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Diplomacy in Action

Remarks With Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Ali Aboul Gheit (Revised)


Press Availability
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Presidential Palace
Cairo, Egypt
November 4, 2009


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FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: (Via interpreter) I would like to welcome the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. We had – she has had – just finished now a meeting with President Mubarak, a meeting that lasted more than an hour. We also met with Secretary Clinton yesterday evening, myself personally, as well as Omar Suleiman (inaudible). These were two-hour – that was a two-hour meeting of very intensive work. Our consultations between the U.S. and Egypt touched on the issue of the situation in Palestine, the effort for peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and how we can put back the negotiations on track.

We have also talked about the regional issues, such as Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan and Lebanon. And also our consultations between the two countries are productive, are frank, candid, and are clear. And we have a good understanding of all the issues. Each side put forth his own vision. And we also report our vision of the Egypt vision for the peace – for pushing peace forward, and our consultations keep on being productive.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much. It is a pleasure for me to be here with my counterpart Foreign Minister Gheit. He and I have had numerous meetings and telephone conversations ever since I assumed the position of Secretary of State. As he has just said, we’ve had a very productive, comprehensive meeting last night with the foreign minister and with General Suleiman, and then, we had a constructive and very positive meeting with President Mubarak.

The United States sees Egypt as an essential partner, not only in the Middle East, but on global and regional issues, as well. And we are committed to working with Egypt to strengthen and deepen our cooperation and our partnership on these vital matters.

Our main focus today with President Mubarak was, of course, on Middle East peace efforts. I emphasized to the president that President Obama, Special Envoy Mitchell who is here with me today, and I are all deeply and personally committed to achieving a two-state solution and comprehensive peace between Israelis, Palestinians, and all of their Arab neighbors. It is a commitment that brought us to the region this week and to Cairo specifically last night and today. We are working hard to help the parties come together in negotiations that can yield progress toward our shared objectives. And we regard Egypt and other Arab neighbors as critical partners in helping to move this effort forward. I assured the president, the minister, and the general that the United States shares their deep concerns about the people of Gaza.

As I said in Marrakech two days ago, I believe we can find a way through the difficult and tangled history that too often prevents us from making progress for a comprehensive peace and a two-state solution. We can maintain an allegiance to the past, but we cannot change the past. No matter what we say about it, it is behind us. So we must follow the (inaudible) that has been put forward by President Obama and help shape a future that will be vastly better for the children of both Palestinians and Israelis.

I came to Sharm el-Sheikh shortly after becoming Secretary of State and expressed that deep commitment in a very personal and public way. So as we work together on this critical issue, we are also cooperating in a spirit of mutual respect to build a better future for the people of Egypt. As part of that effort, President Obama and I are committed to realizing the vision of the Cairo speech: education, human development, economic partnership, the promotion of human rights. We support the efforts of civil society, political parties, and minority communities, and we support improvements in the lives of everyday Egyptians.

I also expressed our gratitude for Egypt’s leadership on regional and global issues. We discussed the threat that Iran poses to regional stability, including the nuclear file. As President Obama has said, it is time for the Iranian Government to decide what kind of future it seeks. And we have made very clear to them that patience does have its limits. We also consulted on matters ranging from Afghanistan to Yemen, and in particular, on our shared support for the formation of a strong, sovereign government in Lebanon that can advance the aspirations of all of the Lebanese people. So Mr. Minister, thank you again. Thank you also to President Mubarak for a very good and fruitful discussion. And I look forward to the continuing good work that we can do together.

FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Thank you very much, Secretary. We will answer two questions – one from the Egyptian side and one from the American side, if there will be any questions from the Americans. So you will make the selection from (inaudible).

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, no, you have to choose.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, you choose me? (Laughter.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you. Thank you. Madame Secretary, my question is President Obama’s lecture in the Cairo University gives us some hope that you are backing the position that Israel has to stop settlements. What is the reasons for this change in the position that (inaudible) through the hard work? And a second point, if I can.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.

QUESTION: What’s your view concerning the Egyptian ideas of having the paper of guarantees given to the Palestinians concerning a deadline for the negotiations? Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, and thank you for asking. First, I want to start by saying our policy on settlements has not changed. And I want to say it again, our policy on settlement activity has not changed. We do not accept the legitimacy of settlement activity. And we have a very firm belief that ending all settlement activity, current and future, would be preferable, and that is what we have put forth, and that is what we have continued to support.

What we have received from the Israelis to halt all new settlement activity – and I’ll repeat that again, too – to halt all new settlement activities and to end the expropriation of land, and to issue no permits or approvals, is unprecedented. It is not what we would prefer, because we would like to see everything ended forever. But it is something that I think shows at least a positive movement toward the final status issues being addressed. Just as when the Palestinians made progress on security, I stand and say that is a positive step, even though some may not believe it, I think it’s a positive step, and I say that.

So what we’re looking at here is a recognition that getting into the final status negotiations will allow us to bring an end to settlement activity because we will be moving toward the Palestinian state that I and many others have long advocated and worked for. So I think that that perhaps clarifies where we are on this, and I appreciate your question.

Secondly, on the paper of guarantees, we discussed in great detail what is a productive way forward. And there are some ideas that we’ve received from our Egyptian counterparts that we are going to be taking back today to the President and to the White House, and we very much appreciate the suggestions that they have put forward to us.

QUESTION: And make the choice of the American (inaudible)?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I’ll delegate that to Colonel Crowley. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Hi, I’m Andy Quinn from Reuters. First thing, a quick follow-up to the previous question, and this is a question for Mr. Aboul Gheit: Secretary Clinton has just described the U.S. policy as unchanged on settlements. After your discussions today and yesterday evening, are you persuaded that the U.S. still backs a freeze on Israeli settlement activity, or do you feel that there’s some backtracking going on?

And the second question is for both of you: The U.S. House of Representatives has voted to condemn the Goldstone report which goes before the United Nations General Assembly shortly. To what extent do you believe that the Goldstone report has become an impediment to the resumption of peace talks?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’ll start because he’s an American – (laughter) – and then I’ll let Ahmed finish.

We believe that it is important to focus on the long-term aspirations of the Palestinian people. I have said this before, and you will not be surprised to hear me say it again, it is very painful to me personally, that with Egypt’s help when my husband was President, we came so close. And the last meeting in Taba laid out what would have been a path toward a Palestinian state that would be operating today. So I carry with me a personal conviction that nothing can be allowed to interfere with our determination and our resolve and our commitment to move this forward.

So yes, are there impediments along the way? You mentioned one; there are many others. But we cannot let anything deter us. In talking with President Mubarak, we were reminiscing about some of the hard decisions that we have seen that had to be faced in this area over the past years, and of course, he has so many years of experience. And he was telling us about how even at the very end of the Camp David agreement that ended the difficulties between Israel and Egypt, there were still people who wanted to change it, derail it, and prevent it.

So this is something that, when you are doing the work we are doing, the foreign minister and I, you have to stay focused on what is the ultimate outcome you are seeking, and I think we share that commitment. We want to see a Palestinian state. We want to see Israel living in security. We want to see the Palestinian people given a chance to chart their own destiny. So we’re not going to let anything deter us or prevent us from working as hard as we possibly can, going forward.

FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: May I answer? I will respond in Arabic after your permission, for the benefit of the Egyptian and Arab news media, and then we would have a translation. (Speaking in Arabic.) She will be translating, and I think I spoke at length. (Laughter.)

(Via interpreter) About the U.S. position towards the settlements, we have listened with great interest to the reaction of the U.S. Secretary of State yesterday and today about the conceptions, or perceptions, , if you will, that there has been a sort of backtracking from the side – from the U.S. side. We talked about this very clearly and very candidly. We listened to the U.S. vision. The United States holds on – is committed to its vision that there is no legitimacy to settlement, that the United States rejects settlements. And we also listened that Israel has not been responsive to the desires of the United States, that it rests opposed to them. The United States has not changed its position of rejecting settlements and the settlement activities. And the United States is calling on the resumption of negotiations.

So now I give you the answer that you gave them about our – the Egyptian answer. We feel that Israel is hindering the process. Israel is putting conditions for the – in order to benefit – to continue the settlement activities even and – if these settlement activities will be limited. Therefore, the United States and Secretary Clinton feel that there has been a progress nevertheless by – about the issue of freezing the settlements, even if it’s not fully complete. And here, we feel that we need to focus on the end of the course. We have listened to the U.S. position that we also – and it has been conveyed to us we need to focus on the end of the road and on the road. We should not waste time. The United States is --

QUESTION: What is the end game?

FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: (Via interpreter) And the U.S. is committed to see the negotiations move forward on clear basis.

Now about your second segment of the question about the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Congress calling – not considering the Goldstone report, I’ll tell you this: This report is at the UN General Assembly. It’s been under discussion. There will be a resolution issued in a few hours about it. And we will move forward on this particular course. Nevertheless, and I can tell you that Egypt or the broader international community had anything to do with the views of the members of congress, as also I can tell you that members – some members of congress have also said that this report needs further deep studying and examination, and that there should be an extra effort, as this report has taken a lot of time to be (inaudible) and should not be thrown out of the window.

STAFF: Another – two questions, as the Secretary has agreed.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) My question is addressed to Secretary of State Clinton and those who go to the region see that isolating, separating wall, look that the Palestinian areas and the – some territories in the West Bank, some large chunks of it is in the West Bank. In those areas, it is forbidden for the Palestinians to build anything. The Israelis continue on a daily basis to confiscate land.

So talking also about the greater Jerusalem picture, knowing that this would – there is a split between the north and the south of the city, what would be the shape of the Palestinian state in the U.S. opinion? And would it have (inaudible) contiguity – would it be an impact to shape, or also can we say that it would look like the Native American entity or status within the United States?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I can repeat to you what President Obama said in his speech at the United Nations and what he said here in Cairo – that the United States believes that we need a state that is based on the territory that has been occupied since 1967. And we believe that that is the appropriate approach. It is what has been discussed when my husband was president with Yasser Arafat, and it is what has been discussed between the Israelis and the Palestinians and the Bush Administration when President Abbas has been there.

I think that there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that moving toward a state that reflects the aspirations and the rights of the Palestinian people must include all of the issues that have both been discussed and mentioned by President Obama, and that includes Jerusalem. And I would only repeat that it’s such an emotional issue for me. We would not be having this discussion if we had reached a deal, because as you remember, the parameters that were laid out would have recognized a state on the ’67 borders with some swapping of land agreeable to both sides, and it would have also established the capital for the Palestinian state in East Jerusalem, and it would have created a shared responsibility with international support to protect the holy places that are holy to all three major religions of Abraham.

So we want to assure you that our goal is a real state with real sovereignty with the kind of borders that will enable the people of Palestine to make decisions about where they live and what they do on their own. And it is important to us, and we know that it is vitally important to the people of the region and particularly, most especially, the Palestinians and the Israelis.

FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: May I follow up on what the Secretary has just stated?

(Via interpreter) Here, this position that was just stated by Secretary Clinton – we say that we approve it and we are in agreement totally with it. We support it fully, we support fully this U.S. position because it reflects a conviction that – of a Palestinian state that is capable, that will be on all of the territories that were occupied in 1967 and that will be a hundred percent of those territories, because a hundred percent of those territories goes to the Palestinians despite the swaps that would happen.

And with this, also East Jerusalem is for the Palestinians. With this, this is clear and with this such position, we support the U.S. fully.

STAFF: Finally, Robert Burns from AP.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.

QUESTION: Over to your question of your trip --

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.

QUESTION: Looking back over the past eight or nine days – somehow it seems longer than that. (Laughter.) You’ve dealt with a wide range of the major issues affecting the entire region, from Pakistan and Afghanistan to the Middle East and North Africa. I wonder if you could give us an assessment of areas in which you feel you made some advancements and areas where you fell short or stumbled?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, of course, I think I only made advancements – (laughter) – and I happen to believe that, not just responding to your question. I think that the level and intensity of the discussions that I have taken part in over the last days, starting in Pakistan, have certainly been productive, constructive, and helped to clarify the approach that the United States is taking and is committed to taking in all of the different settings that I was part of.

I think that in talking about this with President Mubarak earlier, every issue that we touched on during this trip is complicated and difficult. Each requires patience, perseverance, and determination to see them through. There are – if these were easy questions with simple answers, I would not have made this trip. I know how challenging they are. We have some of the best people in the United States with Ambassador Holbrooke and Senator Mitchell working on these complicated matters.

But it is important to recognize that after a period of time in which the United States’s position was rejected, or was certainly questioned, what we are doing is very carefully and consistently rebuilding those bonds, creating those partnerships, finding common ground so that we and our international partners will be able to make progress.

And so I feel very satisfied by what we accomplished on this trip in every one of our settings. I am not someone who is in any way affected by difficulty, who is living in a world apart from the real world in which we inhabit where it takes just an enormous amount of effort to get to where we are headed. The two-state solution is one of the most difficult. We know that from years of efforts. But I have a great team. I have a lot of confidence in the team of people working on these matters. And we have a president who is 100 percent committed. And so I think that’s exactly the combination that we need.

STAFF: Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Secretary Clinton, what happens now? How far or close are we toward the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian talks, if you (inaudible)?

SECRETARY CLINTON: We are working hard to see that happen.

QUESTION: Weeks, months?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I’m not going to make predictions. One of the things that President Mubarak and I were talking about is how we have to be so focused on what we’re doing, but we also have to try, the best we can, to answer questions. So I will say we’re working hard to get there.

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PRN: 2009/T14-36



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