Press Availability With Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Ali Aboul Gheit
Secretary of State
SECRETARY CLINTON: Good afternoon. We just had a very good working lunch with the foreign minister, General Suleiman, and the delegation from Egypt. I had the opportunity to thank them for their commitment to working with us and strengthening and deepening our bilateral relationship, and for the leadership that Egypt is showing on both regional and global matters.
I asked them to extend our thanks to President Mubarak and others in the Egyptian Government who are working to resolve conflicts and bridge divides. And I assured them that President Obama and I are fully committed to a comprehensive peace in the Middle East, to a two-state solution, and that we regard Egypt as an essential partner in helping us to realize that vision.
We appreciate the leadership that Egypt has shown in recent months, including convening the convention in Sharm el-Sheikh that I attended, as well as undertaking sensitive mediation among various parties in the region. I know that the President is looking forward to his trip to Cairo next week and the opportunity to speak about America’s relationships, not only in the Middle East and not just in the Islamic world but to people everywhere about what our common concerns are and how to seek common ground and realize our common objectives. And I look forward to continuing to work with the foreign minister and others in the Egyptian Government to address the full range of bilateral and mutual concerns.
So, Foreign Minister Gheit, thank you so much for being here.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Thank you very much, Secretary. As you have rightly stated, it was a very fruitful discussion today. And in all honesty, it has been also a very fruitful discussion over the last two days. We have met American officials on the highest level, and we feel encouraged on the insistence and the determination of this Administration to push forward for a peace effort that ultimately we would hope will allow the Palestinians to have their state.
The message we were carrying to you is that the Middle East is looking forward for a determined action on your part to bring the idea on the two state to fruition, that the core of the problems in this part of the world is the Palestinian problem. And we have to keep working together, and we promise that we will be doing our part of the job, and hopefully soon we would have a job well done. That is an aspect.
The second aspect that we touched over the last two days is we are full of expectations for the President’s visit to Cairo on the 4th of June, and we are determined also to keep building up Egyptian-American relations as well as our cooperation with you on all levels of activity in relation to bilateral as well as problems tormenting this region.
Thank you very much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.
MR. KELLY: We’ll take a few questions. First, Elise from CNN.
QUESTION: Thank you, Madame Secretary, Mr. Foreign Minister. Madame Secretary, on North Korea, Pyongyang is threatening to go to war with South Korea over joining the PSI. Do you take those threats seriously? And how will the U.S. protect your ally, South Korea? There are also reports that North Korea is restarting its reprocessing facility. Would that be a violation of the U.S. agreement through the Six-Party Talks, and what should the consequences be?
Mr. Foreign Minister, the Bush Administration was very rhetorical and very critical on issues about human rights and democracy, particularly with Egypt. Have you noticed a difference in the way the Obama Administration approaches these issues? And how has the conversation been different here in Washington?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Do you want to start?
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Yes. They are no more rhetorical. They are discussing issues, showing their concerns, but they also listen. And that is very important to listen and to understand where you come from and what are the reason and the reasoning behind this or that action. I think they are very much different than the Bush Administration. I wouldn't characterize by that as good or bad, but there are differences, in attitude at least.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, as the foreign minister said, we raised issues pertaining to democracy and human rights, as we have consistently in our bilateral discussions. And we will continue to do so. We are interested in working constructively with the Egyptian Government, and I think that there is a great opportunity to not only work together but listen to each other and figure out the best way forward to achieve common objectives.
With respect to North Korea – North Korea has made a choice. It has chosen to violate the specific language of the UN Security Council Resolution 1718. It has ignored the international community. It has abrogated the obligations it entered into through the Six-Party Talks. And it continues to act in a provocative and belligerent manner toward its neighbors.
There are consequences to such actions. In the United Nations, as we speak, discussions are going on to add to the consequences that North Korea will face coming out of the latest behavior, with the intent to try to rein in the North Koreans and get them back into a framework where they are once again fulfilling their obligations and moving toward denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
But they have chosen the path they’re on, and I’m very pleased that we have a unified international community, including China and Russia, in setting forth a very specific condemnation of North Korea and then working with us for a firm resolution going forward.
I want to underscore the commitments that the United States has and intends always to honor for the defense of South Korea and Japan. That is part of our alliance obligation, which we take very seriously. So we hope that there will be an opportunity for North Korea to come back into a framework of discussion within the Six-Party process, and that we can begin once again to see results from working with the North Koreans toward denuclearization that will benefit, we believe, the people of North Korea, the region, and the world.
QUESTION: The reprocessing plant, Madame Secretary (inaudible)?
SECRETARY CLINTON: We’re working on bringing together the international community to determine our steps forward.
MR. KELLY: All right. Next question is (inaudible).
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, with your appreciated new efforts on the peace process, do you consider the previous commitment from the administration of Mr. Bush to the foreign – to the prime minister of Israel, Mr. Sharon, concerning the ‘49 lines and the situation on the ground? Is it – do you consider it invalid now, especially that the Palestinians had refused it then?
SECRETARY CLINTON: We are working very hard. And certainly, Senator Mitchell is leading our efforts to create a context for the negotiations to resume and go forward. Each of the parties, the Israelis and the Palestinians, have in the past committed themselves to certain undertakings that we expect them to be responsible for honoring. And we will be working together with partners like Egypt to bring about a comprehensive approach that can lead to a two-state solution that will give the Israelis and the Palestinians the chance to have a peaceful and secure future. But we’re just at the beginning of that process. And obviously, there is much work to be done before we have any results we can point to.
QUESTION: Well, what is the status of the previous commitment, the previous –
SECRETARY CLINTON: We are looking at all of that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. KELLY: Next question, Kirit from ABC.
QUESTION: A question, Madame Secretary, about settlements. Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that he is going to freeze settlement expansion – new settlement expansion, excuse me – but he’s not made any commitment towards freezing existing settlement growth. Do you think that’s enough?
And then a question on Egypt, if I may. In the case of Janet Greer, a mother whose daughter was abducted by his – her abusive father and brought to Egypt 12 years ago. Mr. Minister, successive court rulings (inaudible) the daughter should be with the mother. Can you tell us why those court rulings have not been enforced?
And Madame Secretary, can you tell us whether you plan to raise such things, this case in specific, with the Egyptian Government?
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Yes. I am – I investigated that issue. And it seems that there is still a court appeal from the father. So a decision, I think, will be made in the next few days. If it will be finally judged that the child would be returned to the mother, I’m sure that the Egyptian Government would abide by the court ruling. But it is not yet – up till now, is not yet a final decision.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I would only add that the State Department and Consular Affairs, particularly the Children’s Bureau, has been working with the family, particularly the mother, on this case for many years. It has gone through the Egyptian judicial system. My understanding is that the mother has won.
But as the foreign minister said, there’s one more step to go through. We’re hoping that this is resolved. I mean, as a mother, the idea that I wouldn’t be able to see my daughter for 12 years is extremely painful to me just to think about. So we are very hopeful that this will be resolved and, as the foreign minister said, we’re confident that the Egyptian Government will react appropriately once it is.
With respect to settlements, the President was very clear when Prime Minister Netanyahu was here. He wants to see a stop to settlements – not some settlements, not outposts, not natural growth exceptions. We think it is in the best interests of the effort that we are engaged in that settlement expansion cease. That is our position. That is what we have communicated very clearly, not only to the Israelis but to the Palestinians and others. And we intend to press that point.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Thank you.
MR. KELLY: And the last question to Sanaa Youssef.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, you expressed your appreciations of the partnership and the experience of Egypt in bringing – in helping the peace process. And you did mention the principle of a peace process, you know, how it should be done. But isn’t it time to bring up a plan of action with a timetable and to move it ahead so really, the people in Egypt and in the whole Arab world would be appreciative of the work?
And for the minister of foreign affairs, did you discuss at all the Iranian folio with the Secretary?
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: I have been responding all the time. Respond first and then I will come back to you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: We are going to be putting forward very specific proposals to the Israelis and the Palestinians. That’s what Senator Mitchell has been doing over the last several days. I will be meeting with President Abbas and his delegation tonight. We’ve also been reaching out to governments of Arab nations asking what they could be expected to do as we move forward to build confidence and to create a good atmosphere for decisions to be made.
But I’m not going to negotiate in public. We are making a very concerted effort. We have a well thought-out approach that we are pursuing. We have a lot of support from countries such as Egypt. But ultimately, this is up to the two parties. Israel and the Palestinians have to decide that they will take a commitment toward a resolution of their outstanding concerns. And the international community, led by the United States, will be very supportive of that.
So we are working to get the Israelis and the Palestinians into a negotiation where we can see the positive steps that you’re referring to take place.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Yes. I think all issues related to the Middle East have been discussed today and over the last two days, including the so-called Iranian nuclear file and the position of Iran in relation to the region. We have been also stressing the need for an American measure – action to expedite the process, or expedite the action itself – the efforts.
The – what is needed today is not only to allow the parties to renegotiate, but what is needed is to allow the parties as they negotiate – we, all of us, the Quartet, the international community, the Arab countries – to show support, understanding, and to push them together, allowing them to negotiate in direct negotiations that are – we are hopeful that would lead to the emergence of the Palestinian state as soon as possible. In the absence of such negotiations and the success of the negotiations and seeing the emergence of a Palestinian state living side by side with Israel, then I think the situation will worsen in this part of the world, and we will be – all of us, not only people in the region or countries in the region, but also the United States and the Western world as well as the world at large – we will be all witnessing a very difficult situation.
So there is an opportunity, a window of opportunity, and let’s act and act decisively now, not tomorrow or the day after.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you all very much.
FOREIGN MINISTER GHEIT: Thank you very much.
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