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Rice Says U.S. Will Aid Palestinian People, Deal with Abbas

19 March 2007

U.S., EU agree new Palestinian government does not accept Quartet principles

Washington -- The United States will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people and deal with President Mahmoud Abbas, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says, despite the fact that the newly formed Palestinian national unity government led by Hamas has not renounced violence and remains unwilling to recognize Israel’s right to exist, as called for by members of the international community.

In remarks March 19 with European Union leaders, including EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, Rice said the requirements laid out by the United Nations, Russia, the European Union and the United States, collectively known as the Quartet, are “critical to getting to a two-state solution” and “have been at the foundation of where Palestinian leadership has been since [the 1993] Oslo [Agreement].”

Describing the Quartet principles as “the foundational principles for peace,” Rice said, “You cannot have a peace agreement or a peace process when one party does not recognize the right of the other party to exist or will not renounce violence.”

The secretary said the United States will continue to help the Palestinians, adding that U.S. humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people through the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations has increased over the past year.

She also said the Bush administration will continue to deal with Abbas, and said she plans to visit the Middle East the week of March 26 to meet with Abbas as well as with Israeli and Egyptian leaders.

Solana said the European Union “will never let the Palestinian people down,” but acknowledged the new government “does not comply fully with the principle that the Quartet had so many times said publicly that we would like to have in this government.”

He said he expected the new government, headed by Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, ultimately will incorporate the Quartet’s positions fully “and then we'll have a total normalization of the relations with the government,” which he said would help peace efforts move “at a much faster rhythm.”

Rice expressed concern over Haniyeh’s insistence on the “right to resistance” in his initial policy speech.

“I'm not going to try to interpret what the right of resistance means, but I'll tell you it doesn't sound very good to me when one talks about all forms of resistance,” she said.  “So I would put the question to the Palestinian government and to its prime minister -- do you mean the right of resistance by violence?  And let's get an answer.”

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Rice was “pointing out that it is incumbent on the Palestinians to further define exactly what they mean, rather than just use some sort of catch phrase that's rather antiseptic.”

He said Abbas and others have agreed to the Quartet principles renouncing violence and terrorism, and recognizing Israel’s right to exist.

“[T]hat was in fact the position of the Palestinian Authority for many, many years,” he said.  “It's really just with the advent of Hamas's [2004] election that you have a turnaway from those principles.  So what we are actually doing is calling upon the Palestinians to go back to where they have been for the past decade.”

He called for an “unambiguous statement” from Hamas and the national unity government that says they intend to “abide by and live by” the Quartet principles, and described Haniyeh’s comments as “disturbing.”

“I think everybody's assumption here is that it is a code word for use of violence and use of terror.  I haven't seen any indication that the Hamas or this national unity government has tried to define it otherwise,” he said.

Earlier, McCormack said that while the State Department’s designation of Hamas as a foreign terrorist organization remains unchanged, U.S. officials may meet with Palestinian government officials who are not Hamas members.

“Our position is that we are not going to suspend contact solely based on an individual's membership in the national unity government.  We are going to take a look at that on a case-by-case basis,” he said.

The United States has held contacts with Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Fayyad despite his participation in the previous Hamas-led government.

McCormack said other states will have their own policies on contact with the new government.  “What we would hope is that the contact policy is consistent with the foundational principles for peace laid out in the Quartet statement.”

A transcript of Rice’s joint press conference with the European officials is available on the State Department Web site.

(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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