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President Clinton Welcomes Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu And Palestinian Authority President Arafat To The White House

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The Briefing Room


Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release September 28, 1998


The Oval Office

12:45 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: First of all, I would like to publicly welcomePrimeMinister Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat. We have had a very, very goodmeetingtoday, following the one-on-one meeting that the Prime Minister and theChairmanhad last night, their first face-to-face meeting in a year.

I believe that we all agree that we have made progress on the pathtopeace. There has been a significant narrowing of the gaps between the twoparties across a wide range of issues that were in the American initiativethatwe've been working on for months. I think also, to be candid, there'sstill asubstantial amount of work to be done until a comprehensive agreement canbereached. And because I'm convinced that the two leaders and the peopletheyrepresent want an agreement, I have asked them to come back to the UnitedStatesin mid October with their teams to do the intensive work necessary to seeif wecan conclude this.

Meanwhile, I've asked the Secretary of State and Ambassador Ross to goback to the region in early October to try to see how much preparatory work canbe done to narrow the differences further and to agree on at least themodalities for what we will do here in mid October.

So, all told, it was a good day. And again I want to thank boththesemen for the open, candid, respectful way in which they worked and we workedtogether. And we're going to work at this now to see if we can get itdone.

Q What are the major sticking --

Q Mr. President, there was --

THE PRESIDENT: Wait, wait. One, two, three. We'll do them all.

Go ahead.

Q Mr. President, do you support the Palestinian state inprinciple, and do you think the Palestinians have the right to have a state madefor -- or in principle, and self-determination for them?

THE PRESIDENT: In the Oslo Accords, that question was left for the

final status negotiations. Because of the heavy involvement of the UnitedStates in the peace process, I believe itwould be in error for me to comment on that. I think the importantthing is that has to be resolved in the final status negotiations asprovided for in the Oslo Accords. As long as the peace process isgoing forward, whatever the United States says on that publicly willbe unhelpful to the ultimate outcome.

Q Mr. President, the First Lady commented on this inpublic --

Q Mr. President, is it your assumption --

THE PRESIDENT: She did, but she's not the President andshe's not trying to manage this peace process. That's a differentthing. But I'm telling you the -- we gave our word when we agreed totry to be an honest broker to respect the Oslo process. Andtherefore -- I have to tell you, when I'm in Israel or when I'm withAmerican Jewish groups, they also try to get me to say things that Isaid before I was the President and the broker of the process that Ican no longer say. So it's a different -- I gave my word that Iwould be faithful to the process that these two parties set out forthe resolution of their agreement, and I have to try to do that.

Q Mr. President, are you saying that the deadline ismid October when you expect both Chairman Arafat and Prime MinisterNetanyahu to come back to the United States for a settlement?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me say this. In the end,whether there will be this agreement depends upon how badly they wantit, how much we can work together, how much trust can be built andsustained, what kind of process for ensuring the agreement can beagreed upon by the two parties. So I think what I'm telling you isthat they have made a very unusual commitment, they have committedseveral days and not only their own time, but the time of theirappropriate administration and staff people to try to resolve theremaining gaps.

I can also tell you that I personally was very impressedby the way, the manner and the substance of their conversation todaywith me. And so we all said we needed to continue to change thedynamics of the process to try to increase the likelihood ofcompletion. We made significant progress on the path to peace, and Ithink we could finish it in mid October and I certainly hope we do.

Q Mr. President --

Q You promised me the question. Please. There wastoday -- Mr. President --

Q Could we hear from Chairman Arafat and Mr.Netanyahu --

Q Mr. President, today there was a terror attack inHebron -- a shooting and an Israeli woman was injured. The Israelisare saying that Arafat, Mr. President, Arafat is not fightingterrorism. Did you get any answers from Mr. Arafat concerning theimplementation of the reciprocity principle? Is Mr. Arafat willingto stick to his commitments according to the Hebron Accords and OsloAccords to fight terrorism?

THE PRESIDENT: Perhaps I should let him answer that.But he certainly affirmed that to us. And keep in mind, that's apart of the whole peace process, those kinds of agreements, andthat's one of the things that the Prime Minister, representing thepeople of Israel, would raise, and something that has to be talkedthrough.

But if either one of these gentlemen want to say --

Q Chairman Arafat, what's your assessment of thetalks today?

CHAIRMAN ARAFAT: What he has mentioned is coveringeverything -- and instead of me saying the same thing --

Q -- Palestinian state today in --

Q Mr. President, where has there been progress in thepeace process --

Q -- Mr. President.

Q Chairman Arafat, are you convinced --

THE PRESIDENT: I believe there's been progress in allmajor areas. I think we're closer together on virtually -- on everymajor issue that either Chairman Arafat has mentioned to me or thatPrime Minister Netanyahu has mentioned to me than there was before.But we have an operating agreement here that we will all say thatnothing has been agreed to until everything has been agreed to. Ithink that is a good operating agreement. If they ever decide tochange it, then I will honor their decision. Otherwise, our positionis that you cannot conclude that anything has been agreed to untileverything has been agreed to.

Thank you.

Q -- General Assembly address, did you discuss whatChairman Arafat would say, Mr. President?

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