Ambassador Rice: Good afternoon, everyone.
Today has been an unusually good day at the United Nations. We saw the General Assembly act by an overwhelming margin to credential the new Libyan government, its Transitional National Council, as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people. We had the unanimous adoption of Resolution 2009, establishing a new United Nations presence in Libya and modifying the sanctions regime to allow resources to flow more easily as well as transparently to the Libyan authorities.
In addition, we adopted a 12-month extension of the mission of the United Nations in Liberia. Which the United States sponsored, and that, too, by a unanimous vote. So it has been a good day.
And, of course, we are looking forward to a busy week next week. As always, President Obama will be here. He will have a very full schedule over the course of his two and a half days here. He will arrive on Monday the 19th in the afternoon. He will have a very full day on Tuesday when he will participate in the Secretary-General’s high-level meeting on Libya, and we view this as a very important occasion. It corresponds to a recommendation that the President, himself, made in August, and we think it provides an opportunity for the international community to show that there is broad and united support for the people of Libya as they embark on this important transition.
He will also participate in a number of bilateral meetings, including with chairman Jalil of the TNC, and will also have the opportunity to co-chair, with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, a very important high-level meeting on open government partnership, and we’re looking very much forward to that.
On Wednesday, he will, of course, give the opening address at the General Assembly and continue his bilateral meetings. The President will participate in the Secretary-General’s lunch and will traditionally do as he always does and host a reception in the evening for heads of state and delegation.
The White House went through a more detailed briefing today of all the aspects of the President’s schedule, so I won’t bore you with that. But, obviously, we look forward to a very productive and important week. And I’m happy to take a few questions
Reporter: As you know, President Abbas said today that he was planning to bring the question of Palestinian membership of the UN to the Security Council. There’s a school of thinking among the Palestinians that it’s time to bring the two-state solution back to the UN because it started here. The U.S. kind of took it over after Madrid, but 20 years later the Palestinians are worse off, they have three times as many settlers, they don’t have a state and they are still under occupation, so they feel like the U.S. has been stalling on them for 20 years. And if they bring it back here, there will be a greater sense of urgency and more sympathy from the international community for seeing a two-state solution through to its fruition. How do you feel about that?
Ambassador Rice: Well, the U.S has not been stalling—we’ve been working very hard for many, many years, but, certainly, from the second day that President Obama took office, to try to accomplish a two-state solution. And that remains our interest and our objective and we are working very hard every day to accomplish that. And we’ll continue to do so during and after the General Assembly this year.
We are supportive and we want to see the creation of a Palestinian state. There is no question about that. And President Obama said so last year, again, here at the General Assembly. But the fact of the matter is, there’s only one way to accomplish that. And that is by the two parties sitting down at the negotiating table and deciding on the terms of that state and deciding on the issues that divide them.
The issues are borders, security, the capitol of a new state, refugees, water and all the very complex final status issues that can’t be decided by fiat and a piece of paper here in the United Nations, whether in the Security Council or the General Assembly.
They can only be decided by direct negotiations between the two parties and an agreement between the two parties. And that’s what we are working very, very hard to foster. That’s been our objective for many years, and certainly over the last two and a half years of the Obama Administration.
Reporter: Two-part question. We know Congress has threatened to cut off funding to the Palestinians if they did this and came to the Security Council [inaudible]. How will this affect the Administration’s relationship with the Palestinians? And also, former President Jimmy Carter was on Al Jazeera today, and he said that the fact that this happened just shows that the United States has lost all hope for the region. Not only for the Palestinians but for the Israelis. Do you have any evidence to the contrary?
Ambassador Rice: I think that the United States’ influence in the region remains very strong. We have important alliances and partnerships that we are nurturing, and they continue to bear fruit.
And we have seen, from Libya to Syria to all elements of the region that the United States is very much viewed as an important player and partner and will continue to be so. Now, with respect to the relationship with the Palestinians—first of all, let’s be clear. We heard President Abbas’s speech, we acknowledge what he said, but there are many questions about how this process will unfold in New York, and we certainly don’t want to prejudge that.
We continue to think that the best course would not be actions here in New York, but the best course would be for the parties to return swiftly and seriously to the negotiating table. I’m not going to speculate about the potential reactions in Congress. That is obviously something that will depend on what transpires and how the members of Congress, themselves, react. But for the United States, for the Administration, we certainly view as valuable our partnership with both the Israelis and the Palestinians, and we will continue to play our role in trying to bring the parties to a peaceful settlement.
Reporter: On Sudan, I wanted to ask you this. That beyond just the fighting and bombing in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, there was an agreement that was announced by the UN in Abyei that Khartoum and Juba would both pull out, even before the UNISFA mission was fully implemented. And now Khartoum has said that that’s not true—they didn’t agree to that, that the UN misspoke. I wanted to know what’s your understanding of when they committed to pull out. And, two, what—in President Obama’s bilateral, what’s the place of Sudan. I mean last year it was quite high profile on his visit. Does it remain that? Does he think that things are better there than they were last year? And what’s he going to be doing here while he’s here on Sudan?
Ambassador Rice: Well, with respect to the redeployment of forces from the Abyei area, the two sides signed an agreement and made a commitment to withdraw those forces, in fact, earlier in the process than we are today, and certainly long before the full deployment of UNISFA.
So we think that redeployment is overdue and needs to be accomplished urgently. And any suggestion that that wasn’t in fact the agreement is belied by the document that both parties signed. Obviously, the United States remains very interested in, very committed to peace and security in Sudan, both the Republic of Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan, and we’re frankly quite concerned that many of the critical issues that need to be resolved between North and South remain unresolved. Many of the crucial aspects of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement remain unresolved and unimplemented and that, in and of itself, has the potential to be a spark that could ignite underlying tensions.
We’re also very, very concerned by what is transpiring in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, where aerial bombardments, attacks on civilians and humanitarian crisis is continuing and intensifying. So that also is of concern, and, of course, we remain very much focused on what is transpiring in Darfur.
So there’s no diminution in the U.S. government’s focus on, or commitment to what transpires in Sudan. And as was mentioned today at the White House, President Obama will have the opportunity to meet briefly with President Salva Kiir of South Sudan during the United Nations General Assembly.
Reporter: There was a statement yesterday that Syria…[Inaudible]…Is President Obama going to discuss the situation in Syria…[Inaudible]
Ambassador Rice: The United States shares the Secretary-General’s outrage at what is transpiring in Syria, and that is why we’ve consistently taken very strong action against the Syrian authorities. We’ve condemned the ridiculous and excessive violence against civilians that continues today throughout the country.
And we’ve imposed very significant sanctions, bilaterally, against the Assad government, the individuals in it and elements of the economy which fuel the regime, including the energy sector and the financial sector. Obviously, this is high on our agenda and it is already and will continue to be an important topic of conversation for United States officials when they interact with their counterparts.
Reporter: …A question…the negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians, fostered by the U.S., has been fruitless for more than 20 years now. And the Palestinians, they’re coming to the UN to resolve things at the UN and the U.S. is blocking, in fact, their way. What do you think…
Ambassador Rice: …They haven’t come here yet, so let’s not get ahead of it. But let me just say this. It is true that negotiations have not yet yielded the outcome we all seek and desire. But it is also equally true that there is no other way to accomplish the establishment of a Palestinian state. There’s no magic wand. There’s no magic piece of paper, here or anywhere else, that, in and of itself, can create that outcome. As a practical, factual matter.
In order to achieve the creation of a Palestinian state with clear boundaries, with sovereignty, with the ability to secure itself and provide for its people, there has to be a negotiated settlement and that is why we’re continuing to make every effort to bring that about.
That is why we think that it is short sighted and counter-productive to try a means of short-circuiting that, because at the end of the day, the only way to change conditions in the real world for the people of Palestine and to create two states, living side-by-side in peace and security, is at the negotiating table.
Reporter: Two quick questions logistically. Do you believe the Palestinians have the nine votes in the Security Council they need to make a U.S. veto irrelevant? And B, the Palestinians seem to want this to happen very quickly. Do you—how fast do you expect this to happen? Does the U.S. want to delay it?
Ambassador Rice: I really am not going to get into speculating about the various ways this could come, on what timelines, in what form or fashion. If we’ve learned anything as we have focused very closely on this process, it is, we don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. So obviously we will wait and see.
I’m not going to predict today what exactly the vote count is, but I think there are more than one, and perhaps several members of the Security Council, who are skeptical about the timeliness of action in the Security Council.
Thank you very much.