Rice briefs reporters in advance of meetings with Israelis, Palestinians

Remarks by Secretary Rice en Route to Tel Aviv, Israel

(begin transcript)

U.S. Department of State
Office of the Spokesman
November 6, 2008

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
En Route Tel Aviv, Israel
November 6, 2008

SECRETARY RICE: All right. I'll just make a brief statement and take your questions since we'll be landing fairly soon.

I'm looking forward to this meeting, this set of meetings. The meetings in Israel and in the Palestinian Territories are in advance of a meeting of the Quartet which was requested by the parties to report on their progress in the negotiated track of Annapolis, that is, to talk about not the substance, which they continue to want to maintain confidentiality, but to talk with the international community about sustaining the process, about supporting it until a two-state solution can be reached.

And so the meeting that we're having in Sharm is that meeting. But I'm going to go in advance and my purpose here is to continue to work on the Annapolis process and all of its elements by going to Jenin to look at and, I hope, to underscore the progress that is being made on the ground in building the institutions of a future Palestinian state, particularly the security institutions where there's been significant progress, and then continuing to talk with the parties about how they might move forward on core issues.

I think it goes without saying that this is a period of political uncertainty in Israel. There are some political uncertainties also on the Palestinian side, although I think they will be resolved, and it is our expectation that the process, the Annapolis process, has laid groundwork which should make possible the conclusion of the Palestinian state, or the establishment of a Palestinian state when political circumstances permit.

So with those comments, let me -

QUESTION: When might those circumstances permit? You're talking about after the Israeli election or after - so it's done and the end of your goal is finished?

SECRETARY RICE: I've learned not to predict in this business, and I think that the Israeli Government remains committed - the caretaker government remains committed to the Annapolis goals. What's very important here, though, is to note that with the kind of international support that the Quartet meeting represents, the Arab support that is represented by, again, a meeting between the Quartet and the Arab follow-up committee, the progress along the track of Annapolis that was to build the institutions of a Palestinian state, and finally, the robust discussions that the parties are able to have on core issues. I think that whatever happens by the end of the year, you've got a firm foundation for quickly moving this forward to conclusion.

QUESTION: But you seem to recognize that there won't be any agreement. Does it mean that you would be ready to offer a document or to prepare something, kind of frame - role - framework that the parties would use in the next - in the future?

SECRETARY RICE: I think the fact is that the parties have a framework themselves; not in the sense that some people talk about a framework agreement, but they have established mechanisms, they have established ways to deal with most of the core issues. They have established - we have established a way to help them deal with Roadmap obligations, a way to help them deal with the building of the Palestinian institutions on the ground.

And I think at some point, it will be important to wrap all of that work up one way or another because, you know, international politics is a continuous process. It doesn't stop with changes of American administrations. And I know that there is a solid - that a lot of solid groundwork has been laid here.

Now you say, is this the end of the process, or someone asked is it the end of the process for me. As I said, I've learned not to predict. And I expect to be continuing to work on this with the parties until the day that we leave. But the important thing is to make certain that there is a recognition of the substantial progress that they have made, a recognition of the commitment that these parties have made to concluding the work of Annapolis, and a solid international foundation of support for what they've tried to do and what they're going to continue to try to do.

QUESTION: Just to ask the question in a very bold way: Both the parties, at very senior levels, have said an agreement is not possible this year. Do you concur?

SECRETARY RICE: I am going to - we'll continue to work on this until the day that we're done. Obviously, Israel is in the midst of elections, and that is a constraint on the ability of any government to conclude what is the core conflict, or core issue of conflict, for Israel and the Palestinians and has been for 40 years. But I think we can sustain momentum. I think we can sustain international support. I think they can continue to work, as the government has made clear they intend to do. And we'll see where they are at the end of the year.

But obviously, Israel is in the middle of an electoral period and that makes a difference. It is a different circumstance than had a coalition formed. So I think we have to recognize that. But the Annapolis process, which the President launched a little over a year ago, or not quite a year ago, I think has brought them closer to resolution of this conflict than they have been, maybe ever, and certainly in some time.

QUESTION: One other on this. You said it was going to be important at some point to wrap all this together. How do you envisage that? Do you, for example, envisage some kind of a statement or public airing of where they are to try to memorialize what they have achieved?

SECRETARY RICE: I'm going to continue to respect two principles that have been very important to keeping this process vital. First of all, that there is confidentiality about the most serious issues, because they've been the - they've made very clear, and I think they're right about this, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. And in some ways, partial agreements have the worst of both worlds. You end up creating vetoes when, in fact, when all of the issues are resolved, people can look at the tradeoffs. And so I think they're absolutely right to insist that nothing is agreed until all the things - everything is agreed, and therefore, they do not have to worry about the United States breaching the confidentiality of their negotiations.

Secondly, we're going to respect the principles - principle which has gotten us this far, that the United States is assisting the parties in their bilateral negotiations. And I think that when we get ready to put this all together, it will be possible to be clearer in how the United States has assisted. But I'm not going to - I don't think it helps anyone for us to move away from those two principles, because I think that's why they've gotten as far as they have.

QUESTION: You mentioned -

QUESTION: You said that they will keep the confidentiality with the Quartet also. I thought during the UNGA when the Quartet meeting - the Quartet issued this - its last statement, I thought they were supposed to inform the Quartet of the advancement of their progress.

SECRETARY RICE: They will inform the Quartet, but I'm quite certain that everybody understands that there are some elements that are very sensitive, and I'll leave it to the parties to determine how they're going to approach the meeting with the Quartet. But I think it will be a very important briefing for the Quartet, because I think it will help to sustain international support for the Annapolis process, and that's extremely important.

QUESTION: You mentioned the follow-up committee, the Arab League follow-up committee. The Syrians are on that. Are you expecting to see the Syrians there?

SECRETARY RICE: I don't know which members of the Arab follow-up committee are coming this time. If the Syrians are there, of course I expect to say hello to my Syrian counterpart. But I don't know who - which members (inaudible). It varies sometimes, not - it's a huge follow-up committee, and they tended to only bring only a few members of it in - at one time.

QUESTION: Right now, the Israeli Government not formed is a problem, obviously. Are you relieved that Tzipi Livni decided not to form a government with the Shas, which would have been a problem for the Jerusalem question? Instead of - she decided not to form it and to wait for February. Do you think it's a good sign?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I'm not going to comment on internal Israeli politics or the decisions that Tzipi Livni made. I would note that the government has remained committed to the process; that she, as Foreign Minister, has remained committed to the process. And I would just state what is obvious: In order to create a Palestinian state, all issues are going to have to be resolved. And that includes - there will have to ultimately be a resolution of the issue of Jerusalem one way or another.

But I can't comment on and won't comment on her decision. That was her decision.

QUESTION: What about internal U.S. politics after your statement from yesterday? Would you have preferred if McCain had won?

SECRETARY RICE: I told you I wasn't going to talk about politics before and I'm not going to talk about politics now. But I think it should have been obvious to you that I was very moved by what happened, and it's an inspiring moment for Americans. You know, I was asked by a friend a couple days before - we're both from Alabama, and she said, did you think you'd ever see it? And I said yes, but I thought I might be 80. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)


QUESTION: You talked to - a moment ago about sort of stating the obvious. Why are you reluctant to just state the obvious, that the end of the year simply isn't possible?

SECRETARY RICE: Arshad, I said I don't - I've learned never to predict in this business. But it's clear that the - that we're in a different situation now because of - Israel is going to elections. And had we - had the Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, formed a coalition, and given that she was the chief negotiator, I think that would have meant certain things for the process in terms of perhaps even being able to move toward conclusion that probably now are very difficult.

But I believe that what we need to do is to continue to advance the process, continue its momentum, make certain that the progress that they've achieved doesn't go backwards, because I do think it's important for the parties to be able to represent to the international community, to the region, and indeed to their own people that they now have embarked on a process that they believe will lead to the end of this conflict. And when we set up Annapolis and launched these negotiations, what they said was they would make every effort to achieve an agreement by the end of the year. But this is a conflict of -

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

SECRETARY RICE: Count it, however many years you want to count it. If you want to count it at 3,000, you can. But I think you can at least use the number 40, and given that, the important thing is to get the fundamentals right. And one of the reasons that we're going to Jenin is that an underreported and undervalued element of this process is the creation of the institutions of a future Palestinian state.

I remember early on, we talked about this, that the reason that this is one of the pillars of Annapolis is that you can't imagine the emergence of an agreement without the institutions of statehood on the other side. And I think you will see that with the work that Keith Dayton has done, that General Jones has done, that Tony Blair has done, but most importantly, that Salam Fayyad has done, that those institutions of the Palestinian state, particularly the security institutions, are well on their way to being able to support and sustain a democratic Palestinian state. And that, perhaps more important than anything, will make it possible to conclude this agreement.

Okay. Thank you.

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