Press Briefing By National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley and Press Secretary Dana Perino

(January 9, 2008)


Aboard Air Force One
En Route Israel

MS. PERINO: Good morning. As you all know, we are on our way to Israel. I'm going to turn it over to National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley to provide a little bit of information to you, answer some questions, and then I will return for follow-up questions on other topics, like politics.

MR. HADLEY: Good morning. Rather -- you sort of, I think, have heard us try and frame the trip. I think the easiest thing is probably just for me to respond to any questions you've got. So --

Q: Has anything happened on the ground while we've been in the air that would indicate any kind of even small progress in the talks --

MR. HADLEY: Yes, actually, one of the things the President has been saying is that his objective in this trip -- you know we've talked about advancing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process; we've talked about getting the Arab states in the region to support that process by supporting Abbas and the difficult choices he'll have to make, by supporting -- by beginning to reach out to Israel. And we've also talked about how the countries in the region need to see the strategic opportunity to advance security, freedom and peace by these negotiations to establish a Palestinian state, by helping the government in Lebanon, by helping the government in Iraq. And he's also going to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to the region as an area of high U.S. interest, and indicate that we stand fast with our traditional friends and allies in the region. That's the overall framework for the trip. The President has talked about that.

In terms of the first issue, about advancing the Israel-Palestinian process, there have been a lot of, obviously, distractions -- and by distractions I don't -- this is on the record, right? By distractions I mean some serious issues that have appeared. The Palestinians are very concerned, obviously, about settlements; the Israelis are very concerned, obviously, about the rocket attacks coming out of Gaza. These issues need to be addressed.

One of the things we will emphasize is that the implementation of the road map in parallel with these negotiations, as well as the building of the Palestinian state, these are three tracks -- negotiating track, implementation of the road map, building Palestinian institutions. The latter two can help address these issues -- settlements is a road map issue; it can be addressed in the process in which the U.S. is going to monitor implementation of the road map.

Security is obviously a big concern. It can be addressed by strengthening Palestinian security institutions. What the President is going to say is these are serious issues, there are forums where they can be addressed, but Abbas and Olmert need to get the negotiating track started. They're the only ones who really can do it effectively. And his view is to -- message to them is, yes, we will address issues of security, there will be forums to address issues of settlements, but those two leaders need to get the negotiating process started and be personally involved in it and make it a priority.

And just yesterday there was an announcement out of the meeting that Prime Minister Olmert had with Palestinian Authority President Abbas, and it's very encouraging. They talked about both leaders agreed to authorize their negotiating teams to conduct direct and ongoing negotiations on all the core issues, and to start intensive meetings to immediately discuss these major issues. Well, that's one of the things the President wanted to accomplish on this trip.

I think it's helped that he was coming. I suspect it had a positive impact on getting these two gentlemen to focus and to launch the negotiating process. And during his meetings with them he will emphasize the message. He will obviously thank them and encourage them in this process and emphasize that the two leaders need to stay engaged and that that needs to be a priority for them -- because that's something only the two of them can lead and do. Sorry, long answer, but --

Q: How is that pledge substantially different than what they promised to do at Annapolis -- some serious, substantive negotiations beginning immediately, tackling all --

MR. HADLEY: -- expression of attention and a charge to their negotiating teams, one. But secondly, I think, as I said to you, the issue of settlements and the rocket attacks have been a -- are serious issues that have occupied the parties' attention and --

Q: So they have to get back to where they started?

MR. HADLEY: -- get back on to this negotiating process, and then starting to make it real by having people start meeting and start going through the issues. And that's what they said yesterday.

And let me just say, this is going to be an ongoing problem, particularly on the security side. There are people that don't want this process to succeed, because they don't want to see a democratic Palestine emerge out of this process, and that would be Hamas and Hezbollah. And they vote with violence, that's how they vote. And you've seen it in the last several days, and you're going to see it going forward. And it is going to be a real challenge for these two leaders to keep focused on a negotiation process when those who oppose that process begin to vote with violence and other things. And it is going to be a challenge for these two leaders, and that's also one of the things the President is going to say to them. They are going to have to -- as we help them deal with issues of settlements and violence, they are going to have to stay focused on this negotiating process.

Q: In the statement you eluded to, the Prime Minister and the President, Abbas, said they were going to instruct their negotiating teams to address core issues. Do you think the President, himself, in his conversations today and tomorrow is going to flesh out a little bit more of his own vision for the handling of these core issues?

MR. HADLEY: Well, I said in the backgrounder before the trip, we weren't looking for big deliverables out of the trip of this sort. And the second thing the President has said is that the framework for a -- and the details of a Palestinian state is for the parties to negotiate. The parties really have had now two meetings between Olmert, Abbas; some preliminary meetings with their negotiating teams. So it's pretty early in this process.

I think the President will encourage the parties to get after it, to stay focused. He will hear from the parties on where their negotiations and their discussions are. And I think he will say some words that are encouraging to the process, but I don't think you're going to see him jumping into the middle of these negotiations. As he said, we will support, we will encourage, we will assist the parties as they ask and find helpful. But it's still a little early in the process.

Q: But do these types of issues at all come up in the conversations that he'll have?

MR. HADLEY: I'm sure they will.

Q: Are you saying them explaining to him their different ideas --

MR. HADLEY: I think he can expect to hear from them where they are in their negotiations -- the parties. To the extent they want to share their ideas and views with the President, obviously he'll want to listen, sure. That's part of encouraging this process to go forward.

Q: Is he going to frame out any further what this really means to have the United States monitor compliance with the road map? Who is going to do that, and how?

MR. HADLEY: Secretary Rice is working on the details of that, but we've said that we want to be involved in that. We will be working directly with each of the parties. And obviously the security aspects of the implementation of the road map are very important, both to Palestinians and Israelis. And we will want to make sure the mechanism gives adequate attention to those.

Q: Regarding the Arab states reaching out to Israel, there's already a mechanism, which is the Arab peace process; the Arab states saying basically they will recognize Israel in return for the '67 border. Is this something that the United States will work with when you talk about your encouragement for Arab states to --

MR. HADLEY: We've welcomed the Arab peace initiative. It was one of the things that was talked about at Annapolis, and we think it was constructive, and the Israelis and the Palestinians have all said it was constructive. But again, we're in a process now -- that's kind of the Annapolis place. Now we need to go forward with concrete implementation of the expressions of good intent in Annapolis. That means getting negotiations started, as we've talked. We also think it means, over time, the Arab states starting to reach out to Israel in concrete ways, in terms of upgrading the contacts they have with Israel, and the like. We think that's one of the things they can do to encourage the process. The other thing, of course, is to support Prime Minister Fayyad, President Abbas, support them diplomatically, support them with the resources -- the money and other things they need to build the institutions of a Palestinian state.

MS. PERINO: Last one?

Q: I'm confused about sort of the goals of this year, because in Annapolis it seemed like the goal was to reach a final solution by 2008. But the President's comments before today sounded like it was just to lay out the definition of a Palestinian state.

MR. HADLEY: It's been very clear -- it's been very clear from the very beginning: What the parties have said is that they would like to get an agreement on a -- for the establishment of a Palestinian state by the end of this year, while this President is in office. That's what they've talked about. They want to have a negotiated agreement by the end of '08.

Now, we've all said that to go from that agreement to the actual standing up of a Palestinian state, so it comes into being, we need to move down the road map, which is still the path to the establishment of the Palestinian state. And that's why the President said, and the statements coming out of Annapolis, and the President said just the other day, that the actual standing up of the Palestinian state has to be subject to the implementation of the road map.

Now, that doesn't mean negotiate now and implement the road map later; that means you're going to do both. And that is why when we said there are three tracks that got launched in Annapolis -- one is the negotiations of the terms of a Palestinian state, second is the implementation of the road map that is the route to standing up that state, and then the third is building the institutions of a Palestinian state, since a state is both an issue of borders, but it's also an issue of the institutions of governance of that state.

So we're going to try and move forward on all three of those things together. Obviously, the objective for the negotiations the parties have said is to get that done by the end of 2008. And we also urge them and want them to go through and implement the road map because, again, actually standing up the state is going to be subject to the implementation of the provisions of the road map.

Q: Feasible, given the slow start since Annapolis?

MR. HADLEY: Sure.

Q: A quick one on Iran: Have there been any new developments or analysis of what happened in the Straits of Hormuz earlier this week?

MR. HADLEY: As all of these things, it takes a while before you know exactly all the details of what has happened. The Pentagon yesterday decided they would put out sort of some raw footage of the incident. That is obviously an input to the story of what happened. It's not going to be the full story, it never is. I think the point that that shows is this was a very provocative act by the Iranians, and it could have and came very close to resulting in an altercation between our forces and their forces. And it's a warning to them: They've got to be very careful about this, because if it happens again, they are going to bear the consequences of that incident.

Q: What do you mean by that?

MR. HADLEY: This was a serious incident, and it almost involved an exchange of fire between our forces and Iranian forces.

Q: Would U.S. forces have fired first?

MR. HADLEY: Pardon me?

Q Would U.S. forces have fired first?

MR. HADLEY: Say again?

Q: Would U.S. forces have fired first?

MR. HADLEY: What I said is it's a very serious incident, and you can tell that from the footage. It's the kind of incident that can provoke exchange of fire. And we think the Iranians need to be on notice that they are fishing in troubled waters here. This is not -- this is a provocative act, not a smart thing to do, and they're going to have to take responsibility for the consequences if they do it again.

That's not a threat; that's simply a description of facts and a description of the seriousness of what they did, which you can see from the video.

Q: Has the U.S. sent any messages through third parties?

MS. PERINO: All right, anything for me?

Q: So did the President watch any of the results from New Hampshire?

MS. PERINO: Well, last night, we all did watch some of it. I'm sure you guys probably did back here, as well. But I think he went to sleep before knowing the final results so that he could get some rest before what is going to be a very busy trip. So upon awaking this morning, when he came into the conference room, he asked what the final result was. I think he -- I believe he knew that McCain had been declared the winner for the Republicans. And then we informed him of what the result was in New Hampshire, and he had a similar reaction to Iowa, which was, this is how it goes, you win some and you lose some. And you might recall that this President knew what it was like to win in one state and then travel to New Hampshire and to lose. So what he said is, there's a long way to go. The primary system takes you through lots of different tests as a candidate. What really matters is how you do when you try to go the distance in this contest.

Q: Is he happy for John McCain, seeing that McCain supported him so heavily in 2004 and also McCain supports the surge?

MS. PERINO: That's a -- I'm not going to comment on his reaction for any of the candidates. He's remained studiously neutral. But, of course, he supports all of the Republicans. Once we have a named candidate, you will see this President campaign and support them vigorously.

Q: Dana, how did you guys come up with the sightseeing schedule for the President on this trip? Like, how did it -- how did you pick which sights he was going to and that kind of thing?

MS. PERINO: I'm not sure, I really wasn't a part of that team. But obviously, you get inputs from the countries that you're visiting and the ambassadors, our ambassadors who are there, and then we have teams that are on the ground, that have been on the ground since about December 27th. They've been on the road looking for opportunities. We have limited time in these countries, and I think that they try to choose places that will highlight some of the best areas. Some of the -- sometimes I consider these trips to be like travel reconnaissance missions so you can see where you might want to return to.

Q: Is this more sightseeing than he normally does on a trip like this? There have been some trips he hasn't done this kind of --

MS. PERINO: I think it varies. I mean, I've been on a lot of these trips, and I think it varies. But I think there's a good amount in this trip, and that will be a good thing for all of us.

Q: Did he ask to see any specific sights in particular?

MS. PERINO: Not that I'm aware of.

Q Do you know if the Syrian-Israeli negotiations are going to be on the table or that the President is going to raise it at all? Because there was talks that actually it was going to be a different track between Israel and Syria on the peace process.

MS. PERINO: I'll just leave it where Steve Hadley did. I don't know, and if there's more to add later today, we will.

Okay.


Source: The White House