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Remarks With Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
August 26, 2008

View Video [Editor's Note: The video does not include the opening remarks by President Abbas.]

PRESIDENT ABBAS: (Via interpreter.) In the name of God, the merciful and the compassionate, again, we welcome Dr. Rice and thank her for her repeated visits, unprecedented level of visits – number of visits, unprecedented in the history of the region. These visits, if they indicate anything, they indicate basically the will and the determination of the American Administration to reach a solution for the core issues that are contested, which are the main core issues that we always remind the people of, which are Jerusalem refugees, borders, settlements, water and security. And therefore, this visit comes in this context and in this determination that we appreciate highly for the American Administration, President Bush personally and Dr. Rice.

Yesterday, 198 Palestinian prisoners were released and this means that joy has overwhelmed all the Palestinian people, particularly in the West Bank. And we hope that efforts continue in order to release all the prisoners. And we understand that once we reach an agreement, that the issue of prisoners would be one of the issues of the main issues that will be addressed, and that have to be cleared and have to be solved by the final solution.

Today, we have exchanged conversation about these issues. We have focused on these issues. And we have focused also on the settlement activities that continue, that are ongoing, and that are undoubtedly an obstacle, a main obstacle in the road of the peace process. And as you all know, we reject all the settlement activities in principle because they contradict with the agreements and the Roadmap plan and the objectives of Annapolis that have started one year ago – almost one year ago.

We have also discussed the situation in Gaza Strip and the urgent need to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people and opening the doors and the crossing borders – points for the people and for the goods, so that life can continue in the Gaza Strip, despite the fact that there is a truce in Gaza Strip and we have supported this truce and we have provided all support to this truce – yet the situation in Gaza Strip is intolerable, unbearable.

And I would like to add here that we are seeking reconciliation, Palestinian-internal reconciliation based on the Yemenite initiative and the initiative by – that was endorsed by the Arab League in Damascus. And we are ready for the national dialogue that is being conducted in Cairo and that is led by the initiative of Egypt, which is exerting huge efforts in this context.

We have also discussed the issues related to the importance of reaching complete, comprehensive solutions, not partial solutions, and not postponing any of the main issues. The solution should be comprehensive, and as we have worked relentlessly throughout this peace process in order to achieve the aspirations of the – our people and their dream in having an independent Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with its capital, Jerusalem, within the framework of the Palestinian fundamental principles. And we here – we will continue our efforts with the Bush Administration, President Bush’s Administration, in order to reach the solution.

And we hope that – we have to exert all efforts, ongoing efforts, relentless efforts in the coming period, and we should not leave any opportunity and should not miss any opportunity or waste time. And this is our policy and this is our willing, because it is in the interest of our people and the interest of Israel and the region and the world as a whole that we reach a comprehensive and genuine peace agreement.

Finally, I thank Dr. Rice again for all her efforts and I thank her for coming here in this repeated manner and this space of visits, which is unprecedented. And I reiterate here that it indicates, really, the willingness and the determination to reach a peace solution. You’re welcome, Dr. Rice.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much, Mr. President. Thank you very much for welcoming me here. I’ve had a series of very good discussions here, also earlier today in the trilateral with the chief Palestinian negotiator, Abu Ala and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

We have discussed the progress that the parties are making in the negotiations toward a two-state solution. We’ve also had discussions of how to move other aspects of the Annapolis process forward, including improving life for Palestinians, the Palestinian people on the ground, as well as the Roadmap obligations. General Fraser is here and, in fact, as the Roadmap monitor, and General Fraser will stay on for a couple of days to continue the work on the Roadmap implementation.

Mr. President, I want to thank you for your continued dedication to the Annapolis process and I believe that with will and with effort, we can reach the goals of Annapolis. And so, again, thank you for having me here and I think we are ready for your questions.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter.) Mr. President, you said that the American Administration wants to reach a solution and is determined to reach a solution. But the American Administration has failed so far to stop settlement activities. How do you think that they will help in achieving a solution?

Dr. Rice, you are talking about an opportunity that there might be progress in the peace process. Where is this opportunity and what kind of progress that you are talking about?

PRESIDENT ABBAS: (Via interpreter.) I can say that the American Administration is exerting genuine efforts to reach peace – a peace agreement and is exerting genuine efforts to implement the first article of the Roadmap plan, which Dr. Rice have implied and indicated, particularly in the presence of General Fraser, who is working towards this objective. Since things have not succeeded so far, it does not mean that we have failed. It means that there is more determination and more willingness to find a solution for all these issues.

SECRETARY RICE: Yes, on the settlement issue, I think I’ve made very clear the U.S. position that the settlement activity is not conducive to creating an environment for negotiations, yet negotiations go on. We continue to press the Israelis about their Roadmap obligations and to work with the Palestinians on their Roadmap obligations as well.

As to progress in the peace process, I would just like to remind everyone that this time last year, we, of course, didn’t have a peace process. And perhaps it’s well to go back to when President Bush came to office in 2001, in the midst of the breakdown completely of the peace process with the second intifada underway, with the election of Prime Minister Sharon who explicitly did not come to power intending to be a part of the peace process. And so President Bush has worked tirelessly over the last years – last seven years of his Administration to lay a foundation for this peace process, to declare the importance of a two-state solution not just to Israel and to Palestinians, but to the United States as well, and to support the establishment of the institutions of a Palestinian state, including the Roadmap monitoring role, including the date and mission on training and equipping of Palestinian forces, including the fact that the United States, for the first time, transferred directly to the budget of the Palestinian Authority American taxpayer resources.

And so I would just like it understood that President Bush has been a tireless advocate of the establishment of the institutions, and ultimately, the establishment of the Palestinian state itself. We still have a number of months before us to work toward the Annapolis goal and we’re going to do precisely that. But again, this is not easy. If this had been easy, somebody would have solved it a long time ago. And it has fallen to us to try again to find a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. God willing and with the goodwill of the parties and the tireless work of the parties, we have a good chance to succeed.

MR. MCCORMACK: Matt Lee of AP.

QUESTION: Hi. Madame Secretary, Mr. President, I’m – I have to apologize because I have to ask two things that are a bit further --

SECRETARY RICE: I’ve already told the President you weren’t going to ask about --

QUESTION: -- further afield.

SECRETARY RICE: -- the Palestinian issues. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: -- which I apologize for.

Madame Secretary, this morning, we’ve had several rather significant developments: one, the North Koreans have announced that they are going to – they have suspended their disablement because you have not yet removed them from the state sponsors of terror list. I’m wondering what your reaction is to that and how you think that will affect the process.

And then secondly, just within the last hour or so, President Medvedev has signed a decree recognizing the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. He’s done this despite strong warnings from yourself and from the Bush Administration, as well as others. How does this square with the ceasefire that he signed and what does it mean for U.S. policy? Thank you.

SECRETARY RICE: First, on North Korea, look, we have made very clear – we made clear at the Six-Party ministerial that we were awaiting a verification mechanism that could assure the accuracy of the statements that North Korea made in its declaration or – and/or gave us ways to verify those – the accuracy of those statements. So I assume that North Korea recognizing that it – recognizes that it still has obligations.

I would just note that the Chinese President and the South Korean President reaffirmed just – I’m not sure on the timing, because of the time changes, either yesterday or today – that the work ahead is to get that verification mechanism and therefore, to proceed with denuclearization. We actually are in discussions with the North Koreans. And I think we’ll just see where we come out in a few weeks.

Now, as to the matter of the Russian apparent or intention to recognize two parts of – two regions that have been in conflict, but are clearly within the internationally recognized borders of Georgia by multiple Security Council resolutions, I think it is regrettable. It puts Russia, of course, in opposition to a number of Security Council resolutions to which it is party as member of the Security Council, as member of the United Nations, and most appallingly, as a member of the P-5.

The ceasefire also talked about the importance of moving forward to an international way to deal with these zones of conflict. And so to preempt those international discussions is extremely unfortunate. Not only has the United States warned about this, but so has Europe. It simply means that the Russian President continues not to honor the commitments on – that the Russians have signed onto.

But I want to be very clear: Since the United States is a permanent member of the Security Council, this simply will be dead on arrival in the Security Council. And therefore, in accordance with other Security Council resolutions that are still enforced, Abkhazia and South Ossetia are a part of the internationally recognized borders of Georgia, and it’s going to remain so. Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: (Inaudible.)

SECRETARY RICE: Oh, I’m sorry. There’s another --

QUESTION: (Via interpreter.) Mr. President, do you believe that the American Administration has done enough in order to reach a peaceful agreement with the Israelis? And what do you expect from the new American Administration?

(Back to English) Madame Secretary, you’ve said earlier today that you’re still hopeful that the sides can reach to a peace deal before the end of this year. How can you convince, first of all, President Abbas that this is doable? And how can you convince the critics that the timeline is very short, since already eight months have passed without achieving anything? Thank you.

PRESIDENT ABBAS: (Via interpreter.) As we are – we know, the peace process since Camp David has stopped. And consequently, since the beginning of the – Mr. Bush’s Administration until before Annapolis conference, there were no contacts whatsoever, or efforts from any party towards the peace process, and particularly from the United States. And when President Bush announced his call for a meeting – for an international meeting in July 2007 and then after that, the Annapolis conference, from that time, since then, the real efforts – the American efforts have started towards the peace process.

And when I mentioned earlier that Dr. Rice have visited us more than 12 times now as well as President Bush, who also visited us, I think this is towards – it shows the keenness and the efforts by the American Administration towards the peace process. And therefore, I am fully convinced of the credibility and the genuine efforts of the American Administration in terms of the peace process.

What do we want of the new administrations? That they will continue with the peace process. If we fail to reach an agreement, at least we should not waste – seven years should not be wasted and should – to find new solutions. And therefore, we should focus now on the coming period, regardless of how short this period of time is. At least we should exert all the efforts. It’s important not to waste time. It’s to benefit from the time that – and what is important is that everyone is very serious and committed. And if we reach an agreement, then it’s very good. If we do not reach an agreement, then we wish for the new administration, that it will continue what we have already started and where we’ve reached today.

SECRETARY RICE: As to convincing the critics, I’m not going to try. It’s not actually my concern. As to discussing this with President Abbas and with Prime Minister Olmert, with Abu Ala, with Tzipi Livni, I see people who are committed to trying to achieve this goal. And so that is my role, is to help them work to achieve this goal.

And again, the parties made a very wise decision early on that they were not going to go to the microphones every time they met and talk about what they have or have not achieved, because they have a principle which is very important, that they don’t want a partial agreement, that they understand that there are – these major issues are interconnected and therefore, until everything is agreed, you can’t have an agreement. And so I don’t think you should expect that they’re going to come out and talk about any partial progress that they have made, because it would only harm the process to do so.

What I can tell you is that it is a very serious negotiating process. They are dealing with all issues before them. No issue is off the table. This is the most intensive discussions that have been there at least since Camp David and, in some ways, they’ve employed new mechanisms to deal with these issues that were not even there in 2000. And so this is very, very hard.

I just want to repeat, if there had been an easy solution to the establishment of two states living side by side, it would have been done a long time ago. But obviously, there are many, many interlocking problems. But I can tell you again, when we go into these trilaterals, I am impressed by the work that they have already achieved in between, the work that they’re still trying to do. And my job is to help them find ways to – ways of convergence and ways to get greater convergence and to do whatever the United States can to mobilize the international community in supporting them.

MR. MCCORMACK: Last question (inaudible).

QUESTION: Yes. For both of you, it’s Madame Secretary’s seventh visit here since Annapolis. Can both of you at least give us some measure of the progress you’ve made in those seven visits on the core issues?

SECRETARY RICE: Look, if it took two visits or 22 visits, I think that it would be worth it to see the Palestinians and the Israelis engaged in as serious a negotiating process as they are engaged in now.

The fact of the matter is these issues are very hard. And just like they’re not going to give you a partial update on what they’ve done, I’m not going to give you a partial update on what they’ve done. Their job and ours is to keep the momentum going, to keep working at the issues, to keep finding solutions when there is a road that seems not open to find another road to address the same issue. And that’s the kind of work that they do. And so this isn’t a matter of a scorecard, that after one visit we’ve achieved one-tenth of a solution, and after another, we’ve achieved two-ninths of the solution. That’s not the way that this works.

But I can tell you that they are very seriously working. They have a very serious process despite, by the way, a lot of odds against them, whether it is a lot of complications politically which are always – always seem to be here in this region, some understandable and undeniable bitterness about Roadmap applications, implications about settlement activity and so forth. Despite all of that, they continue to press forward. And that’s what I’m here to do, is to help them continue to press forward.

MR. MCCORMACK: Thank you.

PRESIDENT ABBAS: (Via interpreter.) In one word, briefly, I would like to say that these efforts that have been exerted were not wasted, were not done in vain. If they – we felt it was done in vain, then we would have stopped. So we feel that we are exerting efforts and that there is – there are benefits inevitably from these efforts. And hopefully, in the future, you will see these results.

Released on August 26, 2008

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