Clinton and Mitchell brief the media on Mideast talks
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Press Release) — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with news media while flying on Tuesday to Sharm el Sheikh for the second round of the Middle East peace talks, and U.S. Middle East Envoy spoke to the media in Sharm el Sheikh after the meeting of Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The following transcripts were provided by the U.S. State Department:
SECRETARY CLINTON: Now, I have, as many of you — and I look around and see people who have been following this for decades — have been asked repeatedly — I look (inaudible) –have been asked repeatedly what are the prospects for success, how can we evaluate? And I can only say this: that there is no prospect for success in the absence of direct negotiations; there is absolutely no way that the legitimate needs of Israel can be satisfied for the long term, nor that the aspirations of the Palestinians can be achieved.
So for me, it is a question of: how can we work toward making these direct negotiations break through the clear and difficult obstacles that stand in the way toward achieving a comprehensive peace? And the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are part of what has to happen in the region that would include an agreement between Syria and Israel, and Lebanon and Israel. But we have to begin and we felt encouraged by the — both the words and the body language and the commitments made by the two leaders when we met with them in Washington.
I am completely aware of all the challenges that we confront, but I have said, and I will repeat, that I think that the time is right for a lot of reasons for these two leaders and their people to work diligently and productively toward a resolution. So when we meet in Egypt tomorrow we will be having individual bilateral meetings, including with President Mubarak, and we will have then a trilateral meeting among the Palestinians, Israelis, and the U.S. The next day, we will continue those meetings in Jerusalem and we will push the parties to come to grips with a lot of the issues that have to be sorted out.
But for me, this is a simple choice: no negotiations, no security, no state. Negotiations at least hold out the potential for reaching the agreement that both parties have pledged that they wish to pursue despite the difficulties that they face from both within and without.
So with that, let me —
QUESTION: Would you take one on the looming expiration of the settlement moratorium? Nothing that Prime Minister Netanyahu or his aides have said has suggested that he’s willing to extend it, and as you’re well aware, President Abbas has taken the position that if it is not extended, he may walk out of the talks. The President on Friday seemed to suggest that there might be a way for Netanyahu to extend it if Abbas might do some things. Do you see any scintilla of evidence that Netanyahu is interested in extending it such as it is?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Arshad, as the President said on Friday, we believe that the moratorium should be extended
QUESTION: (Inaudible) a little louder, please, (inaudible)?
SECRETARY CLINTON: As the President said on Friday, the United States believes that the moratorium should be extended. At the same time, we recognize that an agreement that could be forged between the Israelis and the Palestinians on actions that would be taken by both sides that would enable the negotiations to continue is in the best interests of both sides. This has to be understood as an effort by both the prime minister and the president to get over a hurdle posed by the expiration of the original moratorium in order to continue negotiations that hold out the promise of resolving all the core issues.
And some of you may remember that when I pushed for and then went and stood with Netanyahu on behalf of the moratorium, it was summarily criticized roundly and consistently by everyone in the region. And I took my fair share of that criticism for saying what happened to be the fact that it was an unprecedented decision by an Israeli government. And now, we’re told that negotiations can’t continue unless something that was viewed as being inadequate continues as well.
So I think there’s a lot of ways to get to the goal. Remember, the goal is to work toward agreement on core issues like borders and territories that would, if agreed upon, eliminate the debate about settlements, because some areas would be inside Israel and some areas would not be inside Israel. So I think that there are obligations on both sides to ensure that these negotiations continue, and we’re going to be discussing that in depth with both of them over the next two days.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, what are you asking the Palestinians to do in terms of a gesture towards the Israelis for them to be encouraged to perhaps limit settlement construction?
And a second question, if I may. You’ve been involved in this from far or close for a long time. We’ve all watched it for decades as well. There have been so many stumbling blocks before. What is it that is new that you may be thinking about that could help move out of the deadlock that we’re seeing? Is there anything creative; is there anything new that you’re putting on the table that will make a difference this time?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Kim, let me say this: I don’t want to get into the positions that either side may be looking at or considering. That is for them to do. They are the only ones that can agree to continue in the negotiations. And our goal has been to help create an atmosphere that is conducive to negotiations and to request and encourage each party not to do anything that would interfere with the continuity of those negotiations. So I think that in the next two days, there will be a lot that will be discussed by both sides about what they need or what they can offer to keep going.
But I would answer your second question by saying I think if you listen to both leaders, they recognize that time is not on either of their sides. The prime minister has made it clear that the security challenges that Israel faces because of advanced technology and because of state-sponsored support for Hezbollah and Hamas on both of Israel’s borders poses increasing risks to Israel that have to be addressed.
I think on the side of the president, the Palestinians have been committed to a two-state solution and seeking it for a few decades now. But they have to prove that you can get a state through negotiations as opposed to violent resistance. So it does seem to me that for both of these men, this is a moment of great opportunity as well as challenge, and what we are attempting to do is to encourage them to pursue this chance for peace this year, because neither of them can predict the consequences if this effort does not continue forward.
MR. MITCHELL: Today’s meeting lasted about one hour and forty minutes. The meeting involved Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Abbas, Secretary of State Clinton, and myself. We all are grateful to President Mubarak, to Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit, and to the Egyptian Government for their courtesy and hospitality in arranging these meetings and for their continued strong support for President Obama’s vision of comprehensive peace in the Middle East. The day began with President Mubarak hosting separate bilateral meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Abbas, and Secretary Clinton. The Secretary also met bilaterally with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders. This was followed by the multilateral meeting, which I’ve just described. And as soon as I complete this briefing, I will attend with the other leaders a lunch hosted by President Mubarak for all of the participants.
Today, the parties have begun a serious discussion on core issues. President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu also reiterated their intent to approach these negotiations in good faith and with a seriousness of purpose. They repeated their condemnation of all forms of violence that target innocent civilians and pledged to work together to maintain security. All of us reaffirmed our commitment to reaching a shared goal of a just, lasting, and secure peace. Our common goal remains two states for two peoples. And we are committed to a solution to the conflict that resolves all issues for the state of Israel and a sovereign, independent, and viable state of Palestine living side by side in peace and security.
President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu continued to agree that these negotiations, whose goal is to resolve all core issues, can be completed within one year. As I said recently in Washington, the parties have agreed to begin first on working to achieve a framework agreement for permanent status. That work is now well underway. The parties agree that for these negotiations to succeed, they must be kept strictly confidential and treated with the utmost of sensitivity. So as in the past, today and as we proceed in the future, what I and they are able to disclose to you about the details of the meetings is and will be very limited.
They agreed that after the leaders meeting tomorrow in Jerusalem, their negotiators would meet again in the coming days to continue these negotiations and to lay the groundwork for the next round of talks at the leadership level. These face-to-face talks are critical for both sides to continue to build trust and confidence.
As both President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have said, the United States pledges its full support to the parties in these talks. We will be an active and sustained partner throughout. We will put our full weight behind these negotiations and will stand by the parties as they make the difficult decisions necessary to secure a better future for their citizens.
Thank you very much for your patience. I apologize for the fact that you had to wait. The meeting did go on, as I said, for quite a lengthy period of time. And now I’ll be pleased to respond to your questions.
MODERATOR: Okay, can we have one from Glenn Kessler from the The Washington Post?
QUESTION: Thank you. Senator Mitchell, public rhetoric going into the talks, especially by the Palestinians, was strong saying that continuing with settlements would wreck the negotiations. Yet Secretary Clinton held out the possibility yesterday that both sides could take other steps that would allow the talks to continue, such as an agreement on an agenda. Can you say whether you made any progress on that front, and if so, what?
MR. MITCHELL: Our position on settlements is well known and remains unchanged. This Administration’s policy is the same as the policy of previous administrations, Democratic and Republican. As President Obama said just recently, we think it makes sense to extend the moratorium; especially given that the talks are moving in a constructive direction. We know that this is a politically sensitive issue in Israel. And we have also called on President Abbas to take steps that help encourage and facilitate this process. We believe that both sides have a responsibility to help ensure that these talks continue in a constructive manner. We’ve always made clear that the parties should promote a positive environment for the talks. And as the Secretary has said on many occasions, as we move forward, it’s important that actions by all sides help to advance our efforts, not to hinder them.
MODERATOR: Could we have —
QUESTION: Did you make progress? Is the answer yes or no?
MR. MITCHELL: We continue our efforts to make progress, and we believe that we are moving in the right direction overall.
MODERATOR: Mr. Ahmed Naguib from Egyptian TV, our Egyptian hosts.
QUESTION: (In Arabic.)
MR. MITCHELL: We have said many times that our vision is for a two-state solution that includes a Jewish, democratic state of Israel living side by side in peace and security with a viable, independent, sovereign, and contiguous state of Palestine. But of course, this is one of many sensitive issues that the parties will need to resolve themselves, and that is the point of negotiations. The parties will reach agreement on all major issues.
MODERATOR: Okay. We now have Ayala Hasson from Israeli TV Channel 1.
QUESTION: Thank you. Senator Mitchell, so you do not agree with Prime Minister Netanyahu that Israel should continue the building after the moratorium as it was when Prime Minister Olmert was in office? And can you be more specific about the core issues that were on the table? Thank you.
MR. MITCHELL: I’ve stated our position on the settlement issue and that remains our position as stated in response to the first question. With respect to the core issues, I’m not going to attempt to identify each one that was discussed, but several were, in a very serious, detailed, and extensive discussion.
QUESTION: (In Arabic.)
MR. MITCHELL: I’ve already responded to that question. The – all issues ultimately must be resolved by the parties themselves. The United States will, as we have said on many occasions, be an active and sustained partner throughout the talks and will, when necessary and appropriate, make bridging proposals and provide encouragement to the parties, but in the end that these matters must be resolved by the parties themselves. And we hope and expect that they will do so.
Thank you very much. Thank you.
Preceding provided by the U.S. State Department