TOPICS > Politics

Colin Powell Press Conference

BY Admin  April 17, 2002 at 12:00 PM EDT

COLIN POWELL: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Let me begin by extending my congratulations to the state of Israel on the 54th anniversary of its independence. The United States has stood by Israel since its creation, and will continue to do so with an unshakable commitment to Israel’s security and well-being. On April 4, President Bush offered a powerful statement of America’s determination to fight terrorism and the violence in the Middle East and move toward peace. The president’s vision as first outlined in his speech to the United Nations last November points towards two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.

The president also posed challenges to the parties themselves: For the Palestinians, to reject violence and terrorism as a means of settling this conflict; for the Israelis, to bring the current military operation to an end; for both sides to resume security cooperation and to find a way back to negotiations; for our Arab and international partners to work with us against terrorism and help the parties find a path toward a more hopeful future.

The president asked me to travel to a region in turmoil. Recent events have taken an enormous toll, human lives lost, families shattered, economic activity frozen and mounting humanitarian distress. Israelis and Palestinians alike deserve lives free from the fear of violence with hope for a stable future and a chance for economic prosperity.

An additional cause of tension is the ongoing threat posed by attacks by Hezbollah and others across the United Nations-recognized Blue Line, and it was for that reason I traveled to Beirut and Damascus to underscore the president’s strong message to all parties to exercise restraint. In my consultations over the past 10 days with our international partners, our Arab friends and Israelis, Palestinians, I have listened carefully, and I have probed hard.

I have found broad support for a comprehensive strategy as a way forward. The Madrid quartet meeting we had last week, published a strong declaration endorsing this comprehensive approach. In that declaration, the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and the Russian Federation were united in this endorsement. And there are three critical elements in this comprehensive strategy.

First, security and freedom from terror and violence for Israelis and Palestinians; next, serious and accelerated negotiations to revive hope and lead to a political settlement; and third, economic humanitarian assistance to address the increasingly desperate conditions faced by the Palestinian people. Let me address each of these elements. Confronting and ending terrorism are indispensable steps on the road to peace. In my meetings with Chairman Arafat, I made it clear that he and the Palestinian Authority can no longer equivocate.

They must decide, as the rest of the world has decided, that terrorism must end. Chairman Arafat must take that message to his people. He must follow through with instructions to his security forces. They must act to arrest and prosecute terrorists, disrupt terrorist financing, dismantle terrorist infrastructure and stop incitement.

In the coming days, we will be resuming our security contacts with the Palestinian Authority to assess their capabilities to develop specific performance measures for Palestinian security services and to restore effective security cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians. Prime Minister Sharon has stated his intention to complete Israel’s withdrawal from the areas it recently occupied. He has provided me with a timeline through this weekend, and as you all know, reservists are now returning home. I stressed to the prime minister the urgency of completing withdrawal and have been assured of real results in the next few days. I recognize the particular circumstances at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the presidential compound in Ramallah, as well as the importance of their urgent, nonviolent resolution. Our goal remains the full implementation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1402.

Only with the end of the incursion, and with the engagement in security talks, can a cease-fire be achieved in reality as well as rhetoric. And so I look forward to the completion of the withdrawal as soon as possible as the prime minister has said, so that we can move forward with the strategic framework that I have described. Improvement in the security situation must be linked to the second point, the determined pursuit of a political solution. There can be no peace without security, but there can also be no security without peace. Only a negotiated settlement can resolve the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. We must find a way to bring together a traditional element, such as United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 with new initiatives, such as my Louisville speech last November, and U.N. Resolution 1397. And one of the most promising of these new initiatives was launched by Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, and recently endorsed at the Arab League summit. A number of the leaders with whom I have spoken have expressed interest in convening a conference on the Middle East in the near future, a conference with international backing.

As they have suggested, its purpose would be to restore hope, reaffirm the urgency of a comprehensive settlement and resume direct negotiations in order to achieve that comprehensive settlement. I will be discussing this idea with President Bush and leaders in the international community upon my return to Washington.

Finally, the third element. The international community must address the dire humanitarian problems, as well as the long-term economic needs of the Palestinian people. During my visit to Jerusalem, I was pleased to announce that the United States would contribute an additional $30 million in support of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and their programs in providing health, education, relief and social services to Palestinian refugees. This is beyond the $80 million we already provide annually. The international humanitarian and aid agencies must have the freedom and access that they need to do their jobs. Also, the international donors will meet in Norway later this month to increase assistance to the Palestinian people at this time of exceptional need. So this is the comprehensive approach I believe we must pursue.

I am returning to Washington today to report to the president. Assistant Secretary of State Bill Burns will remain in the region to follow up on my visit. As circumstances warrant, the president is prepared to send Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet in the near future to work with the parties to resume security cooperation between the parties. Mr. Tenet has experience in this from last year and experience in these kinds of organizations and activities that I think will once again benefit both parties. General Zinni will also be returning to continue his work to implement the Tenet plan and move on into the Mitchell report. I plan to return to the region to move ahead on all aspects of our comprehensive approach.

As I depart, I also leave behind fundamental questions for the people and leaders of the region and for the international community as well, questions to ponder. For the people and leaders of Israel, the question is whether the time has come for the strong, vibrant state of Israel to look beyond the destructive impact of settlements and occupation, both of which must end consistent with the clear positions taken by President Bush in his April 4 speech. Israelis should look ahead to the promise held out by the region and the world of a comprehensive, lasting peace. For the people and leaders of the Palestinian Authority, the question is whether violence and terrorism can be renounced forever and whether your sights can be set squarely on peace through negotiations. Terrorists and purveyors of violence must not hold the Palestinian dream of independence hostage and prevent the emergence of a Palestinian state.

For the Arab peoples and their leaders, the question is whether the promise and vision of Crown Prince Abdullah’s initiative can be transformed into a living reality. It is important that ties between Israelis and Arabs, artificial barriers between states fall away and distorted and racist images disappear from the media and from public discourse.

For the people and leaders of the international community, the question is how we can help both sides solve the deep problems they face. The efforts being made by the Madrid quartet deserve to be emulated and expanded. And all of us must exert greater efforts against terror as we pursue peace.

In the spirit of President Bush’s April 4 statement, I call on all states to condemn terrorism unequivocally, to end all funding and support for terrorist groups and to combat incitement as called for U.N. resolution 1373. These are the challenges that we all face.

President Bush has directed his administration to do what is necessary to stop the violence, encourage efforts toward peace and restore the economic foundations of the region. Our fervent hope is that Israelis, Palestinians, our Arab friends and the international community will also rise to the challenge.

Thank you very much.

Barry?

REPORTER: Mr. Secretary, your reference to the destructive impact of settlements, is this another milestone by the Bush administration? Are you calling for an end of all Jewish settlements? And when you talk about occupied, are you calling for Israel to go back completely to the 1967 line? And if I can squeeze a little more, no mention here of the cease-fire or near cease-fire. Any word on that please? Thank you.

COLIN POWELL: With respect to settlements and occupation, I think that the president spoke to this his April 4 speech where the lines will be and that, of course, is quite contentious and controversial and that’s why we will need political discussions and negotiations. The Mitchell plan called for an end of settlement activity. And as has been recognized in previous negotiations between the two sides, the issue of settlements will have to be resolved in due course and discussions between the two sides as a Palestinian state is created.

With respect to the question of a cease-fire, we could have a cease-fire declared today. But what would it mean while one side is still pursuing an operation that they are bringing to a close but they have not yet brought to a close and the other side is not yet in a position to respond because the incursion has not yet ended? It is in the process of ending, I hope. And so cease-fire is not a relevant term at the moment.

But it will become relevant, I believe, very quickly when the incursion ends, when the withdrawals have been completed and then we are positioned with Ambassador Burns, with perhaps others coming to the region to assist Ambassador Burns. If the president believes circumstances warrant, George Tenet coming, General Zinni coming back, then we are in a position to start the kind of security discussions again that we require before one could have not just the statement of a cease-fire but the reality of a cease-fire.

REPORTER: Thank you very much.

Mr. Secretary, prior to your visit, Prime Minister Sharon described your meetings with Yasser Arafat as a tragic mistake. You had two meetings with the chairman, what do you think about that phrase that the Prime Minister said? And if I can squeeze another one, is the president disappointed — President Bush disappointed with Mr. Sharon — with Prime Minister Sharon with — that he did not finish the withdrawal in your mission and maybe in a way helped or didn’t help to get a success here?

COLIN POWELL: Prime Minister Sharon did characterize my visits with Chairman Arafat as a tragic mistake. And he — and he and I talked about it directly and he said that to me directly. We have that kind of a relationship where we speak clearly to one another as soldiers as well as, now, politicians and diplomats.

But I felt it was important for me to see Chairman Arafat because he is recognized by the Palestinian people as their leader and he holds the office of president of the Palestinian Authority. So whether one approves of that or disapproves it or likes it or doesn’t like it, it is a reality. It is a reality that I had to deal with. And the president sent me to the region to talk to all of the parties. I could not have come here without talking to Chairman Arafat.

And I think the two conversations that I had with him were direct, straightforward. They were very instructive and informative. We had a solid exchange of views. I gave him a very clear message about what our expectations were for him as the leader of the Palestinian people in the current position that he is in, even if he is constrained in his ability to move and communicate. He has a powerful voice and he can be heard so he should use his position of leadership and his powerful voice. And so I think it was appropriate for me to meet with the leaders of both sides and that’s what I have done.

COLIN POWELL: Oh, I’m sorry.

REPORTER: (OFF-MIKE) President Bush disappointed (OFF-MIKE)

COLIN POWELL: The president — the president wanted to see an immediate withdrawal and for reasons that we don’t need to go into detail here, that did not happen. When I arrived late last week, I was not aware, we were not yet aware as to how much longer the operation would continue. There were different estimates, there were different ideas around and we were hearing different opinions as to how much longer the operation would continue.

But as a result of my three conversations with the prime minister and two conversations with the minister of defense and a number of other leaders and President Bush’s conversation, I guess it was the night before last now, with Prime Minister Sharon and then Prime Minister Sharon’s own announcement as part of the interview he gave on CNN, that timeline became much clearer and he said within in a week. And in my private conversations with him last night, he was — he had a pretty precise timeline in mind. So even though it wasn’t as quickly as we would have liked, it is now, according to what the prime minister said to me and said publicly, it is under way.

There are questions about it because there are re-entries into villages and then out again, and it’s not always easy to track it. And there are questions with respect to the positioning of the IDF as they come out. But I take the prime minister at his word that he is going to conclude it in the next few days or week or so from when he said it to me and reservists are returning home. And so I think there is now movement, and I’m anxious to see that movement because it is the operation at the moment that keeps us from moving into the strategic framework I describe.

REPORTER: Mr. Secretary, Terry Schultz-Boxer, sir.

COLIN POWELL: Terri.

REPORTER: Mr. Secretary, you just explained a tangible outcome of your discussions with Sharon and he, of course, has said those things also on Israeli television. Sorry. Oh, I’m sorry about that. But as we have — obviously have a lot less access to the Palestinians and to Chairman Arafat, could you go into a little bit more detail about what he told you that makes you think that these commitments he’s made here today are, in fact, going to be carried through? And especially your comment, that you told him very clearly, that he needs to decide, as the rest of the world has decided against terrorism, is that — you’ve had criticism that you shouldn’t meet with him because he’s a terrorist. Is that something that you’ve laid out more starkly here, or do you have more hope that in fact he’s making a clear break?

COLIN POWELL: I have made clear to him in a straightforward, direct, not … conversation on the part of either one of us, that the world was looking for him to make a strategic choice. That he will now lead his people down a path to peace and reconciliation and let the international community help him.

One of the things that I tried to do on the way here was to rally that community in Madrid, to rally the Arab world as I stopped in Jordan and Morocco to see the king as well as Crown Prince Abdullah who was there, and I stopped in Egypt as well. And there are so many other nations that are standing, ready to help with humanitarian aid, reconstruction aid, ready to help with negotiations, consideration of conferences. There are so many ways to help, that this is the time for him to make a strategic choice and lead his people away from a path of this kind of violence, which moves them further and further away from their vision of a Palestinian state. Did I get it all, Terry — yes?

REPORTER: (inaudible) made that choice? Have you spoken … COLIN POWELL: I had straight conversations with him. It’s not so much whether I believe he has made that choice or not yet. What I have seen so far is that he made a statement last Saturday which condemned violence, condemned the terrible attack that took place here last Friday and condemned a number of other things. And he may well make another statement in the very near future. But statements, as we all know now, are not enough. And so it’s not what I believe or don’t believe, it’s what we see him do that will be the important measure of performance as we move forward.

REPORTER: Mr. Secretary, you find the time to visit the border between Lebanon and Israel and other places. Why don’t you visit the Church of the Nativity and the Jenin refugee camp and see the massacre there?

COLIN POWELL: I’m deeply concerned about the situation at the Church of the Nativity, and I’m watching, as we all are, scenes that are coming out of Jenin to see if I can get a better understanding of the extent of damage and loss of life. I wasn’t able, of course, in my visit to go there. But my assistants who are staying behind will be spending more time traveling to these various sites in order to give me information with respect to what happened.

REPORTER: Mr. Secretary — Andrea Mitchell, NBC News — Chairman Arafat told us that he was outraged that the international community is outraged by the continuing presence of Israeli soldiers. He talked about the Church of the Nativity, the re-entrance in to some areas in east Jerusalem, but also about the siege of his own headquarters.

Is there anything that you can or should do to try to intervene again with the Israelis to give Yasser Arafat more access to the outside world? And, what is your response, also, to Saeb Erakat’s comment that the Israeli military operation continuing dooms — torpedoes, to use his word — your mission?

COLIN POWELL: First, with respect to the Church of the Nativity, we are working to see if we can find a solution. Prime Minister Sharon said that he would not assault into that holy place, although we saw there was a firefight of some kind last night that caused some damage, and that’s troubling. But we are trying to find a solution. With respect to the situation at the chairman’s headquarters … that is far more difficult because of the detainees there and two points of view. The Palestinian view that they are properly detained in an appropriate facility under the terms of the bilateral agreement that they have with the Israelis, and an Israeli view that says they should be put in Israeli custody, subject to Israeli law. We’re trying to find ways to resolve this difficult choice between the two. And it has become the most difficult problem with respect to resolving this whole situation. I have talked to both sides, both the chairman and the prime minister, in considerable depth about both the church and the Maqata’a. And with respect to Chairman Arafat’s access, I have suggested to the prime minister that it would be useful for the chairman to have greater access, greater ability to communicate with the people that we want them to communicate with in order to move down the right path. And to exercise control over the security forces that are available to him.

And it is also — it seems to me — a better course of action to give him the opportunity to communicate with the rest of the world so he can hear a message from the rest of the world about why it is important to move in this new strategic direction and how the rest of the world is ready to help him with this new strategic framework that I described.

REPORTER: Mr. Secretary, why should the Palestinians be willing to compromise, when they face on the other side a prime minister who has said he would never withdraw from more than the 42 percent of the West Bank where Palestinians currently are supposed to exercise some authority? What political promise do you hold out for them that would make it …

COLIN POWELL: Both sides will have to compromise. Both sides will have to make difficult choices, and both sides may well have to shift from long-held positions. That’s the nature of the negotiation. But let’s get into that negotiation and see who is willing to compromise what and who is not. But we will never get to a negotiation and we will never be able to move forward until we bring the violence down. Because confidence between the two sides that existed in some measure previously no longer exists, and because there is so much human suffering that is now taking place. That’s what we have to bring to an end as quickly as possible, and then we can get into those kinds of negotiations that will deal with these difficult compromises.

REPORTER: Mr. Secretary, what makes you to believe that Mr. Arafat will fight terror after Israeli withdrawal from the Palestinian Authority after Arafat didn’t do it before Israel began this actions in the Palestinian Authority? And what about your meeting with President Mubarak, why it was canceled? And about the regional conference, are you making any preparations on the Middle East on this original, and when do you expect it to take place? Maybe in June or — thank you.

COLIN POWELL: We — as the president has said, and I have said on more than one occasion — we are disappointed with Chairman Arafat’s performance. We believed all along that he could have done more. And I made it as clear as I can to him that we are and have been disappointed in his performance and it’s time for him to make a strategic choice.

And if he does not make that strategic choice, it becomes very difficult to the United States — or anyone else, frankly — to play a role in achieving what the Palestinians want, and that is peace and a state of their own. And I believe that’s what the Israeli people want, peace and a state of their own, living side by side with a Palestinian state. I’m going to go to your fourth question, and then you can remind me what two and three were.

REPORTER: (inaudible)

COLIN POWELL: Yes — cancel a meeting today?

REPORTER: (inaudible)

COLIN POWELL: Yes, I was going to meet with President Mubarak, but I hear he is indisposed, so I’ve been meeting with the foreign minister. I spoke to President Mubarak the night before last, so don’t read anything into the cancellation.

REPORTER: And about the regional conference?

COLIN POWELL: The regional conference or an international conference, we’re looking at various models, but no decisions have been made with respect to timing. Although, obviously, I’ve gotten expressions of interest from the prime minister, from the chairman, and from a number of people within the international community and organizations within the international community. And really nothing else to say at this time, until I’ve had a chance to go back and discuss these matters with President Bush and receive his guidance as to how we move forward.

Thank you all very much — oh, sorry, Andrea.

REPORTER: Andrea Koppel, with CNN. Secretary Powell, understanding that you came out here not expecting to have a breakthrough, what can we, and what can those people perhaps watching at home, who don’t follow the diplomatic ins and outs of this crisis, what can you point to, to say that there was some measure of success, some tangible movement that you’re going to go home with? And, also, sir, Saeb Erakat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said after the meeting that there are mixed signals coming from the Bush administration. That you had Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz marching in the pro-Israel rally in Washington, D.C., at the same time you’re here trying to negotiate.

And, also, we haven’t heard from President Bush making the demands that he had made just a week ago for an immediate withdrawal. Thank you.

COLIN POWELL: The signal coming from the Bush administration is, I think, a clear one. President Bush has articulated it himself. He wants to see an end to the occupation, and he wants to see the settlement issue resolved. He wants to see a Palestinian state created that will respect its neighbor, the Jewish by the name of Israel, and he wants these two people to live in peace, and he is prepared to do what is necessary to help bring that about. It’s a clear statement. It’s a clear vision. And he has sent me here to try to move that vision along.

What I achieved on the way here was to rally the international community in a way we hadn’t seen before, and I am very pleased with what happened in Madrid last week. The United Nations, the European Union, the Russian Federation, the United States with many more other organizations that could have been assembled if time permitted, gave a clear signal to the world and to the Palestinian people and to the Israeli people that there is a path we can move forward on.

And it’s a path that says end violence, end terrorism, find a peaceful way to move forward. It has been said before, but this time it is said in a very powerful way by a number of organizations coming together. I think that I have been able to bring to the region not only that, but an endorsement of the vision the Crown Prince Abdullah put forward, which has now become the position of the 22 nations of the Arab League.

There are certain elements of that declaration that, of course, Israel has great difficulty with, but even the prime minister himself recognized in his speech to the Knesset last Monday, Monday a week ago, that there are some positive elements. There is something there to work with. I came here not knowing how long the operation would go on. We heard everything from a couple of more weeks to a couple of more months, and I leave here able to say to the president, it wasn’t immediate, but it now coming to an end. And the prime minister has said so.

There are some issues of going in and out and where troops will be stationed as they leave Zone A, but the prime minister did say they would be leaving Zone A. And so I think that is something of an accomplishment. And I think by my presence here, I have shown to both the people of Israel, the Palestinians, our Arab friends in the region and the world that President Bush is going to be playing a leadership role in this by sending his secretary of state over. And I have had his solid support.

Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz was attending that rally as an administration representative to the rally. We do this all the time, and his speech contained elements with respect to the president’s policy, both on the Israeli side and the Palestinian side. We thought it was a balanced presentation.

Thank you.