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EXCERPTS-ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS: Press Briefing with Secretary Colin L. Powell, at the Washington Foreign Press Center (U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE) Washington, DC 08/07/03 11:30 a.m. EDT) Source: http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2003/23111.htm
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QUESTION: I am Paolo Mastrolilli, correspondent for the Vatican radio and the Italian daily newspaper La Stampa. My question is regarding the peace process in the Middle East. I know that this issue is still down the road, but I would like to know if the U.S. Government is open to the possibility of considering an international status for the holy sites in Jerusalem or any kind of an international verified solution for this issue?
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We are not engaged on those issues right now. The issue before us right now is to keep moving forward in this first stage of the roadmap that was put forward by the Quartet under the leadership of the United States. We have seen some progress since the summits at Sharm el-Sheikh and Aqaba. We have seen Gaza and Bethlehem turned over to Palestinian control from Israeli control. We have seen the level of terror and violence go down significantly, and there can be no dispute about that. There have been some prisoner releases. There have been some unauthorized outposts removed by the Israelis.
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But we need to see a lot more. We need to see a more concerted effort against the capacity for terrorist activity on the Palestinian side. It is not enough just to have a ceasefire, a hudna, as it is called, which could be ended any day. What we really need is a concerted effort on the part of the Palestinian Authority to go after those organizations within the Palestinian community that have the capacity of conducting terrorist acts, organizations such as Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
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We can´t have a situation where, during a time of a ceasefire, those organizations are improving their capability, testing new weapons or creating new factories in order to build more weapons. So we are looking for a concerted effort on the part of the Palestinian security officials to go after the infrastructure, the terrorist infrastructure that exists within the Palestinian community.
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On the Israeli side, we are in conversations with our Israeli colleagues about prisoner releases, about the nature of their settlement activity. As the President has said, we want to see settlement activity ended. And as you know, there is a discussion ongoing with the Israelis about the fence that is being put up. And, in certain places, the fence is actually a wall.
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We have concerns about that fence. We have problems with it. We have expressed our concerns to the Israelis, and the Israelis are considering the problems that we have identified to them, and we expect that dialogue to continue until we can find a solution.
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QUESTION: I have a question on the wall, Mr. Secretary.... Sir, it was suggested that the wall -- Israel can build the fence if it sees fit, but it is not helpful. How does that juxtapose itself against the President´s vision for a viable Palestinian state?
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And also on the issue of the loan guarantees, how -- what mechanism will the Administration use to actually deduct the cost of the wall from whatever loan guarantees to -- given to Israel?
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And I am Said Arikat from Al Quds newspaper. Sorry.
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SECRETARY POWELL: Were those two, three or one? I couldn´t -- (laughter).
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With respect to the fence, all of us put fences up when we feel a need for a fence on our property, and we try to do it in a way that does not prejudice anyone else´s property or anyone else´s rights. In the case of this fence, Israel felt there was a need to put up such a fence for security purposes, and the President has said that we understand that.
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It is when the fence begins to intrude on land that is not on the Israeli side of the green line, or starts to intrude in a way that makes it more difficult for us to make the case for a viable Palestinian state, or starts to cut off certain towns and villages or in other ways interfere with Palestinian activity in Palestinian towns and villages, then is it appropriate for us to say to our Israeli friends, "Look, we have a problem here," and particularly as they are getting ready for the next stages of this fence construction project.
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And that is what we are doing. We have identified some problems with the subsequent stages of the fence, what´s going on, and we are going to be discussing those problems with them.
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With respect to loan guarantees, we have not made any decisions yet, and certainly have not made any announcements yet. But we have to be faithful to the Congressional direction that we had with respect to how to use these loan guarantee monies.
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QUESTION: Thomas Gorguissian, An Anhar, Lebanon.
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Mr. Secretary, after the war in Iraq, you said that your message for Arab neighbors is that there is a new reality, and they have to make new strategic choices. How do you see the response -- their response - - from the Arab neighbors, Arab League in general and Syria in particular? And what is next in conveying and pursuing this message?
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SECRETARY POWELL: I think there is a new strategic situation in the region and the two major events -- one, the removal of a despot from office in Baghdad and new hope for the Iraqi people, and with the ascension of Prime Minister Abbas to the prime ministership of the Palestinian Authority that allowed us to get started on the roadmap, which all the Arab nations bought into through representatives at the Sharm el-Sheikh summit, and then we saw it again a day later in Aqaba with King Hussein and the other leaders there, and now we are seeing slow but steady progress on the roadmap.
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We would all like to see it go faster. We would like to see more accomplished in a shorter period of time, but nevertheless we are moving forward. And so those are the two major elements in this strategic change. What we have said to our friends in the region, especially our Syrian colleagues, is that you need to see this and adjust your own policies.
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And so in my discussions with Syrian leaders, and in my visit to Damascus, I conveyed to the President of Syria that we really believe that Damascus should no longer be allowed to serve as a headquarters for terrorist organizations who were determined to defeat the roadmap, who were determined to deny the Palestinian people the opportunity for a better life in their own state. Organizations that have found a place to do their business in Damascus are against peace, are against the desires of the Palestinian people, the needs of the Palestinian people, and we believe Syria should do everything to shut them down.
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We also believe that Syria should not be participating in any transshipment of weapons or other materiel to Hezbollah, and a number of other issues that were presented to Syria. They have responded on some of them and I know they are considering other of the items that we presented to them. We are still not satisfied with the performance that we have seen so far, and we are communicating that on a regular basis to our Syrian colleagues.
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With respect to Iran, we have made the same point. It is time now to end state sponsorship of terrorism when we have two sides, Israel and Palestine, Palestinians -- Israelis and Palestinians working together to get us to that point where both peoples can live in peace. And why should Iran be continuing to support terrorist activities and organizations that are determined to destroy that dream?
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And we will continue to make that point. And we will continue to encourage all of our Arab friends in the region to do their part, as they said they would at Sharm el-Sheikh -- stop funding organizations that are sponsoring or could be sponsoring terrorist activities; speak out strongly for reform; assist the Palestine people; be prepared to work with the Palestinian people and Israelis to help this roadmap work.
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Because if this roadmap doesn´t work, if it fails, if it falls apart - - and I don´t think it will -- but would it fall apart, if it were to fall apart, then where are we? We have got too much going in the right direction now to lose this opportunity, and that´s the message we consistently give to our Arab friends.
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One more point: The Arab League Working Committee recently met, and I know part of your question, and they took note of the new Governing Council in Iraq. I wish they had made a stronger statement of welcome and support. But we will be working with the Arab League over the next several weeks as they get ready for their September meeting to make the point that we are on the road in Iraq toward a representative government. And this Governing Council should be seen as an important step and encouraged in their work.
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Secretary General Kofi Annan made an important statement the day before yesterday about the need for the United Nations to show its understanding and recognition of this important development. They were at the UN two weeks ago with Mr. De Mello, and I have my delegation at the UN in New York working with the Secretary General and other members of the Security Council to see how best to provide this kind of recognition of the Governing Council. (WHITEHOUSE.GOV 08/07/03)
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