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G8 Foreign Ministers Meetings

Press Conference at G8 Foreign Ministers Meeting

Edited Transcript of Press Conference Given by the Foreign Secretary Jack Straw
London, June 23, 2005

See also:
• Chairman's Statement, June 23, 2005 [English] [Français]
• Statement on Afghanistan, June 23, 2005 [English] [Français]
Interview of Jack Straw and Abdullah Abdullah of Afghanistan, June 23, 2005
Interview of Jack Straw and Jim Wolfensohn, June 23, 2005

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you very much for your attendance. It has been my great pleasure to welcome to London my G8 colleagues for the G8 Foreign Ministers meeting today. We were all delighted that this morning the Afghan Foreign Minister, Dr Abdullah Abdullah, joined us. He gave a presentation about progress being made, and still to be made, in Afghanistan since the collapse and defeat of the Taliban and the beginnings of the Bonn process three years ago. We have issued a statement on Afghanistan, which you will have, which underlines our long term support for the transformation of Afghanistan into a democracy, with parliamentary and provincial elections which are due in September. Those elections will bring formally to an end the Bonn process, but all of us were able to reassure Dr Abdullah Abdullah, his President, President Karzai, and the government and people of Afghanistan that the international community's commitment to Afghanistan is for the long term.

We then went on to discuss a range of key international issues, beginning with the Middle East, and we received a presentation by Jim Wolfensohn, former President of the World Bank and now the Special Envoy for the Quartet, and from General Ward, the United States Security Coordinator in Israel and in respect of the occupied territories. Mr Wolfensohn and General Ward had reported to the Quartet at their meeting earlier this morning, and Jim Wolfensohn outlined proposals to ensure that Gaza will become economically viable after Israeli withdrawal. There is no higher international priority than the Middle East peace process. However we have just got 6 weeks before disengagement and it is essential that both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority intensify their co-operation with one another to make a success of this major step towards two viable and secure states living in peace side by side. As you will see then from the statement, we went on then to discuss Iran, and today the G8 reiterated its full support for the work of France, Germany and the United Kingdom, together with the EU High Representative, Javier Solana. We all agreed that for the process to continue and to build confidence it is essential that Iran keeps all fuel cycle activities fully suspended. And concerns were also expressed about Iran's ballistic missile programme, its attitude towards terrorism and towards the Middle East peace process.

We discussed the Western Balkans in detail, United Nations reform. I elaborated on our proposals for an Arms Trade treaty and we discussed our common concerns about the proliferation of conventional arms, areas of conflict. We discussed the continuing and serious situation in Sudan. We noted current developments in respect of Korea. We welcomed the outcome of yesterday's international conference on Iraq, discussed progress in respect of Security Council resolutions 1559 and 1595 on Lebanon and Syria. We discussed concern about the deteriorating security environment in Haiti. And in respect of Zimbabwe, we discussed the current situation and the ongoing police operations which have reportedly left thousands of the most vulnerable homeless and destitute, and we called on the government of Zimbabwe to abide by the rule of law and respect for human rights.

That, Ladies and Gentlemen, is a summary of what has been a very productive morning and early afternoon of discussions amongst G8 Foreign Ministers.

For the US Secretary of State, can you confirm to us that you are actually approving the Europeans' approach, the European, UK, Germany's approach towards dealing with the issue with Iran?

Indeed the United States has for some time been supportive of the EU3 negotiations with Iran. We believe that Iran should take advantage of the opportunity that is being provided to them by the European 3 to give confidence to the international community that they are prepared to live up to their international obligations not to seek a nuclear weapons programme under cover of civilian nuclear power. And we are very supportive of what the EU3 is doing, and I believe some time ago, a couple of months ago when the President was here, he and his European colleagues talked about this. And indeed the United States tried to put forward a couple of proposals, for instance to allow the Iranians to make application to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in order to support those negotiations. We continue to be supportive and we call upon the Iranians to adhere to the Paris Agreement to its letter and to not engage in any activities associated with the fuel cycle.

You have all expressed concern in your statement about what is happening in Lebanon and the instability there, and expressed concern about Syria. Does any country represented here, or any member of the European Union, have the confidence that it can assert with certainty that Syria is in any way responsible for any of the assassinations that have been happening in Lebanon, or that in defiance of 1559 Syria still has intelligence agents in the country? And on the assassinations matter, given that Israel has this week resumed its policy of targeted killings, I wonder if the members here condemn the resumption of that policy and, in the words of the Secretary, should knock it off?

... Mr Roed-Larsen said that he had issued a very firm message to Bashir al Assad and he must take that message very seriously. The international community will not accept a situation in which the attacks on politicians or members of civil society continue, that you have pointed out in the Lebanon. I would also like to say about the Lebanon that we have been waiting a long time for free elections to take place in Lebanon, we very much welcome the high turnout in these elections. We very much welcome the outcome of those elections and the attachment of the Lebanese to democracy. We would like to pay tribute to the Lebanese government for the elections which have taken place at the right time, at the appropriate time, and we are awaiting the formation of the new government. We are expecting the territorial integrity and national sovereignty to be maintained, and the international community must of course be prepared to respond to any request for support. So I think we need to be very firm in what we say to Syria, and 1559 has to be fully respected.

I was wondering if I could ask Dr Rice if she has any reaction to the reports today that a senior Saudi al Qa'ida member was reportedly killed by US forces right on the Syrian-Iraqi border, and I believe Farouk al Sharab, the Syrian Foreign Minister, who attended your conference yesterday in Brussels, is reported today as saying that Syria is serious about cracking down on cross-border insurgency, but this has apparently been contradicted by today's announcement.

First of all, I have seen the reports and I have only seen the news reports, so with that caveat let me just say that obviously there have been a number of operations in the area near the Syrian-Iraqi border, which is an area in which there is concentrated activity of the terrorists who are crossing the Syrian border to come into Iraq and are therefore contributing to the instability there, and indeed costing the lives of innocent Iraqis. The Saudis have been very active and have been in discussions with the Iraqis about how to better police their borders, and yesterday I think the Iraqi government made very clear that they believed that their neighbours could do more. Much of the concern has been about the Syrian border, and I would simply say to the Syrian government, let's not have more words about what they are prepared to do about Iraq, let's have action. This is a government that can take action on its border to prevent these cross-border activities that are really contributing dramatically to insecurity in Iraq. So if they are prepared to do it, they should just do it.

QUESTION: (Martin Benedict, Associated Press Television)
A question for the Japanese Foreign Minister. You will be aware that today there was an announcement that North and South Korea have pledged that they will settle their nuclear differences peacefully. What is your response to that, and how much confidence do you have that the north will hold to any promise that it makes?

I believe that we certainly highly appreciate the serious efforts being made by South Korea, but in reality I am not sure about the details of the sort of agreement that is reported to have been achieved between north and south. The north on one side claims to be a nuclear weapons state, but at the same time says that they are prepared to give up their nuclear weapons ... a total contradiction. And I believe North Korea should return to the six pointed talks unconditionally and early and engage in discussions of the six pointed talks. And the objective should not be to return to the six pointed talks, but through the six pointed talks to entirely dismantle the nuclear programmes, to dismantle their missiles and to resolve ... including the abductees from Japan. Resolving these issues are the objectives of the six pointed talks. There may be a tendency to misunderstand, but the objective is to get the North Koreans back to the six pointed talks. That said, the North Koreans, through negotiations, should try and strive for peaceful resolutions of all the issues, and if that is the true intent on their part then I certainly would welcome them.

... that two children may have died in the demolitions in Zimbabwe. And may I also ask Secretary Rice, Europe is very much on our mind over here at the moment, the European Union, what do you think of Europe potentially blowing cold on the admission of Turkey, and do you think Tony Blair or Jacques Chirac has the right vision for Europe?

Let me answer your first question. I only received the news about the reports that two children might have been crushed to death in the clearances being undertaken by the police in Zimbabwe after our meeting, so it obviously could not be reflected either in the discussion or the conclusions. The situation as we reflect in these conclusions however in Zimbabwe is of profound concern. I expressed that concern yesterday, and I also said, speaking on behalf of the United Kingdom Government, that we believe that there was a really high responsibility now placed on African leaders not to continue to turn a blind eye to what is going on in Zimbabwe. If the reports are simply half truths, and we believe them to be much more than half truths, this is a situation of serious international concern, and no government which subscribes to human rights and democracy should allow this kind of thing effectively to go on under their noses.

First let me strongly associate myself and my Government with what the Foreign Secretary has just said. The events in Zimbabwe are tragic and I appreciate the leadership of the Foreign Secretary in speaking out against these outrages, and I also hope very much that the African Union, that the other African states will do the same, because this obviously, if it is reported even partially the numbers here or the activities, it simply cannot go on and I would hope there would be really outspokenness about this on the part of the international community. As to Europe, the United States is very much in favour of a strong and united Europe that can be a good partner for the United States and others, and the tremendous demands of global leadership, and there are tremendous demands these days, whether it is the war on terrorism or the fight against proliferation, or the efforts to finally bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians, the efforts towards democratisation and reform in the broader Middle East. I could go on, there is a long list of demands for leadership, and with our European partners who share our values and constitute in the European Union along with NATO the two pillars of the strong transatlantic relationship that we have tried to build, we have every interest in a Europe that is effective and strong. Precisely how that will play out in the institutions of Europe I think is up to Europeans. Obviously we are not members of the European Union, but we have always hoped to encourage a Europe that would be outward looking, not inward looking, that would take on the responsibilities of global leadership. I would note that the European Union has been an important lodestar, an important north star if you will, for reforming and democratising states in Europe. It has been in its willingness to continue its expansion something to which a lot of states look for their cues about how to reform, about domestic changes that need to be made, and I would sincerely hope that that would continue, including the promises and obligations that the European Union has made to a number of states, including to Turkey.

QUESTION: (Al Jazeera Newspaper)
I want to thank the FCO Office for trying to let me attend as accessible as it can. My question to Secretary Rice, how do you evaluate your last visit to the Middle East and Saudi Arabia especially, and are you going to discuss the forums in the Middle East in the G8 Summit?

Thank you very much, and indeed we had a discussion today that the broader Middle East initiative, the agenda for reform in the Middle East is of central importance ... I might note that we underscored something that I tried to emphasise when I was in the Middle East, which is that we believe very strongly that these are values and aspirations that are universal, but that their expression will of course be home grown or indigenous, that the people themselves will determine the course. It is our responsibility to speak out for those values, to provide opportunities for reformers in the Middle East to connect with other people, human rights groups, women's groups, business groups. On the outside the forum for the future, one of the ways that we do that, the European Union has had the Mediterranean dialogue, which is another way to do that, and so I think there is very strong support for the need for reform and democratisation in the Middle East, recognising that the impulse for this really does come from the people and that its expression will be that of the people of the Middle East. I would just add that I had very good discussions in Jordan, in Egypt, indeed in Saudi Arabia. The governments of course there know that this has become an important item, an important agenda item for the United States, and I would just note that there was no government there that proved to be unwilling or in the least bit shy about discussing these issues in our bilateral dialogue. It will continue to be an important part of our bilateral dialogue with all of the countries of the Middle East.

(In Russian and interpretation inaudible)

We shall of course continue the tradition of the G8 that assumes that each country when it becomes Chair brings in its own special features to the process, but without any doubt continues the projects and the initiatives that have been started before. And in this way I think that when Russia is Chair, and taking into account our comparative advantages, will include into the G8 agenda for next year, and as far as I understand our partners agree to that, we shall include the issues of energy in our agenda, and we shall of course continue to develop all those initiatives and all those issues which are under way in the G8 format today, the ones that were mentioned today by my colleague. Jack Straw talked about the G8's international agenda. On the whole he very carefully summarised our discussion, he did that of course on behalf of himself, on behalf of the Chair. So there are many issues for us to tackle, many challenges, and with the support of our colleagues, and in particular we count upon the close cooperation with our British colleagues so that there is continuity in the process. So therefore I hope that Russia will chair the G8 with dignity and usefully next year.

QUESTION: (Jerry Lewis, Israel Radio)
Dr Rice and Mr Straw, you have both been recently in the Middle East and you have heard the determination by the Israeli leadership to pull out of Gaza, and both of you have made clear how important it is. But there has been an on-going barrage of rockets, suicide bombing attempts, right throughout this period. The Israelis want to pull out of Gaza but they are petrified their security will be compromised. Can you, Dr Rice, tell us from the Quartet's angle what can be done to avoid the spanner in the works that this ongoing terrorism reads as? And Mr Straw, could you tell us from the G8 angle what can be done internationally to support the Palestinians' crackdown on the terrorism, because otherwise it looks as though it is going to be an ongoing problem?

Thank you very much. First of all let me say that I think it is an historic and indeed courageous decision that the government of Israel has taken to pull out of Gaza and four settlements in the West Bank. It does give us an opportunity, or gives the parties an opportunity, to build trust and confidence in this process which I believe very strongly could lead to an acceleration of progress between the two sides, and an acceleration of activity on the road map, and after all the road map is a reliable guide to a two state outcome. Absolutely, the Israeli people, the Israeli settlers of Gaza should not be subjected to any kind of violence or terrorism at any time, but most especially during the withdrawal. Israel is leaving Gaza freely and this has to be a peaceful and orderly withdrawal and we have emphasised that with both parties.

My colleague, Jack Straw, will talk about the G8, but let me just say that first of all the Palestinians have responsibilities, and those responsibilities include using their security services in whatever way they can, in whatever state they are, to fight against those who would try and destroy the process that will now be under way for withdrawal, and General Ward is working with them and with others, including the Egyptians and the international community, to try and help provide a secure environment in which the Palestinians contribute by fighting those who are firing the Sam rockets or trying to destabilise the region. Secondly, the region, the regional states, have an obligation to speak clearly to those who would be disruptive to this process, that means those who have declared themselves to be outside the Palestinian consensus for calm. That means that there cannot be a blind eye to the activities of states that are supporting terrorist groups, whether it be the Syrians where the Palestinian Islamic Jihad is headquartered in Damascus, or the Iranians who have never supported the peace process and continue to support terrorists. Finally the international community can speak with one voice about terrorism and to the states that are supporting terrorism and say that it is simply unacceptable when the Palestinian people, represented by Mahmoud Abbas, who is after all the freely elected President of the Palestinian people, and the Israelis decide that they want to try to make progress of this kind. Now to be sure the context is important, the political context is important. I have spent time with both leaderships, I have encouraged both to take this opportunity, I have encouraged the Israelis to do everything that they can to strengthen the hand of moderates in the Palestinian territories, to be able to make a better life for the Palestinian people, to ease closures, to deal with the humanitarian situation of the Palestinian people, and to do all of those things. And indeed Israel does have responsibilities not to try to pre-judge a final status agreement with its activities, and to support a Palestinian leadership that has cast its lot with a peaceful outcome. But fighting terrorism is fighting terrorism, and the Palestinians, the regional states and the international community have an obligation to make sure that there is a very clear message that terrorism is not to be tolerated.

I would simply like to endorse that very comprehensive statement by Secretary Rice, to say that we are all very grateful to the fact that the United States has taken a practical lead on issues of security by the appointment of General Ward, and much else besides. We in the United Kingdom have been happy to assist, not least in helping the Palestinian Authority to strengthen its security. Terrorism remains the single greatest threat to the peaceful disengagement from Gaza, and all the great things that could follow from that, in other words the start of a separate viable state of Palestine living in peace alongside a neighbour - Israel - which is guaranteed its own secrity. And many of the terrorists are as anxious to disrupt the work of the Palestinian Authority, as tragically they are to kill innocent Israelis. We are alive to that and heavy responsibilities fall on the Palestinian Authority, as well as on others, and you will see from the second paragraph of my statement of our discussions on the Middle East, that we say we call on the Palestinian Authority to press ahead with the reform agenda, in particular to deliver on their security commitments in respect of the road map.

Just to say two sentences. I am not every day in the UK, and you know that our Presidency of the European Union, Luxembourg's Presidency comes to an end. I wish really all the best to our friends from the UK, and above all to my friend Jack Straw. I think that Europe can digest more UK, and the UK can digest more Europe. Thank you.

And Jean, can I express ...

That is European humour.

FOREIGN SECRETARY: That is European humour, thank you. We have periods of reflection and periods of digestion, and both are taking place at the moment. And can I express on behalf of all my colleagues, but particularly my European Union colleagues, and on this Philippe, Joschka and I are unanimous, as we always are, our deep appreciation to you Jean for the way in which you have headed the General Affairs and External Relations Councils, and the lead which you and your government have given to the European Union over the last six months. And thank you all very much for your attendance, and thank you to my colleagues for making this day a success.

Source: UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office

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