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Joint Press Conference by;İsmail Cem, Foreign Minister of the Republic of Turkey, and;Yasser Arafat, President of the State of Palestine February 14, 2001

H.E.İSMAİL CEM: We have the honour to host President Yasser Arafat of the State of Palestine in Turkey. Mr. President has shared his views with us regarding the latest developments and during this visit we have assessed the situation together.

Turkey follows the peace process with keen interest. Turkey does not wish to witness the death of people and the infants in these lands which constitute a part of this sensitive geography, and deploys efforts to this end. Turkey condemns all sorts of violence and we are working on termination of violence. We hold the view that negotiations between the parties should be initiated without fulling behind the line of progress achieved during the previous negotiations. In this respect, we uphold the initiatives of the Palestinian people and President Arafat aimed at securing peace and we are determined not to spare any effort to secure peace, both at present and in the future. Now, I would like to give the floor to our honourable guest President Arafat.

Mr. YASER ARAFAT: (From Arabic to English through an interpreter) I would like first to thank very much Foreign Minister Mr. İsmail Cem, I'd like to also thank His Excellency the President of the Republic, His Excellency the Prime Minister, Turkish people, for all the support they're giving and trying to push forward the Peace Process.

We look to them to continue this work and to continue that support because we are passing through very very difficult times and very difficult position. Especially we're facing a real escalation of the military attack against our people. Yesterday, Israelies used against our civilian population, especially , in the south of Gazza, nerve gas that we have not experienced before, which leads to very lethal position, situation to all of those civilians that had been attacked, it creates a bodily/badly? nervous situation that none of our doctors was able to treat, this is just one part of the escalation that we've been facing. There has been also a special concentration of the attack on our three villages which are very important to Christians all over the world, the three towns of Betlehem, Beit Jala and Betzahar, all around the city of Betlehem which is known being the native city of the Jesus Christ where the nativity church also exists. These three towns have been under especially severe attack by the Israelies.

Our position is that we're against all acts of military escalation and all acts of terrorism. Despite all that we are facing we are still determined and committed to reach a permanent, fair and comprehensive and lasting peace and this is not only for our people, for the Israeli people, but for all the people in the Middle East. In this context, this pursue of Peace, in particular we look towards Turkey to play an important role. We look also to the role of the Europeans, the Russian role, the American role, the role of the Arab countries. We, at this moment of time, we need their support to push forward the Peace Process.

We are looking for a determined international effort that will stand firm against this Israeli escalation of military forces against our people. I repeat, in spite of all the attack against us, we are determined to work for peace, for a comprehensive, fair and longlasting peace for our people and all the people in the Middle East. Once again, I'd like to thank Foreign Minister İsmail Cem, and the whole Turkish leadership and people for all the effort Turkey is exerting and support of the Peace Process.

Q : As you know Turkey has very strong relationship with Israel. I was wondering whether you would prefer Turkey to review its relations with Israel after the elections, or whether you would rather prefer that Turkey maintains its strong linkages, because it might be on your benefit? And my second question would be the general view after the election was that Israel, the people of Israel has given a strong message that they value a lot security. I was wondering whether Mr. Arafat is sharing this view and whether he might review his position according to this message?

Mr. YASER ARAFAT: I'd like to say that in the circumstances we're facing, we really require a strong international presence in Palestine, similar to the international presence in Hebron in which Turkey is a participating member. Only an international presence will be a base to stop this serious military escalation. For your first question, it is really not my right .. to determine the Foreign Policy of Turkey. But we look to Turkey to play its role in pursuing the Peace Process and supporting the Peace Process. Regarding your second question you have to observe that the 40 % of the Israelies, more than 40 % of the Israelies did not participate in these last elections, compare to 86 % of participated the last time. At the same time, they declined to go to the voting, all public opinion polls Israelis participated in, indicated that 79 % of the Israelis consider peace their first priority.

Q : (in Arabic)

Interpreter: The answer is in response to a question about Mr. Arafat's determination to pursue Peace Process despite all the Israeli escalation, but the question is on what basis should this peace be resumed after Israelis are saying Taba doesn't count anymore and the Americans say that the Clinton proposals were withdrawn. There is a second question whether there is a visit to Syria or not, President Arafat started answering this question.

Mr. YASER ARAFAT: We started to solve Peace Process in Madrid, and there in terms of reference are based on the exchange of land for peace on the basis of International Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. Therefore moving to peace is very clearly indicated, it started with the Madrid Conference and its terms of reference but it continues every one station in this Peace Process becomes part of the terms of the reference of this agreement what we reached in Oslo, what we reached in Cairo, in Taba, in Washington, in Camp David, in Sharm El Sheik-1 and Sharm El Sheik-2, in Paris and Wye River all of these have become stepping stones that clearly indicate the basis for the Peace Process. This is exacly that I've been talking to Mr. Cem about and how we can spring out of this basis to push forward in the Peace Process. You know I've been to Damascus before, and the relationship that it relates me and ties me to my brother President Basar, I said it is a very strong one. The President will welcome any arrangement for a visit. Today, passing over Syria on the way to my visit here to Turkey, I sent a message from my aeroplane to President Basar Esad, heart to heart message to him.

Q : Mr. Arafat, do you have any specific message that you want to be conveyed by Ankara to Israel by your visit or what is the main purpose of your visit to come to pay a sudden visit to Ankara? And also do you have any specific other message to Prime Minister Sharon here after this tragic event, especially today's event?

Mr. YASER ARAFAT: We don't need any special reason for coming to Turkey. The historical relationship that ties us to Turkey gives us the reason to come and to meet each other at any time. After this press conference I'll be meeting with His Excellency the President and then with His Excellency the Prime Minister, and we shall continue our discussions and persuance of the Peace Process.

Q : What does he want to tell to Mr. Sharon after this tragic event?

Mr. YASER ARAFAT: My message to him, I already relayed to him. In my telephone call in which I congratulated him for winning the elections and in my letter I said to him immediately afterwards.

Q : Mr. Arafat, we see that Ankara has played a significant role recently in terms of Middle East Peace Process, and you said that it is a very difficult time for the peace in the Middle East. Could you elaborate something about your expectations from Ankara, especially as Ankara has close relationships with Israel? Could you elaborate much more on that?

Mr. YASER ARAFAT: Are you against it?

Q : No..

Mr. YASER ARAFAT: Then why you are asking me this question? We are pushing them through to follow up their role.

Q : Mr. Arafat how do you evaluate the latest terrorist activities that has caused the nine Israelies to lose their lives? And how do you evaluate the terrorism in this respect?

Mr. YASER ARAFAT: First of all, so long the information we had, that is a road accident, but the man has been arrested, and I'm sure they are investigating him. Whatever the cause, of course we are against the killing of people in whatever capacity.