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Rice Calls Meeting with Israeli, Palestinian Leaders Productive

19 February 2007

Secretary says talks affirmed commitment to two-state solution

Washington -- A three-way meeting in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was "useful and productive" in paving the way for further efforts toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says.

In a brief statement delivered after the February 19 meeting she had characterized in advance as "informal discussions" rather than negotiations, Rice said the three participants "affirmed our commitment to a two-state solution, agreed that a Palestinian state cannot be born of violence and terror, and reiterated our acceptance of previous agreements and obligations," including the road map to Middle East peace.

And, she said, Olmert and Abbas had discussed how to move forward on mutual obligations aimed at implementing the first phase of the road map. (See text of document.)

Rice said the two had agreed to meet again soon, and "reiterated their desire for American participation and leadership in facilitating efforts to overcome obstacles, rally regional and international support, and move forward toward peace."

Accordingly, she said, she would be returning to the region soon herself.

The tripartite meeting, which lasted about two hours, followed a round of separate meetings that Rice held with Olmert and Abbas.

Her trip to the region was scheduled before Abbas and officials of Hamas agreed, at meetings held earlier in February in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, to share power in a new Palestinian coalition government in an effort to end months of factional violence. (See related article.)

That agreement affected the climate for the Jerusalem discussions because Hamas has not accepted the principles of the Quartet for Middle East peace -- that any Palestinian government must be committed to non-violence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including ones regarding the road map.

The Quartet is comprised of the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States.

Rice addressed the issue in her brief statement, saying Abbas and Olmert "also discussed issues arising from the agreement for the formation of a Palestinian national unity government."

She did not reveal the substance of those discussions, however.

A separate statement issued by the three leaders carried virtually identical language.

Both statements also noted that Olmert and Abbas "discussed their views of the diplomatic and political horizon and how it might unfold toward the two state vision of President Bush," and that all parties "called for respecting the ceasefire declared in November."

Rice had been asked in a series of interviews held before her meetings with Olmert and Abbas whether it might not have been better to postpone her new peace initiative until a Palestinian government was in place.

She rejected that approach, declaring in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz that while "this is a complicated time ... if I waited for an uncomplicated time in the Middle East, I'm not sure I would ever get on an airplane."

Rice acknowledged that progress could be slow.

"I'm not going to ask anyone to run when we really need to walk for a while," she said in the interview. "I think if we ask everybody to run, somebody is going to fall down. So let's just take this one step at a time."

In a separate roundtable session held with print journalists after her one-on-one meeting with Abbas February 18, Rice stressed that the United States will continue to work with him while the shape of a prospective Palestinian government becomes clear.

"I think that we can continue to work with Abu Mazen [Abbas], continue to discuss with Abu Mazen, continue to explore with Abu Mazen. That said, the best circumstance, of course, would be a Palestinian unity government that recognized the Quartet principles. But he has his own authority and he accepts the Quartet principles," the secretary said.

Ultimately, she made clear, "if there's going to be a Palestinian state, then the Quartet principles would obviously have to be recognized because ... this is the foundation for peace. How can you have a two-state solution if one state isn't -- its existence isn't recognized? How can you have a two-state solution and a roadmap to peace if you don't renounce violence?'

But the secretary stressed that the United States could not fairly assess the new Palestinian government until it is actually formed. "We are going to withhold judgment on what happened at Mecca until we see what actually comes of it, and I think that's only fair," she said.

The Ha'aretz interviewer turned Rice's attention to Iran, quoting concerns that that nation is emulating Nazi Germany in 1938.

She responded, "[T]he one thing that we do know is that when the international community does not come together early to address aggressive behavior, that it never turns out well. And that's why it is important to address Iranian behavior now, not later." (See related article.)

Rice is scheduled to proceed to Berlin for meetings with other Quartet participants to assess the Israeli-Palestinian situation.

For more information on U.S. policy, see The Middle East: A Vision for the Future.

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

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