News & Policies >
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 23, 2003
WH Press Corps Interviews Senior Administration Official
The West Wing
10:40 A.M. EDT
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay, what do you want to talk about? (Laughter.) No.
We issued a statement earlier today, that is to say, Secretary Powell and Dr. Rice. It pretty much speaks for itself. I don't have any introductory remarks. You all know this issue very well, and a number of you have been writing about in the last couple days. So I'd just basically take some questions.
Q How are you going to address their concerns fully and seriously, as it says in the statement?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, if you look at the road map, it is basically an adoption of a set of principles that basically reflect from the President's speech of June 24, 2002, that the outcome -- at the end of the day, a final status negotiation to resolve all of the outstanding issues; that on the way we want a state with provisional -- a Palestinian state with provisional borders; that the way to get at this is through a series of phases; and that we need to have concrete steps that the parties take -- Israelis, Palestinians, Arabs, and in some sense, us, as well.
And that envisions, where we are now is having the parties having accepted the basic principles, a framework, the notion of phases, and the notion of the concrete steps that are set out, we're in this wonderful position of now being able to get on with it and start implementing those steps.
Now, as you implement steps, questions are going to arise -- there's a host of details that will have to be worked out. And in the contents of working out those details, obviously, we will take into account the concerns and reservations of the parties -- the Israelis, certainly, as expressed in comments they provided to us, and the Palestinians, as they have concerns as we go forward with implementation. So it will be taken in normal course, as you would, through implementing the concrete steps that are in the road map. But this is good news.
Q Can you clarify, though? The statement doesn't say the Israelis have told us they accept the road map. I mean it's incredibly vague. So has that been conveyed to you that they will -- that you're going to publicly say they're on board, the Palestinians are on board, and now we have to work out the details? Because you're not really saying that there.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There is a Reuters report that says:
"Prime Minister Sharon said on Friday in Israel he was ready to accept an international road map for peace with the Palestinians, and the plan would be presented to the Cabinet for approval."
Q But in your view, has he accepted it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: "The Prime Minister says that the state of Israel is ready to accept the steps which are outlined in the road map, and it will be presented for the government for approval."
And when he presents it for approval, and when it is approved -- as we expect it will be -- he will have basically accepted what's in that road map and the steps laid out. And we will proceed to the implementation of those steps.
Q I have a couple of quick follow-ups.
Q Go ahead.
Q You want to go?
Q No, go ahead, Barry.
Q All right, a couple of quick follow-ups. I traveled with Powell. And Powell's take on this is, the concern is get start on the road map. Well, that's what you've accomplished. And we can take up the concerns with the other party. In other words, you two work it out.
Okay, he's not saying we're not going to be interested. He frames it in terms of, this is what negotiations are about. Work it out. The two of you get together and talk about your concerns. So when you say, their concerns will be taken into account, does that mean the U.S. will try to address the concerns? Or some combination of the U.S. and -- in a negotiating format?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This is going to have to all -- go forward over time. The President's made clear that he thinks there's an opportunity to make progress on the Middle East, that he's prepared to be engaged. The United States is prepared to be engaged. Obviously, there's going to have to be -- and we want to have direct negotiations between the parties, direct discussion from the parties -- but obviously, we're going to try and facilitate that process.
Q By addressing concerns?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There are all kinds of concerns and issues that will have to be addressed by the parties. And we will participate in that process as you implement the steps set out in the road map.
Q Would acceptance by the Cabinet be a reason to move on to a face-to-face meeting, such as the one that's been discussed on the President's upcoming trip?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, as I just said, we are going to try and seize the opportunity that we think is here. And the President said he wants the United States to be intensively engaged to try and bring this process forward. There are going to be a lot of meetings and discussions in a lot of forums and a lot of configurations because one of the things we've said is, it's not just the parties. The various states in the region -- Arab states in the region have a role to play. So there are going to be a lot of discussions in a variety of configurations as required in order to bring this process along. So, sure, there are going --
Q But that would be a significant discussion, now, if the President were to meet with Sharon and Abbas.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: At some point he may do that. But they're all going to be significant. This is an opportunity now to take the President's June 24th speech and the specific steps in the road map and really make some progress into moving towards the vision that the President set out. And what you're hearing from both parties -- and I think what you'll hear from states in the region is everybody is prepared to go forward on that basis and try and seize this opportunity. This is good news.
Q The administration had always said if you implemented the road map and you got the two parties talking to each other that, of course, they could work out these reservations that Israel had. The administration's position a week ago when Israel was saying, but, but, but, was the road map. Why was it so important -- obviously this was negotiated: you had issued a statement, Prime Minister Sharon would do what he is doing today. Can you explain a little bit about their politics, if you will, their reasons why they needed this clear statement saying the United States viewed their concerns as legitimate before they would go forward with what they're doing?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think one of the things that -- the road map was always intended to be simply a tool for helping the parties move forward on the basis of the vision of the June 24th speech. It was really to facilitate the implementation. And I think it got to the point where the issue of the acceptance of the road map and this question about whether the road map was going to be changed or not was getting in the way of moving forward to implement the President's June 24th statement.
And I think what this has done -- the statement that we will -- that now is not the time for negotiations to the road map, now is the time for implementation of the road map. And that in that implementation, we will take into account the concerns that have been raised by the Israelis, and maybe raised by Powell's teams -- was the device for getting everyone to be comfortable with the notion that the road map now is not an object of negotiation, which it was never intended to be. It is basically a road map of steps. And now is the time to get on with the steps.
And it allowed, really, the Palestinians to go forward on that basis. And this will allow the Israelis to go forward on this basis.
Q But might the Palestinians now see that the house is open for bidding, that the road map is now open for change?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It isn't open for change. That's the whole point. The road map now has been accepted as a basis for action to go forward to make the concrete steps.
I'll give you an example. One of the things in phase two of the road map is a Palestinian state with provisional borders. Now, obviously, the Palestinians are going to have concerns about that state. Is it going to be an economically and politically viable state? And the Israelis are going to have concerns about that state, whether it really will be democratic and be an ally in the war against terror or a source of terror.
Well, those are things that, as the road map says, those concerns will have to be addressed in the context in phase two, when we get there, of negotiating the basis under which that interim state would come forward. That's what the road map says that will happen. So my only point is, as you implement the steps in the road map, there are going to be a lot of issues that will need to be resolved. And in resolving those issues, surprise, surprise, the concerns of the parties are going to be taken into account.
Q But if I may, aren't some of the concerns so fundamental that they raise the survival of the road map, the sequential versus simultaneous?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, they aren't. They aren't. And that's the thing that's interesting about this. The parties basically have accepted the principles, the end state. We're going to try to have a final resolution. There will be a Palestinian state with provisional borders. We will have to get there in phases. They've accepted the steps that are set out in the phases. That's really, basically, agreed.
I think there aren't those kinds of fundamental objections. And what we have heard really is concerns that some of the things in the road map are really going to be paid attention to, that when we say that progress will be performance-based, that people will really be held to the things they've been asked to do in the road map, and expression -- as you would expect from the parties -- of how they see some of the later phases sorting out.
Well, those are all considerations that will be taken into account when we get to those phases. So I think the point is, the good news here is that the parties really have accepted the basic principles, the basic framework, and the steps and are prepared to get on moving to implement the steps.
Q How would you characterize Israel's main concerns -- that you have today stated that you'll address? Can you be a little bit more specific about how they relate to the settlements issue and the right of return?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We're really not going to get into that, get into details. I'm not going to start sort of going through the concerns. I can characterize them, I think, in this general way. Obviously, Israel is very concerned that the reform process that goes forward, that is underway in the Palestinian community continues. And they're obviously concerned that, as the road map calls for, the Palestinian -- responsible Palestinian officials are prepared to fight terror.
And if you look at the road map in phase one, those things, which is a public document, are all addressed. There's a program for continuing the process of democratic reform in the Palestinian areas, and there is a clear commitment to the things that Palestinian authorities need to do to fight terror.
So I think a lot of the concerns, in a way -- and on the Palestinian side, as I said before, the concern is, is Israel really, at the end of the day, willing to accept a Palestinian state that is politically and economically viable? And there is in the road map a process of how you can get to that end state.
So I think a lot of it is anxiety, that, in fact, what the President said will really occur, that everybody has responsibilities as set out in the President's June 24th speech and then operationalized in the road map, and that everybody is going to be held to account to undertake and carry out those responsibilities, and that progress is going to be performance-based. It's really only going to occur if people actually do what they signed on --
I think that's the underlying anxiety of whether it's really going to be that kind of process, which is the process that the President set out in his June 24th speech. And our answer is that it will.
Q All the examples you gave, and you gave both side's concerns, do not, indeed, strike at the fundamentals of the road map. Are you confident -- that as you work your way through this road map, you won't have basic problems? I can give you examples, and we all know what they are -- removal of settlements. You talk about removal of outposts, establishing a Palestinian state. Since it can't be established up in the air, it has to be established on the ground where Israeli settlements are. Or at least it won't be viable or it won't be accepted. So do these concerns -- you know what I'm trying to say? Don't these concerns ultimately strike at the heart of the --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't think so. Are there a lot of ways this could go off the rails? Of course. But we're not riding on an empty -- I can't believe everybody wrote that down. (Laughter.) Big mistake. (Laughter.) Sorry. Sorry.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: In the headlines --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sorry about that. (Laughter.)
The outlines of this are pretty well sketched out. You've got to go back, read the President's June 24th speech. There's a set of principles, a set of propositions, a set of -- a vision and a set of steps. The road map is an elaboration on that.
What you heard from both parties -- the Palestinians said it and Sharon said it -- he accepts the June 24th speech. The road map was an implementation plan for operationalizing that speech and setting out in more detail the concrete steps that need to be taken.
Effectively now, both parties have agreed to go forward on the basis of those steps. A lot here -- the framework for going forward, I think, and the way ahead, is agreed. And that's what we're going to pursue. Now there are a lot of issues that are going to have to be sorted out. But again, a number of them have already been set out, in terms of sequence. The road map talks about dismantlement of outposts, it talks about a settlement freeze. But it also makes clear that the ultimate disposition of settlements is a final status issue and the time when you talk about final borders.
So are there likely to be issues that need to be resolved in the implementation of that vision? Yes. But that's a pretty good framework about how to go forward and begin to get progress on these --
Q Can you explain --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And that frame has been -- framework has been accepted.
Q Can you explain performance-based? I think it might mean step X or -- 14th step has to be taken in good faith before we move on to 15th step. Or does it mean accountability? What does performance-based mean to the U.S.? I know the phrase is used all the time, but I'm not sure I know what it means.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's pretty clear. I mean, the President said it. The parties need to do what -- and take the steps that he set out in his June 24th --
Q And that they've accepted.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And that are in the road map and that are the basis on which they've agreed to go forward, that is to say --
Q It is conditional then? If A doesn't -- if one party doesn't do it, the other party can't be obliged to do this?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: If you look again at the speech and the road map, it's a series of steps and in each phase what the parties are expected to do. And I think the question is, you're really going to make progress to the end state. If and when, and we think they will, the parties perform the steps in the -- that have been set out in the speeches and the road map, because I think the other thing that people have to recognize is there seems to be a willingness to try and -- there is a desire to try and see if we can get on the road to peace.
That's something that we share, that's something that I think it's pretty clear from the statements they made that the Israelis and Palestinians share, and certainly the countries in the region do. I think they all agree this is a real opportunity. And I think what you're seeing is willingness of the parties to try and seize that.
Q Do the steps in the beginning need to be simultaneous? Or do the Palestinians need to stop the violence before Israel makes any concessions?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: If you look at the structure of the speech and the road map, it basically says -- I think it's better looked at, as the President said, everyone has obligations and everybody needs to move forward on their obligations. And there are subsets, there are phases. And it's clear in each phase what various the parties are expected to do. And they've got to make some progress on that, obviously, if we're going to be able to finish a phase and move to the next.
Q Well, Secretary Powell said this morning that Prime Minister Abbas had a plan to improve security, but that he needed help and that he'd acknowledged he needed help. What kind of help is he asking for?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think there are a couple things, I think, that can be done to help. One is there is a lot of work to do to rebuild and strengthen the security services if they're going to be able to deal with the very real terrorist problem that they face. That's something that we can help on and other countries in the region can help on.
I think the other thing that will be helpful is the kind of statement that the Prime Minister made today and hopefully an affirmative vote that would come out of the Israeli cabinet, which would make clear that the Israeli government does formally accept the vision set out in the President's speech and is willing to move forward on the basis of the steps that are set out in the road map to implement it. I think that will help Prime Minister Abbas --
Q Any physical U.S. presence, though -- physical U.S. presence as part of this help -- troops, observers, training?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, that all can be worked out in the course of it. There has been patterns of cooperation from time to time between the Israelis and Palestinians in the past. We have supported that effort in the past. The '96-'97 period is a good example. And this is the kind of thing that we would be prepared to work out with the parties going forward.
Q What happens next? If you can -- I mean, you know the rumors that are flying, a summit in Sharm el-Sheik, the President is going to Riyadh, they are going to bring the Saudis into the discussions. What can you tell us about the next couple of weeks in terms of what -- assuming that the Cabinet approves it, as you said, over the weekend, what's the next step for the U.S.? Is the President planning to sit down with these two --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We're kind of taking this step by step. If we get an affirmative vote in the cabinet, obviously, we're going to need think forward about how to go forward. Obviously, we're in a period of what will probably be fairly active diplomacy and probably fairly active interchanges between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
Q Who from the U.S. side, though? Is the President considering an envoy, or will Powell be the main point person here?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: All those things are going to be sorted out as we go forward. It's one of those things that the kind of process we're in, you can't have a script. You can't have a, sort of, four-week plan of meetings and exchanges and the like. You're going to have to work it out as you go.
But I think the point is, we're in a, quote, "period of active engagement". Obviously Secretary Powell is going to be involved. Powell's the President's Secretary of State. It's something that the President has made clear that he is -- he is committed to, and he supports. And obviously, Condi's going to continue to play the role that she's played, working very closely with Secretary Powell in moving the President's agenda here. So, I think you'll see an active U.S. presence. In terms of specific meetings, decisions really haven't been made at this point.
Q You keep mentioning regional leaders, too, that they are going to play a key role in all of this. Who are you talking about? And what are you expecting them to do?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, if you go back to the President's speech, if you go back to the road map, it talks about the need for Arab states in the region to do a number of things if this process is going to be successful. They need to support the Palestinians as they reform, and build the institution for a Palestinian state. They have an obligation, as again, set out in the President's speech and in the road map, to support the fight against terror, not to support terrorists, not to finance them. That's talked about in both the speech and in the road map.
And in the end of the day, as also set out in both of those documents to make clear that Israel has a right to live in peace with its neighbors in the Middle East.
So, again, those documents all set out, clearly, what are both the obligations of the regional states. This is also an opportunity for them because they obviously would love to find a way to resolve this longstanding problem between Palestinians and Israelis. I think they all view it that it is in their interest. And this is both -- this is an opportunity for them to be involved in that process and to assist with it.
Q Can I follow up on something Campbell just asked? Last week, American officials and Secretary Powell were saying there was an expectation of career actions, of steps by Israel that would occur before his arrival here on Tuesday. And now that that has been put off, what can you tell us about these -- the timing in the next week or two about these concrete steps by Israel that were expected by now?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: These were steps he thought that would be done between his trip and prior to Prime Minister Sharon coming here, is that where you're going?
Q Well, there was discussion about easing the condition of Palestinians living in the West Bank, referring to check points, things like that. Others -- there was lots of talk from Secretary Powell when he was in the region that Israel would soon -- had announced some steps, and would announce some in the next several days. And they seem to have disappeared. Can we expect that there will be such steps now that this new milestone has been reached?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would, certainly -- if you, again, if you look at the President's speech and then you go to phase one of the road map, there are a list of steps that the Israelis were asked to take as part of that that deal directly with those kinds of issues. And those would be the kinds of steps that, again, as the parties move into the implementation, that we would expect them to take.
Q I'm sorry to keep pressing you, but is there not an expectation, for instance, that some of these would be taken, lets say, before the end -- before President Bush returns on his trip?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't think -- there is an opportunity. But I don't think -- look, where we are at this point today is where we are in terms of the U.S. statement, the Israeli statement, and in the prospect of a vote in the Knesset. That, we think, is going to open the door to a variety of steps.
There are going to be steps that, hopefully, the Palestinians can begin to take to crack down on terror. That, of course, opens the door to a series of steps that the Israelis may be able to take to ease closures and the like. That's exactly the kind of process we are hoping that we could move toward. And again, it's the kind of process, quite frankly, that is called for in the President's speech, and then is given more detail in terms of phase one of the road map.
Q Can I just ask a question about this statement from the Palestinian point of view, and from the point of view of the Arab world? It will look to many people like a lopsided statement, a statement that shows much more concern, or shares Israeli concerns, but not Palestinian ones. Can you explain the calculation behind putting out a statement which explicitly shows the concerns of the Israelis, but shows no regard, or shows no faith?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, if you had been listening to what I have been saying -- which you have -- I have been very careful to say, there are concerns on the Israeli side that have been expressed, that we will take into account as we move forward in terms of implementation. And I've also said, similarly, as we move into implementation, there may be concerns on the Palestinian side. And we would similarly give them full and serious consideration.
The reason the statement is structured the way it is, is because the Israelis have actually given us a formal set of concerns. Remember, when the President released the road map, he invited both parties -- he said that he would expect and welcome contributions from Israel and the Palestinians to this document that would advance true peace. So he solicited contributions from both sides.
He received, in response, a formal submission, if you will, from the Israeli side, and he felt he needed to respond to that with the statement we issued today. So that's why the statement talks about concerns that have been expressed by Israel, because that's what we sort of formally received.
The Palestinian position has been that they have accepted the road map and want it to go forward towards its implementation and to begin the process of implementation. And what's happened in the process today is it's now clarified the situation so that both sides basically are now prepared to move forward on the basis of implementing steps in the road map. That's -- so the statement is phrased the way it is because of that history.
But again, as we move forward in the implementation, there will have to be a lot of issues that will be addressed, and the parties will be involved in that. And we will be sorting out the details that need to be worked, in order to go forward.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You have time for one more question.
Q Yasser Arafat. Does the administration think that the regional partners and Europeans should help essentially delegitimize him?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, what we're focusing on, really, is what the Palestinians are doing, which is to do what the President has called for. They have now got an empowered Prime Minister, Prime Minister Abbas, and he has a Cabinet. And we are starting to work with him to try and move forward on this process, and to implement. And that process is underway.
Q But the French Foreign Minister said today he's going to go to the West Bank and see Yasser Arafat next week. Is that helpful?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, we think that the focus really now needs to be on the person who the Palestinians have put forward to be their Prime Minister, and the Cabinet that they have established. And that's, obviously, where we think that that's the institutions that we will be working with to try and advance this process.
Q Thank you.
Q One quick one on Iran. There are reports that al Qaeda --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Not today.
Q No, not today?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Not today.
Q There never seems to be a right day.
Q -- rebuilding Palestinian security services. You had discussed --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I didn't say any of that. I didn't say any of that. I said, obviously, they have to rebuild those security institutions and make sure that they are able to conduct the fight against terror. And I said that there may be a role for the United States to support that effort, and for other states in the regions to support that effort.
Q Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay? Thank you.
END 11:08 A.M. EDT