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George W. Bush Administration: Press Secretary McClelland On Abbas Visit

(May 27, 2005)

Q In the President's conversations with President Abbas, what did he say to him about the need or what he needs to do to dismantle terror groups?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you essentially heard from the President earlier today. The road map spells our specific obligations for parties to take. And all parties need to meet their obligations. The President specifically talked about that in his opening remarks, and he also talked about President Abbas and his commitment to democracy and peace. He has spoken out strongly against terrorism and spoken out in favor of ending violence aimed at Israelis. And it's important for the Palestinian leadership, under President Abbas, to continue moving forward and meeting their obligations under the road map.

Q So is the President satisfied that President Abbas is moving aggressively enough, or does he think that he is not?

MR. McCLELLAN: He appreciates his commitment and his leadership, and we urge all parties to continue moving forward. There is more to be done. There is more to be done to meet their obligations under the road map. We need to keep our focus on the Gaza disengagement plan right now. That needs to be successful so that we can lay -- that will help lay the groundwork to get back on the road map.

But President Abbas has taken steps. He's begun reforming the security apparatus. That's one of the reasons we sent General Ward to the region, was to work with the Palestinian leadership and reform the security structure and consolidate it so that it is better able to meet the security needs of the Palestinian people. And the President spoke earlier today about armed groups operating outside of the government structure. You can't have that in a democracy. And the President talked about that in response to your question earlier today.

Q So it's fair to say that the President thinks he's taken some good steps, but he needs to do more?

MR. McCLELLAN: He's begun some steps, and there's more to be done to follow through on the steps that he has taken. The road map specifically says that terrorist organizations need to be dismantled. The road map also calls on Israel to take steps. And both parties need to meet their obligations. The international community needs to meet their obligations. The Arab states need to meet their obligations, as well.

Q One final question. Is it the United States ' understanding that under the road map, that Israel would withdraw to the '67 boundaries? Is that --

MR. McCLELLAN: The road map spells out what the obligations are. In terms of final status issues, the President talked about that in his remarks today, as well. And that's to be mutually worked between the parties, in terms of final status issues.

But right now we need to keep the focus on Prime Minister Sharon's Gaza disengagement plan, and it's disengagement from parts of the West Bank . It's critical that we get that right, and I think you heard from President Abbas earlier today saying that we are ready to coordinate with Israel on that disengagement. It's critical that we support the Palestinian people as they move forward to put the institutions in place for a democracy to emerge in those Palestinian territories. And that's why the President expressed our confidence in the leadership by signaling that we're going to provide $50 million in funds to go to specific projects that will help improve the livelihood of people in those territories.

Q Scott, would the President like to see Abbas take on Hamas directly and shut it down? Or does he understand the political sensitivities that Abbas faces in doing that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I mean, the road map has specific obligations for all parties. You heard from the President today. They had a very good discussion about these issues. They talked about these issues. They talked about the importance of continuing --

Q But --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- no, John, let me finish -- they talked about the importance of continuing to move forward on the steps under the road map and meeting their obligations. One of those obligations is dismantling terrorist organizations.

Q So he wants to see him take on Hamas, then, and shut it down.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, John, he has taken some steps to address these issues. He has made a strong commitment to ending violence against Israelis or ending attacks against Israelis. He has spoken out against terrorism, and he is someone who is committed to democracy and peace. And to get to democracy and peace, you have to take those steps, as well.

Q Scott, on the security fence, does the President believe that it's being used for security reasons or for political reasons?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President said that it must be for security purposes, not for political --

Q What does he think --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- not as a political barrier, and that's what the President spelled out. And we've expressed those views to the Israeli government, as well, and we have discussions with them about that, as well, and I think you've seen them taking some steps to take into account the need for the Palestinian people to be able to move about more freely, as well. They've taken some steps to --

Q You're not answering the question. What does the President believe it's being used for?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, they've taken some steps to address that, and --

Q It was a very artful construction, to say if you're trying to impose a boundary, then that's wrong, that would be a political --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I appreciate that, but we're consulting directly with the parties and working with them --

Q I said what does the President believe it's being used for?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- and we're making our views known directly with the parties. The President has said it publicly; he's said it in private, as well, and we'll continue to talk with the Israeli government about those issues as we move forward. And that's why --

Q You won't answer whether he thinks it's being used for political purposes, or --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I would leave it where the President left it.

Q Which is nowhere. He just said -- Scott, I mean, he said it should be used for security reasons, not for political reasons, so I'm wondering what does he think it's being used for?

MR. McCLELLAN: David, we've got a real opportunity before us to move forward to the two-state vision --

Q He doesn't have an opinion on the fence?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- and as he made it clear, it needs to take into account the impact it has on Palestinians that are not engaged in terrorist activities. That's what he said in his remarks. And as we make progress, Israel needs to continue to take that into account.

Q I want to follow up in a different area. You talk about the importance of two things: one, returning to the road map; and also, focusing on Gaza . But doesn't President Abbas have a pretty good point here when he says you want to focus on removing settlers, a relatively small number of settlers -- 8,000 settlers from Gaza -- and yet, the Israelis are building up these close-in settlements to Jerusalem , like Ma'aleh Adumim, at a pretty good clip, which would totally prejudice final status negotiations.

MR. McCLELLAN: The President said that shouldn't happen.

Q So isn't it disingenuous --

MR. McCLELLAN: Not at all.

Q So this administration is going to stay focused on Gaza and not worry about the other?

MR. McCLELLAN: Not at all, David. In fact, the President has spoken directly with Prime Minister Sharon about these issues, too. And you heard him talk about it with him when he stood next to him in Crawford, as well.

Q Sharon just keeps on doing what the President says not to.

MR. McCLELLAN: He talked about it with him in Crawford, as well. And what the Gaza disengagement plan is, it's a very bold step. It's an opportunity to jump start the road map again. But we've got to get it right in Gaza in order to get back to the road map. This is happening now. This is a very great opportunity before the parties to move forward on the President's two-state vision.

Now, in terms of the road map, we've made our views very clear that parties have obligations they need to meet under that road map, and we expect parties to meet those obligations. But we must make sure that it's successful -

Q The Israelis aren't, in terms of settlements.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- we must make sure it's successful when it comes to the Gaza disengagement, as well. And we're going to continue speaking with the parties and consulting with them and working with them and supporting the Palestinian Authority as they move forward. We are making progress. This is a difficult task, as the President talked about. There are difficult things that have to be done, and the President talked about that with President Abbas, he's talked about it with Prime Minister Sharon. But we will be there to support the parties as they move forward to make those hard decisions and take those difficult steps. If this -- there's a long history here, and we think the best way to approach this is to continue working with the parties, continue pushing them to follow through on their commitments. And that's exactly what we're doing.

Q Where does the $50 million come from and how does it work?

MR. McCLELLAN: The $50 million comes from 2005 funding that had previously been passed by Congress. In terms of how it works, this will be money set aside in a separate, special account. And it will go to specific projects -- projects that are agreed to between the United States and the Palestinian Authority. We'll consult closely with the Palestinian Authority about how these dollars are used. There is an elaborate process in place to track the money throughout that process, so the money will be tracked to make sure it's going to those specific projects it's intended for.

This money will be going to projects like housing and schools. And one thing that the Palestinians talked about over lunch with the President was they need more schools. It'll go to projects like road building. It'll go to projects like health clinics, putting in place some of those basic services that the people need in those territories, and the Gaza area. This is directed toward Gaza . And it's a sign that we have confidence in the leadership as they move forward.

Q And in what sense did the talks today bring us closer to resuming the road map talks?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's why you heard the President emphasize the importance of making sure that we're successful in Gaza and successful as Prime Minister Sharon moves forward on the disengagement plan. That will, as the President said, lay the ground work to get moving again on the road map.

Go ahead.

Q You said there's a long history, but there has been a history here of Sharon defying President Bush by expanding these settlements. Is the President frustrated that he continues to build these settlements, despite the U.S. ' clearly stating policy on that?

MR. McCLELLAN: I appreciate you all trying to continue to engage us in this, but the President's views could not be clearer, and those are views he expressed both publicly and privately, and those are views we continue to make known to the parties. All parties have obligations, and we expect them to meet their obligations. There are obligations that the Palestinians need to meet; there are obligations that the Israelis need to meet. And both parties need to do more to meet those obligations.

Q When Abbas says that time is the enemy, does this not concern the President that there is no momentum on this?

MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, there is momentum. The momentum is the Gaza disengagement plan and the opportunity that that presents for us. There is momentum because we have a democratically-elected leader in President Abbas who is committed to democracy and peace, so I reject that characterization outright.

Go ahead, Sara.

Q Thank you. Scott, The Post today say that Syria is being cooperative by turning back would-be fighters who wanted to go to Iraq . Are U.S. relations with Syria improving?

MR. McCLELLAN: There are many concerns that we continue to have about Syria , and our expectations have been made known when it comes to -- when it comes to Syria and the actions that they should be taking, or that they're expected to take. They have been out of step with the direction the rest of the Middle East is headed. And we've expressed our concerns about their continued support for terrorists, terrorists who operate in places like Lebanon and other parts of the Middle East , like the Israeli-Palestinian areas.

And we have concerns about Syria 's allowing terrorists operating inside their territory that are carrying out attacks inside Iraq . We've had concerns about what they have been doing along the border, or their lack of taking action along the border. And it's important that they address those issues. That's the way that they will realize better relations with the rest of the international community.

Go ahead, Carl.

Q Scott, related to the 1967 borders, as well as the expansion of settlements, when Prime Minister Sharon was in Crawford, did not the President signal to Sharon and the world that there had to be a recognition that the situation has -- has, in many ways, changed and that there would not be a return to the '67 borders, and that at some level, a settlement expansion had to be understood as part of the evolution of time?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President back -- that was back here at the White House over a year ago, and the President made our views known, that you have to take into account some of the realities of the situation on the ground. But final status issues are to be negotiated and mutually agreed to between the parties, but we've got to keep our focus on where we are now. This is a process that is going to be done in a step-by-step way, and we have a real opportunity before us with the Gaza disengagement plan to move forward on the President's two-state vision. We shouldn't lose sight of where we are right now and what we need to accomplish now. And there will be -- there will be an opportunity to discuss those final status issues when we get there.

Go ahead.

Q Besides schools, can you give us specific run-down on what was covered in the working lunch?

MR. McCLELLAN: Let's see they talked about -- they spent a good bit of time talking about the Gaza disengagement and the preparations for that. The President wanted to, I think, hear President Abbas's views on what they are doing and what help they need. And that's -- they got into a discussion there about schools and things of that nature.

They spent a good bit of time talking about the security forces. General Ward provided an update from his standpoint in terms of how the security reforms are moving forward and what remains to be done. And we heard from President Abbas on those issues, as well. They talked about elections, as well as really those areas. I think they spent a good -- most of the time on the Gaza disengagement and security forces, and some time on elections, and there are a few other issues that they discussed within that, as well.

Sources: The White House