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Conference in London To Focus on Next Stage of Afghan Development

30 January 2006

Rice says Hamas victory reflects Palestinian desire for honest government

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the international conference January 31 in London on supporting Afghanistan will produce an international plan for the next phase of Afghanistan's development.

"It will be a chance to celebrate Afghans' progress, make a commitment to the next round of Afghan development," Rice said to reporters en route to London January 29.

She said the United States will make a significant contribution to Afghanistan at the conference.  (See related article.)

Rice said it was important to keep in mind the progress that Afghanistan has made since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001. 

NATO is increasing its troop strength to about 12,000, allowing the United States to concentrate more on counterterrorist operations, she said, adding that the Afghan infrastructure needs significant investment, and narcotics production continues to be a problem.  The secretary praised Afghan President Hamid Karzai for his efforts to combat cultivation of opium poppies.

In response to a reporter's questions about the Hamas victory in the Palestinian legislative elections, Rice said that the win reflected the "pent-up frustration" of the Palestinian people toward the corrupt administration of the ousted Fatah Party.  She said that Hamas did not attract voters with its policy of seeking the destruction of Israel.

"Go back and look at how often Hamas started with, 'We will bring the destruction of Israel if we are elected,' as opposed to, 'We will change and reform this corrupt system.  We're not corrupt.  We've been giving social services.  We've had good mayors.'  Just look at Hamas' platform," she said.

Rice said that Palestinian people do not want their children to be suicide bombers but instead have a deep desire for a normal life.

"And a normal life is only going to come in the context of a two-state solution, of a reasonable relationship with Israel and with engagement with the international system of the kind that can bring that normal life," Rice said.  (See The Middle East: A Vision for the Future.)

"There is a road to peace and Hamas now has an obligation to look at that," Rice said.  The secretary said the international community will not fund a Hamas government that advocates the destruction of Israel.

"Let me just remind you what we are talking about.  We're talking about assistance from the international financial institutions.  We're talking about the United Nations assistance.  We're talking about European assistance.  We're talking about Asian assistance.  We're talking about considerable assistance from the region and we're talking about American assistance," Rice said.  She said the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people will be considered on a case-by-case basis. 

Rice said the decision to hold the Palestinian elections according to schedule was correct, even if the outcome was not what the United States and the international community had hoped it would be.

"It's the responsibility and the role of particularly the United States but the international community more broadly to stay very firmly planted in principles and to make certain that everything that you are doing relates to that set of principles so that you don't start flagging one way and another," Rice said.

The secretary said the Palestinian people are known throughout the Middle East for their religious tolerance and engagement with the outside world.  "That's a very strong ethic in the Palestinian people and in the Palestinian territories, and it's also one that ought to be respected by their new leaders," Rice said.

With regard to the Iranian nuclear issue, Rice said the United States and Russia are in agreement that the enrichment and reprocessing of nuclear fuel should not be conducted on Iranian soil.  (See Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.)

Following is the transcript of Rice's interview en route to London:

(begin transcript)

U.S. Department of State
Office of the Spokesman
(London, England)
January 29, 2006


Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
En Route to London, United Kingdom
January 29, 2006

SECRETARY RICE:  Good morning, everybody.  I know this must seem like an odd trip; we're going to one place staying two nights and coming back.  I know, it's strange for me, too.  It feels like going to New York and back. But I hope it will be a very good trip in any case.

I'm very much looking forward to this trip, first and foremost for the international community to renew its partnership with Afghanistan.  There will be an important conference on Tuesday where the international community will enter into a compact with Afghanistan for the next phase of Afghanistan's development.  It's awfully important that we just think back to where this country was four years ago, where the Taliban had destroyed it, where it really had very little hope for the future, where it was a terrorist haven; now has been through elections under the Bonn process and has elected not only a president but a parliament.  And so this is a good time for the international community to renew its partnership and I'm very -- we're all very grateful to Prime Minister Blair for hosting this conference.

It's also the case that NATO has made a substantial new commitment.  NATO will have at the end of this cycle about 12,000 forces, part of the ISAF force, the International Security Assistance Force.  The number of Provincial Reconstruction Teams continues to grow and in one case Britain and Canada are moving and, likely with Dutch support, into the south of the country, allowing the United States to concentrate more on counterterrorist operations.

So there is really very good support for Afghanistan.  It's not that Afghanistan doesn't have a lot of problems.  It does.  It's an infrastructure that needs significant investment.  Obviously, the narcotics problem continues to be a problem, but President Karzai has been very vocal with the Afghan people about the need to make certain that the poppy growing is not just illegal but also, in a normative sense, illegitimate in the eyes of the Afghan people.

So it will be a chance to celebrate Afghans' progress, make a commitment to the next round of Afghan development and, on Tuesday, the United States will make a significant new contribution to Afghan development. 

So with that, I'm happy to take any questions.

QUESTION:  Madame Secretary, can you tell us why you think people in your office were so caught off guard by Hamas' strong showing, and did you express any displeasure that that was the case?

SECRETARY RICE:  Well, I don't know anyone who wasn't caught off guard by Hamas' strong showing.  Some say that Hamas itself was caught off guard by its very strong showing.  But I think it speaks to the volatility in polling and in that kind of analysis in a place where there are -- where it's a very transitional and volatile political environment.  I think what was probably underestimated was the depth of resentment of the last, really, decade of the corruption and the old guard and the like.

But certainly I've asked why nobody saw it coming and I hope that we will take a hard look, because it does say something about perhaps not having had a good enough pulse on the Palestinian population, as opposed to elites in Ramallah and the like.  Now, to be sure, it's hard -- with the security situation it's hard to get people around -- but I've been long concerned and one of the things that I said in the repositioning was that we probably needed to get more people into places like Jerusalem, into places like Ramallah, so that we could have a better pulse.  But sure, I'm concerned about it and we'll try to get an analysis of what we might have known better.  But I want to emphasize, I don't think we were alone in being surprised.

QUESTION:  If you don't mind, may I follow?  Do you think, looking back, that it might have been a mistake not to press the Palestinian leadership harder on what the U.S. clearly wanted, which was to disarm anyone associated with Hamas, to disarm Hamas or get a commitment, some kind of legislative commitment, to lawful behavior?

And second, might it also -- I mean, there are now some Israelis and Palestinians who are saying that toward the elections some thought was given to postponing the election again.  Do you think that would have changed anything?

SECRETARY RICE:  On the second question, Steve, our constant discussions with Abu Mazen suggested that he wanted to go ahead with the elections and go ahead with them on time.  We had to support that.  And I just don't understand the argument that it somehow would have gotten better the longer it went on.  What became clear, I think, from this is that you had a lot of pent-up frustration, a lot of pent-up anger, and I don't think that was going to dissipate in four or five or six months.  And so you ask yourself, "Are you going to then support a policy of denying the Palestinians elections that had been promised to them at a certain point in time because people were fearful of the outcome?"  And I just don't think you can support democracy and then say, well, we have to do this because of the outcome. 

We did focus on and we're concerned about security and whether that was a concern with elections being held at the time.  As it turned out, the security situation did not turn out to be a problem in terms of voting.  I mean, people said there would be great violence on the day.  The Palestinians are really to be congratulated for the fact that they carried this out peacefully.

In terms of what we and the international community might have pressed the Palestinians to do in terms of Hamas, I do think that there was a strong view that -- and you can read multiple, multiple statements from the United States that the roadmap required the disarmament of militias.  It was also the case that we all pressed very hard for greater reform, greater transparency, the unraveling of some of the corruption. 

And I just want to say a word about Abu Mazen and some of his team.  They had a long history of corruption to deal with and they really did begin to make some important changes.  If you look at the confidence that was there in the Finance Ministry, for instance, they made some changes.  And so those changes were perhaps not made in time to present a Fatah that was truly a reformed Fatah, but I think we shouldn't overlook some of the very good things that Abu Mazen and his team did do.  So yes, we pressed those things.

Now, in terms of the Palestinian strategy, their view was that they had to get through elections, they had to have a new electoral law -- I'm sorry, a new set of laws, including electoral laws, which would then give a basis for the disarmament of militias.  But one way or another, if there is going to be a Palestinian government that can deal with the international community, it's going to have to be a Palestinian government that has one authority and one gun.  That still remains the case.  And the interesting question is going to be how Hamas now, having been given a mandate to deliver on the aspirations of its people, how it's going to do that.  And I think the issue of disarmament of militias is going to be even more salient now, not less salient.

QUESTION:  Madame Secretary, as you know, the financial condition of the Palestinian Authority is terrible.  I'm wondering how you plan to balance the potential chaos that could ensue if the U.S. and Europe were to cut off aid against your desire not to aid Hamas or to fund them in any way. 

SECRETARY RICE:  Well, first of all, we are going to have extensive discussions in the Quartet about the way forward.  But the United States is not prepared to fund an organization that advocates the destruction of Israel, that advocates violence and that refuses its obligations under the roadmap to which everyone is committed.  We do understand that the Palestinian people may have some humanitarian needs and I think we will have to look at that on a kind of case-by-case basis in terms of humanitarian needs, but we are going to review all of our assistance programs, but the bedrock principle here is we can't have funding for an organization that holds those views just because it is in government.

I do think that it is important that Hamas now will have to confront the implications of its covenants if it wishes to govern and so that becomes a primary consideration in anything that we do.  And I have to say that there has been a pretty consistent voice in the international community about confronting that covenant, and it's not just coming from the Western states; it's also coming from within the region.

Just one final point on it.  The question of what happens in this interim period before Hamas takes power, because of course they have to form a government, there's a procedure for forming a government and I don't know precisely when they will form a government, I think we'll have to look at what obligations are already there to Abu Mazen and his caretaker government as opposed to what happens once they have a new government. 

QUESTION:  What's going to be the response if others try to move in to fill the funding breach?  For instance, Iran or Saudi -- well, I guess it would depend on who it would be.  But if it were Syria or Iran?

SECRETARY RICE:  Well, we would sincerely hope that people would take the implications of a Palestinian government that would be cut off from assistance and not try and fill that gap.  But let me just remind you what we are talking about.  We're talking about assistance from the international financial institutions.  We're talking about the United Nations assistance.  We're talking about European assistance.  We're talking about Asian assistance.  We're talking about considerable assistance from the region and we're talking about American assistance.  This is a pretty big gap. 

The budget of the Palestinian Authority is about $1.6 billion, but I think that doesn't speak to how intertwined the Palestinian economy is with its neighbors, including with Israel.

QUESTION:  And just to clarify one thing you said a moment ago, when you're talking about the responsibilities to Abu Mazen, you're talking about financial pledges we've already made?  And will you be encouraging any of the European governments or any of those other counterparts you just mentioned to essentially follow the U.S. suit and not fund Hamas?

SECRETARY RICE:  Well, I think the Europeans have been pretty clear.  First of all, the Europeans also list Hamas as a terrorist organization.  The European Union does.  And the implications of supporting a peace process on the one hand, and which we are all parts of the Quartet, and on the other hand supporting the activities of a partner in that set of negotiations that doesn't even recognize the existence of the other partner, it just doesn't work. 

And so I think, you know, as I said, we're going to take this one step at a time.  This has just happened.  We are going to look at what the obligations are to this caretaker government.  I think it's important to do that.  It's also important to look at humanitarian circumstances -- and I don't mean economic circumstances.  I mean that there are humanitarian issues that certainly we'll want to look at.  But the principle has got to be very clear that there are responsibilities of governing, there are obligations that the Palestinian Authority undertook.  The Oslo agreement which, after all, is the governing agreement that created all of these institutions and allowed these elections, has certain obligations with it, and Hamas can't have it both ways.

QUESTION:  I have so many things.  The Oslo agreements, picking up on what you just said, also said that violent groups weren't going to be allowed to participate in the elections, and two weeks before the elections two senior officials, David Welch and Elliott Abrams, went to Israel to force Israel to let Hamas participate in Jerusalem, or to work that out.  I wonder if you can reflect on that decision.

And separately, will the United States work with, say like they do in Lebanon, a prime minister that is not officially Hamas but somebody else?

SECRETARY RICE:  Well, Prime Minister Senora is a reformer who doesn't have any connection to Hezbollah, so let's be very clear what we're doing in Lebanon.  This is a reformist government that happens to have a single Hezbollah Minister for Transportation.  So I don't think that what may happen in the territories and what is going on in Lebanon is comparable.  We also in Lebanon are operating under Resolution 1559, which does expect the disarmament of militias within the Lebanese context.

As to the decision to let Hamas participate, we've all said this is a transitional period in Palestinian politics, from the politics of Yasser Arafat's Fatah to a more democratic future for the Palestinian people.  The Palestinians themselves believed that it was important to allow as broad a group of Palestinians, including Hamas, to participate in these elections.  The international community was very clear that it was -- its expectation that that participation would be with an understanding that you can not have one violent -- one foot in violence and one foot in terror.  Just look back at the Quartet statement of September and I think you'll see this. 

We're also operating under the roadmap, which requires disarmament of militias.  So I think the expectation here is very clear.  Abu Mazen said to me in his telephone call, our very first telephone call, that he did not regret giving the Palestinian people an opportunity to exercise their democratic franchise and to do it on time and with the broadest possible representation.  And I think that's right.  I think that the outcome here, we will have to see, but we have to stand for democratic principles.  And one important democratic principle is people get their right to vote, and the Palestinians have.

Another is that when you govern, you govern to meet people's aspirations.  And the Palestinian people have an aspiration for peace.  We know that.  And there is a road to peace and Hamas now has an obligation to look at that as well.

QUESTION:  The Israeli Government has appealed to all Western governments to boycott any Hamas government.  Would you go that far to boycott them completely?  And under what conditions would you be prepared to deal with Hamas apart from all of the regular ones that are outlined in the Quartet statement?

SECRETARY RICE:  Hamas is a terrorist group and our policies have not changed on that.  And you know, people say, "Will you deal with them?"  Under conditions in which Hamas doesn't recognize Israel, advocates violence and refuses to be a responsible party in the peace process and refuses to take on the obligations the Palestinians have taken on, there isn't much to talk about.  And so I think the real issue here is that there are some choices before Hamas.

And I just wanted to say one other thing about the situation.  You know, the Palestinian people are also a people who have been known throughout the Middle East for their tolerance for their multi-religiosity, for their contact with the outside world, for, you know, many groups living together in harmony.  And that's a very strong ethic in the Palestinian people and in the Palestinian territories, and it's also one that ought to be respected by their new leaders.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Madame Secretary.  A number of us in the press cabin are doing double duty in the sense that we are -- we may have been covering Iran but now we're doing Iran and the Hamas issue, so I wonder if you'll indulge me to the extent of having one question on each subject, please.

A PARTICIPANT:  (Off-mic.)

QUESTION:  I fight the good fight on behalf of all of us back here. 

Both you and Assistant Secretary McCormack in recent days have been interpreting the Palestinian vote almost with a social scientist's bent.  You've been telling us that this vote reflects this deep desire for change amongst the Palestinians and certainly a rejection of corruption.  And in fact, Sean, I believe, said that that was at the top of their list. 

You've also talked about the fact that there was very volatile polling data here.  And I wonder why it's not an equally valid interpretation of this outcome to suggest that perhaps it is Hamas platform about Israel and its sworn commitment to the destruction of Israel which was what engendered this outcome and this particular vote.  Why is that an invalid interpretation?

SECRETARY RICE:  I'd start by looking at how often Hamas led their campaigns with that point as opposed to corruption.  Hamas seemed to know what people were interested in.  Really, James, go back, look at how often Hamas started with, "We will bring the destruction of Israel if we are elected," as opposed to, "We will change and reform this corrupt system.  We're not corrupt.  We've been giving social services.  We've had good mayors."  Just look at Hamas' platform.

Second question?

QUESTION:  Since you're giving me a second question, I won't burden you with a follow-up to that one.  But it's not as if Hamas' intentions toward Israel were overshadowed by their corruption rhetoric; correct?

SECRETARY RICE:  I don't think there's any doubt that people know what Hamas' covenant is.  I'm just saying to you that this is a situation in which I think people wanted a change and, in effect, they had two options and they took the option for change.  Now, perhaps Palestinian people want their children to be suicide bombers and that's the great desire of large numbers of the Palestinian population.  I don't believe it.  And Hamas is going to have to deal with the deep desire of the Palestinian people for a normal life.  And a normal life is only going to come in the context of a two-state solution, of a reasonable relationship with Israel and with engagement with the international system of the kind that can bring that normal life.

QUESTION:  On Hamas.  You said the European Union considers it a terrorist organization, but the Europeans see Hamas in a very different light.  There's all these suggestions that it could be more like Sinn Fein, IRA.  And I wonder, you know, what do you think can be done to moderate Hamas' views others than this threat of pulling out aid?

And if I could have one quickly on Iran.  Is the sudden interest in the Russian proposal delaying your efforts at getting this IAEA vote?

SECRETARY RICE:  Well, the Russian proposal has been on the table for quite some time and it's interesting that the Iranians have been evincing greater interest in it the closer we get to a vote to go to the Security Council, and I think that says something about how really interested the Iranians are in the Russian proposal.  And even so, the Iranians made clear that they thought the proposal was "inadequate."  So no, I don't think it matters in that regard.

We would be very pleased to see the Iranians take the Russian proposal.  But the Russian proposal is structured to prevent enrichment and reprocessing on Iranian territory.  That's really the crux of this issue.  And so until there is that change, I don't think anything has changed.

As to European attitudes toward Hamas, you know, I would just point you to the multiple statements of European leaders, including the European Union though Javier Solana this week of what is expected of Hamas if they are to engage the international system.  And it's not -- I want to quarrel a little bit with the word a "threat" to take away.  There's a certain reality here, a certain practicality, and that practicality is that the support of the international community is behind a two-state solution, behind a homeland for the Palestinians and a homeland for the Israelis.  It is behind an end to violence and an end to terror and it is behind the dismantlement of militias.  And so support would go to those who support those policies.  And I think it's just -- you know, that's the whole matter.  And so I think the course is pretty clear and we'll see what happens, but there are now certain realities of governing but there are also certain obligations to the Palestinian people.

QUESTION:  Many of my questions have been asked, but would you have a specific strategy for this Quartet meeting and will you be trying to create some kind of a political quarantine of the Hamas government?  I mean, we've seen relative degrees of willingness to talk to these people.  Would you like to see a unified position come out?

SECRETARY RICE:  I think we have a unified position that came out in the Quartet statement.  I haven't seen a lot of evidence of people rushing to talk to Hamas.  You know, the question to me is, "Do we stay true to the principles that have been guiding the international consensus about Middle East peace?"  And that consensus is very clear.  We've all been working on the basis of that consensus and I would expect that we want -- let me just back up and say no one would be happier than to the see the Palestinian people be able to have a road to statehood and to do it with a government in which they had trust and in which there was transparency and all of those things.  That would be the very best possible outcome.  The question right now is in its governing role -- and it will have a governing role -- will Hamas be prepared to have that outcome for the Palestinian people.

QUESTION:  Madame Secretary, do you really hope Hamas can renounce violence?  And if they did renounce their beliefs, you are not afraid it would be only words and they could keep financing bombings in Israel?

SECRETARY RICE:  That's a good question.  And if you notice, the renunciation of violence is always accompanied by the fact that you can only have one authority and one gun and that you need to disarm militias as well.  This is a huge transition.  There is a huge transition going on in the Middle East as a whole and in its parts. 

And the outcomes that we're seeing in any number of places, I will be the first to say have a sense of kind of unpredictability about them.  That's the nature of big, historic change.  It's simply the way it is.  When things get set off in motion to wipe away old structures and wipe away old ideas, you get sometimes unpredictable outcomes.  When that happens, it's the responsibility and the role of particularly the United States but the international community more broadly to stay very firmly planted in principles and to make certain that everything that you are doing relates to that set of principles so that you don't start flagging one way and another.

We have with our European partners, Russian partner and the UN forged a very strong consensus about the way forward.  After the Gaza withdrawal, with the support for the end of -- for the roadmap.  We have a set of road markers out there.  And I think what we will be talking about today is, yes, there are significantly changed circumstances but we all believe that those are still the right markers, still the right principles, and we're going to adhere to them.

QUESTION:  Just very quickly, you -- everybody is interested in this issue of getting everybody on the same page when it comes to the money, and when we asked you about money earlier you made a point of telling us not to forget there's also money from international organizations, some countries in Asia and Middle Eastern governments.  Are you already working on that front to get those people on board as well?  What kind of progress have you made?

SECRETARY RICE:  Of course we're working with everyone and I just think that anyone who is devoted to trying to bring Middle East peace between two states has an obligation now to make certain that anybody that is going to be supported is going to have that same (inaudible).

I have seen nothing to suggest that people are not on the same page.  I think that in a sense the Quartet, which is the international body -- because it's not just the United States and Europe, it's also the UN, it's also Russia -- I think we will -- this will continue to evolve as a set of statements.  But our view is that for full engagement with the international community, for real engagement with the international community, for meaningful engagement with the international community and for support for its programs, a Palestinian government has to be devoted to peace.  It cannot be devoted to violence. 

QUESTION:  Jonathan Landay, taking Warren Strobel's place with Knight-Ridder.  What I'd like to go back to is the question of Iran and the Russian proposal.  First of all, the Russian proposals calls for -- there's some confusion in the American position.  The President has said we support it.  You've said you support it.  And yet the other day, Under Secretary Burns said the United States opposes any part of the uranium fuel cycle being on Iranian territory.  And yet, under the Russian proposal, the Iranians would be allowed to continue operating their uranium -- the gas hexafluoride plant in Isfahan.  So I don't understand where you are.

Just very quickly, second follow-up.  Are you even going to bother talking about this proposal when you meet tomorrow night in that it seems that you're focused solely on the vote at the IAEA?

SECRETARY RICE:  We've had extensive discussions with the Russians about their proposal, by the way, well before they went down this road with the Iranians.

There is a question of enrichment and reprocessing and there's a question of conversion of UF4 to UF6.  Those are different parts of the fuel cycle.  We do not think that the permanent storage of large amounts of UF6 on Iranian territory is a good idea either, but there are lots of ideas about what might happen to it, that it might be converted and transferred out of the country, or so forth and so on.

The real focus here has been on the enrichment and reprocessing piece, which is the piece of the fuel cycle that gives you the technological capability to be able to spin centrifuges and thereby move toward a nuclear weapon.  And the Russian proposal does not anticipate enriching and reprocessing on Iranian soil.  In fact, the joint venture with Iran does not anticipate Iranian access to the technologies concerning enrichment and reprocessing. 

So this I know at times can sound a bit complicated, but I actually think the Russian proposal, which by the way is a sort of in many ways evolution of the way that they structured the Bushehr reactor with a fuel take-back provision, continues to show that the Russians do not believe that enriching and reprocessing on Iranian soil is a good idea.

And the Iranians, whenever this comes up, they want to talk about their rights to do it.  The question isn't a question of rights.  It's a question of having lost the faith of the international community that they can be trusted with any part of the fuel cycle.

(end transcript)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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