THE WHITE HOUSE
the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY
A SENIOR ADMINISTRATION
ON PRESIDENT'S MEETING WITH PRIME MINISTER BARAK
12:25 P.M. (L)
Good afternoon. We're going to have a briefing, on BACKGROUND, buy a senior
administration official, who will provide you a few more details on this
morning's meeting between the President and Prime Minister Barak.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think you heard the President
describe in general terms the meeting, let me just amplify a couple of points.
Number one, the Secretary will go out for a short meeting after the Moscow
summit. The main purpose of the meeting will be to follow up on today's
discussion, have a chance to meet with Chairman Arafat, as well, see if there
are differences that can be narrowed.
I do not expect this to be her
only trip. All along we have said that the President would be prepared to have
a summit with the leaders if the basis was laid. And we've always felt that the
Secretary would make a trip at a certain point to make a judgment as to whether
or not we were at that juncture, where the basis had been laid. This particular
trip is geared much more to follow up. We're not at a point, we don't see, we
don't believe, where the basis is sufficiently laid to be able to go to that
kind of a summit.
That said, I think the President feels, again, that
in the aftermath of this meeting what he sees is a very determined effort on
Prime Minister Barak's part to seize the moment and to see if, in fact, from
his standpoint it's possible to reach an agreement. He feels, based on his
conversation on the phone yesterday with Chairman Arafat, that he, too, has a
commitment also to try to seize the moment and end this conflict.
want to say one thing and then I'll take your questions. We are dealing with
the most fateful issues there are between Israelis and Palestinians. The issues
of permanent status, borders, settlements, refugees, Jerusalem, security
arrangements -- all of these issues go to the heart of identity, existence and
security, and these are very tough negotiations, to be sure, given how profound
the issues are. But there is no question that what we have seen is, at least in
the negotiations, there is a chance to overcome the differences. But there's
still an awful lot of hard work that will have to be done.
Q The President in his remarks called on both sides to do
the things that they have not done in the past. Can you specifically lay out
what these things are that they have not done in the past?
ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I mean, I think what he was getting at was
specifically, you're trying now to deal with the permanent status issues. The
fact is, when the Oslo process was laid out, it was envisioned that there would
be a three-year period to negotiate permanent status issues.
the discussions on permanent status have really been going on for about the
last six months, and really only for about the last three to four weeks have we
seen the kind of -- what I would describe as serious business going on. So what
you're really dealing with at this point is being able to go to the heart of
the matter. Oslo was built on taking a series of interim steps. Now we're
dealing with the issues that go to the heart of the matter, and they're -- as I
said, they're issues that deal with identity, with existence, and with
Q Do you expect a new level of involvement by Albright? Will
she be making repeated trips or --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No.
I just wanted to make it clear that there might have been -- some might have
assumed that this trip would be the trip that's designed to lay the basis, or
determine whether the basis would be there. It's not that. I would expect that
she will make at least another trip.
Q How has the pullout from
Lebanon, in your view, affected the state of these negotiations?
ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, obviously, it's created a new reality. No matter
how you slice it, in the Middle East there is a new reality. Israel is out of
Lebanon. The U.N. is working right now to put itself in a position to be able
to confirm that withdrawal. It will mean that one of the Security Council
resolutions, as often cited, will have, in fact, been implemented. So it
creates a new reality.
For many, it shows that something like this,
which many thought couldn't happen, can happen. And I think it is also a
reminder that when, maybe, different parties on different sides say that
there's a historic moment, this tends to crystallize the reality that there is
a moment here -- that things can change, they can change in a very profound way
on the ground.
When we say there's a moment, one of the concerns we
have is that there is a moment because both sides seem committed to wanting to
overcome these very profound issues. But you know, moments don't last forever.
And if they're not seized upon, the consequences of not seizing upon them are
usually pretty significant. So I would just say that what Lebanon does is
highlight that the realities can change in a very significant way. Israel had
been in Lebanon since 1982. And for many, that was simply a fact of life. Well,
it's clear that's no longer a fact of life.
Q Does the President still
believe that a September 13th target date is realistic?
ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I believe that he does. I believe that he thinks it is
possible to reach an agreement.
I think he has no illusions. I think on
the one hand, the President is quite hopeful, because he sees the level of
intent on each side. On the other hand, he's quite mindful of how difficult
these issues are for both sides, how difficult the decisions are for both
leaders. I think it's why he -- he often times speaks about the importance of
both sides having the vision and the courage to take these steps -- and it will
take both, because these are enormously difficult. But there is a pathway
that's there, and there is an intent that is there; now we'll have to see
whether it's possible to translate that intent into a reality.
to today's meeting, Mr. Barak accused the Palestinian's of some foot-dragging
in negotiations. Did Arafat give the President an indication that there is a
hang-up here, or will negotiations proceed apace?
OFFICIAL: The negotiations will proceed apace. Again, when you're dealing with
what are very difficult issues, and you also have an environment that has been
difficult the last few weeks, as well, it's not surprising that one side or the
other will have a sense of grievances. And, in fact, the reality is, both sides
have a sense of grievance.
We're focused much more on, again, dealing
with what we have seen in the negotiations that indicate that both sides are
quite serious about trying to find ways not only to overcome the differences,
but I will say, one thing that clearly characterizes this track, and has, is
that both sides make much more of an effort to try to take account of the other
side's needs, not only their own needs.
Q When do you expect the
meeting between the President and Chairman Arafat in Washington to occur?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President said, "soon." We'll
obviously have to find a date that's mutually convenient, soon. It will take, I
would expect, fairly soon after the Secretary has seen him and after the
President gets back.
Q It's not scheduled yet?
ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's not scheduled yet because we'll have to work it
out with Chairman Arafat.
Q Would you expect in June, sometime within
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: When the President says "soon," I
think he means soon.
Q More and more reports are emerging that rather
than 60 percent of the West Bank or the Jordan Valley, up to 90 percent is
being put into play by Barak. Is that something that was discussed today? Is he
offering that through President Clinton or signaling that he's prepared to
offer much more land than anyone had anticipated from the Jordan Valley of the
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I'm not going to go
into the specifics, and I think what either the Israelis or the Palestinians
offer at the negotiating table is something for them to talk about, not for us
to talk about. But I would say that both sides have signaled to each other and
to us that they're prepared to try to take account of the needs of the other,
as well as meeting their own needs.
I think it's fair to say that in
Prime Minister Barak's case, he is very much governed by what Israel needs for
security, but he's also mindful that if you're going to reach a deal you're
going to have to make some painful decisions. And that he signaled to us and he
certainly has signaled that to his own public.
Q You said that
Secretary Albright will go to the Middle East next week and that she'll have to
make another trip before there will be a Camp David summit. Is that your
thinking on the timing -- I mean, do you know, you're able to project that it's
only going to take two Albright trips to the Middle East and then you're ready
for a three-way summit?-
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm not
projecting yet. We know where we are right now. We know, on the one hand, that,
in fact, they have made some headway, they have narrowed some differences. But
we also know that the differences that remain are very significant. And more
has to be done to create a kind of basis before you would go to the kind of
summit that the President has in mind.
How long that's going to take, I
can't predict right now. What the exact nature of the process will be, I can't
predict right now. What I can tell you is that this trip doesn't have that as
its purpose. This trip will be geared towards following up on the discussion
that was here, which the President found to be quite useful; following up both
with Prime Minister Barak and with Chairman Arafat. And then Chairman Arafat
will come see the President -- I use the word "soon" and it will be soon -- and
then I would expect that in the aftermath of that, we will make a judgment.
There are different ways we may proceed. It may involve the Secretary
going back out; it may involve bringing the negotiators to a spot; it may
involve me working with the negotiators. We'll see, based on the aftermath of
these discussions where we think we are. But we basically feel there is a
pathway here that offers promise, but there is still an awful lot of work that
has to be done.
Q Is she going to Syria, too?
ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No.
Q Does the President plan a follow-up
phone call with Mr. Arafat today? And in the meeting with Mr. Barak, was there
talk about the Israeli-Syria track?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On
the first question, I don't believe so, because I think what the President
envisions is that in terms of fully briefing the Chairman, the Secretary will
be in a position to fully brief the Chairman on the meeting.
this meeting was devoted to the Israeli-Palestinian track, but there was at
least a brief discussion about Syria, as well.
Q To follow up to that,
is there any reason to think that this latest turn of events might get the
Syria track moving some, that it might -- President Assad might feel motivated
to start talking more?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think when you
look at the Middle East and you see something that changes the landscape
fundamentally, traditionally, there is a tendency for people to read into it
the potential for danger. But the reality is there is also a potential for
opportunity. So I think in the aftermath of the Israeli withdrawal from
Lebanon, you have a new situation. If you have a new situation, that may also
create new possibilities.
We have never closed the door on the Syrian
track. We've made that very clear. We have stayed in communication with the
Syrians. They haven't closed the door and we haven't closed the door. So we
continue to believe that there is a possibility there.
Q What was the
length of the meeting? How long was the meeting?
Q -- confirmation of
the report by the U.N. negotiator in Syria that the Syrians have accepted the
Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon as per the U.N. report?
ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The only thing that -- no. Right now, Terje
Roed-Larsen is out there; what he is reporting and said publicly is that the
Syrians have accepted the U.N. reports. That's what he said. We have not heard
anything differently, but he is a very reliable reporter and we have no reason
to question it.
Q And is the Secretary
going directly from Moscow?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think
she'll be going from Ukraine. She'll get in the night of the 5th.
night of the 5th. And will she go only to meet with Arafat, or will she also be
going to Jerusalem to meet with --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:
She'll meet with Prime Minister Barak, as well as with Chairman Arafat.
Q Can you tell us anything more about the meeting, itself; that is to
say, were there certain of these fundamental issues that were discussed more
than others, or are some showing more promise than others, other than just that
Barak showed determination?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I
think it's fair to say that there was a discussion on permanent status and on
the issues of permanent status. There was a discussion on sort of the status of
where the negotiations are. And I think the Prime Minister gave the President
When the President meets with either the Prime Minister or
Chairman Arafat at this stage, the effort is very much geared towards trying to
understand not only exactly where things stand in the eyes of the respective
leader, but also to probe and see what possibilities might exist in terms of
Q There have been so many positive moments, and then
hopes have been dashed. And you've seen just about all of them. Putting this
into context --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think that's right.
Q Yes -- putting this into context for those of us who haven't seen
them that way, how would you characterize this?
OFFICIAL: I'm glad you asked that question, because oftentimes people say I
like to use the word "context," and I didn't mention it, but you did.
If you look at where we are in the sweep of things, historically, you'd
have to say we've made a lot of headway, at least between Israelis and
Palestinians. And I think the fact that we are dealing with permanent status
issues now, and that we can look at these issues and think that, as the
President said yesterday, that an agreement is possible, is itself an
indication that things have moved.
It's hard to sort of, on the one
hand, state that things have moved, and then still relate to the reality that
the gaps you still have to overcome are difficult. But the reason they're
difficult is because of the nature of these issues. It's not an accident that
the issues in Oslo were put off until the end -- although, as I said before, it
was supposed to be three years to cover them.
The hope was that you
would create a kind of environment, a kind of climate, where when you came to
deal with the permanent status issues, given the nature and the difficulty of
them, that there would be such a stake in cooperation that it would be easier
to resolve them than might have been the case otherwise.
The fact is,
we're in the seventh year of this process. And we don't necessarily have the
kind of climate one would have envisioned, but we do have the kind of
negotiations now that at least show that there may be a way to overcome the
I think what the President conveys is a sense of
hopefulness based upon the sense that, in fact, we have come a long ways --
again, measured against a historical context. But there's also no illusions
that the kind of decisions that the two leaders are going to have to make are
very, very difficult, because nobody can be satisfied completely on any of
these issues, because to satisfy one side completely is to leave the other side
So you have a reality where both sides are going to have
to find ways not only to make difficult decisions, but to be prepared to build
bridges that presently don't exist, to overcome the differences. And if we
didn't think there was a chance, we wouldn't be making the effort right now. We
obviously think there is a chance, because the two sides themselves are making
it very clear that they're prepared to do what they think is necessary to reach
an agreement. Now, reconciling what they need and what the other side needs is
what the challenge is all about right now.
Q Did the President and
Barak agree on the earmarking of $50 million to shore up the border with
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The Israelis made a request to
us a couple of weeks ago, and I think actually the President made the decision
before this meeting that we would respond favorably to that request. The
essence of that request is to use $50 million of existing FMF, but to allow the
Israelis to spend it -- in a sense, use Israeli contractors for that. So
they're allowed to use offshore procurement, and that represents, in a sense,
lifting the threshold of what they're normally permitted to do in that regard.
Q Did the President convey that message to the Prime Minister today or
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It had been conveyed previously, in
the last -- in the past week, it was conveyed.
Q What's your sense of
the current domestic Israeli political situation and its impact on the peace
process? Does Prime Minister Barak have the necessary maneuvering room, given
that situation, to do what he has to do?
OFFICIAL: Well, I think you're dealing with a Prime Minister who won a very
large mandate personally in the last election. He clearly has made it
unmistakable that his objective is to reach peace. He believes that he has
sufficient support to do it. He is prepared to press ahead to do it. He is the
best judge of what his politics make possible, and there is no question that
what the President again heard today was a great deal of determination on his
part to press ahead.
And I believe that in many respects, his own
views, if anything, have been bolstered by the withdrawal from Lebanon, because
this is something -- he made a decision during the campaign that he would get
out of Lebanon. He felt that it was in Israel's strategic interest to get out
of Lebanon. He preferred to try to do it through negotiation, but when that
wasn't possible by the time period that he had set, he went ahead and he did
A major part of his rationale was that inertia was keeping Israel
in a position that didn't serve its strategic interests. And he has also made a
strategic judgment that there is an opportunity to make peace, and to end a
100-year conflict. And his attitude, if anything, is as determined, if not more
so, than what we've heard before.
You asked the question about context
before. I would say what the President saw with the Prime Minister is someone
who is more convinced than ever that there is a moment that should be seized --
at least, the effort has to be made to seize it. And I think the President's
conversations, and his meetings with Chairman Arafat recently, have also
convinced him that Chairman Arafat is coming from the same standpoint.
As I said, what you see, in a sense, is the intent. What you see is
also a choice. Now, the real question is, can we translate that intent and that
choice into a reality?
MR. HAMMER: All right, thank you very much.
END 12:45 P.M. (L)