope they can take their fellowships.

QUESTION: And then when I spoke with the Israelis, they said that they were sharing with you their concerns. Have they done that?

SECRETARY RICE: I’ve – the Ambassador’s been working on this. I have not talked to the Israelis myself directly about it, except to say that I consider it to be a very high priority to get this resolved.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, Linda Gradstein.


QUESTION: So you said that they may reach an agreement, they may not reach an agreement by the end of the year. Salam Fayyad said a few days ago it doesn’t look like they will reach an agreement. What if they don’t? What happens then?

SECRETARY RICE: I don’t speculate on those sorts of – on what might not happen. Let’s, though, review what they’ve already achieved. It has been seven years since there was a peace process underway. And despite the very determined efforts of everybody at Camp David, they didn’t get there. And despite the very determined efforts of everybody after Camp David, they went through a very, very bad time. And nobody wants to repeat that experience.

They have a, I think, more robust way of going about this for a couple of reasons now. We’ve learned some lessons from before. The first is that we’re trying to proceed on multiple tracks, not just have negotiations out there as the only track. Because I believe, and I think the parties believe that the improvements on the ground have to reinforce the negotiations and vice versa, and that the Roadmap obligations -- which there was no Roadmap in 2000 – that the Roadmap obligations will need to be met in any circumstance before – if one could imagine a Palestinian state coming into being, which is why the agreement is subject to the Roadmap.

So you’ve got three interlocking, but somewhat discrete tracks that we’re working on. And I think they’re making progress on all of them, not fast enough for me, but progress on all of them; for instance, on the conditions on the ground, what’s going on in Jenin or in Nabulus, and the ability, then, to link that to movement and access improvements, and to then bring in quick economic projects and, ultimately, longer-term economic progress of the kind that Tony Blair has. And it will improve conditions on the ground and their sort of – their thinking about once they’ve figured out – once Jenin is well underway, what do they do next.

And you can imagine this as a series of these throughout the West Bank that has the advantage of giving the Palestinians greater responsibility for security control, improving the capabilities of the Palestinians for security in doing so. They’re talking about a rule of law component to that, so jails and courts and the like. And then, movement and access that is linked to that rather than just trying to say, all right, let’s fix movement and access. You’re actually fixing it in a very concrete way and that, then, permits economic activity to really flourish.

So that’s a model that is not completely isolated from the negotiations, but it is going on, whatever the state of the negotiations. As I said, Roadmap obligations, we’re working on and is – in a rather more systematic way that I talked about. So I think there’s more of an infrastructure around the final status negotiations this time.

The other piece is the international support mechanism here, which has resulted in the various donor conferences as well as the Bethlehem conference, and the Arab support, which the Arabs have been a part of the process from the beginning rather than being left to the end. So I think it’s structured in a way that they will be able to keep pushing toward the establishment of a Palestinian state on whatever timeline.

Now, that said, I still think that they’ve got a very good chance that this can happen – within the Middle East (inaudible), that they’ve got a chance of getting an agreement before the end of the year. But we shouldn’t underestimate all of the things that are going on as a part of the Annapolis process and just isolate on the final status issues. That’s why Annapolis was structured the way it was. It was structured not just to have the final status negotiations be the only part, because the rest of this has to work as well.

QUESTION: So Madame Secretary, to follow up on – I’m Jonathan Ferziger from Bloomberg.


QUESTION: It sounds like you’re saying that unlike the transition from the Clinton Administration, when it more or less cleaned up the stables, that pieces that are being structured now can work on their own, and that whatever administration follows you will use those building blocks to fill in the outlines that the – of the ultimate peace agreement. I wanted to --


QUESTION: -- just ask you, could you analyze how the circumstances might differ under Barack Obama or John McCain?

SECRETARY RICE: (Laughter.) First of all, that’s not my job. Secondly, you know, not everything – not everything is American-centered, all right? I know that’s a shock to everybody in this room, but not everything revolves around the United States of America. If the Palestinians are, as Salam Fayyad put it to me, building their state now – whatever the state of the occupation, if they’re building their state now, that depends on American support. 

But it’s not as if the – they are going to take a pause because the United States of America has a different president. They’re going to keep right on building their state if they get the right support from the international community. This is a really good government that the Palestinians have. It’s a really good government. They’re doing things that I think, you know, nobody has seen a Palestinian government do before and --

QUESTION: Yeah, but you know, at the same time, Saab Erekat says that if it doesn’t happen by the end --

SECRETARY RICE: Wait – well, but --

QUESTION: -- of the year, it’ll all fall apart and (inaudible).

SECRETARY RICE: Just a second, though. You asked me about these other building blocks. I’m not talking about these other building blocks. And I’m saying those are not American-centered. They can – I hope that there will be Jenins and whatever the next ones are with Palestinian forces being trained in Jordan, coming back, taking up security responsibilities. That allows the Israelis to do less. That then allows the Palestinians to have a sense of ownership and control. And if you go to Jenin, I’m told – you know, David Miliband was just there, Steinmeier was there. They tell me of talking to Jenin residents and they see a difference.

And Palestinians are going to keep doing that no matter who is in -- I hope, who is President of the United States. So it’s not all American-centered, and that was one of – that’s one of the important parts of Annapolis, is to have a track like that that’s really worrying and thinking about building the competence of Palestinian institutions, having Palestinians take control of their own lives, having them improve their own lives.

Bethlehem; Bethlehem is near all-time record highs for tourism now. Hotels are – you know, when I was there two years ago or whenever it was, that hotel was at something like 10 percent occupancy. Now it’s filled. That’s not American-centered. It was, I think, generated, frankly, by America’s push. But Palestinians and Israelis will continue to do these things.

Now as to the negotiations, I continue to believe that there – that it is best if this agreement gets done by the end of the year. But my answer was to show that there are other tracks of Annapolis, and to have people focus on all of it. It’s one reason that, yes, I’m concerned about the impact that the rate of activity on the settlement and building side is having, because I don’t want people to get pushed off thinking about that. They’ve got to keep moving on these other tracks as well. That’s one reason to worry about the atmosphere.


QUESTION: No, no, go ahead.

SECRETARY RICE: No, go ahead – you.

QUESTION: Griff Witte from The Washington Post.


QUESTION: You mentioned Jenin and the security forces – U.S. trained security forces of the people that are there.

SECRETARY RICE: Jordanian training, actually, but U.S. – U.S. --

QUESTION: Well, (inaudible).

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, right, U.S. supported, right.

QUESTION: They’ve been there for over a month now. The Israeli criticism has been that they are doing, fundamentally, law and order work, but not counterterrorism work, that they’re not going after Hamas or Islamic Jihad. What’s your assessment of that?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, you know, I – we’re going to talk about this tomorrow in the trilateral, and I don’t want to – indeed, to – I like talking to the parties before I talk to the press about things. But I know it’s a great disappointment to those who travel with me, but --

QUESTION: It’s an irritating habit of yours. 

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, it’s an irritating habit of mine. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: If we haven’t broken you already. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, all these years. (Laughter.) Last day, the last day on the job, I’m going to give you something really juicy – no. 

Look, I think that fighting terrorism is sometimes – to fighting terrorists – sometimes overlaps with fighting criminals and law and order issues. I don’t see them as completely separate, because you have to have security forces that are capable and confident. You have to have a system of law and order with jails and courts and all of that that works. And you have to have that, whether you’re talking about criminals or terrorists.

Now, I understand the Israeli concern that this – that the kind of harder core cases not go untouched or unresolved. And we’ll talk some about how the Palestinians see themselves moving on some of the terrorism side, and I do think that there is more that could be done on that side. I will say that some of the things that Prime Minister Fayyad has done on the terrorism side are also pretty important. Going after terrorist finances is very important. Going after charities that – or organizations that mask themselves as charities but really are support networks for terrorists, very important.

QUESTION: He’s doing that?

SECRETARY RICE: He closed down a bunch of charities when he first became Prime Minister. I think it was 160-some and we can get you the numbers – they can get you the numbers. It is very important to do what they’re trying to do. He talks about getting the terrorist infrastructure out of people’s heads so people start thinking about a different kind of life. That is also important.

So there are different aspects to this, and this is a new, relatively new set of responsibilities for the Palestinians. And I expect them, and we are going to encourage them to take ever progressively more difficult tasks as they move through in a place like Jenin.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Sylvie.

QUESTION: My question, actually, is not about --

MR. MCCORMACK: And Cam and that’s it.

QUESTION: It’s about Afghanistan.

SECRETARY RICE: Oh, okay. Do you want to ask Palestinians or is it also a different --

QUESTION: I have an Israeli question.

SECRETARY RICE: All right. Why don’t we do Israelis, then --


SECRETARY RICE: -- we’ll do Afghanistan. Yeah.

QUESTION: As you know, there’s growing concern across the world, in oil markets everywhere about Israeli officials and this government talking about -- openly and aggressively about attacking Iran. I want to know if you spoke to any senior officials in this government about that issue during your visit and if you can give us some insight into the conversation. 

And then I’d also like to know – we’re hearing from Prime Minister Olmert’s staff about the impending possibility of some direct negotiations between Israel and Syria for the first time. Tell us about your view of that and any discussions you might --

SECRETARY RICE: Look, as I’ve said, if the Israelis and Syrians can find a way to improve the prospects for an agreement between them, then fine. That would be good, because we said at Annapolis that ultimately, this has to be a comprehensive peace. I’ve been assured by Israeli officials, including the Prime Minister, that nothing that they do on the Israeli-Syrian track is going to detract from the work that has to be done on the Palestinian-Israeli track, because that’s the more mature track and that’s the one that has a lot of international support.

And so – and as long as, as I’m sure it will be the case, you saw the – maybe you saw the statement that the President made with President Sarkozy yesterday – as long as it’s clear that Syria is ultimately going to reenter or make its peace with the international community only through – not just the return of – not just the conclusion of the Israeli-Syrian track, but also living up to its obligations under 1559 and 1701 about Lebanon, and ceasing its interference in Lebanese affairs, and stopping the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq and their support for terrorism, then I think we could – all of this can contribute to a better Middle East. And I’m quite sure that that’s the message everybody’s carrying.

As to Iran, we talk frequently about the problem of Iran and how to deal with it.  We’ve made very clear and the President’s made very clear that the U.S. policy -- while taking no option off the table, that the U.S. policy is that this can work diplomatically, and that’s where we are focused and that’s where all of our energies are, and I emphasize all of our energies. Because we are – we’ve just, through Javier Solana, delivered a proposed package to the Iranians. We’ll see what the actual reaction is as opposed to the reaction before they read it. 

But we are going to continue to pursue the Security Council track and we’re going to continue to pursue the track that is probably having the greatest effect, which is to continue to isolate the Iranian economy through financial measures that the United States has unilaterally imposed that basically raise both the investment and financial risk and reputational risk of dealing with Iran. So that’s our program and that’s what we’re doing.

QUESTION: Did you ask the Israelis to turn the volume down a little bit?

SECRETARY RICE: The Israelis have a concern about what they consider to be an existential threat. And, you know, I’m not going to get into what they say about this problem. I think they understand where we’re coming from and that’s what I come here to represent, is where the United States is.

MR. MCCORMACK: Last question, Sylvie.


QUESTION: Yes, about Afghanistan, President Karzai today said that Afghanistan has the right to attack Talibans on Pakistani soil as a sec-defense measure. Since he said that the day after meeting with you, I must wonder if he told you about that beforehand and if you agreed with that?

SECRETARY RICE: (Laughter.) I haven’t seen his statement, so I’m not going to try to react to it because, you know, I don’t know what the context is, I don’t know what he was asked. We didn’t talk about such things. We talked about the importance of cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan. We talked about trying to get the jirgas going again. We talked about the – we talked quite a bit about the improvement of the – trying to improve Afghan security forces. But we did not talk about that.

All right. Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you, Madame Secretary.



Released on June 15, 2008

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