29 September 2003
TRANSCRIPT OF PRESS CONFERENCE BY MIDDLE EAST QUARTET AT HEADQUARTERS, 26 SEPTEMBER
Following is the transcript of the Headquarters press conference by the Middle East Quartet, with the following participants: Secretary-General Kofi Annan; United States Secretary of State Colin Powell; European Union delegation: Franco Frattini, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Italy (presidency of the European Union); Chris Patten, External Relations Commissioner of the European Commission; and Javier Solana, European Union High Representative for a Common Foreign and Security Policy; and Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Igor Ivanov.
The Secretary-General: On behalf of the Quartet, I wish to read out a very brief summary of the Quartet meeting. The full text of the statement is being distributed.
The Quartet members view with great concern the situation in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.
Each party must do more to address, immediately and simultaneously, the core concerns of the other, as described in the Road Map. The Quartet members reaffirm their commitment to the Road Map and to resumed progress by the parties toward its rapid implementation.
The Quartet members condemn the vicious terror attacks of August and September. They call on Palestinians to take immediate, decisive steps against individuals and groups conducting and planning violent attacks.
The Quartet members recognize Israel’s legitimate right to self-defence in the face of terrorist attacks against its citizens. In this context, and in the context of international humanitarian law, they call on the Government of Israel to exert maximum efforts to avoid civilian casualties. The Quartet members reaffirm that, in accordance with the Road Map, settlement activity must stop.
The Quartet looks forward to continuing to work closely together, as well as in association with regional parties, to help achieve progress between Israelis and Palestinians, as well as toward the goal of a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East.
To this end they hope to meet again at Principals level before the end of the year.
I would now like to say a few words, and share my own thoughts on the current situation in the Middle East. This is not a Quartet statement; these are my own words.
I am alarmed at the trend toward increasing violence and ever greater suffering among Israelis and Palestinians. The two parties seem unable to find their way out of the current quagmire without outside help. The international community, represented by the Quartet, has presented the parties with a Road Map towards peace.
Unfortunately, both of the parties have failed to take steps along this road. And the international community has been unable to induce the parties to move ahead.
The fragile peace process remains stalled, but facts on the ground are being created which make the vision of two States even more difficult to achieve. I would like to take this opportunity to remind the Government of Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the entire international community that the only alternative to the two-State solution is long-term conflict and instability.
It seems to me that bold steps, in keeping with the Road Map, are now necessary to salvage peace. Small steps have not worked. They are unlikely to work in the future. Such actions should simultaneously address the core needs of both parties -- security for Israelis and an end to occupation for the Palestinians. They should be firmly supported by an international presence.
Bold steps cannot be taken without the consent of the parties. Equally, the current dangerous impasse can only be broken through revitalized and active international involvement. I urge the international community to help the parties to shoulder their responsibilities to their peoples. If these steps are not taken, I believe that all of us will pay a heavy price.
Thank you very much.
The floor is now open for questions.
Question: My question is addressed to the Secretary of State.
There have been three times as many Palestinian as Israeli casualties in this latest round of the conflict. Israel engages in illegal activities such as extrajudicial assassinations and is now building a wall that is illegally swallowing Palestinian lands. Yet we constantly hear from Washington that the lion’s share of the blame for this conflict belongs to Mr. Arafat. In many quarters of the world there is a growing perception that the USA is not neutral in this conflict, and some have suggested that this perceived bias encourages terrorism and thus, ultimately endangers American security. I wonder how you respond to such criticism.
Mr. Powell: I think we have tried to show by our actions, by our support of the Road Map and by the position the President took at Sharm el-Sheikh and Aqaba, that we want to be a partner with both sides, bringing them together to find a way forward.
The Road Map put down reciprocal obligations for both sides, and we did see some initial movement on that Road Map, with Israel restraining itself with respect to targeted assassinations and to ticking bombs coming its way, with the beginning of the destruction of illegal outposts, the clear understanding that something had to be done -- and the President expected something to be done -- about settlement activity, the initial beginnings of prisoner releases, the opening of Gaza and Bethlehem to security control by the Palestinians. And more cities were being prepared to be turned over. So there were some beginning efforts on the Road Map that made it clear that the United States was encouraging Israel and putting pressure on Israel to meet its obligations.
On the Palestinian side, the major obligation -- the bold step that is needed -- is to end terror activity.
It becomes very difficult to move forward and to expect either side to move forward against the backdrop of continued terror on the part of organizations such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which do not have the same purpose that the international community has -– the United States certainly has -– of the creation of two States that live side by side in peace: the State of Israel, which exists, and the Palestinian State, which the President has called for by the year 2005, should that be possible.
But Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad do not want that. They do not want Israel to exist. As long as they keep operating in that manner and as long as Palestinians do not organize themselves in a way to deal with this continuing terrorist threat, we will find ourselves continually frustrated. But the United States is prepared to play the role of an open, honest broker, pressing both sides to meet the obligations and commitments that they have made under the Road Map.
Question: With respect to the Iraq situation and the notion of six months for a constitution: when would elections be held? In other words, we would like to get some sort of a feel on the thinking. With
Mr. Powell: On the second point, I am sure that it will be a subject of considerable discussion between President Bush and President Putin at Camp David. I have spoken on a number of occasions -– it got a lot of attention this morning –- about Ambassador Bremer’s seven-step plan to reach the point where we can turn full authority back over to the Iraqi people. Part of that plan included -– and we are approaching this point now -– the writing of a constitution. The Governing Council is debating and discussing, and throughout Iraq there are discussions taking place on the composition of the group that would write the constitution.
Ambassador Bremer has publicly discussed this, as I have: it is our feeling that a period of approximately six months seems appropriate for such a group to determine the form of government that they would like to see embedded in the constitution, as well as the form of representation that the people will have in that government. If it is possible to meet that goal of finishing the constitutional work in six months, then it is quite appropriate to consider that shortly thereafter the people will be able to ratify such a constitution and to prepare for elections.
I really cannot be precise. Some people have said it would take another six months for elections. But we really cannot be precise about that. It is a work in progress, but six months seems like an appropriate amount of time for a constitution of the kind that we expect the Governing Council and the constitutional commission to prepare.
Question: [off the mike -- The United States will remain there?] during that period to help ensure the transition, “unhurried” as the President has said?
Mr. Powell: The United States is prepared to remain as long as is necessary to put in place a representative form of government in Iraq and to help the Iraqis create that government, the ministries and institutions of government, a constitution that determines how power will be distributed and, from that constitution, elections that will put in place a representative leadership of the Iraqi people in order to take full authority back from the Coalition.
Question: Given that the Israelis are wary of the Europeans and they generally feel that the United Nations is hostile to their interests and that Russian influence in the Middle East is no longer what it used to be, how accurate is it to characterize the Quartet as an exercise in futility?
The Secretary-General: I think the Quartet works in partnership. Obviously, at any one stage, the influence of one or the other of the members with one or the other of the parties may be greater than that of another, but we pool our efforts to make things happen.
Yes, it is a fact that the United States does have greater influence with the Israelis than do other members of the Quartet. But other members of the Quartet –- the Europeans, for example -– have considerable influence on the Palestinian side, given the support and guidance they have given them with reform. And it was the pressure of the Quartet and other efforts by the Quartet as a whole that led to the reform of the Palestinian institutions, leading to the creation of a Prime Minister. Thus, each member brings something to the table. The fact that the United States may have a greater influence does not mean that the others have none at all.
Obviously, as I said, the process is in a bit of distress, but it is the only option we have. We are going to press the parties to honour their commitments on the Road Map. All of us here on the podium have a role to play, and the importance of our influence may differ from time to time and differ from party to party.
Mr. Powell: I think the Quartet process has also allowed the different perspectives and different approaches that each of us takes in the region to come into harmony so that we all are united in providing a common front -– in the form of the Road Map -– to the parties, as opposed to each member of the Quartet and many other individuals, countries and organizations represented by the Quartet going off with different plans and suggestions every day of the week. It was a result of the creation of the Quartet that we could then focus on the development of a road map. That Road Map is still valid. We are now waiting to see whether or not the Palestinian people are able to put in place, through their own system, a Prime Minister who will enjoy political authority and control over all the security forces so that we can start moving again down the path laid out by the Road Map.
Question: This is a question for the President of the European Council of Ministers, Mr. Frattini. (interpretation from Italian) Today, the European Union presented to the Quartet new proposals for greater involvement in the implementation of the Road Map. If that is so, how were those proposals received?
(spoken in English) And for Secretary of State Powell, do you plan a mission to the Middle East before the next meeting of the Quartet?
Mr. Frattini (interpretation from Italian): With regard to the position of the European Union, I can say that we have supported the need for the involvement of all the members of the Quartet in the important activity of monitoring the Road Map. As Secretary of State Powell has just said, and as Secretary-General mentioned earlier, it is clear that every member of the Quartet is capable of contributing more in the area of monitoring rather than in other areas.
I believe that Europe -– to recall the final communiqué -– can make a great contribution to the indispensable action of institution building and to supporting an exchange -– including a real cultural exchange -– with the key Arab countries in the region because Europe has a tradition, and that tradition is being reaffirmed today. Europe can also contribute proposals for the social and economic reconstruction of the entire region. It is clear that those proposals found in the document today satisfy Europe.
There is also a point that I think is important: the Quartet decided to return to meeting at the highest level, today’s level, by the end of the year in order to be able to, as the Secretary-General said, assess concretely the state of progress of the actions that the Quartet has taken and is reassuming today full coordination so that Europe’s ideas may be satisfied in the expression of today’s final communiqué.
Mr. Powell: The second part of your question: we have a continuing mission in the region now under the leadership of Ambassador Wolf, and he remains in touch with both parties on a daily basis and reports back regularly to me. We will be sharing his reports more broadly with my colleagues in the Quartet. As a result of our discussions today, we decided that our envoys should more regularly travel to the region and assemble in the region to assess progress and the prospects for moving forward.
Question: This is a question for Secretary of State Powell and Secretary-General Annan. Does the United States and does the Quartet have a view of President Chirac’s proposal for an immediate international conference on this situation? Or anyone else ... such as Mr. Frattini, you were shaking your head, if you want to say something...
Mr. Powell: There have been regular proposals for an international conference. Our French colleagues raised it again this week, but I do not see an immediate purpose in such a conference in the absence of some change in the situation on the ground. At the moment, we do not have a Palestinian Government that is seen as a partner who could participate in such a conference. So it is a possibility; it is an idea that is out there, but I do not see any immediate prospects of holding such a conference.
Question: Secretary Powell, you just tried to give us an example of being the honest broker, that you are also exerting pressure on Israel. However, lately you said that Israeli Prime Minister Sharon is not responding to your pressures on settlement; he is not responding on the wall, which is an affront to everything you stand for in the Road Map; he is not responding on extrajudicial killing with, I might say, many bystanders -– innocent ones -– falling by the wayside; he is not responding in many aspects.
However, you were showing understanding for his not giving in to your pressure in saying that Israeli Prime Minister can’t be seen giving in to American pressure. Isn’t it time to contemplate going to the Security Council and giving some teeth to this process, if the Israelis are not responding to your pressure? The question is also open to other participants, whether going to Security Council is a good idea at this time.
Mr. Powell: The Israelis were responding to the overtures made by the United States and the Quartet and others in the international community when they came to Aqaba and when they entered to a set of obligations and commitments. We had begun to march down that path. The Palestinians also entered into a series of obligations and commitments, as did the Arab States and the members of the Quartet.
Unfortunately, as we started down that road and were able to pressure both sides to meet their obligations, terrorist attacks began again, even after the period of ceasefire that gave a little bit of respite to both sides and to the region. Hamas elected to turn it on again, and they have control of the switch: they can turn the terror switch on or they can turn the terror switch off.
The point I was making about the Prime Minister is that when he is being pressed to comply with the obligations and to do more on his side of the ledger, and he sees on the other side of the ledger not enough action being taken to do something about these terrorist attacks, when terrorist attacks once again are inflicted upon innocent people, it becomes very, very difficult to move forward in that set of circumstances. That was the point I was trying to make. Whether or not it is appropriate for the United Nations to take action at this point, we had some discussion of that, but we haven’t pursued this at any level of detail this morning.
Mr. Ivanov (interpretation from Russian): First of all, I should like to associate myself with the words of the Secretary-General of the United Nations and to stress the great importance of the Quartet with regard to finding ways to resolve this situation in the Middle East.
The Quartet of course represents States, represents the European Union, represents the United Nations, but we are entitled to say that the Quartet basically speaks on behalf on the entire international community, since we have very active consultations with the Arab States and with other States of the world. The Road Map that was prepared and submitted by the Quartet has received general support from the world community and the parties adopted it, although Israel did enter some reservations on it. So there is no doubt, in the view of Russia, that the work of the Quartet was necessary and useful, and we think that the work must be continued. We made that point before.
However, we do see that the implementation of the Road Map is confronting some serious problems. In connection with that, of course, we need to think about how to increase the authority of the Quartet so that the Road Map can be implemented in practice. It could be through a resolution of the Security Council; it could be through some other steps that could be taken, but we agreed to continue consultations amongst ourselves.
Question: The first question is: is the Quartet united? We noticed last week there was a split in the Security Council among European Union members and within the European Union and with the United States, and another one on a resolution in the General Assembly.
Secondly, Secretary of State Powell, when does that six-month deadline begin on the constitution? The Governing Council at a press conference spoke about a May date.
Mr. Powell: I can take the second part and let my friends deal with the first part. The six months, we anticipate, would begin with the formation of the constitutional group and the beginning of their work. We are waiting for a report from the people who are working on that, how to go about it. Ambassador Bremer, I think, believes that once they start their work, six months is an appropriate amount of time.
I wouldn’t see it ... you have to have some sense of time on this, and six months is a good date to put out there. The term deadline suggests that something awful happens at the end of the six months, and I would not want to convey the impression that it falls off the end of the Earth at the end of six months, but six months seems to be a good timeline to put out there for the creation of this constitution, and also to give a sense of momentum and purpose to the effort of moving toward full restoration of authority over Iraq to the Iraqi people.
Mr. Solana: Let me try to answer the first part of the question. The Quartet is united, I think the proof is today, the very important statement that has come out today; there may be differences of opinion in particular issues that, of course, do not affect the unity of the Quartet.
Let me say on behalf of the European Union that I do not see the Quartet as an exercise in futility, on the contrary. I think it is the most important achievement for many, many years, having a common position for the countries represented here as far as the peace process is concerned. I would say it is the opposite of an exercise in futility. I would like to say to my good friend who asked that question that without the participation of the European Union, probably the Palestinian Authority would not exist today.
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