President Vladimir Putin: Dear Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,
My first visit to Palestine has been very productive. I had a very interesting discussion with head of the Palestinian National Authority Mahmoud Abbas. Primarily, of course, we talked about the problem of regulation in the Middle East and specific ways and prospects to develop peaceful dialogue.
We stated the changes for the better that have taken in place in relations between Palestine and Israel. In our common opinion, these changes must be consolidated, with the understanding that the ultimate goal of regulation remains the same – to create an independent Palestinian nation living in peace with Israel.
I am firmly convinced that the future does not lie in isolation from each other, but in cooperation and integration. The entire civilised world is proceeding on this path. We hope that both Palestine and Israel will also take this path.
It is clear that there are considerable difficulties in moving towards this goal. Unfortunately, there is still a great deal of mistrust, and the burden of mutual resentments and stereotypes is great. In the conditions of rather fragile stability, it is extremely important for both sides not to back down from agreements reached in the past. This above all concerns observance of the truce, the problem of releasing political prisoners, and also removing restrictions of free movement of people.
Russia and Palestine are certain that all issues concerning the final status of Palestinian territories, borders, refugees, the status of Jerusalem, water resources etc. should only be resolved together, at the discussion table.
In a new, more favourable situation, there is a growing role of the four international intermediaries. It is under their aegis that steps should be made from Israel withdrawing from Gaza to a full implementation of all statutes of the “roadmap”, and then to restore direct Palestinian-Israeli talks on the definitive status of Palestinian territories.
As an active member of the “quartet” of intermediaries, Russia is prepared to assist attaining this goal. And we call on all interested parties, above all Palestine and Israel, to make use of all the existing opportunities to localise and stop the conflict.
The topic of thorough reform of the Palestinian Authority was mentioned at the talks. We fully support the policy of Mr President in developing democracy and building a multi-party system. Only in this way can a solid foundation of Palestinian statehood be laid, and tools created to solve tasks of modernising Palestinian society.
During the talks we once more confirmed that Russian-Palestinian relations are based on a firm foundation of traditional friendship and mutual understanding.
Russia will continue to provide the new Palestinian leadership with assistance in carrying out changes to the Palestinian Authority, and in establishing statehood. Options are being examined for Russia to take place in the process of economic rebirth of Palestinian territories including Gaza. We are prepared to provide aid in the development of the law-enforcement component. Furthermore, we plan further development of cultural and business contacts, including contacts in training personnel and also parliamentary exchanges. We have agreed that a Russian delegation will take part in observing the process of the upcoming parliamentary elections.
All these steps are directed towards helping the Palestinian people to realise their lawful interests, and in advancing the peace process in the Middle East as a whole.
Question: This is a question for President Vladimir Putin. You have not said anything about the initiative to hold an international conference in Moscow, which you mentioned in Cairo. Does this mean that Russia has gone back on this initiative following Israel’s strong objections?
President Vladimir Putin: No, we are not going back on our proposal to hold an international conference in Moscow on Middle East peace settlement this autumn. But I must say that we did not meet with any strong objections from our Israeli colleagues, at least not during our direct talks with them, on the expediency of holding this meeting. The Israelis think that this meeting should be thoroughly prepared.
We agree with this. Moreover, we explained to them that our proposal is not about holding a summit, rather the proposal is to hold a meeting at high expert level. As you know, a meeting of the quarter foreign ministers is to take place in Moscow on May 8–9. We are firmly convinced that it is important not to interrupt the momentum of this process, the momentum of these ongoing meetings, contacts, and efforts to clarify the positions and build up confidence among all the participants in the peace process. So we are not renouncing our proposal. And our Palestinian friends support this proposal.
Question: It is well-known that Israel possesses nuclear weapons. At the same time, Israel and other countries, to put it mildly, are opposed to Iran’s civilian nuclear projects. Could you comment on this? Also, do you not think that the pace of implementation of the agreements reached at Sharm-al-Sheikh has slowed down? If this is the case, what can be done to activate this process and ensure that it goes ahead without interruption?
Vladimir Putin: We do not oppose Iran using nuclear technology for civilian purposes. We think that the Iranian people has the right to use modern technology in all different fields. And we intend to fulfil the agreements that we have with Iran on a nuclear programme, which is, as I said, and I want to stress this, a purely civilian nuclear programme. At the same time, Russia consistently supports the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, and in this respect we call on the Iranian leadership to renounce efforts to develop nuclear fuel cycle enrichment technology, and we call on Iran to put its programmes in this area under international control, above all under control of the IAEA.
The proliferation of nuclear weapons is very dangerous in general, and it is extremely dangerous in as volatile a part of the world as the Middle East. From a military point of view, it would be absolutely senseless and it would be unacceptable from a humanitarian point of view. If we just imagine for a moment that any one of the countries in this region used nuclear weapons, we in Russia who have lived through the horrors of Chernobyl understand very well that it would be enough for the wind to blow in the wrong direction, and the country that used the nuclear weapon would become the victim of its own action. And if we imagine even for a moment that one of the countries in this region used nuclear weapons against its neighbour, against Palestine, this would mean the complete annihilation of the Palestinian people. Let us never forget this. The desire to acquire nuclear weapons, in my opinion, is no more than the ambition of certain politicians, but it is a very dangerous ambition.
The second question was about the pace of implementation of the Sharm-al-Sheikh agreements. More rapid progress probably could be made, but we need to be very careful in how we go about encouraging this progress. We know what difficulties Israel is encountering, we know the problems that need to be resolved, and we therefore intend to act thoughtfully, taking steps to improve the situation, and not create problems through ill-considered action.
Question: Russia at one point promised to provide technical assistance to Palestine, including by supplying armoured personnel carriers and helicopters. What was the Israeli response to this?
The second question is for President Mahmoud Abbas. Today, Israel has shown lack of support towards you by rejecting the United States’ proposals on arming the Palestinian police before the issue of Palestinians facing prosecution has been resolved.
Vladimir Putin: Of course, we discussed this question both in Cairo and yesterday during my talks with Prime Minister Sharon, and again today with our Palestinian friends.
If the Israeli leadership’s position interests you, then it would be better of course to address this question to our Israeli partners.
But overall, they do realise that in order to bring order to the Palestinian territories, the current Palestinian leadership needs to be able to make use of the corresponding resources. If we want President Abbas to fight terrorism effectively, he is not going to be able to do this with only a slingshot and stones at his disposal. We have to understand this fact. Our Israeli partners do understand this.
We will provide the Palestinian leadership with technical assistance, and we will supply equipment and provide training. During the first stage, we will supply aviation equipment – helicopters, communications equipment, and we will provide training for Palestinian security service and police personnel in Moscow. We want this cooperation to be absolutely open, and we do not want it to raise any concerns in Israel. And we will work together to decide these issues.
Mahmoud Abbas: As far as the Israeli demands concerning Palestinians facing prosecution are concerned, there are no agreements on this point. If we are talking about the need to implement the agreements reached at Sharm-al-Sheikh, we need to demand that all previously reached agreements be implemented in full, as an agreement was reached that once the situation is quiet on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides, Israel would begin the withdrawal of its forces from the five towns or districts on the West Bank.
After this, Israel agreed to the return of deported Palestinians both in the Palestinian territories and abroad, in total 64 people, without discrimination of any sort.
Concerning the issue of Palestinians wanted and facing prosecution, Israel gave a list of these people in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and an agreement was reached on the Palestinian National Authority having the appropriate bodies deal with these people in order for Israel to cease prosecution.
An agreement was also reached on setting up a bilateral Palestinian-Israeli commission to draw up the standards and criteria for liberating Palestinian prisoners.
What we have achieved to date is the withdrawal by Israel from two districts – Jericho and Tulkarm. The people wanted and facing prosecution in these districts have been taken under the control of the Palestinian special services. Only 20 deported people have been able to return so far, and the rest are still waiting their turn, for reasons that are unknown.
The commission on Palestinian prisoners held a meeting a month ago but there are as yet no positive results.
Summing up, I would like to say that we are fully committed to the understandings reached at Sharm-al-Sheikh, and we are completely ready to fulfil the commitments we made. I hope that the Israeli side is equally ready to fulfil its commitments.
Question: My first question is for Mahmoud Abbas. How is work going to organise coordination with Israel regarding Israel’s upcoming withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank? What efforts is the Palestinian Authority making to put a stop to violence?
My second question is for Vladimir Putin. This is the first time a Russian leader has visited this region in 40 years. It was an interesting and substantial visit. The journalists have also found it an interesting visit to cover. What are the main results, and what was most important in this visit?
Mahmoud Abbas: Regarding our coordination on the unilateral plan by Israel to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and several districts on the West Bank, we have declared our complete readiness to organise such coordination and we have begun taking steps to coordinate with the Israeli side in order to ensure the conditions for a peaceful, well-organised, objective and complete withdrawal by the Israelis.
We have confirmed that this withdrawal by Israel should be seen as part of the implementation of the roadmap, and the beginning of a return to the situation which existed on 28 September 2000. And then there should be a transition to examining the issue of the final status of the Palestinian territories.
At the beginning, I mentioned already that all the Palestinian organisations have committed themselves to observing the khutna, and we as the Palestinian authorities will do everything possible to ensure that this khutna, this ceasefire, continues.
But we should not forget that over four years of war our security capability, including our technical and logistical capability, has been destroyed, and as President Putin rightly pointed out, we are in desperate need of many resources in order to be able to meet our commitments fully.
Vladimir Putin: Concerning the results of this trip, what I can say is that above all, work in as important and geographically close part of the world as the Middle East is of vital importance for our own national interests.
The situation in different parts of the world and the effectiveness of our combined efforts to fight terrorism in general – something that is of primary importance to us – depend greatly on how we resolve the Middle East problem and on the quality of the solutions we find.
In this respect, we are very pleased indeed with how our discussions went today, and we are pleased with the results of our work together in Cairo, in Jerusalem, and here today in Ramallah.
We intend to continue supporting the peace process, and we will maintain constant bilateral contact with our partners. We will also continue our work within the Quartet. As you know, the Quartet foreign ministers are to hold a meeting on May 8–9 in Moscow.
Considerable work was achieved at bilateral level with our Egyptian and Palestinian friends. I think that we not only managed to restore the previous quality of our relations, but we also agreed on carrying out a whole series of joint projects, including economic projects.
Finally, I consider my visit and my talks in Israel very important and successful. I think that this marks a new beginning in our relations with Israel and takes our ties with this country to a completely new level of quality. This will give us the opportunity to resolve all different problems not through confrontation, but as partners, calmly examining all the issues of mutual bilateral interest, resolving them in coordinated fashion in each others’ interests and taking into account each others’ interests.
This will also give us the opportunity to play a fuller part in the Middle East peace process.
Overall, I am happy with the results of this visit and I would like to conclude by thanking our host today for such a warm welcome, and the substantial and constructive talks that we had.