Remarks With Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni
Madame Secretary, please, the floor is yours.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much. I’m delighted to be back here at the foreign ministry and to be hosted by the foreign minister. As with all my previous visits to Israel, going back nearly 30 years, I feel very welcomed by the Israeli people. And I appreciate now the opportunity to have this first visit as Secretary of State of my country, representing our new President, and to discuss with officials and friends some of the very challenging issues – a full, broad array of them – based on our close relationship.
I was privileged to start my day with President Peres, and then to pay a visit to Yad Vashem to once again pay tribute to those who lost their lives in the Holocaust. My visit was a powerful reminder, as it always is, of why we are working so hard to advance the peace and security of the state of Israel.
As I said this morning, President Obama and I believe that the bond between the United States and Israel, and our commitment to Israel’s security and to its democracy as a Jewish state, remains fundamental, unshakable, and eternally durable.
We had a very productive discussion today, and it was broad-ranging. We discussed, among many other things, our common commitment to a two-state solution as part of a comprehensive, secure peace with Israelis, Palestinians, and the Arab neighbors. We talked about the steps that the minister has pursued and what could be done when there is a new government in place.
The first step right now, not waiting for a new government, is a durable ceasefire. But that can only be achieved if Hamas ceases the rocket attacks. No nation should be expected to sit idly by and allow rockets to assault its people and its territories. These attacks must stop and so must the smuggling of weapons into Gaza. These activities put innocent lives of Israelis and Palestinians at risk and undermine the well-being of the people of Gaza.
As we move forward, we will work together – along with the international community – to address the humanitarian needs in Gaza. We believe we can also work together to further the obligations that were entered into by the Palestinian Authority under President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad, and help pave the way for a viable Palestinian state that can be independent, accountable, and live at peace.
That is the message that I brought to the Gaza donors conference, along with a pledge that the United States will be vigorously engaged in the pursuit of a two-state solution every step of the way. Our Special Envoy Senator Mitchell is here with me today. He will be back soon, once there is a government formed. The road ahead, we acknowledge, is a difficult one but there is no time to waste.
The foreign minister and I also discussed Iran. We share Israel’s concerns about Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and its continued financing of terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah. As we conduct our policy review and consider areas where we might be able to productively engage with Iran, we will stay in very close consultation with our friends here in Israel, with the neighbors of Iran in the region and beyond with those countries that understand what a threat Iran poses today, and what a greater threat it would pose were it ever to be successful in its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
As I pledge again today, and as President Obama has said, we will do everything necessary to ensure Israel’s security now and into the future.
I will later today meet with the prime minister-designate, with the defense minister, and with the prime minister, and will be engaging with them on a full range of the issues that we – both of our countries –care so much about.
We believe that working together as friends and partners with patient, determined, persevering diplomacy, we can help advance the cause of peace and security here in Israel and throughout the region. So again, Madame Minister, thank you so much for hosting me here today.
FOREIGN MINISTER LIVNI: Thank you. It is an honor for us, for all of us, to welcome you to Israel. I mean, Secretary Clinton is a good friend of Israel and has shown this deep understanding of the needs of Israel, the understanding of the nature of the threats that we have here in the region, and shown this kind of friendship and understanding – an understanding in many positions that you had in the past.
There are new administrations in the United States of America and, of course, a new government in Israel that is going to be formed during the next few days. But it is not less important to (inaudible) to emphasize that the relationship between Israel and the United States of America are based on the same values, the understanding of the interests, the threats, and the way to confront and to meet these challenges together (inaudible) parties and governments. And this is based on the understanding of the nature of the values.
The United States of America is the leader of the free world. It leads the battles which are needed against extremism, and represents the same values that are the basic values of the United States of America. And Israel, I would say, proud to be or to represent these values here in the Middle East. According to these values and the need to fight anti-Semitism, I would like to express not only the government appreciates them, but the people of Israel’s appreciation to the standing that you took against the participation in Durban. This demonstrates the values of the United States of America. It was a symbolic decision, and I hope to see more states who are going to follow this decision. And I would like to thank you personally for this.
According to these values, there is an understanding between Israel and the United States of America that the division in the region is between extremists and moderates, and there’s a need to act according to a dual strategy. On one hand, to confront terror, to act against extremism that is being represented here in the region by Iran, who poses these threats trying to pursue a weapon – a nuclear weapon and expresses its extreme ideology, which is not connected in any way to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
We have Hamas within the Palestinian Authority that controls Gaza Strip and targets Israel on a daily basis. And Israel is working according to this dual strategy: on one hand, to confront terrorism, and when the state of Israel is being targeted (inaudible) as a government, any government, is to fight back and to use military forces when it comes to Gaza Strip.
On the other hand, there’s a need – not less important – to continue the peace process between Israel and the legitimate Palestinian Government, according to the vision of two states for two people, that represent the interests of Israel and the values of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and represents the idea of living – at the end of the day, living together in peace in this region.
Since a new government in Israel is going to be formed, I am sure that part of the process is going to be sitting together, sharing the evaluation of the situation in the region, not only the nature of the threats, but what are the right things to do in order to address this. And when – according to the shared policy, I do believe that it’s not only about sharing the same values, but also a basic understanding of what need to be done in order to address the threats and the challenges in the region. And we had very fruitful and enlightening discussion, until now, and thank you.
MR. WOOD: The first question will be to Andrea Mitchell of NBC News.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Madame Minister, can we ask you (inaudible) foreign minister, did you present –
QUESTION: Andrea Mitchell from NBC. Foreign Minister, did you present Secretary Clinton a series of red lines, conditions that Israel would want to insist on before the United States engages with Iran – conditions such as a time limit on such talks and tougher sanctions before talks would begin?
Could we ask you also, Secretary Clinton, whether those red lines were presented to you? And could we also ask whether the Obama Administration has expressed a willingness, or is willing, to give up the deployment of missile defense in Eastern Europe if Russia is helpful in persuading Iran to back down on any nuclear ambitions?
SECRETARY CLINTON: We had a very broad discussion about Iran, and we will continue those discussions. There is an understanding that we share about the threat that Iran poses. We intend to do all that we can to deter and to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. That is our stated policy. That is the goal of any tactic that we employ.
When we talk about engagement with Iran, do not be in any way confused. Our goal remains the same: to dissuade and prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and continuing to fund terrorism. It happens to be a goal that is shared not only with Israel, but with many countries that view Iran through the same prism that we do. And as President Obama has said in his inaugural address, we will stretch out our hand to any country that unclenches its fist. But that is yet to be seen. Whatever we do will be done thoughtfully, in consultation with our friends and allies –
most particularly Israel.
With respect to Russia, we are at the beginning of our engagement with Russia on behalf of this new government. I had a chance to meet briefly yesterday at Sharm el-Sheikh with the Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. I will be meeting with him at length in Geneva on Friday night. We have a very broad agenda also.
What we have said specifically in regard to missile defense in Europe is that it has always been intended to deter any missile that might come from Iran. That’s been our stated position. That was the stated position previously and it remains our position. We have explained that to the Russians before. When I say we, I mean the American Government. And we continue to believe that we have to take all steps necessary to protect ourselves, our friends, our allies, from a potential aggressive action in the future from Iran.
But there’s a broad agenda to discuss with the Russians, and we’re going to be starting that on Friday.
FOREIGN MINISTER LIVNI: Okay, thank you. I would like to add on the Iranian issue. I mean, it’s not about red lines, but it’s about sharing the same perspective about the nature of the threat and how to deal with it. But it is not less important to understand that Iran is not only the problem (inaudible). I mean, this is a global threat. And I’m sure that Secretary Clinton, coming from Egypt right now after hearing the perspective of other states in the region, including other Muslim and Arab states, understands today that they feel that Iran is (inaudible) enemy and not Israel anymore. And they feel that Iran tried to undermine their own regime. Iran works with radical elements within their own states, and Iran represents an ideology which is not (inaudible). It’s not a conflict on borders or something; it’s an extreme religious ideology that tries to deprive us from our rights. And it’s not only about Israel living in peace in the region, but about the entire region. And nobody – really nobody wants to see Iran getting a nuclear weapon. So this is the basic understanding in the world.
Secondly, there is an understanding that time is of the essence. I mean, while we are talking here, Iran tries to continue and to pursue the weapon in order to express its horrific ideology. So there is an understanding that time is of the essence.
Clearly, there is another understanding that sanctions are effective, but they were not effective enough, because unfortunately, the need to have a consensus with the entire international community led to some compromises in the past about the nature of the sanctions. And the United States of America is the leader of the free world. According to the understanding that Iran is a threat and a problem to – a global problem and a global threat, is going to take all the necessary steps in order to address this threat, according to the interest not only of Israel, but the basic interest of the United States of America. And on this, it’s a shared interest.
MODERATOR: Question for the Israeli press, (inaudible) radio.
QUESTION: Please, Secretary Clinton, we heard in more than one occasion from you statements regarding the determination of the Administration to be – to go along the lines of the two-state solution, earlier this morning, twice or three times. Do you anticipate there would be clashes or disagreements or tensions with the new administration in Israel? It’s no secret that Benjamin Netanyahu, a two-state solution is not part of his agenda. So what do you expect the relations be on that issue?
And I’d really appreciate a comment on that (inaudible), too, from Minister Livni since this is probably one of the reasons she is not joining the government.
SECRETARY CLINTON: We look forward to working with the new government when it is formed. Obviously, its formation is up to the people of Israel. The United States, regardless of our political party in the White House or in the Congress, has always worked and supported the government and the people of Israel, and we intend to continue doing so. Now, that doesn’t mean that as good friends, which we are, we might not have opinions that we will express from time to time. And certainly, having been on the receiving end, I know that Israel is not shy about expressing opinions about our policies.
I think that that’s the nature of our relationship. I think that’s one of the reasons why it is so dynamic and vibrant, is we are two vigorous democracies that have a broad range of opinions within our countries and between our countries. But that doesn’t go to the fundamental alliance that we have, which stands the test of governments coming and going, and parties, and particular policies.
It is our assessment, as I expressed yesterday and again today, that eventually the inevitability of working toward a two-state solution seems inescapable. That doesn’t mean that we don’t respect the opinions of others who see it differently. But from my perspective, and from the perspective of the Obama Administration, time is of the essence on a number of issues, not only on the Iranian threat. We happen to believe that moving toward the two-state solution, step by step, is in Israel’s best interest. But obviously, it’s up to the people and the government of Israel to decide how to define your interests.
FOREIGN MINISTER LIVNI: Thank you. I would like to answer to this in Hebrew.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.
FOREIGN MINISTER LIVNI: I’m not going to embarrass you – (laughter) – or the United States of America, maybe somebody else.
MR. WOOD: The next question to Mark Landler, The New York Times.
QUESTION: Minister Livni, I hope you didn’t just make news, because I’m not in a good position to ask you a follow-up question. (Laughter.)
FOREIGN MINISTER LIVNI: No, just (inaudible).
QUESTION: My question is actually to both of you, but first to Secretary Clinton. Yesterday in Sharm el-Sheikh, the UN Secretary General, European leaders and others appealed to Israel to open border crossings into Gaza. The United States obviously just announced a $900 million aid package for Gaza, and there was questions raised: How does that aid get to the people who need it without open borders?
I wonder whether you raised that issue in the spirit of friends offering an opinion to a friend in your meeting with the minister. And if so, Minister Livni, what did you say to the Secretary about it?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I think that clearly the humanitarian needs in Gaza are ones that we all are attempting to alleviate. In our discussions, the foreign minister pointed out that consistent with security, they are trying to do what they can to facilitate the transit of humanitarian goods.
It doesn’t help to have the rockets start up again. That is the double reality that we’re facing here. We have a humanitarian challenge in Gaza with a lot of innocent Palestinians in need of the help that could be provided, and Hamas decides to continue to rain rockets down on Israel.
Yesterday, in my remarks and the remarks that I made afterwards at the press event, I pointed out that it’s very difficult to solve this dilemma when Israel is still under physical attack. I certainly would appeal to the rocket launchers and their patrons to enter into a durable ceasefire and permit the humanitarian aid to flow.
At the same time, we know that the smuggling continues. We know there are certainly lots of items getting into Gaza, and there has to be a real concerted effort to try to cut off the smuggling of weapons, including rockets and other offensive weapons.
But I know that the Government of Israel and certainly the foreign minister share our concern about the humanitarian needs and are looking for a way to facilitate even greater delivery of necessary goods.
FOREIGN MINISTER LIVNI: Thank you. I would like to add clearly that the crossings are open for humanitarian needs. The crossings are not closed for humanitarian needs. Israel is not trying to punish the population in Gaza Strip. We are acting against Hamas, since this is a terrorist organization, who, in a way, abuse the fact that it controls the civil population in order to target Israel, and in order to get legitimacy from the international community.
And as I said before, the only way to address the challenges in the region is to understand that Hamas represents the extremists in the region. They are not fighting for the legitimate rights of the Palestinians. They are not fighting for the establishment of a state of – of the state – of the future state of Palestine, but are trying to act according to their own ideology of resistance, of acting against anyone who lives in the region not according to their own ideology.
So when it comes to the population – and Israel worked – we worked with United States of America before the conference, the donors conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, we are working with the international community in order to help the population as long as it comes through the PA, the legitimate Palestinian Authority, or through international organizations directly to the people, and doesn’t legitimize this way or the other Hamas.
Another thing which is important for us, and it is related to the crossings – not to the humanitarian aids, but through something that Hamas wants to happen from (inaudible) own political perspective – Hamas wants the crossings to be open normally in order to have a kind of mini-state, Hamastan, in Gaza Strip controlled by them. And this is something that, from our perspective, is connected to the fact that Gilad Shalit, the Israeli abducted soldier, was not released yet, and secondly, to the agreement between Israel, the PA, the United States, Europe from 2005.
MODERATOR: Last question, (inaudible) Israel Channel 10 TV.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, do you intend to send any of your officials from here to Damascus, perhaps? And if you do so, what’s on the agenda? And even if you do not, do you see any possibility for real progress on the Israeli-Palestinian track without any active, real progress with the Syrians? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. We are going to be sending two officials to Syria. There are a number of issues that we have between Syria and the United States, as well as the larger regional concerns that Syria obviously poses. As you know, there have been a number of members of the United States Congress who have gone to Damascus in the last weeks and months, and we had an occasion a week ago to call in the ambassador from Syria.
Yes, we’re going to dispatch a representative of the State Department and a representative of the White House to explore with Syria some of these bilateral issues. We have no way to predict what the future with our relations concerning Syria might be. Again, we don’t engage in discussions for the sake of having a conversation. There has to be a purpose to them. There has to be some perceived benefit accruing to the United States and our allies and our shared values. But I think it is a worthwhile effort to go and begin these preliminary conversations.
With respect to the Syria track, again, that will be a matter that once there is a government in Israel, it will be on the agenda that both Senator Mitchell and I have with the new government.
MODERATOR: Thank you. This press conference is over. Thank you for having attended.
FOREIGN MINISTER LIVNI: Thank you.