The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 25, 2007

Press Briefing by Teleconference with National Security Advisor Steve Hadley on Annapolis Conference

2:22 P.M. EST

MR. JOHNDROE: Thank you all for joining us on a Sunday afternoon to discuss the upcoming Annapolis Conference. Steve's remarks will be on the record, but not for broadcast. Repeat, that's on-the-record comments, but not for audio or video use at all. And with that, I will turn it over to Steve.

MR. HADLEY: Good afternoon, everybody. I thought I might just make some comments in three parts: One, what you will see, what will happen over the next three days; second, what we hope will come out of the Annapolis Conference; third, briefly, how we got to where we are, and then if there's time, just a couple comments about why we think this -- there's an opportunity to succeed, but also why it is very important for us to succeed in this effort.

So let me begin by what you will see. President Bush will obviously welcome Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas to the White House tomorrow for some bilateral conversations with them. There will then, as you know, be a dinner that Secretary Rice will sponsor for the heads of the delegations tomorrow evening at the State Department. The President will go and make some remarks at that time to the dinner guests.

The, of course, main event is on Tuesday. The President will have a trilateral meeting with Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas. They will then go into the conference, and the three of them will speak. The conference will then adjourn into lunch and Secretary Rice will then pick up the program from there. They're finalizing the agenda on the issues that will be discussed. It will probably be a fairly open forum of conversation, expressions of opinion. This is not a negotiating forum; this is an opportunity, if you will, to showcase what is an opportunity to move into a negotiating phase between Palestinians and Israelis.

And there will be a variety of reports, one by the parties, themselves, about the activities they've been undertaking. There will be considerable discussion about the efforts that Salam Fayyad has been undertaking to build Palestinian institutions, Tony Blair's contribution to that, looking forward to the Paris Donors Conference in December. So it will be an opportunity for the parties to indicate their intentions in terms of the work they've done together and what their intentions are going forward in terms of negotiations, and for the international community to show their support for that process and for the construction of institution for a Palestinian state.

So part two, what specifically is liable to come out of this meeting? Well, first is the indication by the Israeli and the Palestinian delegations that it is their intention to start negotiations for the establishment of a Palestinian state and for the reaching of an Israeli-Palestinian peace. These are negotiations that would follow the international meeting. They would, of course, be directly Palestinians and Israelis, bilateral negotiations together, though, of course, the fact that such a broad representation has come for this meeting in Annapolis is indication of the international support that those negotiations will have.

Secondly, I think you will hear from it a commitment by the two parties, Israelis and Palestinians, to carry out the road map so that you are going to have a situation where the negotiations would go forward, but at the same time, the parties would be implementing their obligations under the road map. We believe, and the parties believe, that progress implementing those obligations will enhance the atmosphere and the prospects for success in the negotiations.

There will be an indication that the parties have asked the United States to be, if you will, the rapporteur for those -- progress under the road map, to be a witness and, in some sense, to facilitate the efforts by the -- and to monitor the progress of the parties towards implementing the road map.

Three, you will also have a report on, as I said, the steps that Salam Fayyad has taken, the program he has developed to build Palestinian governmental, political and economic institutions. Tony Blair will report on the actions he has taken to support Salam Fayyad's program and the international community will be called upon to support that effort at this conference, but also, more concretely, at the Donors Conference, which will occur in December in Paris.

So if you look at sort of outcomes, what we are going to do really is initiate three parallel steps, if you will. One is the launch by the parties' negotiations towards establishment of a Palestinian state and a broader peace; secondly, in parallel with that, implementation of the road map in concrete steps by the Israelis to open up space, to ease and permit a better life for Palestinians, and for Palestinians building institutions for governing the West Bank and providing security -- both the Palestinians, but also contributing security for Israel and the region as a whole. And then, of course, the third piece of that is the building of Palestinian institutions with international support, which will give the Palestinians the capacity to make good on the undertaking that it's taking in the road map.

Third, why do we think there is a -- this is a good time and there is an opportunity for success in this? A couple reasons; first and foremost, you have different leadership in the Israeli and Palestinian communities. You have in President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad two individuals that understand that the way to a Palestinian state is not through terror, but through negotiations, that have come out strongly against terror and have set for an objective their ability to provide security to the Palestinian people, which will, of course, contribute to security for Israelis and the region as a whole.

Secondly, you have in Prime Minister Olmert someone who has come to see that a Palestinian state is a way towards ensuring greater security for Israel, and ultimately, recognition internationally for Israel as a Jewish state side by side with Palestine as a homeland for the Palestinian people -- homeland, if you will, side by side working together to provide security.

So one of the main things is the attitude and strategic calculations of the two parties. They're the ones who have come forward and said they want to try and negotiate a Palestinian state and security -- and a peace between them. Another thing we think that is significant is the level of international support for this undertaking, as indicated by the number of parties that have come and the fact that the Arab neighbors have all come to this conference in a representative foreign minister level. I think it's an indication that they appreciate the importance of this effort at this time, the importance that it succeeds, and their willingness to come forward and support that process -- both to support the difficult decisions that President Abbas will have to make in the negotiations for establishing a Palestinian state, and also offering the prospect to the Israeli people that a Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation or peace will be part of a broader reconciliation and peace between the Arab nations and Israel. So, in that sense, what is following on from the Annapolis meeting could be a step towards a comprehensive peace on a variety of separate tracks that could ultimately lead to a, if you will, between Israel and Arabs.

So that's what we think will happen, what you will see. This is what -- I've outlined what we think we'll accomplish and the process we'll launch, and some sense of why we think that it has a real prospect for success and why we're launching it at this time.

And I think with that I will stop and respond to any questions that people have.

Q Mr. Hadley, thanks for doing this call. Two things. One, we've gotten a series of statements from Palestinian officials and some also from Israeli officials today playing down the importance of reaching a joint document for the meeting in Annapolis. One Palestinian official, Nabil Shaath, said that he didn't think it would be possible to reach such an agreement. Can you give us any sort of a state of play of where you think things are on coming up with a joint document?

Secondly, you said that all of Israel's Arab neighbors were coming in foreign minister level. But to my knowledge --

MR. HADLEY: Mostly at foreign minister level.

Q Mostly -- okay, I didn't hear the adjective. Do you regard the Syrian decision to send their deputy foreign minister as any sort of a snub? Does that trouble you at all or make you question their interest in the process?

MR. HADLEY: On the first question, the parties are still working on a joint statement. Whether they will achieve one or not we'll have to see. I think, in some sense, the role of the joint statement has changed because the parties have decided at Annapolis to go further, quite frankly, than we thought initially they were willing to do. Before they were willing to commit to initiating negotiations, we thought of the joint statement as a vehicle for moving them in the direction of a subsequent statement to go into negotiations.

Once they decided, no, they were actually willing to go further and launch negotiations as a part of, and as a result of the Annapolis Conference, then, of course, both

-- the joint statement becomes both less important and harder, because it offers the prospect of parties potentially compromising their positions before they get actually at the negotiating table. So, as I say, once they decided they wanted to actually launch negotiations at Annapolis, move up the timetable a little bit, then that document becomes more difficult, but also less important.

If we get something, if they can agree on some things as an input to the negotiations, that would be fine. But I think it is really no longer on the critical path to a successful conference.

In terms of Syrian participation, look, they were invited to come, as were the other Arab states and the members of the implementation group for the Arab peace initiative. They've decided that they are prepared to come. We'll obviously see what they have to say when they get here. But the decision about the level on which they come is up to them. But really, quite frankly, Syrian participation is not the focus of these discussions; the focus of these discussions are the Israelis and the Palestinians launching a negotiating process, supporting them in their efforts to implement the road map, which we still think is the critical path for achieving peace, and, in parallel, building Palestinian institutions and making sure there's international support for that. That's what really this meeting is all about and that's what we hope will come out of it.

Q So you don't feel snubbed at all?

MR. HADLEY: No, we do not.

Q Thank you, Mr. Hadley, for your time. From what I understood of what you just mentioned just now, it seems that we're going back to phase one of the road map. Some would say that without the commitment of the final status issue and a timetable, Annapolis would be very difficult to call a success. And on the Syrian issue, will the Golan Heights be on the table?

MR. HADLEY: I think we've all -- the parties have agreed that they need to accomplish the agenda set out in the road map. And what we've really done is -- in some sense, the road map focuses on the institutions that need to be built in the Palestinian community and the things Palestinians and Israelis need to do before you could have a negotiation for a Palestinian state.

In some sense -- so there was a work program in phase one and phase two, and the final negotiations would be in phase three. In some sense, we've brought those forward and are going to do it in parallel. There will be a negotiation for the issues that need to be resolved to establish a Palestinian state and a broader Israeli-Palestinian peace. And in parallel, the parties will be working through the obligations they undertook in the road map.

We think that that will actually -- each will facilitate progress in the other. In some sense, I think President -- prior to this administration there was a lot of focus on what would be the borders of a Palestinian state. This President said, in addition to that issue there is a question about what are the institutions and what is the character of a Palestinian state? What we are now at the point is where we can try and move forward on both of those things, defining the issues of the borders and nature of the Palestinian state, and at the same time, building on the institutions and the -- cooperation that are going to be required between Israel and Palestinians if the establishment of that state is ultimately going to succeed. That's really what we're talking about here.

Q And on the Golan Heights, sir?

MR. HADLEY: The parties will come and will be able to address the issues that they want to address and make whatever comments they want to make. And we'll see if one of the parties mentions that issue or not.

Q Hi, thanks for your time. Just to clarify, you're saying that the Golan Heights was not added to the agenda. The Syrians were saying they would only participate if it was added to the agenda. And I was just curious -- you're saying it was not added to the agenda?

MR. HADLEY: There is -- and it will be an opportunity for parties to address how the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and the success of those negotiations could contribute to a comprehensive peace at some point in the future. So there will be an opportunity for people to talk about that. But the Golan Heights specifically is not on the agenda. There is, of course, a recognition that to get to a comprehensive peace there will have to be negotiations in the future in separate tracks involving, of course, Israelis and Syrians, Israelis and Lebanese. And there will have to be a broader discussion between Israel and the Arab states about a broader Israeli-Arab reconciliation. So those will all be future and separate discussions that could contribute to a comprehensive peace.

The focus of this meeting is to launch the negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians toward the establishment of a Palestinian state and an Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Q Okay, I appreciate that. Just to follow up, will this meeting end with a timetable for more meetings, or will that be left up to Israelis and Palestinians? And my last question is how you can dissuade Hamas from acting as a spoiler when there doesn't seem much for them here.

MR. HADLEY: I think the parties will indicate at some point what their next steps are in moving forward with the negotiations. They have also said that they want to move forward promptly, that they would like -- this is something they would like to try and see if it can be achieved here during -- before the end of 2008. So we'll probably be hearing, either during or after -- at some point after the Annapolis meeting, the kind of schedule that the parties are going to set for themselves.

Obviously it would have been nice if Hamas had been willing to do the things that the international community has asked for it to do in terms of accepting Israel's right to exist, giving up violence, accepting the agreements that have been entered into between Israel and Palestinians and others. They've been unwilling to do that, so they have really take themselves out of this peace effort that is being launched here in Annapolis. And that's unfortunate, and it's unfortunate for the people of Gaza who, for the moment, are suffering under a pretty brutal rule while the people of the West Bank for the moment have the prospect of a better life under this new government, and also the prospect of a Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Ultimately, we would like, and the Palestinians have made clear that the Palestinian state they want to establish is -- will include West Bank and Gaza. We're talking about a two-state solution, not a three-state solution. But how that comes about is going to require and depend upon the Hamas leadership in Gaza and the choices that are made by the people of Gaza, themselves.

Q Hi, Steve. Two things. Can you talk a little bit about what the President's role is going to be at the conferences, and specifically what message he's going to be giving on Tuesday? And just looking beyond the conference, do you see -- what role do you see the U.S. and the President playing in these ongoing negotiations that you outlined? Is it something you're really going to leave for the Israelis and Palestinians, or are Secretary Rice and the President going to be actively involved in a kind of brokering kind of way?

MR. HADLEY: Well, we have said from the very beginning and the President made clear that it is the parties themselves that have to make the peace. And there will be direct negotiations between the parties. He's talked about bilateral negotiations. Obviously the international community -- the United States wants to encourage that process. I think any role will be up to -- formal role or informal role will really be up to the parties and what they think is most useful.

I think what you can expect from the President, of course, is to convene this issue -- this meeting. He is, after all, the host. He will make very clear that this effort has his support and is a top priority for his -- for the remaining time in his second term, and that it will have his support and attention, and that he is paying close attention to this process. I think you can expect that he will indicate what it is that Israelis, Palestinians, the Arab states, the international community and the United States need to do and can do in order to bring this to fruition. And I think you can expect that he will try to encourage the parties, and also offer a little -- a bit of a vision as to what we have an opportunity to achieve at this point in time, how it could contribute to a broader stability, peace and prosperity in the Middle East, and a little bit of the opportunity is here and why we think that the time is actually right for making this effort. I think that's what you can probably expect to hear from him.

Q Mr. Hadley, what I was wanting to know is what precisely that is inspiring Secretary Rice's confidence that this can be achieved before the President leaves office -- success on such a complex issue can be achieved in one year, when it hasn't in the last seven.

MR. HADLEY: Well, part of it is because what has happened in the last six and a half years that has sort of set up the opportunity we have here today -- and I don't want to go into it at length -- but the President has done a number of things that we think has helped contribute to this. One was being very clear that the use of violence is never justified in any cause, and being very clear that peace in the Middle East and elsewhere needs to start with a fighting of terror and addressing security needs. He was very clear and supportive of Israel's right to defend itself against terrorists.

On the other hand, he was very encouraging of efforts taken first by Prime Minister Sharon, and now Prime Minister Olmert, to move away from a notion that Israel's security depended on its continued control of the West Bank and expanding settlements in the West Bank, towards the notion that actually Israel's real security over the long-term was it could be advanced by the right kind of neighbor, a democratic Palestinian that would be providing a better life for its people, and also security for its people, and could be an ally in fighting terror.

In parallel, of course, for the Palestinians, the President was the first President to articulate the principle that there should be a two-state solution, a Palestinian state as a homeland for the Palestinian people. He made very clear he cared about the kind of state and wanted a state that would be democratic, that would have international support, would be able to provide a better life for the Palestinian people. And he encouraged the emergence, and we have seen the emergence in President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad of two leaders who understand that security is a Palestinian issue and is something that the Palestinians want, and that the way to a Palestinian state is not through terror, but through negotiations.

And this is -- and finally, something the President has done, and Secretary Rice has done, is to encourage the international community, but also the Arab neighbors to understand they have a stake now in the settlement of this controversy and this longstanding issue. And they have come forward to show their support for this process in a way we really have never seen before in past efforts to come up with an Israeli-Palestinian peace.

So if you put all those things together, it seems to be that the time is right. The other thing I think is true is that there has been a lot of efforts both between governments and also informally as to what a Palestinian state -- what a two-state solution would look like and what kind of compromises would be needed to be made to do Israel-Palestinian peace.

So there is a lot to draw on, and I think in some sense, the issues do not get any easier the longer you spend on them. And there is -- as I say, there is a lot of work that has been done that can be drawn on. So -- and finally I would say that the notion of trying to do it in the next year, by the end of 2008, is an idea that the parties have articulated. The President's view has always been that we are not going to impose a negotiation on the parties and we're not going to impose a timetable on the parties just to reflect American politics or anything else. It was the parties that would have to take a lead on the negotiations and they would be the ones who would have to set the timetable.

And it's interesting that this is, while not a formal timetable, it is nonetheless something where President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert have both talked about an aspiration to try and see if this could be accomplished before President Bush leaves office.

Q Hi, Mr. Hadley. The question was a bit related to what CNN was asking, but again, how can the President achieve the goal in the remaining time in office if the U.S. does not have more of a hands-on approach? I mean, where will you intervene? Where will you be tough? Will you be tough on Israeli settlements? Will you be tough on Palestinian security weaknesses? Specifically, where will you intervene?

MR. HADLEY: Well, again, you said this is something for the United States to produce, and as the President said, it is something for the parties to negotiate. It is the parties that have decided they want to enter into this process and have talked about their aspirations on the time line. So his notion -- one of the things we think that gives the -- offers the prospect of success is precisely the fact that the parties seem to want to undertake it. You had both President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert talking about their recognition that hard choices would have to be made, and a desire to try and take this on now.

So that's really what gives us confidence. And you know, the notion that somehow the key to success if simply for the United States to lean on one side or another and jam a settlement through is just not what history has suggested. I think history has suggested that those efforts to jam have not worked.

Now, what we can do, if the parties find it useful, obviously, is to be encouraging of these negotiations and respond to whatever request they would make -- the two of them would make in ways that we could facilitate it. And that's, of course, what we will do. But what that will exactly look like will depend really on the dynamics that get started once the parties negotiate.

MR. JOHNDROE: Okay, we'll take one more question.

Q Hi, thanks for the time. Two topics, please. On the President's speech, you mentioned that he'd offer a little bit of a vision. Should we expect the President to offer any of his ideas about how peace can be achieved, any specifics on such matters as borders or refugees, Jerusalem? Will he get to that level of detail? And if not, where would you direct us, what should we expect?

MR. HADLEY: I think that it is now time for the parties to get into this process by way of negotiation, and I don't think that the President will conclude that the time is right for him to start being -- offering ideas on outcomes on specific issues. There are a lot of ideas that have been put out at various points in the negotiations that have occurred over the past 10 years. I think this is a prospect -- this is not a negotiating session; it is to launch negotiations, and for the parties, then, to take the lead and establish a schedule and beginning to grapple with these issues. I think that's how we see it, and therefore, in light of that, I think the President will probably decide that it is not the time for him to put out specific ideas on how to resolve any of these particular issues.

Q Okay. And just to follow up on Mike's question from earlier about the President's personal involvement. I know you said it's up to the parties to determine how the President might best be useful going forward. But broadly speaking, can we anticipate the President to go to the regions themselves to follow up with that kind of personal diplomacy?

MR. HADLEY: Well, there's been obviously a lot of personal diplomacy in this process. You're going to see it; he's going to meet with the -- there have been a lot of communications he has had with the leaders of the countries that are coming here to participate in Annapolis, and the calls that he has made and the meetings that he has had with them. And of course, he will be hosting both Olmert and Abbas before, during and after this effort.

So his own personal diplomacy, I think, in encouraging this process this process and encouraging implementation of the road map, in encouraging the international community to support the establishment of the institutions, support Salam Fayyad -- there's an enormous role for diplomacy to encourage that process, as opposed to sitting down and trying to negotiate a border. I think that is something you won't see the President doing. But what he will do is to try and encourage the parties, encourage the diplomacy that make the ability of the parties to reach such an agreement more likely.

MR. JOHNDROE: All right, thank you all very much for participating in this call, and thank you, Steve. We will see you all this week.

MR. HADLEY: Thanks, everybody, for you time.

END 2:58 P.M. EST

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