MS. PERINO: Hi everybody. I'm going to have a special guest briefer: Secretary Rice is going to spend a little bit of time with you and then I will be around to answer anything additional. So I don't think she'll have too much of an opening statement, since you've heard from the President, but she'll take --
SECRETARY RICE: You've heard from the President, so I'll just take your questions. Guest lecturer today. Who would like to start?
Q So do you have any announcement of where we're going? Anything special?
SECRETARY RICE: We're going to Kuwait. (Laughter.)
Q That's what we thought you were going to come back and tell us.
SECRETARY RICE: No, we are. We really are. In a few minutes -- two hours you'll land in Kuwait, so don't be surprised.
SECRETARY RICE: We were talking about the often discussed "could the United States have done more by bombing the train tracks." And so we were just talking about the various explanations that had been given about why that might not have been done. That was all. It wasn't a major discussion. It was an exhibit about the train tracks. And so we were just talking about the various explanations because, you know, there are three or four different explanations about why the United States chose not to try to bomb the train tracks.
Q The President said he'll be coming back -- that's in May, for the anniversary?
SECRETARY RICE: Yes. He's going to come back for the 60th anniversary of the founding of Israel, but of course it will also be another opportunity to do what he did here, which was to really give momentum to the process that Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas are engaged in. It's always good to have the parties know that the President is coming; that really gives them an incentive to move forward. I think you saw that this time, because when it was clear that he was coming, they met, they got their committees started, they had a very good discussion, they agreed to the bi-weekly meetings that they're going to have.
They also asked us to set up the mechanism for road map obligations so that they would not be -- the leaders would not be distracted in dealing with road map issues, but those could be dealt with in the trilateral and bilateral committee that General Fraser will head up.
So whenever the President is coming, it gives the parties a kind of pulse to keep moving forward, and I think he achieved that during this trip.
Q Since the President said that he expects a peace treaty to be signed, basically at the end of this year, if he's coming back in May, which is roughly half the point to getting there, what -- where do they need to be? Where does each side need to be?
SECRETARY RICE: I think there's a kind of rhythm to negotiations. And it's probably not possible at this point to say where they're going to be in May, let alone where they're going to be next week.
But what I found, and I think what led the President to have the sense of confidence that he has about the possibility of getting this done, is that you saw very serious leaders, very serious negotiators who have already begun to have discussions about some of the hardest issues. They're not just focusing initially on the ones that are going to be easy to resolve; they really are having discussions about the core issues.
There will be a period of time, undoubtedly, in which the two sides continue to be very far apart. This would have been resolved a lot longer -- a long time ago had that not been the case. But over time they'll move together. And I just want to remind that I was here a year ago -- just a little over a year ago, in February. It was after Mecca, after the national unity government had been stood up, the national unity government between Hamas and Fatah. I held that trilateral. If you had told me that less than a year later they were going to be not just discussing core issues, but in final status negotiations, talking about the conclusion of a peace treaty, I would have told you that that was highly unlikely.
So, so much has already happened in this process that I think there is reason to be hopeful that they can make a major move to end the conflict.
Q The President last night sort of laid out some parameters of an agreement that he sees, and maybe edge the process a little bit more forward by taking -- stating so clearly American position on that. The initial reaction, certainly from the Palestinian side, seemed to be some disappointment. What conversations did he have, or have you had with them about the statement he made? I mean --
SECRETARY RICE: We had conversations with them before he made the statement, as we did with the Israelis. The President is going to be making statements all along the way as to how we see things starting to come together. But as he said, this isn't to put out an American position and say, here, you have to go to that position. But rather what he did was to listen to the parties, to put forward how he sees what they are seeing as the way forward. And that's extremely helpful, because one thing that you find when they're negotiating is that sometimes, as much as they're talking and negotiating, it's hard for them to see where they are, to see where there are positions that are likely to be common positions.
And so I think it was extremely helpful to do essentially a summary. Many of these positions have been taken by the United States before, but I think it's the first time the President has put it together in this codified, coherent way.
Q Apparently also the Arab League came out with a statement today -- I haven't seen it yet -- but it apparently says the settlements are a non-issue, I mean, sort of rejected what the President said out of hand. Are you concerned, especially looking ahead to the next couple of stops, about --
SECRETARY RICE: I haven't seen the Arab League position, but what I heard the President say was that the settlement issue needs to be resolved as a first phase of the road map issue; that it is the position of the United States that Israel should not engage in settlement expansion; and that it ought to do nothing that would forestall any -- or that would try and pre-judge a final status agreement. So that's what he said.
Now, the other thing that he said is that it is important, even though both sides have not fully fulfilled their first phase road map obligations, to go ahead and negotiate toward the final status agreement. In other words, you don't want people to get hung up on settlement activity or the fact that the Palestinians haven't fully been able to deal with the terrorist infrastructure and prevent that from moving forward on the negotiations. There are really three tracks: people need to fulfill their road map obligations, that's what they can do by bringing issues to the committee that General Fraser will head; they need to move forward on the kind of work that Tony Blair is doing to improve the lives of Palestinians, to give an economic and political base for the state; and third, they need to -- and most importantly -- they need to negotiate the actual outlines, the actual peace agreement. And those three will interact with one another.
I mean, if I could just step back for a second, the reason that we haven't really been able to move forward on the peace process for a number of years is that we were stuck in the sequentiality of the road map. So you had to do the first phase of the road map before you moved on to the third phase of the road map, which was the actual negotiations of final status.
When the peace treaty is done, it will be subject to people having fulfilled their road map obligations in phase one, but you can see how if you're waiting to fulfill the first phase road map obligations you would actually not get to the negotiations of the peace treaty. So that's why Annapolis broke that tight sequence.
Q Can you see a scenario in which final status negotiations are essentially concluded before phase one is even agreed upon or delivered?
SECRETARY RICE: I think they could conclude a peace treaty, certainly -- a final status agreement. But in order to implement it, I think if you read the first phase road map obligations you see that you're not going to really be able to stand up a Palestinian state until those are implemented. That's why we want to move these in parallel and move them very quickly in parallel. It's why -- it's undoubtedly more ambitious to move them in parallel, but I can't emphasize enough to you the degree to which if you try to do them in sequence you don't have the kind of force and power of moving toward final status to help people really pay attention to their road map obligations, and that's what we've needed. The Palestinians need to be able to see that there is a state, a viable, contiguous state in the future. That's why moving forward on the negotiations is important.
Q I would ask, looking ahead to the next couple of stops -- assuming we don't go to Iraq -- (laughter) -- how important is it to get some statements of support, public statements of support from some of the Arab leaders that you're going to be meeting in the next few days, for this process? The President talked about that yesterday, saying they needed to do more to support the peace process, but also to reach out and recognize Israel.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, again, some of this will happen over time. You know, there isn't going to be a blinding flash in any of this -- not on this trip, not on the next trip. But this is a process that's moving forward.
The Arab states took a big step in coming to Annapolis by consensus, the entire Arab League. And it was the first time that the Saudis were there under their own flag. At Madrid, they were there as a part of the OIC delegation. So this was a big step for them to do this.
I think that you will see that as the bilateral process continues to move forward, the Arabs will do more and more. But our goal has been to get people to see that just as the Palestinians and the Israelis now have three parallel tracks, there needs to be a fourth parallel track, which is the Arabs moving in parallel and in coincidence with those other three tracks. And I think that's the conversation the President will want to have.
SECRETARY RICE: I'm sorry, Paris -- in Paris to support the --
Q Is that going to be an issue on this trip?
SECRETARY RICE: No. I think if you look back at the history of the Palestinian-Israeli issues, the core countries that need to support this were at Annapolis. And that's really the key.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, we will, I think, now turn to -- this is something that was very much on the table in Israel, too, which is the kind of regional situation, the regional challenges of, on the one hand, the threats that we've seen in the Gulf, the problem of extremism, whether it be extremism from al Qaeda, Sunni extremism, or whether it be Iran and its tentacles, like Hezbollah and the part of Hamas that Iran supports.
Those are the challenges, and the United States and the President will make very clear that the United States takes very seriously its commitments to our allies in this region, commitments that go back decades -- not so much in Kuwait, but in other places where we are doing more in the way of security cooperation. I mean, we're doing some of that in Kuwait, but particularly in places like Bahrain and the UAE, where -- security in Saudi Arabia -- where we're talking more and more about security cooperation. I think we'll talk more about that.
But I don't want to just focus on the challenges. What's also very interesting is that there are some opportunities -- opportunities to support the creation of a democratic Palestine, to live side by side with Israel; opportunities to support the democratic forces in obligation, the majority forces in Lebanon -- I thought it was very interesting that the Arab League came out with a statement in favor of presidential elections in Lebanon that ought to be held and held quickly -- as well as support for an Iraq that is emerging from tyranny, where progress is being made, and where the countries that we're going to have been increasing their political support as well as their economic support for Iraq.
These are, all of them, countries that have been a part of the Neighbors meetings when we've met. Kuwait will host the next Expanded Neighbors meeting. And so you have the challenges of extremism, but you also have the opportunities that are being presented by what I find to be a quite remarkable and increasing coordination of these states with the United States and with key countries in Europe on Iraq, Lebanon and on the Middle East peace.
You should go get lunch and so should I. Okay.
Sources: The White House