|Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov
Press Conference Following the Multilateral Steering Group Meeting (Middle East Peace)
Moscow, Russia, February 1, 2000
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
FOREIGN MINISTER IVANOV: (In Russian) Ladies and Gentlemen, we have just completed the meeting of the Steering Group for the advancement of the peace negotiations of the Middle East. We are aware that the Foreign Ministers of the group, Russia, United States, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Palestinian National Party, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Canada, Japan, and the European Union have taken part in it. We have invited the Foreign Ministers of Norway, Switzerland, as well as the representatives of Korea and the UN Special Coordinator on the Middle East Peace Process.
The meeting was held in a constructive and businesslike environment, and I believe I'll express the common opinion of the participants in the meeting that the Moscow meeting of the group provided a full-fledged impetus to the collective cooperation and the milestone of that cooperation is the post-crisis peaceful settlement at the Middle East.
Speaking specifically about the outcome, I would like to set forth the following. First, the Steering Group has listened to the reports of the leading organizers of the working groups and has decided on the date and venue of their plenary meetings in the coming months. Plus, we have provided a start to the multi-lateral negotiations that were commenced four years ago. The meaning of this is quite clear since the multilateral negotiations cover the broad field of negotiations in the field of international cooperation on the problems of the Middle East, economic development, environmental issues, water, refugees, arms control, and security. All these participants were interested in sooner growth of the cooperation capabilities on regional problems and we are confident that it will be of major significance for strengthening peace in the Middle East.
Second, we had open talks on the substance of the problems in the Middle East and it is evident since for the first time the Steering Group has been convened at the level of the heads of foreign ministries. We have not just set forth the position of ours. During the discussion we have voiced fresh ideas and proposals regarding the entire set of topics pertaining to the bilateral and multilateral tracks of the peace process.
Third, the bilateral and the multilateral tracks of the peace process have to enrich each other and promote advancement towards the comprehensive settlement. This is our common opinion. Although the two members of the Steering Group, Syria and Lebanon, are not so far participating in the multilateral events, the attention to their tracks is not weakened and we do hope that both Syria and Lebanon will be involved in the multilateral negotiations.
Finally, I would like to inform you that during the Moscow meeting, together with American party as the co-sponsor, we have agreed to a joint statement by the co-sponsor of the Middle East peace process, which will be distributed by mass media channels. This is a significant political document which corroborates the fundamentals of the Arab-Israeli settlement agreed at the Madrid Peace Conference, format of the peace process which provides for clear landmarks for its subsequent development. Thank you very much indeed.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: As Foreign Minister Ivanov said, we have just concluded a very successful two day meeting on the Middle East peace process. Thirteen ministers from the Middle East and around the globe gathered here in Moscow to rededicate ourselves to the goal of advancing comprehensive peace in the Middle East.
Our aim was to revive the multilateral track, a set of five working groups set up in Madrid in 1991, to address issues of common interest to the peoples of the region. The meeting produced several concrete results. First, we issued a strong joint ministerial statement in support of progress on all tracks of the Middle East peace process. Second, for the first time in four years, we formally resumed multilateral work on water, refugees, regional economic development, and environment, and further meetings are to be convened over the next four months. Third, we began to reexamine the structure and substance of the multilateral track to ensure that it directly supports the needs of the regional parties as they strive towards comprehensive peace.
I am very pleased that the United States and Russia, as co-sponsors of the peace process, were able to work together to make this meeting a success, and I hope that it will prove to be a milestone on the path to a fruitful and lasting peace for all the people of the Middle East, and in fact, it should put an end to the perennial question of whither the multilateral track. It is obvious now that it is operating, alive and well, and the issues that need to be discussed have been relaunched. Thank you very much.
QUESTION: (In Russian) To both ministers, Mr. Ivanov you said that you decided to determine the dates and place and therefore the multilateral negotiations. You said that it is based on the bilateral agreements. Don't you see certain discrepancies here? And when will the talks really start, I mean bilateral talks? Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER IVANOV: (In Russian) We had no disagreements with respect to the continuation of our talks along the bilateral tracks, Syrian, Lebanese, Israeli and along the multilateral tracks. On the contrary, all the participants at the conference noticed that the multilateral cooperation should add to the efforts which are undertaken at the three bilateral tracks. With respect to the dates of the meetings of the groups, the final document includes already those dates, so you can get acquainted with the information contained there.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: So to add to this, I think that what was very evident in our discussions was the complementarity of the multilateral and bilateral tracks. One of the discussions that we have been having around the bilateral tracks is that it is very important to create the proper environment for those talks to take place and had there be an understanding that there is a regional aspect to the talks and that it is important to show the benefits to the people as a result of the bilateral as well as multilateral tracks. I hope now very much that the fact that the multilateral track is going again with dates set will in fact give a new impetus to the bilateral track which now can operate, I believe, within a more comfortable climate as a result of the setting of these dates for the meetings of the groups.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, despite the talks here, the talks between Israel and Syria are either suspended, frozen -- I'd like to know how you would characterize the status of those talks at this time? Secondly, react specifically, if you would, to an article in the official Syrian newspaper yesterday in which the editor of the paper described the Holocaust as a myth which the Jewish State was using to exaggerate.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, let me say that as I've said a number of times, that the bilateral talks are in a state where we are dealing at lower levels in preparing the ground for additional higher level talks. And we believe it is very important that they go forward. The unfortunate events in southern Lebanon, I think, are not at all helpful to the process and we call on Syria, Lebanon, as well as Israel to show restraint so that these kinds of events there do not in any way impede progress. I think that it is very important that the talks go forward. I have obviously not read the Syrian paper. It is obviously ridiculous.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary of State, the change of the leaders of the Palestinian Authority, will it affect seriously the peace process and is the U.S. undertaking any steps regarding. . . (gap in tape)
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: (gap in tape) Well first of all let me say that obviously the current leadership across the board is one that has dealt with each other frequently and understands each other and I would think it is very important for talks to proceed no matter who is a leader anywhere because I think that these are for the benefit of the people and need to be pursued actively.
QUESTION: Can I ask Foreign Minister Ivanov, first of all, we have reports from Grozny that the Chechen there have all left the city and effectively the Russian military is in control. Could you confirm that? And secondly, Madame Secretary, if I could ask you, the Foreign Minister spoke yesterday about the need for reconstruction in Chechnya once the war is over. Would the United States be prepared to assist with that?
FOREIGN MINISTER IVANOV: (In Russia) I believe that we should wait for the official reports regarding the fact of whether the combatants left Grozny or not. Really, in recent hours we received such reports, but we should wait for official confirmation from the Russian sources before commenting on it. But it is crystal clear that it was going in that direction and if you have any doubts I can say that it will be resolved in this way and no other result could be expected. After the federal authorities establish a full control of Grozny, as soon as the scale or level of the necessary sources are determined for rehabilitation of the city, then we will take decisions on how, in what way it should it be done.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Let me say that we have been contributing humanitarian assistance and obviously would continue to do so, but the main point here is let's have this end. We believe, as I said yesterday, that there needs to be a negotiated settlement to this. Both sides have to sit down and negotiate and talk over and I think that it will obviously be the responsibility of those in the region and of the Russian Federation to rebuild and reintegrate that area properly. That was one of the problems that happened after the ‘94-'95 events.
QUESTION: After the talks that were in Israel and Syria ended in a stalemate, are there any opportunities for the settlement of this dispute? Is the U.S. going to take any steps so that the talks would resume again between Damascus and Israel?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: At that we believe that there are talks at lower levels that can take place to help prepare the ground for additional rounds and we believe that it is very important that we all pursue the peace process actively. And statements such as the one that was quoted to me a little while ago from the newspapers clearly do not help the situation. What we need to do is to move forward with a determination that it is in the interest of both sides to have a peace.
FOREIGN MINISTER IVANOV: (In Russian) Russia welcomed the resumption of the beginning of the Syrian-Israeli dialog and we believe that such a dialog should continue on the basis of the well-known resolutions of the UN Security Council.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, to get back to the Syria-Israel thing. Unless something was lost in translation, and it could be, we're here and Mr. Barak is there, I thought he said that unless the Syrians reign in Hezbollah there is no point in negotiating further with Syria. Illustrative perhaps of how important it is for Israel that whatever comes out of a peace accord, that border be quieted. So the question is, what do you think of that statement? We realize fighting isn't helpful to the peace process. What is your response, or what is your, you know, how do you feel about what Mr. Barak said? Do you think Syria has the capacity to reign in Hezbollah? And when Mr. Ross is out there working on the Israeli-Palestinian track, will he also get involved with the rather dormant, I guess that may not be the perfect word, but certainly quiet, Syrian-Israeli peace track?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Let me say that as I understand it -- and I also don't have everything in detail -- that Prime Minister Barak had an addendum to that statement basically saying that that should not prevent further talks, but I think we probably both need to have accurate quoting on that. I believe that, and I continue to believe this, as I did two or three weeks ago, that we have a historic opportunity and by "we" I mean all of those interested in the peace process and Israel and Syria specifically, in seizing an historic opportunity.
Clearly, the talks we have had thus far have, I believe, been already important in that besides talking to each other, and they hadn't for a long time, and that there had been some progress on the various issues discussed. There is now kind of a pause, I guess is the way I would characterize it, and I believe that it's essential that we keep the process going as well as obviously the Palestinian track which we all have so many times described as at the core of the comprehensive peace. So Dennis Ross is going to the region. He is going to be working as he always does to try to move everything forward, as will President Clinton and I.
QUESTION: You've been asked a many faceted question so could you please address whether it is the U.S. impression, because of the importance of that border, is it the U.S. impression that Syria has the will and also the capability of stopping Hezbollah attacks from southern Lebanon at least as part of an overall accord?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I do believe it is important for Syria to use the influence that it has which is why I have stated that it is important for Syria, Lebanon, as well as Israel to show maximum restraint.
QUESTION: I want to ask about your work on the multilateral track, whether the working groups on refugees and water in particular could at some point be turned into a vehicle for implementing bilateral agreements. Is that something you have talked about or are considering? For example, a commission on refugee claims and that sort of thing coming out of the working group on refugees? Thank you.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: It was not discussed in that kind of a specific way and they are working, I mean it all fits in together. Clearly the issue of refugees is one that is not divisible in a multilateral or bilateral way. There are refugees and they need to be taken care of. I might, if you want, give you the dates and places of these meetings as they are listed in the joint statement. The Water Working Group will meet in Muscat on April 11-12, the Regional Economic Development Working Group, (REDWG), in Amman on May 8-11, the Refugee Working Group in Ottawa on May 16-18, and the Environment Working Group in Tunis on May 31-June 1.
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