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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 24, 2007
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Dana Perino and a Senior Administration Official on the President's Bilateral Meetings
New York, New York
6:25 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Hello, good afternoon -- evening. I have a senior administration official to talk to you about two meetings the President had today, with the Palestinians and then with the Quartet representative. And then I'll see if I can answer any additional questions beyond that, if you have any, and then we'll wrap it up.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President met with Palestinian President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad for just under an hour, and then met alone with President Abbas in a one-on-one for about half an hour. Obviously I don't have a readout on the one-on-one.
In the larger meeting, the President reiterated his own commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian state, to the two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and expressed his hope that it would be possible to make progress toward the establishment of a Palestinian state.
President Abbas stressed the importance of U.S. support if progress is going to be made, and the President, of course, again reiterated, as he has done so many times publicly, his pledge to give that support.
President Abbas noted the importance of the meeting this fall here in the U.S., the international meeting, and talked about the work that he and Prime Minister Olmert are doing together in their bilateral track. He said -- President Abbas said that they've met five times, that the talks between them are serious, these are serious discussions of major issues, and that these would help -- these discussions would help prepare for the international meeting. He and the President agreed that a successful meeting would be of great value for Palestinians, for Israel and for the whole region.
The President said he was impressed with the effort that President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert are putting into this -- into their bilateral track, and complimented both of them on
the leadership they're showing. President Abbas noted that both Israel and the Palestinian Authority have appointed teams which will start to meet this week and are supposed to work on preparing something for the international meeting.
The President and President Abbas also discussed the security situation, and President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad briefed him on the work that they are doing on security reform, on efforts to reform -- recreate Palestinian security forces so as to bring law and order and fight terrorism.
The President then met with Tony Blair, who is now the Quartet representative, for about 45 minutes, and they talked about Mr. Blair's recent trips to the region. It was kind of a report by Mr. Blair on the people he'd seen and the impressions he'd formed from the meetings he's been able to have in the last month while he was out there.
Q Was there any talk of how the Abbas government intends to retake control of Gaza?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There was some discussion of Gaza -- of the situation in Gaza, from a law-and-order point of view; of the Palestinian public in Gaza and its views of its own situation: How does one judge that? How does one determine what the public reaction is in Gaza to the takeover, what the Palestinians have called a coup d'etat by Hamas? And there was some discussion of how -- since this is an extremely difficult problem, how they would solve it in the context of the broader effort at Palestinian statehood.
Q Is that going to put a roadblock in the way of that two-state solution, or are you just going to sort of ignore it for a while?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, the two-state solution doesn't come in a matter of weeks anyway. It's a process that requires, starting with the November meeting, further meetings, further negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. And it requires implementation on the ground, too. That's why the Palestinians are working on the renovation of their security forces.
I think that it's fair to describe the Palestinian view this way: that what will help President Abbas, Prime Minister Fayyad and the PA most is a vigorous peace process that shows the people of Gaza that there is a political horizon ahead, but not through Hamas, through President Abbas -- and that also shows them real change on the ground in the West Bank, which they're not able to enjoy because of the way they're being ruled by Hamas. So the more progress we make in this track, the more opportunities it opens in the future to deal with Gaza.
Q Is it safe to say the solution requires a resolution of the split now between the West Bank and Gaza?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, yes, because we -- in our view, the Palestinian state consists of two parts, the West Bank and Gaza, which nobody is talking about a permanent division of those two parts. In fact, it's very important for the Palestinians -- and they made this point yesterday in some of the broader meetings that were held, the Quartet meeting, for example -- very important that we all in the international community reiterate the Palestinian state does not consist of the West Bank, it will consist of the West Bank and Gaza.
Q Are the final status negotiations, like the borders, refugees, and the capital of Jerusalem, on the table for this meeting -- conference? Also, did you issue a formal invitation to Syria to attend this conference?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This meeting, it seems, is going to be built around an agreement that Abbas and Olmert are working on right now. They named their teams. They're trying now to put thoughts into words so that they would have something they could present in November. That's not a final status negotiation and there will not be a negotiation at the meeting in November. These are all steps leading toward an eventual final status negotiation.
We have not invited anybody to the meeting yet. No invitation has actually been issued. We've talked about kind of a variable geometry of groups. We've talked about and have made no decisions on, for example, just exactly how many participants do you want at this meeting? Is it better -- the smaller the better, or the larger the better? But no actual invitations have been issued to any country.
Q The President said that his two-state solution is achievable, but when you described it, it doesn't sound like it's achievable during his presidency. Do you think that's -- is it viable to come up with something -- is it achievable within his presidency?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think he would say that it is. I think he would say it's very hard. I don't think anybody underestimates the challenge here, made much worse by the Hamas coup in Gaza. But the argument for optimism is that you have now a Palestinian and an Israeli leadership that is really dedicated to achieving this, because each one has decided that it is in the interest of his people, his nation to achieve the two-state solution. And they are really working hard at it. And of course, in past years a great deal of work has been done on it, so they are not starting from scratch.
The hard part is going to be implementation. But -- and we're not setting any deadlines, but we're also not willing to acknowledge or admit that it takes a set number of months and there is not enough time. I don't think the President would say that at all.
Q Did Mr. Abbas ask the President for anything specific, any particular help, any particular commitments? For instance, there's talk about the Israelis and the Palestinians having somewhat different goals for this meeting in November, and did Mr. Abbas ask for any commitments from the President in that regard?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, I wasn't at the one-on-one, so I can't answer that question. I would say, in the larger meeting he asked the President to continue with the commitment that he and Secretary Rice have shown and to maintain the level of activity the United States is now maintaining, which he thought was very important to make this a success.
Q Secretary Rice's statement that she would hope that the meeting would include members of the Arab League follow-up committee is not meant to suggest that the Syrians are invited?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What she said was that it would be -- first, that it would be the most natural thing. After all, you have the Arab League plan, which is a peace plan for the Middle East; therefore, the most logical and natural thing to do is to invite the Arab League follow-up committee. There are, I think, 13 members, and the most natural thing is to invite all the members of the committee.
You know, I think diplomatically you would say that that is not quite a formal invitation yet, because a formal invitation is going to be just what it sounds like -- the Secretary of State will formally invite each of the member countries plus a number of other countries. Again, we haven't quite made -- we haven't made any final decisions yet on large or small, and how exactly do you want to do that? For example, do you want the Quartet? If you have the Quartet, how many other countries do you want? Do you want the -- how many people from the region, how many people not from the region? All of that is being studied and worked on right now.
MS. PERINO: Anything else for me?
Q Dana, can you tell us anything about when and where this meeting will happen?
MS. PERINO: It's in November -- right? Early November. But -- and in the States, but I don't know exactly where.
Q -- said Washington yesterday.
MS. PERINO: It's probably going to be Washington. I just don't have a -- since the invitations haven't gone out, let me wait on confirmation of where.
Q What is the President going to say about Iran tomorrow?
MS. PERINO: The speech is not about Iran, as much as many people are trying to make it out to be. It's about liberation. And I gave comments this morning -- well, we had a full briefing on it last Friday; I gave comments this morning on it in the gaggle; and Steve Hadley did it again in the gaggle on the way here. The speech is about liberation and how liberation from poverty, disease, hunger, tyranny, and oppression and ignorance can lift people up out of poverty and despair; and that the U.N.'s core mission is in align with that, and that that's what we should all be working towards. There's a brief mention in the speech, latest draft I saw, about Iran, but it's certainly not a focus.
Q Why is that? Why does is it not a focus? The United States has been pressing, pressing, pressing the U.N. Security Council to --
MS. PERINO: There's plenty of play. I don't understand why -- well, I would reject the idea that it would need to be about Iran. We talk about Iran constantly. U.N. Secretary -- Under Secretary Nicholas Burns was here last week; Secretary Rice is here all week. We're talking about it with our partners to press on those U.N. Security Council resolutions.
And the President wanted this speech to focus on many other issues that are facing the world; issues that people in Sudan and Zimbabwe and Burma are -- and many -- countless other countries are dealing with, in which the United Nations could bring its force and its weight in order to help those people. And that's what the President will be talking about, how the United States, working in conjunction with the United Nations on that core mission, can help millions of people -- billions of people, possibly.
Q Dana, any fresh reaction to any of the things Ahmadinejad said today?
MS. PERINO: No. I'm going to leave the point-by-point refutation of anything that he said to commentators that you all can find. I think that I would just reiterate that obviously, we have -- we are fortunate to live in a free country and we obviously very -- feel very comfortable and confident in our democracy and our values to allow someone who rules as a dictator to come to this country and to be able to spout off on his ideas and to be questioned by an audience of people.
And I think that if any of us were in a position to offer such an invitation, we'd have to weigh that decision very carefully. I don't think the President would have extended it, but he doesn't think that our free speech rights should stop for people -- for other people who are going to be in this country.
Q Do you know if U.S. diplomats will be the GA chamber tomorrow when Ahmadinejad addresses the U.N.?
MS. PERINO: I don't know if he'll be there.
Q And Ahmadinejad was not invited to the President's reception tomorrow?
MS. PERINO: No.
Q That's correct?
MS. PERINO: Lost in the mail.
Q Help me understand -- you have been careful to say, the President, as well, that he would not have issued the invitation. At the same time he --
MS. PERINO: Well, we don't have diplomatic relations with them. I can't -- I think it would be pretty hard for the President of the United States then to extend an invitation for him to speak.
Q But you just said, if we were in a position to --
MS. PERINO: What I mean by that, Wendell, is that people have choices -- here in the United States, because we have the free speech rights that we have, then you're allowed to invite people, anybody, to come and speak here. And that's one of the great strengths of our country.
Q There's no inherent criticism of Columbia University for doing this?
MS. PERINO: We said from the beginning, since last week, that it's a -- it is a free country and they can pick and choose to invite whoever they like and those who wish to attend can decide to spend their time that way if they want to.
Okay, for tomorrow, I am going to play it a little bit by ear in terms of when we can get here to do some readouts of the meetings. There's some pools at the end of several of the bilats, and it's a full day tomorrow. But we'll get here at some point and hopefully bring a special guest who can dig a little bit deeper for you in terms of the details.
Okay? All right, have a great night.
END 6:40 P.M. EDT