Transcript of Rice G.A. speech

NASHVILLE (JTA) – The following is an unedited transcript, provided by Federal News Service, of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s comments to the United Jewish Communtiies’ General Assembly on Tuesday:

RICE: Thank you. Thank you very much for that warm welcome. And thank you to Joe Kanfer for the kind introduction and for the leadership that he is providing to the United Jewish Communities.

I would also like to thank my friend Israeli Ambassador Sallai Mellidor, who is here today. And he is doing great work for his country. (Applause.) Thank you, Sallai.

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I’m really pleased to join you here in Nashville, Tenn. I’m honored to have this opportunity to address this year’s General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities.

I’m told that the theme for your General Assembly this year is “One people, one destiny.” And I know that you are turning those words into compassionate action in so many places, nowhere more importantly than here in the United States. I want to thank United Jewish Communities for the outstanding and ongoing contribution to American life that you make.

I want you to know that I know a little bit personally about some of the work that is done in various cities here in the United States. I had a personal experience with some of the work concerning Soviet Jewry in the ’70s. In fact, I had just come back as a graduate student from the Soviet Union, where I’d been working on my Russian language, and I went back home to Denver and to the University of Denver. And my mother, who was a schoolteacher in Denver, said, “You know, Condoleezza, I have a little girl in my class, and she came with a sign, and it said, ‘I don’t speak English.’” And so my mother said, “Well, what is it that she does speak?” And they said, “She speaks Russian.”

And it was the Jewish community that had taken in this family from the Soviet Union, and they were giving training to the parents and training to the family, so that they could make a new life in the United States.

And I worked with that community in helping Russian emigres to relocate here in the United States, using my fresh Russian. (Applause.)

Now, I suspect that Ala (sp), which was her name, is now well into her 30s. I suspect too that her family is very well established here in the United States. And it is really in large part thanks to the great work of communities like yours that stories like hers exist. But it is also thanks to your hard work that we were able to do so much in the hard days of the Soviet Union to make it possible for Soviet Jews to emigrate. And thank God that we no longer have a Soviet Union, though we certainly still have work to do around the world to make certain that anti-Semitism is stamped out completely and thoroughly. (Applause.)

I know therefore that from the hamlets of Ethiopia to the cities of the former Soviet Union, wherever Jewish people are weak or weary, wherever they are hurting or hungry, wherever sickness or persecution has brought them to their knees, United Jewish Communities are there, as one people with one destiny, to help your brothers and your sisters get back on their feet. Your communities are doing all of this and more, for you also believe as I do that despite differences of religion and race, class and culture, all human beings are essentially one: all born free, all equal in dignity, all deserving of justice and all bearing the mark of a divine maker.

This conviction leads you to summon the collective good will of your community and to serve our fellow human beings in need. It is this conviction that led Jewish communities across our country to care and comfort our fellow citizens who lost everything in Hurricane Katrina or Hurricane Rita. And it is your conviction that all human beings are one people with one destiny that leads you now to join with men and women of conscience everywhere to answer one of humanity’s great moral callings, to ease the suffering and end the violence in Darfur. (Applause.)

I believe deeply, as you do, that no one person, no one community and no one nation acting alone can fulfill the great global missions of our time – defeating terrorism and ending dire poverty and stopping climate change and eradicating global pandemics and building a world of peace and opportunity and freedom for all. To meet these great goals, we must unite together and we must work together, as you have said, one people with one destiny.

An issue of conscience that does stir us all is the search for peace in the Middle East. As you know, I was just in the Middle East, and whenever I visit Israel, I’m reminded of the awesome living achievement that is the Jewish state. (Applause.)

I look out upon a nation that has made the desert bloom. I think of how a people with ancient traditions have built a prosperous modern democracy, and how inspiring that could be for the rest of the Middle East. I see on the side of the road the aging shells of Israeli tanks and I think of the long line of Israeli patriots who gave their lives so that Israel could survive. But most of all, ladies and gentlemen, whenever I visit Israel, I am reminded of how precious the idea of Israel is and how essential it is to defend it. (Applause.)

I want to affirm my own personal commitment to Israel’s security, and I want you to know how honored I am to serve a president for whom the enduring U.S. commitment to Israel’s security is unquestionable and unshakable. (Applause.)

When Israel was besieged by terrorism, it was the United States that insisted that Israel have the same rights as every nation on Earth, the right to defend itself. (Applause.) When people used to say – and we now forget that people used to say it – “One person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter” – it was the United States that said no, the intentional murder of innocent people is wrong – anywhere, any time, always, period. (Applause.) And when violent extremists proclaimed their desire to wipe Israel off the map, it was the United States that responded with a $30 billion security package to ensure that no one will threaten our ally in Israel.

Peace between Israelis and Palestinians is in the strategic interest of the United States. Yet we will defend against any action, as we always have, that would compromise Israel’s security. I’ve made that commitment to the Israeli people, and now I make that commitment to you. (Applause.)

America’s unwavering commitment to Israel’s security now and over the past several years has given Israel the confidence to work with us and with responsible Palestinians, as well as with our friends in the Middle East, to begin creating real conditions for peace, conditions that were not there just a few years ago when President Bush took office.

Just think back to 2001 Despite the extraordinary efforts of the Clinton administration, peace negotiations had collapsed. The violence between Palestinians and Israelis was almost daily. Israelis feared that every bus ride, every night out, could be another Passover massacre. The underlying factors that had made peace elusive since 1967 were nearly unchanged in 2001. Israel occupied the future Palestine, and the Palestinian leadership was complicit in terror.

This led the president to try a different approach. The traditional idea had focused largely on negotiating the contours of a Palestinian state, its borders, along with solutions to questions of refugees and Jerusalem, always central for peace but, I would submit to you, not sufficient for peace.

What also needed to be addressed was the character of the Palestinian state. Would it fight terrorism? Would it govern justly? Would it create opportunity for its people? In our view, the security of the democratic Jewish state required the creation of a responsible Palestinian state. (Applause.)

So the president laid out a new vision: two democratic states living side by side in peace and security. And we’ve said that the fulfillment of this vision would require hard work on the ground. Palestinians would have to build the institutions of a democratic state, and Israel would have to do its part to ease the daily trials of occupation for the Palestinians.

Some think that this focus on democracy backfired with the election of Hamas. I disagree with that conclusion. Hamas always had power. What it never had was responsibility for power, and that is what democracy gave Hamas – a fundamental choice. You can be a political party or a terrorist group, but you cannot be both. The leaders of Hamas have made their choice; they have chosen violence. And the international community has remained united isolating Hamas until it is ready to choose peace. (Applause.)

The violent extremism of Hamas stands in contrast to the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas, the legitimately elected president of all Palestinians who won a clear mandate to seek peace with Israel. President Abbas and his government are working to overcome a long crippling legacy of misrule, and they must fully carry out their responsibility to fight terrorism and enforce the law among all Palestinians. Yes, President Abbas is demonstrating that he is a partner for peace, and he is working to clarify the fundamental choice for his people between the real benefits that peace and reform can bring and the prolonged suffering that violence and extremism guarantees.

The emergency of responsible Palestinian leaders has given Israel the confidence to reach out to them in partnership. During my last trip to Israel, Prime Minister Olmert made a significant and path-breaking speech. He said that Israel now has a true partner for peace in President Abbas. He said that there is now a real opportunity to make progress toward the vision of two states, and he said that now is the time for Israel to begin, in his words, vigorous, continuing and ongoing negotiations for peace with the Palestinians. Prime Minister Olmert is now embracing the legacy of Israeli leaders like Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon, who were strong at Israel’s defense and equally strong in their quest for peace.

Now, I do not deny that the present moment is challenging and complicated, but when has the Middle East ever been unchallenging or uncomplicated? (Laughter.) The fact is, conditions between Israelis and Palestinians are now fundamentally different and, frankly, better than they were a few years ago, and we now have a real opportunity to seek peace.

Just consider – most Israelis now believe that a responsible Palestinian state is in the national interest of Israel and that true security will require an end to the occupation that began in 1967.

Most Palestinians now believe that Israel will always be their neighbor and that no Palestinian state is going to be born through violence. And among most Arab states, as they recently made clear in reaffirming the Arab League peace initiative, the question now is not whether Israel will exist, but on what terms to make peace with Israel. Indeed, the threat of violent extremism has created a new strategic alignment in the Middle East. Responsible states now see that they share a common interest in combating a common threat and that a responsible Palestinian state can be a bulwark against that threat.

I believe that most Palestinians and most Arab states are ready to end the conflict. I believe that most Israelis are ready to leave most of the – nearly all of the West Bank – just as they were ready to leave Gaza for the sake of peace. I believe that we have two democratic leaders in Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas who know that the best way to serve their people is to build a basis for peace. And I believe that the international community is now more constructively engaged than before, which we see in Prime Minister Tony Blair’s support as Quartet special envoy as Palestinians strive to build the capable institutions of a responsible state.

Now, the opportunity before us does not obviate the need for hard, even unprecedented choices by all parties involved. Israelis and Palestinians alike need to recognize that peace will require difficult, painful sacrifices to some of their longest-held aspirations. The same is true of responsible Arab states. If our Arab friends of long standing truly desire peace, then they need to demonstrate to their people and to the world that they believe that Israel has a permanent home in the Middle East. (Applause.)

The time has come to seize that opportunity, and that is why we intend to hold a serious and substantive meeting in Annapolis. Our current course is not meant to replace the “road map” nor to supplant direct negotiations between the parties, but to take this new opportunity and to pursue peace and to protect ourselves against those with far darker designs. We can succeed and we must succeed.

Failure is simply not an option. In Hamas’ coup in Gaza, in Hezbollah’s war in Lebanon, and in the rise of an aggressive Iranian regime, we see that violent extremism is evolving in new and dangerous ways, ways that make it a threat not only to the people of one nation or one race or one religion but to everyone in the Middle East who seeks peace and a life of modernity with dignity.

Across the region, responsible leaders and citizens are under attack. They are being assassinated in Lebanon. They are being pressured in the Palestinian territories by the violent actions of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. They are being murdered in Iraq. And increasingly the government of Iran is putting itself at the head of this violent extremism rising.

This is deeply unfortunate because America has great respect for the Iranian people, for their culture and their accomplishments. And we believe that the Iranian government’s actions do not fully reflect the priorities of its citizens. It is a tragedy that the Iranian government, by confronting and threatening the international community, is only increasing the isolation of the Iranian people, who desire and deserve to engage with the world.

It is a tragedy that the Iranian government spends millions and millions of dollars to train and arm terrorists and to pursue nuclear capabilities while many Iranians, especially young Iranians, are struggling to find jobs, to buy homes, to put gas in their cars and to afford medical care. And it is a real tragedy indeed that the great Iranian people are now led by a man who threatens the Jewish people with murder and who denies that perhaps the worst crime in history ever happened.

So then what is the aim of our policy toward Iran? The United States is committed to a diplomatic solution with Iran. But for diplomacy to succeed, we must recognize that it must be backed by pressure. All must know that the president never takes his options off the table. So we’ve developed a strategy toward Iran with two paths: a path of incentives if Iran chooses to cooperate with the international community, and a path of increasing serious consequences and deepening isolation for Iran if the Iranian government chooses to confront the international community.

The United States has said that Iran has a right to civil nuclear energy.

I personally have said that if Iran fulfills its own international obligation to suspend its enrichment and reprocessing activities, then I will join our Security Council partners, plus Germany, and meet with my Iranian counterpart anytime, anywhere to discuss any issue.

Yet the Iranian government continues to spurn our offer for negotiations and continues instead to confront the international community, supporting terrorism and extremism, destabilizing the Middle East, pursuing a nuclear capability and threatening our allies, especially Israel. Therefore, the United States will continue to protect our friends, our interests and our citizens wherever Iran is threatening them, especially in Iraq, and until Iran is ready to cooperate with the international community, the United States will continue to rally responsible nations everywhere to confront the dangerous policies of the dangerous Iranian government. (Applause.)

We have already mobilized the U.N. Security Council to pass two Chapter VII sanctions resolutions against Iran, and we’re working on a third. At the same time, the United States is taking actions of its own. We recently sanctioned the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps for its support for weapons proliferation. We sanctioned Iran’s Qods Force for its support for terrorism. And we sanctioned three of Iran’s state-owned banks, including Bank Melli, because using the international financial system to bankroll terror and proliferation is not and can never be business as usual. (Applause.)

These sanctions help to provide the peace that our diplomacy needs to succeed. The international community, responsible states, must simply face up to the following reality: The international community must not allow a state to develop a nuclear capability when its leader openly threatens to wipe a fellow member of the United Nations off the map. (Applause.) How can the idea of an international community have any meaning at all if we fail this test on Iran? The thought of an Iran with nuclear weapons is unacceptable to the United States, and it must be unacceptable to the international community as well. (Applause.)

So, ladies and gentlemen, what is at stake is nothing less than the future of the Middle East. Violent extremists with the government of Iran increasingly in the lead are doing everything in their power to impose their fear, their resentments and their hate-filled ideologies on the people of the Middle East. And few people are being more zealously preyed upon by these extremists than the young.

This makes the two-state solution more urgent than ever. The Palestinians need a realistic prospect of statehood to arrest their slide to despair, for as we read in Proverbs, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my fear: that if Palestinian reformists cannot deliver on their people’s hope of an independent state, then the moderate center could collapse, and the next generation of Palestinians could become lost souls of unbridled extremism.

Yes, this is a trying time. There is no doubt about it. It’s not a time for half measures.

It is a time for responsible leaders – Israelis, Palestinians, Americans and Arabs – to make the difficult decisions that peace requires, to make them courageously and to make them confidently.

Ariel Sharon once told me a story. It was just before the disengagement from Gaza. He told me that he went out to talk with Israeli settlers because he, of course, had been the father of the settlement movement. He went to one family, and he explained to them why it was important to share the land. And this one man, the head of the family, said, “Let me show you something,” and he showed Sharon the mezuzah above his house. And he said, “You, prime minister, personally put that above our house. You personally told us that this was good for Israel to settle here, and now you tell us that we have to leave for the good of Israel.”

Sharon was deeply pained by that. I could see it in the way that he told me the story. But that’s what great leaders do – they make hard decisions confidently for the sake of peace.

Israelis have waited too long for the security that will come living side by side with a peaceful and democratic neighbor. Palestinians have waited too long for the dignity that will come with an independent state. We’ve all waited an awfully long time for peace. We should wait no longer. So let us move confidently forward to the future. Let us realize our shared goals of two democratic states living side by side in peace and security, and let us safeguard for all time what David Ben-Gurion called the legacy of a small nation which has endured great suffering and tribulation, but which is nevertheless great and eternal in spirit, vision, faith and virtue.

Thank you very much. (Cheers, applause.)

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