SECRETARY RICE: Good afternoon. I'm very pleased to welcome my colleague, my new colleague, Foreign Minister D'Alema of Italy. We have just had a very excellent and extensive discussion of the many issues that Italy and the United States are tackling together.
Italy and the United States of course share an alliance. We share values. We share friendship and ties of kinship as well, and it is from that basis that we have had an excellent relationship and will continue to have an excellent relationship concerning the many challenges in places like Afghanistan, the Middle East, Iraq. We recently were together at a meeting on Somalia and so this is truly a global partnership. And I look very much forward to continuing to work with my colleague as we pursue policies to help people who have aspirations for liberty and freedom around the world and to contribute to peace stability worldwide.
Massimo, welcome and I look forward to continuing to work with you.
DEPUTY PRIME Minister D'Alema: (Via interpreter.) Well, thank you very much, Madame Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Thank you also for authorizing me to call you Condoleezza. That's really a great honor for me and a pleasure as well. And I'd also like to thank you for the great courtesy and for a courtesy that was shown a few days ago when you were one of the first among my colleagues to call me and congratulate me and express best wishes of success in my work. And thank you for the great courtesy with which you've hosted us here at the State Department.
Governments change. That's natural in the democratic life of a great country. But friendship and alliance between two great countries are something that is there to stay. And for us, our friendship and alliance with the United States of America still remains one of the pillars of our foreign policy.
We are engaged in many common travels for peace, for security, for stability in many different regions of the world. We have talked about the Middle East. Italy has paid a price, a price of blood as well, for the stability and peace of Iraq. And Italy intends to continue in its efforts in a different way after our soldiers have come home. But we do intend to continue contributing to the democratic progress and reconstruction of such an important country.
We are engaged together in Afghanistan in the NATO mission to combat terrorism and to ensure peaceful development for that country. We have talked about the Middle East, about the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, about the need to go back to the negotiating table there on the basis of full mutual recognition and for peace, for a true peace based on coexistence between two states for two peoples.
We welcome the positive signs that have come from Iran but we are expecting a clear answer, a clear answer that will open the way to new developments. We want a clear answer that will make it possible to avoid the proliferation of nuclear weapons and that may help the stability of the whole region.
And finally, let me stress that this cooperation between Italy and the U.S. is taking place against the background of closer cooperation and joint work between the European Union and the United States.
We are convinced supporters of such a cooperation and we know that a major contribution to this new development and to this new season of cooperation has been given by Condoleezza Rice herself, and I wish to stress this because this is an opportunity to convey to her my thanks and my great appreciation for that. Thank you, and best wishes of success.
QUESTION: Thank you. Energy Secretary Bodman says that he believes the signals coming out of Iran about the nuclear package are encouraging. Do you agree with your fellow cabinet Secretary?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, certainly we have heard some positive statements from the Iranians. I want to underscore what the Minister has said. We need an answer. The international community needs an answer so that we know if, in fact, the negotiating track is indeed one that is going to bear fruit. There is a very positive proposal on the table for Iran and I certainly hope that Iran is going to choose the path of cooperation.
INTERPRETER: The question was also about Iran. And the question for Foreign Minister D'Alema was, does he believe that the open position taken by President Ahmadi-Nejad is credible when he says that there's a step forward in the package put forward by the great countries.
And the answer by Minister D'Alema was, "We must have a position of trust towards the partners that we are speaking to. But of course, we expect that when there are such significant signs of openness, that we expect very clear answers and answers that are just as significant."
QUESTION: Can I ask if the subject of Guantanamo Bay came up? First of all, Foreign Minister, if I can ask you, how strongly does Italy feel that Guantanamo Bay, as a detention center, should close? Do you think its very existence is damaging relations between Europe and America?
And if I could ask you, Madame Secretary, both you and the President have said that eventually you would like to see Guantanamo close. I just wonder if you could set out what practical steps are being taken to do that. Also, if European nations could do more to help America close it down?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER D'ALEMA: European foreign ministers have recently stressed on the basis of a unanimously agreed position that it would be important if the Government of the United States of America were to proceed soon to closing down the Guantanamo Bay detention center. Italy shares the European position and hopes that the Government of the United States may proceed in the direction that has been desired by European ministers as soon as possible.
SECRETARY RICE: As to the position of the United States, I think we've said several times we do not want to be the world's jailer. We have no desire to do that. But we do have a particular problem, which is that there are very dangerous people who had to be held somewhere so that they could not continue to plot terrorist attacks, commit terrorist attacks and indeed would not be a danger to peaceful societies.
We are making specific steps to try and reduce the population in Guantanamo as much as possible, including efforts to return people to their home countries when it can be done so safely. It sometimes though is difficult when we have concerns that people may indeed -- that we cannot receive assurances that people will not be persecuted if returned to their countries.
And so it is not an easy process of negotiating the terms of return of prisoners from Guantanamo to their home countries, but that is very often the best solution. And for those countries that have people in the population, cooperation on getting them back to their home countries with promises not to persecute but also with promises to, so to speak, keep them off the streets would be very helpful.
Finally, we do hope to be able to bring people to trial because I understand that there are concerns about what people have characterized as indefinite detention. We are, of course, awaiting a Supreme Court decision on the legality of military tribunals, the constitutionality of military tribunals, but you can be certain that we would like nothing better than to proceed to try people, to get them back to their home countries and to one day, as soon as possible, see that there is no need for Guantanamo.
QUESTION: My question is both for Dr. Rice and Minister D'Alema. And I have an additional question for Dr. Rice. What's your prediction for the soccer match tomorrow between Italy and United States? And do you have an exit strategy from the world championship?
SECRETARY RICE: (Laughter.)
INTERPRETER: The question is both for Secretary Rice and for Minister D'Alema concerns your conversations on the Middle East. Have ideas or suggestions come up in debating this matter on how to move beyond the stalemate of the peace process presently in that area and for the possibility to have a more active role of a Quartet in this phase?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER D'ALEMA: As to the second question, well, we were quite cautious and prudently decided that it would be better to meet before the match so that nobody would be in a bad mood, no bad feelings, no shadow looming over relations between our two countries.
As to the Middle East, certainly we share the desire and the will to act on the advance possibility of peace through negotiations. These are difficult times. There are many sensitive issues at stake. There's a hurdle which is represented by the Hamas government which is refusing to comply with the conditions that have been submitted to it in terms of recognizing Israel, rejecting violence and recognizing the agreements which had been signed and these are, indeed, indispensable conditions for a true negotiation to be resumed.
At present, it is essential to stop these political difficulties, these difficulties in the political situation from turning into a terrible humanitarian crisis hitting the Palestinian population in the territories. That is why it is very important to develop a support mechanism to support the Palestinian population. Such a mechanism is being developed by the European Commission, but for the mechanism to be truly effective, it is essential to engage the World Bank in Israel as well, because this is the only way for the mechanism to meet its objectives.
Second, all of us, including the international community and the Israeli Government, should all, at present, have a conduct which is very prudent, so as to help those components within the Palestinian front and primarily, President Mahmoud Abbas to open the way to a true peace negotiation.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes. Let me just say that I agree completely with Massimo that the first problem is to get over the hurdle of Hamas' refusal to accept the standards -- international standards of the recognition of Israel's right to exist and the renunciation of violence. We will do what we can to strengthen President Mahmoud Abbas. He is, after all, the duly elected president of the Palestinian Authority and a man who has declared himself for a two-state solution and for peace.
While we are still working on some elements of the international mechanism, I think we are close to substantial agreement on it. It's still -- there is some more work to do within the Quartet, but I believe that we will come to a solution. And it is important to have a way for donors to address the needs of the Palestinian people without contributing to the Hamas Government.
SECRETARY RICE: Now to the most difficult question of the press conference. I learned a long time ago not to hold strong opinions or predictions about something about which I have so little expertise as soccer, or European football. Obviously I would like to see the United States do well, but even I -- a pure novice in watching soccer -- knows that they will have to play a lot better than they did two days ago in order to avoid a very early exit from the World Cup.