President Obama Announcing the Appointment of George Mitchell as Special Middle East Peace Envoy: Partial Transcript

President Obama Announcing the Appointment of George Mitchell as Special Middle East Peace Envoy

Partial Transcript
At the State Department, January 22, 2009

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/22/AR2009012202550.html

Thursday, January 22, 2009

OBAMA: It will be the policy of my administration to actively and aggressively seek a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as Israel and its Arab neighbors. To help us pursue these goals, Secretary Clinton and I have asked George Mitchell to serve as special envoy for Middle East peace.

George is renowned in this country and around the world for his negotiating skill. He brings international stature and a lifetime of service. His years in the Senate were marked by strong leadership and bipartisan achievement. His efforts on behalf of peace in Northern Ireland were indispensable in reconciling a painful and protracted conflict.

Time and again, in public service and private life, he has acted with skill and acted with integrity. He will be fully empowered at the negotiating table, and he will sustain our focus on the goal of peace.

No one doubts the difficulty of the road ahead, and George outlined some of those difficulties. The tragic violence in Gaza and southern Israel offers a sobering reminder of the challenges at hand and the setbacks that will inevitably come.

It must also instill in us, though, a sense of urgency, as history shows us that strong and sustained American engagement can bridge divides and build the capacity that supports progress. And that is why we will be sending George to the region as soon as possible to help the parties ensure that the cease-fire that has been achieved is made durable and sustainable.

Let me be clear: America is committed to Israel's security. And we will always support Israel's right to defend itself against legitimate threats.

For years, Hamas has launched thousands of rockets at innocent Israeli citizens. No democracy can tolerate such danger to its people, nor should the international community, and neither should the Palestinian people themselves, whose interests are only set back by acts of terror.

To be a genuine party to peace, the quartet has made it clear that Hamas must meet clear conditions: recognize Israel's right to exist; renounce violence; and abide by past agreements.

Going forward, the outline for a durable cease-fire is clear: Hamas must end its rocket fire; Israel will complete the withdrawal of its forces from Gaza; the United States and our partners will support a credible anti-smuggling and interdiction regime, so that Hamas cannot rearm.

Yesterday I spoke to President Mubarak and expressed my appreciation for the important role that Egypt played in achieving a cease-fire. And we look forward to Egypt's continued leadership and partnership in laying a foundation for a broader peace through a commitment to end smuggling from within its borders.

Now, just as the terror of rocket fire aimed at innocent Israelis is intolerable, so, too, is a future without hope for the Palestinians. I was deeply concerned by the loss of Palestinian and Israeli life in recent days and by the substantial suffering and humanitarian needs in Gaza. Our hearts go out to Palestinian civilians who are in need of immediate food, clean water, and basic medical care, and who've faced suffocating poverty for far too long.

Now we must extend a hand of opportunity to those who seek peace. As part of a lasting cease-fire, Gaza's border crossings should be open to allow the flow of aid and commerce, with an appropriate monitoring regime, with the international and Palestinian Authority participating.

Relief efforts must be able to reach innocent Palestinians who depend on them. The United States will fully support an international donor's conference to seek short-term humanitarian assistance and long-term reconstruction for the Palestinian economy. This assistance will be provided to and guided by the Palestinian Authority.

Lasting peace requires more than a long cease-fire, and that's why I will sustain an active commitment to seek two states living side by side in peace and security.

Senator Mitchell will carry forward this commitment, as well as the effort to help Israel reach a broader peace with the Arab world that recognizes its rightful place in the community of nations.

I should add that the Arab peace initiative contains constructive elements that could help advance these efforts. Now is the time for Arab states to act on the initiative's promise by supporting the Palestinian government under President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad, taking steps towards normalizing relations with Israel, and by standing up to extremism that threatens us all.

Jordan's constructive role in training Palestinian security forces and nurturing its relations with Israel provide a model for these efforts. And going forward, we must make it clear to all countries in the region that external support for terrorist organizations must stop.

CLINTON It's my great honor to introduce the man who the president and I have asked to be the special envoy for Middle East peace. He will lead our efforts to reinvigorate the process for achieving peace between Israel and its neighbors.

He will help us to develop an integrated strategy that defends the security of Israel, works to bring an end to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict that will result in two states, living side by side in peace and security, and to achieve further agreements to promote peace and security between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

Senator Mitchell will also work to support the objectives that the president and I believe are critical and pressing in Gaza, to develop a program for humanitarian aid and eventual reconstruction, working with the Palestinian Authority and Israel on behalf of those objectives.

MITCHELL: I saw it happen in Northern Ireland, although admittedly it took a very long time. I believe deeply that with committed, persevering and patient diplomacy, it can happen in the Middle East.

There are, of course, many, many reasons to be skeptical about the prospect for success. The conflict has gone on for so long and has had such destructive effects that many have come to regard it as unchangeable and inevitable, but the president and the secretary of state don't believe that.

They believe, as I do, that the pursuit of peace is so important that it demands our maximum effort, no matter the difficulties, no matter the setbacks. The key is the mutual commitment of the parties and the active participation of the United States government, led by the president and the secretary of state, with the support and assistance of the many other governments and institutions who want to help.

The secretary of state just talked about our long-term objective, and the president himself has said that his administration, and I quote, "will make a sustained push, working with Israelis and Palestinians, to achieve the goal of two states, a Jewish state in Israel and a Palestinian state, living side by side in peace and security."

This effort must be determined, persevering and patient. It must be backed up by political capital, economic resources, and focused attention at the highest levels of our government. And it must be firmly rooted in a shared vision of a peaceful future by the people who live in the region.

At the direction of the president and the secretary of state, and in pursuit of the president's policies, I pledge my full effort in the search for peace and stability in the Middle East.