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Remarks En Route Tel Aviv, Israel

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
En Route Tel Aviv, Israel
August 25, 2008

SECRETARY RICE: Good morning. I hope everybody had a good night’s sleep.

QUESTION: Sort of. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY RICE: I’m looking forward to what will unfortunately be a brief visit to the – to Israel and to Ramallah to discuss how we continue to push forward in the negotiations, to talk with people about the situation on the ground. General Fraser is with me and he’s going to stay behind to continue to work on some of the issues on the ground. I think at some point perhaps it’ll be a good thing for him to talk a little bit with you about some of the things that have been going on there.

But obviously, we keep trying to push all of the tracks of Annapolis forward. And the trilaterals that I’ve had have been useful in helping the two sides to find areas of convergence, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do. Undoubtedly, it will not be my last trip here. So I think it’s a good time to do this.

Can I pass this to somebody? How about Matt?

QUESTION: What do you realistically expect to get out of this trip? I mean, is there any – is there a hope that you can get something on paper before the UN?

SECRETARY RICE: You know, as you know, the way that we’ve been conducting these trilaterals is to help the parties in what has, for the most part to date, been a process that – in which they have not wanted to have public discussion of what they’re doing. They’ve wanted to push forward on these – on sensitive issues and continue to do that. They have an agreement that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. They also have an agreement that they’re not going to go out and talk about what they’re doing in each of the meetings. And so I honor that when we go to the trilaterals, because I think it’s extremely important just to keep making forward progress rather than trying prematurely to come to some set of conclusions.

We continue to have the same goal, which is to reach agreement by the end of the year; a lot of work ahead to do that, and obviously, it’s a complicated time. But, you know, it’s always complicated out here. And we’ll just continue to do what I’ve done in these trilaterals over the last, I don’t know, four or five that I’ve had.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, Foreign Minister Livni spoke to the press last week and she warned against too much international pressure, too much pressure to try to bridge the gaps. And obviously there’s an election coming up in the Kadima party, so are you mindful of that as you head into this trip?

SECRETARY RICE: The internal politics of Israel are the internal politics of Israel. But I don’t think that anyone has been trying to bring pressure to bridge the gaps. What we’ve been trying to do is to help the parties to see how their own conversations might converge. And we’re going to continue to do that. And I think if you look back, you will have seen – you will have seen comments like that several times before. I don’t think that’s the first time that you will have seen that comment.


QUESTION: What is your assessment now of where Israel is in terms of respecting its Roadmap commitments and in terms of the quality of the roadblocks that it has removed?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think that – let me start by saying both sides continue to have work to do on the Roadmap. And General Fraser and I have been talking on this trip about the importance of both sides accelerating their progress. I will say that there have been a couple of major – well, let me call – use the word “significant” checkpoints that have been lifted. That’s a good sign. Obviously, there is more that needs to be done. But that’s a good sign. And I think the Jenin project continues to mature. That’s also a good sign.

But on both sides, in terms of Palestinian security and judicial reform, and in terms of movement and access, the Israelis and the Palestinians have work to do.

QUESTION: How does the cease-fire in Gaza help matters? Has it endured better than you imagined?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it has its ups and downs, obviously. But look, I – we said early on that if there – that calm in Gaza would be a useful thing because it – the Egyptians, who – with whom we worked, have managed to keep what is a very fragile situation at least stable, and that’s certainly a help to any process of trying to move forward on the peace process.

Ultimately, though, Gaza has to be resolved and it has to be resolved on the basis of the – Abu Mazen’s program for it, which is that legitimate Palestinian Authority institutions have to be reinstated. I think we want to continue to look at what can be done at the crossings for regularization of those ultimately along the lines of the November 2005 agreement. So this is not, I think, a metastable situation, but it’s a situation that for now has seemed to allow at least people to – you know, the levels of violence to stay low, and that’s welcome.

QUESTION: Do you see Hamas wanting a political role? Do you see Hamas wanting a political role and that’s why it’s calm?

SECRETARY RICE: I think there are multiple incentives and motivations for the calm that is there. But Abu Mazen himself has laid out how a political “reconciliation” could take place. But obviously, a return to the status quo ante and a number of other steps will have to be taken, including continuing – including accepting the agreements that Palestinians have signed decades ago.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, do you expect to bring up or do you think that you will be discussing the – Asad’s visit to Russia and the potential of an arms deal between Syria and Russia during this trip? And what about the prisoner exchange that was supposed to be happening this morning? How much does that really help in comparison to the Roadmap obligations?

SECRETARY RICE: There’s no doubt that the prisoner exchange is extremely important to – very important to the Palestinians. It’s something that Abu Mazen brings up each time we meet. And I don’t know whether or not it’s taken place, but if, in fact, it does, it would be a very good step. This is something that matters a lot to the Palestinians. It matters a lot to the Palestinian people. And it obviously is a sign of goodwill, particularly because it’s my understanding that some of these are pre-Oslo prisoners, which has been particularly of concern. So we’ll have to wait and see precisely when it happens and who’s there. But I think the Palestinians and Israelis have worked hard on this.


QUESTION: Can I ask you one other --

QUESTION: Quickly, will Syrian (inaudible)?

SECRETARY RICE: Oh, it may come up. I don’t know. But, you know, there’s been a Syrian-Russian relationship there for quite a long time that we’ve been concerned about, and that – but the real issue is that I think the region will want to be concerned about a buildup of arms in Syria at a time when, in fact, the Syrians and the Israelis are trying to have a peace – are trying to talk peace. I think it’s probably not a propitious time, but this is something that is ongoing.

QUESTION: I have one question.


QUESTION: This is on – a political question, which I know you love. (Laughter.) I just know you’ve worked -- (Laughter.)

SECRETARY RICE: I probablywon’t answer it, but that’s all right.

QUESTION: You – well, you’ve worked a lot with Senator Biden and he has just been named to the Democratic ticket. I’m just wondering what your reaction is to having him as a vice presidential candidate?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I am not going to comment on the politics of it. I’ll just say that Senator Biden is obviously a very fine statesman. I’ve known him for a long time. He’s been a really very supportive committee chair for – and before that, ranking member for the State Department and for our diplomatic efforts. And so he’s a – you know, he’s a true, true patriot.

QUESTION: Let me ask one on the U.S.-Russian 123 Agreement. Did that agreement ever get sent to Congress, and has any decision or recommendation been made to pull it back, as it were, because of the events in Georgia?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we’re going to continue to review what we will do about the various elements of the relationship with Russia. As you know, we’ve been very focused on what to do for Georgia. We’ve been very focused on the alliance and making certain that there’s a clear message that there aren’t going to be any new lines in Europe. And we’ve been very focused on getting the Russians to live up to the obligations that they undertook to President Sarkozy, not all of which have been yet fulfilled. The time will come to do that.

As you might imagine, our principal focus right now has been on the India civil nuclear deal, working through the NSG -- or having worked through the IAEA, now working through the NSG, and still trying to get into a position to make the appropriate presidential determinations in early September. So that’s our focus right now on the civil nuclear side.

Thank you.


Released on August 25, 2008

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