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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
January 3, 2008

Briefing by National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley on the President's Upcoming Trip to the Middle East
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

2:03 P.M. EST

MR. HADLEY: Good afternoon. On Tuesday, January 8th, President Bush will travel to Israel, the West Bank, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.

The trip follows the Annapolis meeting, and offers an opportunity for the President to discuss with Israelis and Palestinians their efforts toward a negotiated peace and achievement of the President's vision of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. He will also encourage broader Israeli-Arab reconciliation, and regional support for Palestinian institution-building efforts, as they build the institutions for a Palestinian state.

The trip will be an opportunity to reaffirm the enduring commitment of the United States to the security of our friends and allies in the Middle East, especially the Gulf nations. The trip will highlight our work in the region to combat terrorism and extremism, promote freedom, and seek peace and prosperity. The President will stress the importance of supporting the young democracies and the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and the Palestinians. He will have an opportunity to discuss with friends and allies the challenges to the region, including the challenges presented by Iran, ways to strengthen regional security and advance our economic ties to the region.

On Wednesday afternoon the President arrives in Tel Aviv -- that would be on Wednesday, January 9. On Wednesday and Thursday, January 9 and 10, while in Israel and the West Bank, the President will have meetings with Israeli President Peres and Prime Minister Olmert, and separately with Palestinian President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad.

On Friday, January 11, the President will meet with Quartet representative Tony Blair to get an update on efforts to help build the institutions of a Palestinian state and enhance the Palestinian capacity to self-govern.

The President will also lay a wreath at the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem before traveling to Kuwait, where he will meet with Amir Sabah.

On Saturday January 12, President Bush will visit with U.S. troops at Camp Arifjan. And he will meet also with Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus to get an update on the current situation in Iraq. Also, the President will have a roundtable on democracy and development with Kuwaiti women.

The President will then travel to Bahrain, where he will meet with King Hamad.

On Sunday, January 13, President Bush will visit the U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet before traveling to the United Arab Emirates, where he will meet with President Khalifa. Following this meeting, President Bush will deliver a speech in Abu Dhabi. In that speech, he will talk about the progress we have seen in the Gulf, the progress of the freedom agenda in the region, emerging economic progress, and how regional security is important for both continued economic growth and for the spread of freedom.

On Monday, January 14th, President Bush will travel to Dubai, where he will be greeted by the ruler of Dubai. President Bush will then travel to Saudi Arabia, where he will meet with King Abdullah.

On Tuesday, January 15th, President Bush will be in Riyadh for meetings. On Wednesday, January 16th, President Bush will travel to Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, where he will meet with President Mubarak. And the President will depart Sharm el-Sheikh on Wednesday January 16 in the afternoon en route to Andrews Air Force Base.

And I'd be glad to answer any questions you may have at this time.

Q Are you exploring the possibility of a three-way meeting between the President, Prime Minister Olmert, and Mr. Abbas -- President Abbas?

MR. HADLEY: There is not one on the schedule at this point. At this point, the two of them, the two leaders -- President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert -- have really only had one meeting together to begin this process of negotiation. So at this point we're looking at a series of bilateral meetings with the two sides at this point. There will be opportunities down the road if the parties think it's helpful to meet trilaterally, but at this point we're looking at a series of bilateral meetings.

Q So that's something we shouldn't expect, because there's been some expectation in the region that there's going to be a three-way meeting. But you're saying no.

MR. HADLEY: There's not one on the schedule at this point, and at this point I think it's probably going to be a series of bilateral meetings.

Q There also seems to be a heightened level of expectation in the region that the President will do something that substantially advances the possibility for Israeli-Palestinian peace. What could possibly come out at this stage in the game?

MR. HADLEY: Well, I think just his going there is going to advance the prospects. If you think about it, we've really got sort of three tracks that were launched at Annapolis. One is the negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians for an outline of an agreement for a Palestinian state; the second is the implementation of the road map; and the third, of course, is building the institutions of a Palestinian state. These are sort of the three elements of what we need to build an enduring Israeli-Palestinian peace.

And I think as you heard from the agenda, he'll have an opportunity to encourage all three of them, and to show his support for them, as well as to meet with the Arab countries in the region and encourage them to make a strategic investment in the long-term peace and stability in the region; making an investment by supporting President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad, supporting them diplomatically, supporting them financially. He will encourage, obviously, greater support for the regime, the government of Iraq as they try and bring stability to that country. He will also encourage support for the Siniora government in Lebanon, for example.

So I think if you look at the stops the President is making, it is an opportunity to advance the whole process forward.

Q Steve, one of the criticisms, obviously, the administration is going to face during the trip is people -- specifically Democrats on Capitol Hill -- saying that those efforts you're talking about will be made harder by the fact that you didn't focus enough on Mideast peace in the first seven years of the administration, and that you're waiting for the first presidential trip to the Mideast -- specifically Israel -- until the eighth year of his presidency. What's your response? How do you push back against that criticism?

MR. HADLEY: I would say that the President has been pursuing Middle East peace in the right way ever since he's been in office. And if you look at the building blocks of that peace, one of the things he did was he made it very clear that there would be no compromise with terror; and the use of violence against innocents is not justified by any cause; and that any state -- including Israel -- had the right to defend itself against terror. That built an enormous confidence in the Israeli government in the President.

Secondly, he refused to deal with Arafat, who he viewed as a failed leader, who supported -- was compromised by terror and corruption, and had failed to lead his people. Third, he called for -- and as you know, was the first President to call for the creation of a Palestinian state. Fourth, he called not only for talking about the boundaries of that state, but the institutions that would need to be built to have a democratic Palestinian state able to be at peace with Israel and provide greater -- better welfare for their people.

He supported Ariel Sharon, when nobody else did, with the Gaza disengagement, which had Israel for the first time shutting down settlements and relocating settlers out of settlements. It was really the end of the vision of greater Israel.

And what we now see is the emergence within the Palestinian community, in the form of President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad, with leaders who are committed to peace and are willing to negotiate with Israel and understand the importance of fighting terror, and that terror will never be an avenue to get a Palestinian state. That is a huge breakthrough. And you have, in terms of Prime Minister Olmert, and a consensus within Israel, that greater Israel is not the future; that if you want to safeguard Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people there needs to be a Palestine that is a homeland to the Palestinian people.

And finally, you have now Arab states, as you saw in Annapolis, willing to come forward and support that process, support both Palestinians and Israelis in that process, and offer the prospect that Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation will be in the context of a broader Israel-Arab reconciliation.

So I would say to you the President has been working fairly consistently over seven years to put in place the building blocks of what now offers an opportunity for peace. And he has seized that opportunity -- that's what Annapolis was all about. And this trip is an opportunity for him to show his own personal commitment by going to the region and hearing from the parties directly, and encourage them to seize the opportunity that is before them.


Q Steve, it has been six weeks or so since Annapolis. In that time you've mentioned the one meeting that the two principals have had in the region -- it was a likely brief, tense meeting -- you've had the shelling from Gaza, you've had the Israeli counter-attacks, you've had disputes over settlements. Was Annapolis the high point?

MR. HADLEY: No, I don't think so. We certainly don't think that will prove to be the case. I think it's another good reason for the President to go to the regions.

Look, there are a lot of distractions -- and some of them not by accident. What -- as the President has talked about -- what you see in the Middle East right now is a struggle between extremists and those who have a more hopeful vision for the future of the Middle East. And the extremists have made clear that they view democracy and those people who try to build it as enemy number one. And you see it in the shelling that you see coming from Gaza into Israel, as an effort to undermine this process that got started in Annapolis.

I would say to you that the killing of Benazir Bhutto is another example of extremists recognizing the danger that those who advocate democracy represent to their future. You see it in the struggle in Iraq. You see it in the struggle in Lebanon. So this is a broader canvas. And the enemies of peace are going to try and disrupt this process, and I think you see that in terms of the activity of the terrorists. And it's going to be a challenge for Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas to not let those who would obstruct the process have a veto on that process, and to be able to carry it forward anyway.

There are also some additional tracks. One of the things we've agreed to do is to monitor the progress of implementation of the road map. And implementation of the road map needs to go in parallel with negotiations. So the issue of settlements, that is a road map issue, and it is something that needs to be addressed in that context.

Increasing the capability of Palestinian security forces is something that is part of the building of Palestinian institutions and the carrying out their commitment in the road map to provide greater security. So what I would say to you is -- and I think one of the President's messages are going to be -- these issues that are important -- like settlements, like the violence -- need to be addressed, can be addressed in those discussions about the road map. But at the same time, President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert need to begin to sit down and deal with the hard issues that need to be negotiated for the establishment of a Palestinian peace. That's one of the reasons the President is going on this trip.

Q I'm wondering what you're expecting to accomplish on the subject of Iran, and whether part of it is going to be explaining to allies in the region what the NIE on Iran truly means, and perhaps trying to dispel any conspiracy theories that have popped up in the region?

MR. HADLEY: Yes, I think there's a lot of misunderstanding about how we do intelligence here. And the President -- and there's a lot of concern in the region about Iran, not all of it expressed publicly. And I think the President is going to want to go and talk privately and quietly to indicate that we understand the challenge that Iran represents to the region; that they can count -- our friends and allies in the region can count on our commitment to the region and our continued presence in the region. And he will also -- this will be one of the subjects he will address about how we all need to work together for the common challenge that extremism represents to the stability and peace in the region. So he'll have an opportunity to talk about that.

Q When you talk about investments in the process overall, are you expecting to actually get commitments from various leaders around the region, and are you going to be able to talk about those publicly?

MR. HADLEY: Well, you know, we've had some commitments. One of the things -- Annapolis, as you know, was followed by the Paris conference, where a number of countries came forward and made commitments to the Palestinians. Obviously, that is a process that needs to go ongoing. So we will continue to ask people to look at those issues, in terms of supporting the Palestinians. I'm sure the President will talk about debt relief for Iraq. We'll continue to talk about the need to give prescription drug support to the Lebanese government, and to support it in its effort to -- the Lebanese people to come up with a consensus President.

So I think he will be encouraging countries to make these steps. You know, a lot of these commitments -- sometimes it's better to accept the commitment in private, and let the public manifestation reveal itself later. We're not looking for headline announcements. What the President is looking for is better understanding of the challenge we face, and a commitment to dealing with that challenge.

Q You mentioned that the President is going to be giving a speech in which he touches on the freedom agenda. I wonder if you can just give an assessment from the White House's perspective of what kind of progress you've seen in the Gulf states -- Saudi Arabia to Egypt, countries you're going to be visiting -- in democratization, political liberalization, since the President's second inaugural address. What's your general assessment of that progress?

MR. HADLEY: We've seen some progress, and I'm going to give you some examples, and then I'm going to speak to it, to what you talked about.

I think we saw a lot of that progress in 2005 and early 2006. We did see in Egypt, for example, the first ever multiparty presidential election. We have seen elections and participations in parliaments in the region. I would note, for example, that in Bahrain, there has been progress in promoting women's rights. The first woman was elected to parliament in 2006. In the UAE, it has held its first ever indirect elections for members of the parliament.

They have -- in Saudi Arabia, there have been elections for municipal councils in 2005. King Abdullah has launched a national dialogue to address reform issues, including women's rights and relations with non-Muslims. He has talked a lot about the importance of promoting intercultural and interfaith understanding. He has, as you know, met with the Pope. Kuwait has granted the right for women to vote and to run for office, and women have competed in the elections that they held in 2006. As you know, in Egypt, as I mentioned, they had their first ever multiparty presidential election, parliamentary elections.

I think it is fair to say that this rate of progress has not continued in the way we would have hoped. There have been some sources of concern. I think the election of Hamas in the Palestinian elections gave a number of countries pause as to where this was heading. There has been, I think, concerns in that respect. And I think what we can say is, at this present time, most of the countries in the region understand and have started a movement towards greater democracy, giving their people more of a role in their future.

They have taken some steps -- we said from the beginning that this was going to go at the pace that reflected the history and culture of the countries, and would take a form that reflected the history and culture of the countries; it could not be imposed. That said, we would obviously like and have liked a little bit greater progress. And I think that's one of the things you'll hear the President calling for in the region.

Q Do you think that the President and the administration in general have pulled back on promoting that in the last year because of interest in Iran, interest in getting support on Iraq, interest in getting support on the Palestinian-Israeli peace process? I mean, you get that kind of criticism --

MR. HADLEY: You do.

Q -- frequently, both from the region, human rights activists, Congress.

MR. HADLEY: I don't agree with it, and I think we can get out for you, for example, a list of dissidents and human rights activists that the President had met with over the last two years. He meets consistently with these people. He has continued to call for democracy. And remember, his view, particularly in terms of the struggle between extremists and those who support justice and democracy and freedom in the Middle East, the essence of his strategy is, we need to take the fight to the terrorists, but we need to promote democracy and freedom as a counterport or as an alternative to the ideology of the terrorists.

It is integral to the President's strategy for how to bring stability and prosperity to the region and to make it a bulwark against terror, that there be progress in terms of freedom and democracy. It's the essence of his strategy. So, no, I don't think he's pulled back.

Yes, ma'am.

Q Can you describe for us a little bit about the time he will spend on the West Bank? Obviously there is no Palestinian state to visit -- how you chose where he's going to go, who he will see beyond President Abbas and the Prime Minister, what that West Bank time will be like?

MR. HADLEY: I'll try to -- I will tell you, partly because of the holidays, this -- we're still nailing down the specifics of this trip. He's going to Ramallah because that really is the Palestinian capital at this point in time. That is where their government meets. And he will go to the center of the Palestinian -- where the government meets in the Muqata. The President thinks that's an appropriate thing to do, an appropriate setting.

We are obviously going to go to Jerusalem and meet with the Israeli government. We are looking now at whether there are other stops that he may undertake, the President may undertake while he is in the region, and when those get nailed down, we'll release them to you. But the agenda and the itinerary is a little bit in flux.

Obviously the main focus is going to be with President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad.

Yes, ma'am. I'm sorry, you want to follow up?

Q In the last 24 hours, there has been Israeli raids on both Gaza and Nablus with civilian casualties.


Q Do you think this kind of conduct will be helpful to the atmosphere just before the President's visit there? And also, there's been reports in the Israeli press that they wanted a future Palestinian state, one that is demilitarized, and Israel has the right to fly over the Palestinians' airspace. Is this an American position that you will endorse?

MR. HADLEY: As I said in my earlier comments, those people who promote extremism and use the instruments of terror are going to try and obstruct this process, because this process, if it works, leads to a peaceful, democratic Palestine living side by side in peace with Israel. There are people in the region that do not want that. And I think they are casting their vote, in terms of these rocket attacks in Israel, and it poses a real dilemma for Israel because it feels, rightly, that it needs to defend its people.

And we believe that it is going to be very important for President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert to find a way to continue on the path of trying to negotiate the contours of a Palestinian state, notwithstanding distractions on the one hand and those who are going to try and disrupt that process on the other.

In terms of the second issue you raised, those are the kinds of issues that Israelis and Palestinians are going to need to sit down and work out for themselves.

Yes, sir.

Q Since you brought the brutal murder of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, you think this issue, the violence in Pakistan and situation in Pakistan, the future of democracy in Pakistan and murder of Benazir Bhutto will be discussed with anybody during this week-long trip in the Middle East? And also, upcoming -- Talibans are coming back in Afghanistan. Do you think these two issues will be discussed during this trip, sir?

MR. HADLEY: I think it will, because I think increasingly people in the region are seeing it as the President does, as a struggle between the forces of terror and extremism and those forces of democracy and freedom. And you're seeing it fought out in various forms in the region and I think that will be a major topic of discussion, absolutely.

Yes, sir.

Q Steve, what did you make of the decision by the Egyptian government yesterday to allow some 2,200 individuals -- most of them pilgrims, but quite a number of them, perhaps as many as 200, described by the Israeli government as Hamas terrorists, some who had received training in Iran, allegedly -- to cross through the Rafah border crossing, in violation of previous agreements with both the Americans and the Israelis? What did you make of that decision?

MR. HADLEY: It's a real challenge in Gaza, because obviously there is a humanitarian situation that needs to be addressed. There are also people living in Gaza who wanted to participate in the Hajj and a way needs to be found for them to do so. And efforts were being made in that regard.

On the other hand, we also see that Gaza is a place where Hamas and others reside and are building up the capacity to frustrate the hopes in the region for an Israeli-Palestinian peace. And so everyone in the region has a right and should be concerned about the flow of weapons and other instruments of war into Gaza that could be used to frustrate the opportunity we now have for peace.

And that problem has not been solved and has not been fixed -- and it is a subject that not is only just an Israeli problem, but I would say to you, all the countries in the region: Palestinians are concerned about that problem, the Egyptians need to be concerned about the problem, other countries do as well. Those countries who are interested in a peaceful solution in the Middle East need to work together to solve the problem about the movement of money and weapons into Gaza, which then puts them in the hands of Hamas, to be used to really obstruct the hopes for peace.

Q But that the Egyptians resolved this in the way they did, took the actions that they did, does that show to you that they are making the kind of strategic investment you want your Arab allies to be making now?

MR. HADLEY: As I said earlier, one of the themes that the President is going to have is that we all need to make a greater investment in those things that will bring the peace. And that certainly includes the Arab states, it certainly includes them with respect to dealing with the issue of Gaza, supporting the Palestinians, supporting the Siniora government in Lebanon, and supporting the government in Iraq.

Q So the Egyptians can do more, is what you're saying.

MR. HADLEY: I think at this critical stage we can all do more and need to do more. We all need to be making strategic level investments that offer the prospect of peace, and I think that will be a theme that you're going to hear from the President, and they will hear from the President, throughout the trip.

Yes, sir.

Q To go back to Bhutto for just a second, you said a minute ago that extremists were responsible for her death. Are you endorsing the Pakistani contention that al Qaeda was responsible? Because a lot of people in Pakistan think it may not be that simple.

MR. HADLEY: No, we don't know. But what we can say is it was a terror attack that killed Benazir Bhutto. And obviously there is an investigation that is going to be -- is underway to determine exactly who was responsible for that. But the nature of that attack and the blow it represents to freedom and democracy is unarguable.

Yes, ma'am.

Q You talked a lot about obstructing the peace process. Many of the countries that you're about to visit take the position that settlements obstruct the peace process. Will the President have a message to Israel about settlements in the West Bank?

MR. HADLEY: As you know, we have talked privately and publicly to Israel about settlements. It was one of the things that was talked about before, during and after the Annapolis meeting. It is an obligation in the road map to freeze further settlement activity. I think it's interesting that Prime Minister Olmert, in his comments this week, addressed this issue of settlements in terms of how -- that there would be no additional confiscations, no new settlements, and no confiscation of land, that sort of thing -- no expansion of settlements.

So it is an issue. It is one we've talked about and is an issue that will be part of the discussions over the implementation of the road map.

Yes, sir.

Q Yes, on Turkey.

MR. HADLEY: No, this gentleman here, and then -- I missed you, and then we'll --

Q Sir, in July the administration made clear that the defense agreements with Egypt, the Gulf countries and Saudi were key -- played a central role in Middle East strategy. The Saudi agreement has been peeled off from others of those agreements -- the UAE agreement, for example -- in a sign of the possible congressional difficulties it may get for congressional approval of that understanding. How important are those agreements, and in particular the Saudi agreement, as the President prepares to travel to the region?

MR. HADLEY: We think they're important as a signal of long-term U.S. commitment to the region and support for our friends and allies in the region. It's an important piece of our strategy in the region. And we think that in the current environment, we are in a process now of sitting down with the Congress, and we think ultimately Congress will agree with that assessment.

Yes, sir.

Q With the strong anti-American feelings in the Middle East, what does the President intend to do or to say to reach out to the public opinions? I understand, according to the schedule, that there will be only one speech in Abu Dhabi.

MR. HADLEY: He will have opportunities to meet not only with government officials, but we're working on finalizing an agenda that will have him opportunities to talk to business people, to students, and to others in the region.

But I think the main thing that the President can bring is a message of hope for the region, a commitment to finding a way towards supporting those who support freedom and democracy and justice in the region. We think that is what most of the people in the region want: a normal life in which they can take more responsibility for themselves -- that is going to be the President's message -- and also the things he's willing to do and the policies he's pursuing to do that: support of the government in Iraq, supporting of the Siniora government in Lebanon, willingness to support actively the Israeli-Palestinian process. I think those steps will speak for themselves.

Yes, sir.

Q Mr. Hadley, who initiated the upcoming meeting between President Bush and the Turkish President Gul, and do you know if the Cyprus issue and the Balkans issue will be the agenda?

MR. HADLEY: Obviously the two men will discuss what's on their mind. There's a long list of things they can discuss. We'll see whether those two issues will come up.

Q It's a working visit?

MR. HADLEY: Yes, it's very important business.

Q Working?

MR. HADLEY: It's a very important visit, yes.

Q Is it a working visit -- he's asking if it's a working visit.

MR. HADLEY: They will have a meeting, and they will have a meal together. That's an appropriate meeting for the President of a country. It's what we normally do.

Yes, sir.

Q You mentioned that the President has insisted on existence of proper institutions or sufficient institutions on the Palestinian side being present before peace with Israel was going to be possible. Is it the feeling, then, of the White House now that those institutions exist on the Palestinian side? Are they sufficient? If not, are there more measures needed and more institution building needed on the Palestinian side?

MR. HADLEY: I wouldn't characterize it the way you characterized it. As I said, there are really three tracks now going forward. One is the negotiation track, the implementation of the road map, concrete steps by Israelis and Palestinians to advance addressing issues that are critical for building confidence among Israelis and Palestinians, which we think will contribute to the success of the negotiation. And also, in parallel with those two tracks, building the institutions of a Palestinian state in parallel with discussing what those borders will be. We think all three need to proceed in a mutually reinforcing way, and that's the approach that we're taking.

Q If I can follow up there?

MR. HADLEY: Yes, sir.

Q The Saudi Foreign Minister said in advance of Annapolis, when he was here in town, that Hamas -- there would have to be a rapprochement between Hamas and Fatah before a final peace deal was necessary. So with regards to, say, political institutions on the Palestinian side, do you believe that Hamas and Fatah have to have a rapprochement before peace with Israel is possible?

MR. HADLEY: We believe that President Abbas has the authority to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinian people under his PLO mandate. We hope that those negotiations will be successful in terms of creating the structure for a Palestinian state, and, as the President has said many times, we hope then, at that point, the people of Gaza will have an opportunity to choose -- do they want to be part of a Palestinian state along the lines that will be negotiated between President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert or do they want to continue the situation in which they now exist, which is a desperate situation for the people, the Palestinians living in Gaza. And the President is confident, as we've seen historically every time people have a real opportunity to vote for freedom and the ability to take control of their own futures, they vote that way every time.

MR. HADLEY: Yes, sir.

Q Media reports out of Asia are suggesting that President Bush might talk about the new vision for the Arab Gulf, of security -- new vision of security for the Arab Gulf. Can you elaborate about this; if it's true or not?

MR. HADLEY: Well, we have the (inaudible) of what we think is a pattern of relations, alliances and cooperation that contributes to security and stability in the Gulf, and one of the things the President is going to do is, by going there, show his commitment to a long-term presence, a long-term commitment to our friends and allies in the region, and to encourage greater cooperation with the region and within the region to provide for security and stability. And that's what he'll be doing.

Thank you very much.

END 2:36 P.M. EST