May 2, 2008
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov
High Representative for European Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana
Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner
Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel And
Quartet Representative Tony Blair
MODERATOR: Good morning, all. Ladies and gentlemen of the media, this morning, the Quartet for the Middle East met earlier this morning. Secretary General of the United Nations Mr. Ban Ki-moon chaired the meeting and will shortly present the Quartet statement. We will then be free to address your questions to any members of the panel at this table. On the right of Secretary General Ban, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; Mr. Dimitrij Rupel, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Slovenia, President of the European Union, and Special Representative for the Middle East Quartet Mr. Tony Blair. On the left of the Secretary General, Mr. Sergey Lavrov, Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation; Mr. Javier Solana, High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy and Secretary General of the European Union, and Ms. Benita Ferrero-Waldner, EU Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy.
First, Mr. Secretary General.
SECRETARY GENERAL BAN: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. This morning the Quartet met in London. I am pleased to announce the results of our discussions of this morning.
The Quartet expressed its strong support for ongoing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and encouraged the parties to make every effort to realize the shared goal of an agreement on the establishment of a Palestinian state by the end of 2008. Commending the parties for their continuous and intensive negotiations, the Quartet emphasized the urgent need for progress and called on the international community to remain constructively engaged in support of negotiations with the goal of the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza and an end to the conflict.
The Quartet emphasized the importance of visible progress on the ground to build confidence and create an atmosphere supportive of negotiations. The Quartet welcomed the concrete steps by both sides in the wake of the trilateral meeting between Secretary of State Rice, Prime Minister Fayyad and Defense Minister Barak, and stressed the urgent need for rapid and continued implementation of these and previous commitments to improve conditions on the ground. While taking note of some positive steps, including removal of some roadblocks and an outpost by Israel, and improved security performance by the Palestinian Authority, the Quartet noted that much more remained to be done to improve the situation on the ground in order to change the conditions of life in the West Bank and to keep the political process on track.
In this context, the Quartet expressed its support for Quartet Representative Tony Blair, and underscored the urgent need for progress and close donor coordination. It also expressed its strong backing for the planned Bethlehem Conference on Private Sector Investment in May as well as the parties' agreement to improve security and economic conditions in Jenin, which can offer a model for important progress on the ground.
Noting the particular importance of justice sector reform, the Quartet looked forward to the meeting that will take place in Berlin in June to promote and coordinate donor assistance in this area.
The Quartet called upon both sides to fulfill their obligations under the Roadmap. It also called on both sides to refrain from any steps that undermine confidence or could prejudice the outcome of negotiations. In this context, the Quartet expressed its deep concern at continuing settlement activity and called on Israel to freeze all settlement activity including natural growth, and to dismantle outposts erected since March 2001. It called on the Palestinian Authority to fulfill its commitment to fight terrorism and to accelerate steps to rebuild and to refocus its security apparatus. It urged Israel and the Palestinian Authority to increase cooperation in that respect and to facilitate the delivery of security assistance to the Palestinian Authority.
The Quartet condemned the continuing rocket attacks from Gaza on southern Israel, including against Sderot and Ashkelon, as well as the terrorist attacks at a seminary in Jerusalem on March 6. The Quartet also expressed a deep concern of Palestinian civilian casualties, including the recent death of a mother and four of her children in Gaza. It called for an end to all violence and terror and urged all parties to take all feasible steps to ensure the protection of affected civilians in accordance with international law.
Noting its deep concern over humanitarian conditions in Gaza, the Quartet called for continued emergency and humanitarian assistance and the provision of essential services to Gaza without obstruction. The Quartet expressed its continuing concern over the closure of major Gaza crossing points given the impact on the Palestinian economy and daily life. The Quartet condemned the terrorist attack on Nahal Oz fuel terminal on April 9, and noted that such attacks on the Gaza crossings interfere with the supply of essential services and undermine the interests of the Palestinian people. Principals strongly encouraged Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and Egypt to work together to formulate a new approach on Gaza that would provide security to all Gazans, end all acts of terror, provide for the controlled and sustained opening of the Gaza crossings for humanitarian reasons and commercial flows, support the legitimate Palestinian Authority government, and work towards conditions that would permit implementation of the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access.
Looking forward to a productive meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, the Quartet encouraged all parties to do their part to support Palestinian institutional capacity building and economic development. The Quartet called for all donors to follow through on pledges made at the December 2007 Paris Donors' Conference. Underlining the crucial role of Arab states in support of the peace process, and the importance of the Arab League peace initiative, the Quartet encouraged the Arab states to fulfill both their political and financial roles in support of the Annapolis process.
The Quartet also discussed a proposal for an international meeting in Moscow to lend continued support to the parties in their negotiations and efforts on the ground.
The Quartet authorized its envoys to continue to work to facilitate the achievement of all of these goals.
The Quartet reaffirmed its commitment to a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace in the Middle East based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242, 338, 1397 and 1515.
Thank you very much.
MODERATOR: You may now ask your questions to any members of the panel. Kindly identify yourself and your media, please.
QUESTION: Arshad Mohammed of Reuters. Secretary Rice, taking note of the statement just now on Arab states performing their commitments, only three of the Arab League members have actually committed -- have actually put forward money that they've committed for Palestinian budget support. Does that suggest to you that they lack faith in the U.S.-backed peace process and that they're simply not going to put their money where their mouth is in terms of supporting the Palestinian Authority? And what do you plan to tell them in the Quartet meeting with Arab states coming up?
And Foreign Minister Lavrov, on Kosovo, if I may. As you are aware, Foreign Minister Lavrov, this afternoon, your European and American colleagues will be holding a meeting on Kosovo from which Russia is excluded, doesn't Russia have a voice here?
SECRETARY RICE: First of all, let me note that the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, which is to meet shortly, will be able to review both the state of the pledges out of Paris and the work that needs to be done to support economic development and sustainability for the Palestinian Authority and thus for the Palestinian people. And we look forward to reviewing the work also of Special Envoy Tony Blair in that regard. Salam Fayyad will be able to be there. He will be able to make the case for what the Palestinians are doing.
So when we look at the pledges to -- that were given at Paris and that should now be fulfilled, let's remember that this is not about the United States. This is in terms – it’s for the Palestinian people and for the legitimate Palestinian institutions represented by the Palestinian Authority and the government of Salam Fayyad.
I'm pleased that there have been some pledges that have been fulfilled. But clearly, when you make a pledge, you ought to fulfill it. And that's the point that I will be making to all states.
FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: On Kosovo, I came to the meeting in which our Western colleagues held. Apparently, we have in mind so-called commitment which is the Quartet minus Russia, it's the right of our partners to discuss whatever they please among themselves. We don't feel excluded. Kosovo issue is on the agenda of the United Nations Security Council, where Russia happens to be a permanent member, so we don't feel excluded.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) United Press International. My question is for Mr. Blair and Dr. Rice. What kind of pressure are you going to apply on Israel actually to cease the restriction it imposes on the Palestinian economy? Thank you very much.
MR. BLAIR: Over these past few months, we've been working on a series of proposals for the improvement of conditions on the West Bank in particular. And those have been about both economic projects, lifting the access and movement restrictions, making sure that ordinary Palestinians on the West Bank get a chance at a better life.
I hope over these next few weeks that we will get the definitive responses on a whole category of these issues that we've been discussing. And one thing I think is very clear at the moment, obviously, a lot of focus naturally will come on to Gaza, and that's another matter to discuss. But in relation to the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority have been making real efforts, the donor community have been giving real support. If we were able to get this package of measures agreed with Israel and with the Palestinian Authority and implemented, then I think it would mark a significant change in the conditions to people from the West Bank.
So the next few weeks are very crucial in this. And on the West Bank the economy is actually growing. The decline in the economy that happened in 2006 was reversed during the course of 2007. There is some economic growth happening now in the West Bank, but there could be much more if we got Palestinian Authority, the donor community, and Israel doing everything that is possible to do, consistent with security to improve the situation there. And those measures will focus obviously on the issues to do with the occupation, but it will also focus on Palestinian security capability, since both of those things are important. So, we will see.
SECRETARY RICE: We’ve been working very closely with Tony Blair and his mission. Both General Fraser who oversees the Roadmap implementation and General Jones who has been working on – to coordinate American efforts more broadly on some of this, has been working very closely with Tony Blair. And the reason is that it is very difficult to do this in a kind of macro way or a general way. It comes down to really very specific issues. That issue of that checkpoint or that roadblock that is preventing that kind of economic activity in that town. And it gets that specific. And I think what we do have now is a much more effective way of both looking at where real improvements can be made and in checking to make sure that the parties are making the improvements that they have undertaken to make. Thus, for instance, on the 50 roadblocks that were -- the Israelis promised to remove, we now have quite a bit of detail of what effect that had. And that then can be shared with the Israelis because it’s a much more labor-intensive and very specific process than I think one could imagine. And I want to thank very much our Quartet Representative because he's put in place a process with our help that allows us to really begin to look at where we can make some changes that would then have not just an effect on the lives of Palestinians in that particular village, but really on the broader Palestinian economy.
QUESTION: Thank you. Nicholas Kralev of Washington Times. If I could follow up on Kosovo since most of you at this table are engaged in that issue. Minister Lavrov, you mentioned the UN Security Council and the Secretary General is here. Do you believe that -- for all of you I suppose -- that another UN resolution is necessary to take account of what has happened on the ground in Kosovo, and to perhaps help the EU take some of the responsibilities?
And in terms of the donors community, it's apparently very limited in what it can do because some of the recognition issues. What are you doing on this to make sure that Kosovo gets the funds that it needs? Thanks.
FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: Well, I think that the policy of creating (inaudible) on the ground is the policy which is not going to be successful. Whatever goes on in and around Kosovo with the participation of international community must accept the boundary to both parties, including Belgrade and including Pristina. And whatever new ideas are proposed, which go beyond the mandate contained in resolution 1244 would require (inaudible).
SECRETARY RICE: Perhaps before (inaudible) EU Presidency, so let me just say that there is also the fact of a Kosovo independent state which has been recognized by a number of members of the international community. And we are going to work to help make that state a success, including through mobilizing resources, through donors who wish to contribute, but also in recognizing that there cannot now be an effort to reverse the situation that came to being when Kosovo declared its independence and many, many states, including the United States of America, recognized it. And so it is a delicate situation. I think that the United States has been very clear that it expects to have a good partner in Kosovo and a good partner in Serbia. The United States wants good and friendly relations with Serbia. We have been looking to that. Serbia is a member of the PFP for NATO. It has just signed an agreement with the European Union. And so I think these two separate states are moving toward their future, which will hopefully be somewhat better for their people than their past has been.
FOREIGN MINISTER RUPEL: If you will allow me, the question was whether a new resolution is necessary for a solution of the Kosovo problem. As far as I can see, the resolution 1244 now for substantial role of the EU to be played in this case. As you remember, in December 2007, European Union has consensually unanimously decided to send a mission to Kosovo and there is plenty of room within the existing legal framework and documents to realize this mission. And indeed, as Secretary Rice has just said, the European Union is a friend of all countries (inaudible) and we are doing our utmost to bring Western (inaudible) closer -- as close as possible to the European Union.
QUESTION: Secretary of State, many in the Middle East, the majority of (inaudible) believe that such meeting (inaudible) in Annapolis. This whole meeting would be – situation (inaudible) financial and to do with investment. Now, the fact is it’s a problem with occupation because if you are in occupation, everything there will stop. There is no point in investing in territories under occupation. In the past, the EU, United States and everyone have invested (inaudible) in trying to build institution. And so Israel have destroyed everything. So what we need is a commitment that this occupation will end. And they feel that. Such meeting is just a matter of buying time until future election and (inaudible). So how far can you pass a message to the people in the Middle East. There is some seriousness and something can be achieved before the end of 2008?
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. In fact, the logic of the Annapolis process is precisely that it is important proceed on all tracks at the same time. If you remember, the Roadmap at one time had a kind of sequentiality to it. You had to finish phase one, which had to do with improvements on the ground, had to do with security, had to do with various movement and access issues. And at the end, in phase three, they were going to begin a process of negotiating for a political settlement and an end to the occupation and an end to the conflict. And what Annapolis did was to say that that will not work; these must move in parallel. Because it is precisely the point that you need to have a political settlement, an end to the occupation, and an end to the conflict in order to fully realize the potential for both Israelis and Palestinians.
And so it is nonetheless important not to forget that the improvements on the ground, the improvements in the daily lives of the Palestinians and the ability of the Palestinian Authority to deliver for its people will certainly improve the capability of that leadership to deliver a political agreement with Israel and improvements in the lives of the Palestinians, improvements in the capability of the Palestinian Authority, will improve the atmosphere between Israelis and Palestinians, so that Israelis can make the difficult choices. So these are completely interlinked. This is not the old idea of let’s just work on the economic side and we’ll get to the politics later. It is a need to do them in parallel and to do them together. And the commitment that the parties are showing to trying very hard to realize what they hoped for, which is to have the agreement by the end of 2008, is a commitment to all of those aspects. But we must not underestimate the importance to the Palestinian Authority and to the Palestinian people of providing the resources so that they can lay the foundation for their new state, so that they can provide for people, so that they can provide economic benefits, in anticipation of an end to the occupation and an end to the conflict.
MODERATOR: (Inaudible) we have very little time left and have time for only two more questions (inaudible).
QUESTION: Secretary Rice and for the other members of the panel, my name is Viola Gienger from Bloomberg News. There have been some concerns that in addition to the financial aid for the Palestinians that one of the things that may be needed to push this process forward more quickly is more people to help with the negotiating process, negotiating teams to go in and to help the two sides with the process. What do you think about that idea, and is there any consideration of putting more people to this?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think the role that we have assumed and that is most useful to play is to be supportive of what is essentially a bilateral process between the Palestinians and the Israelis. And while this is led by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Mr. Abu Ala on the Palestinian side, I think you would be perhaps even surprised at the numbers of people that they each have working on this. They actually do have teams of experts who are working on the various aspects of it. Now, the foreign powers – or others can play a role of support. I, myself, sat with the parties and will continue to do that. I think it helps – if we can see if there are emerging new areas of convergence to try to point them out. But we can’t substitute for the parties. This is ultimately going to have to be an agreement between Palestinians and Israelis, supported by their regional neighbors and supported by the international community. And I think that’s how this is going to proceed.
HIGH REP SOLANA: (Inaudible) that the bilateral (inaudible) that is true (inaudible) to contribute and to help (inaudible). But the main responsibility in the bilateral track is with the two parties and we will be ready to help whenever it is needed. And we will see how things will go. At the moment, what we (inaudible) try to help the parties (inaudible) economically (inaudible) responsibility of the (inaudible).
MODERATOR: (Inaudible) Last question.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) believe in the Middle East that this could be delivered. Why is that?
MR. BLAIR: I think it's because people look at the situation and they look at, for example, what is happening in Gaza and they look at all the challenges in it and they say how on earth can it be put together. And my response is very simple to this. First of all, we have no option but to carry on working on this. It is, in my view, the single most important thing that we can do to bring about a different atmosphere in that whole region, never mind to improve the lives of Israelis and Palestinians.
Secondly, it's really important to come back -- one of the questions at the opening of your colleagues asked earlier -- to understand how this can work and indeed, the only way it can work. There is a political process of negotiation and the parties are discussing the issues. And they’re doing it very sensibly, not with a great public fanfare. They are actually getting down and looking at the issues that lie between them on the final status negotiations. But they need to be supported by what is actually happening on the ground. And the reason for that is that if you're a Palestinian leader or an Israeli leader, you want to say to people, here is a possibility of lasting peace, there's got to be some echo of that plea with what's happening on the ground. And here is the difficulty that we are working on and focusing on day in and day out to get this done. Yes, we need to lift the occupation. But this is (inaudible) lifting the occupation. Because the occupation is the problem of the Palestinians, but the Israelis also have a security problem and we have to deal with both aspects of this. In other words, what we have to do is to find a way of lifting progressively the occupation, as we provide the proper security capability so that the Palestinians can look after not just their own security but do so in a way that is safe and secure for their Israeli neighbor.
Now, that is what this whole issue is about. And the reason why I remain in the end not merely determined but also believe that we can achieve the breakthrough that we want is that there is a purpose now, both on improving the Palestinian security capability and on getting the economic and social development going, making sure that together those things fit on the West Bank in a way that allows us progressively to change the circumstances in which people live, and then to have a political negotiation that is supported by the reality of people's lives.
And in respect to Gaza, I just want to say one thing. Everybody knows that the situation in Gaza is terrible. But as the Quartet statement makes clear, there is a different and better way through that, which is for the terror attacks and the rocket attacks and the smuggling of weapons to stop, for the action therefore by Israel also to stop, and for a progressive lifting of the restrictions and the opening of the border.
Now, we've got to find a way through both the situation in Gaza and the situation in the West Bank. We can do it. If we do do it, then this political negotiation, in my view, can move forward and move forward better and faster than people think at the present time but it requires an enormous amount of effort.
And one final thing I want to say to you is this, that from the American side and the European side, and the other members of the Quartet, there is a focus on this and that a determination to get something done that has not been present for a significant period of time. I pay very much tribute to what Condi Rice has been doing in the region and with the parties. You know, we are not giving up on this. We are going to carry on working on this day in and day out to try and make sure that it happens.
MODERATOR: Thank you all very much. And we’re out of time. Please stay in your seats until --
SECRETARY RICE: (Off-mike.) Ask if I would --
MODERATOR: Okay, sure
SECRETARY RICE: I'll be very brief. No, no, no, no. I think Tony Blair has really said what I would like to say, which is that this is a -- to sum it up, this is not easy work. And of course, there is skepticism that you can actually first make progress and then possibly end a conflict that has had the long and painful history that this conflict has had. But as a veteran of another long and painful conflict, the conflict of Northern Ireland, I think Tony would probably tell you that there is often skepticism right up until it actually shows that there is a breakthrough. And that's what you work for, and you work for it every day.
But I'm not surprised that people worry that it won't happen yet again. But if you simply sit and think, well, it won't happen yet again, then you won't put in the work every day, every hour, to give the parties a chance to make it work. And this is hard work and it's labor-intensive and it's time-consuming, but I believe that they do have a chance to get an agreement by the end of the year. And that's what we're going to work for every day.