Prime Minister Sharon briefed ministers on his recent visit to the US: “I had an important diplomatic visit in the US last week. US President George Bush hosted me at his farm in Texas, together with Vice President Richard Cheney, Secretary of State Dr. Condoleeza Rice and National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley. The meetings took place in a warm and friendly atmosphere.
The purpose of the visit was to strengthen the special relationship that exists between Israel and the US, to express unequivocal US support for the Disengagement Plan and to show solidarity with the Israeli government on the many difficulties it faces in implementing the Plan. Furthermore, we wished to strengthen bilateral understandings on several important strategic issues. I believe that we were successful in all the targets we set for ourselves.
President Bush emphasized the US’s commitment to Israel’s security and that it should retain its Jewish character. He also reiterated his commitment to all the issues in his April 2004 letter, including:
- Israel’s right to self-defense.
- Commitment to the Roadmap, and all its stages, as the only diplomatic plan, and that any progress will be made according to it.
- The need for reform in the Palestinian Authority.
- The need for immediate and decisive Palestinian actions in the war on terrorism and the dismantling of terrorist infrastructure as a condition for progress on the Roadmap.
- President Bush reiterated his commitment to the US position that in any future permanent settlement, all the major settlement blocs would remain part of the State of Israel.
I would like to relate to reports in the Israeli media over the weekend, to the effect that after the Disengagement Plan, Israel intends to implement another disengagement plan in Judea and Samaria. I would like to deny these reports and emphasize that the matter was not even been mentioned in my meetings in the US. I made it clear to the President that Israel’s position is that the only diplomatic plan that exists is the Roadmap. After the necessary conditions are fulfilled for implementing it, with a genuine Palestinian war on terrorism being first and foremost, along with the dismantling of terrorist infrastructure and the implementation of comprehensive reforms, only then will we make progress on the Roadmap. The permanent settlement will only be discussed in the third stage. This has been and remains our position and that of the US.
I was impressed that the US’s position in all these matters has not changed even after the American elections. The Americans reiterated that their position on the issue of settlements has not changed since the settlement enterprise began. We agreed that we would discuss this matter in the future.
President Bush called on the Palestinian Authority to coordinate the Disengagement Plan with Israel. He added that the US is interested in aiding the Plan in order to ensure its success. Therefore, President Bush announced that he would appoint outgoing World Bank Chairman James Wolfensohn as coordinator for economic matters related to disengagement, and to assist in rebuilding the economy in Gaza after Israel’s departure.
The President expressed support for my intentions to develop the Negev and the Galilee, both economically and socially. President Bush agreed to assist us in implementing this plan, and regarding with other elements of the Disengagement Plan. This week, Finance Ministry Director-General Yossi Bechar will leave for the US in order to begin discussions with professional officials on details of the US financial assistance.
During my visit, I also met separately with Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Dr. Rice, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Jewish members of Congress, Senate and House of Representatives leaders, and Jewish community leaders.
In addition to the Palestinian issue, other regional matters were raised including - inter alia - the Iranian nuclear threat, the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon, the situation in Lebanon after Syria’s withdrawal and in light of Hezbollah threats, and the smuggling of weapons from Egypt.
Sources: Prime Minister's Office