T H E   W H I T E   H O U S E

The President's Trip to the Middle East: Briefing by Albright and Berger (12/13/98)

Help Site Map Text Only

Trip to Middle East

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 13, 1998


The King David Hotel

3:12 P.M. (L)

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Good afternoon, everybody. Just a very briefcouple ofopening remarks. The President came to the region in order to not only put the peace processback on track, but to move it forward. Our assessment is that the firstphase for the redeploymentwent well, primarily because the parties were talking with each other. And what needs to happennow in the second phase is that there needs to be a restoration of thatlevel of communication, andthat is what the President has been working on this morning.

He has had a couple of meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu, andthen I met with ForeignMinister Sharon, where we went over a number of issues of mutual concern.And then we had abouta two-hour meeting with their whole delegation and our whole delegation,listening primarily to theIsraeli assessment of things were.

Tomorrow we will be listening to the Palestinian assessment, and wewill continue to dowhat it is that the President does so well, which is to try to get themagain to talk to each other onthese issues that are being raised as questions of how the implementationis going forward.


MR. BERGER: Just to add a few words. As the Secretary indicated, the President andMrs. Clinton, Prime Minister and Mrs. Netanyahu had breakfast together this morning at about 9:30a.m. at our hotel. We then went over to the Prime Minister's office. ThePresident spent a little timeone on one with the Prime Minister, maybe 10 minutes or 15 minutes. Andthen we spent about twohours in the larger delegation. I think the tone of that meeting was verygood, very positive, veryconstructive.

As you know, the President has just gone to the gravesite of the latePrime Minister Rabin.He'll be going back to the hotel for a while, then will be going toPresident Weizman's house with theannual Menorah lighting ceremony. And then tonight, the President will bespeaking in a majorspeech here in Israel -- it's a speech to the Israeli people, first of all, about the central importanceof the Israel-U.S. relationship, our continuing deep commitment to thatrelationship; and second ofall, about the Wye Agreement and the peace process and why it is soimportant to stay on track;notwithstanding the difficulties, that there is no alternative for thepeople of Israel or the Palestinianpeople than to fulfill their commitments under the agreement, at the sametime intensifying the paceof the final status negotiations.

Q Madam Secretary, do you and the President have a clearunderstanding of whatPrime Minister Netanyahu will accept as an authentic vote tomorrow in Gaza? Specifically, will heaccept a show of hands from delegations which may or may not be authenticdelegates under theCharter?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, as you know, there will be -- theauthentic delegates willbe there, along with some others, and there will be a process that willreaffirm the fact that ChairmanArafat has now written to the President abrogating the paragraphs in theCharter that are counter tothe Israeli nation. And we are satisfied that Prime Minister Netanyahuwill be satisfied with theoutcome of that meeting.

Q Including a show of hands?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I'm not going to go into the details. I thinkthat we have been -- Chairman Arafat has talked about a set of procedures that will, in fact,reaffirm what I have just said.

Q I think we have to go over some of the checklist again todaybecause the Presidentspoke with a great understanding of Israel's security concerns, made astrong statement howviolence is awful and all that, but I didn't hear him say, and you areusually the one who says itanyhow, that the timetable still must be met. Is that still the U.S.position -- well, is that the U.S.position? Violence is no reason to delay or suspend the pullback?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, we have -- the timetable slipped slightlyat the beginning,as you know. We would like this timetable to get back on track. We alsowant to make absolutelyclear to Chairman Arafat, as we have in the past and we will againtomorrow, that he has to fightterrorism on a sustained basis. A phrase you haven't heard in a while,Barry, is he has to do it 24hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year -- that it is not an ad hoc kind of operation.

But we do understand why this is of such concern to the Israelipeople. But it is essential,this is a -- the Wye Agreement is something that is based on mutualresponsibility and it's veryimportant to stay on track.

Q Did the Prime Minister give you any indication he would besatisfied with theprocedures to be used tomorrow on the vote?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that you will -- the Prime Ministerwould like to seea way -- it be very clear that once and for all, the Covenant, the Charter-- those parts of theCovenant that are obnoxious are null and void. And we believe that thatwill be the result of thatmeeting.

Q But he hasn't told you that?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, he expects that to happen, yes.

Q Was the President upset that the questions even from the Israelireporters dealtwith impeachment, not with the Middle East? And is the impeachmentcontroversy affecting thePresident's ability to deal with the Middle East -- goals on this trip?

MR. BERGER: I think the answer to the second question is, no. ThePresident is held inenormous regard here in Israel. I believe that's indisputable. And alsoby the Palestinian people.I think both the Israeli government and the Israeli people and thePalestinians look to the Presidentfor leadership in helping them to get the peace process back on track. Ithink that's no less truetoday than it was when we had the Wye meeting, a year ago or two years agoor three years ago.

As to the questions, I think the President expects questions of thatsort at this stage.

Q Will there be a three-way meeting between the three leaders?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I don't think that's been determined yet. Wewill have ourmeetings tomorrow and, as I said, it is our desire to restore the level ofcommunication. But we don'tknow yet.

Q Do you expect any announcements from Israel on troop withdrawals, further troop withdrawals, later this week?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: It's hard for me to say. I think that they arewaiting to have aCabinet decision on the 18th, and so I think they -- we would expect, as Iresponded previously, thatwe stay on track with the process. But they have announced their Cabinetmeetings for later.

Q Madam Secretary, President Netanyahu in his remarks said that acondition for thepullback was a renunciation of May 4th, unilateral declaration ofstatehood. Is that at all realistic inyour mind, that there could be such a renunciation? And, B, do you seethat there is a way to solvethe prisoners issue through perhaps a three-way committee where you gothrough -- U.S.,Palestinians, Israelis -- go prisoner by prisoner, case by case?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, on the first one, we've already said whenthe PrimeMinister made that statement that Wye memorandum was signed, that was notone of the conditions. But at the same time, we have also said thatunilateral actions and unilateral statements generally are not helpful tothe atmosphere of having the Wye process go forward.

On the prisoner issue, clearly this is a very sensitive issue and isone that needs to beresolved at the table and not out in the streets. And we are looking atways that we can be helpful intrying to get what is clearly a very sensitive issue resolved in someuseful way.

Q Madam Albright, the Prime Minister seemed to lay out a longlitany of conditionsbefore the redeployments would go forward. As you said, the purpose ofthis mission is to move thepeace process forward. Did you come out of this with a clear sort of roadmap ahead of a fairlyshort list of must do's before redeployments can go forward?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that the main issues really arethat we have to dealwith the question of the violence. I think that, as I said, if there aredifferences, they need to be dealtwith at the negotiating table. We are stressing that -- that clearly thisis a -- nobody thought that theWye Agreement itself, as you all know, was not an easy task and it's acomplex agreement that hasa number of interlocking, mutually responsible parts. And as difficultiesarise they need to benegotiated at the table or worked out in a diplomatic way, not out in thestreet. So I think that that'sone issue that we have to deal with.

As I just mentioned, we want to deal -- try to get at the sensitiveissue of prisoners. The PNCaspect we believe will be dealt with tomorrow. And I think, basically, itis a matter of having bothsides fulfill their obligations, and that means that the security aspectsneed to be dealt with and theIsraelis need to move forward with their redeployment.

Q For either one, the President has always said that he wants theparties to take risksfor peace. But many people here seem to think if Prime Minister Netanyahumoves forward withWye, the risk he takes is that his government will collapse. Twoquestions: Isn't that an awful lot toask any leader? And do you share that sort of dire assessment of wherethings stand in terms of hisdomestic politics?

MR. BERGER: Well, the Prime Minister made very clear, and he didagain today, that he iscommitted to implementation of the Wye Agreement. He wants to see it -- he wants to seecompliance on both sides. But he reaffirmed today to the President hiscommitment tocompliance with the agreement, recognizing that that takes place in a verycomplex politicalenvironment for him.

Q You said it before, but maybe it's worth saying again, as to whythe President'sgoing to Gaza does not give some impetuous to the idea of a Palestinianstate?

MR. BERGER: Well, the Secretary of State has been to Gaza and theForeign Minister ofIsrael has been to Gaza. The President is going to Gaza pursuant to anagreement reached byboth parties at Wye in an effort to facilitate the PNC revoking theoffensive provisions of the Charter.He is doing so, as I say, pursuant to the desire of both parties. It is by no means on our part areflection of a judgment about the final status of the Palestinianterritories.

It's been our position plainly and repeatedly stated that the statusof the territories is anissue to be resolved through negotiations by the parties.

Q But people have made the point that they used to burn the flagover there, theAmerican flag, and now they've plastered at least one boulevard filled with American flags.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think there is no question that as aresult of the workthat's taken place in the last 18 months and the Wye River memorandum isthat the Palestiniansare -- we are seeing the Palestinians try to take an increasinglyresponsible approach to thepeace process; it requires them to do what we said, which is to followthrough on the varioussecurity measures and fighting terrorism all the time.

I think that we have had, I think, a useful dialogue with ChairmanArafat and the airport hasbeen opened as a result of President Clinton's hard work, and I think itmakes a lot of sense for usto go there and be able to push the process forward and take -- and again,clarify what is requiredto get the peace process back on track and moving ahead, and frankly, alsobegin to really launchthe permanent status talks.

So I think it's appropriate for us to do that.

Q Many of the Palestinians hope that the President in his speechtomorrow takes noteof how their living conditions or economic conditions have worsened sinceOslo. Will he be -- isthat a tone that he will strike? They're afraid he's just going to lecture them on terrorism and nottake note of their daily lives.

MR. BERGER: I don't think it's the President's intention to lectureeither in Israel or in Gaza. Ithink he will talk in both places about the responsibilities that flow from the peace process. But Ithink the President feels very strongly that until and unless the dividends of peace flow to thebeneficiaries of peace, it's going to be very difficult for the peaceprocess to continue. And one ofthe reasons, for example, that it's important that the Gaza Airport hasopened up is strictly economic.This is an economic lifeline from Gaza to the rest of the world in terms of exporting what they growand what they make and will have tangible economic benefits.

The Donors Conference that the Secretary chaired in Washington whichraised severalbillion dollars for the Palestinians was premised on the notion that it isextremely important for thePalestinian people to feel the benefits of peace in their daily lives inorder for them to support harddecisions that their leaders need to make in cracking down on terror anddoing the other things that,in turn, make it possible for the Israelis to stay engaged in the process.

Q Could you elaborate a little bit, please, Mr. Berger, on the $1.2 billion supplemental,the $900 million for the Palestinians? As you know, Congressman Livingston expressed someirritation the other day that they hadn't been consulted on top of -- thismoney going on top of theannual aid programs.

MR. BERGER: Well, I've spoken with Congressman Livingston and Ibelieve the Secretaryhas. This is a supplemental that will be not an emergency supplemental,will be an offsetsupplemental -- that is it will be paid for and it will be over athree-year period. It will include$1.2 billion for Israel, $400 million for the Palestinians. The other $500 million is money that hasalready been budgeted, and $200 million for Jordan, again over a three-year period.

I think -- from the conversations I think we both had on the Hill,there is -- I think there iswidespread support, although we know we'll have to do a lot of work when we get back.

Q But he raised the point -- I think it was he who raised thepoint, economic systemis supposed to go down. We were told in a briefing that there would be anet reduction by Israel, a voluntary reduction of $60 million by some shuffling of military andeconomic. What happened tothat principle that as Israel, for instance, which is a fairly well-offcountry stands on its own, that theU.S. can back off, can ease back --

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, that other part of it, the reduction willcontinue to be inplace. This additional money is due to costs incurred as a result of thefurther redeployment --a variety of costs in terms of relocation and security issues. And so I do think that the other planof multiyear reductions is something that we want to see continue.

Q Madam Secretary, there is a report today that you might cut short the trip by aday and return to Washington to deal with Congress. Can you tell us, whatis the point of stayingon Tuesday to visit Masada and Bethlehem when you have important businessin Washington?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think the trip is as planned and it is atrip that I think isimportant in its whole in terms of visiting with a number of Israeli andPalestinian people, leaders,and I think showing the President's and our respect for this amazing areaof the world in which thereligions are united, at a time when all the religions seem to becelebrating very special holidays.And I think it is part of making the trip a whole trip in terms of thePresident's desire to show theimportance of the region to the United States.

Q If you're making progress on negotiations between Prime MinisterNetanyahuand Chairman Arafat, is there a possibility that you might extend the triplike you did in Wye?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Did you bring enough clothes?

MR. BERGER: I just wanted to add one thing. I thought that was anicely ambiguousanswer. (Laughter.) I want to go back to Tuesday. This will also givethe President, who will havespent Monday with Chairman Arafat, a chance to close the loop with PrimeMinister Netanyahu interms of both carrying to Chairman Arafat the concerns that we heard todayand also, listening toChairman Arafat tomorrow, carrying those concerns back to Prime MinisterNetanyahu. And thenit was very much the way the Wye process worked -- the President reallybeing a vehicle forlistening to, interpreting and trying to convey to the other party theconcerns of each other.

Q Is it possible that Tuesday's visit to Bethlehem might becancelled and insteadyou will spend the time in meetings?

MR. BERGER: The schedule -- we have every intention of following theschedule thathas been planned. Lots of very hardworking advance people have put anenormous amountof time in this schedule. I think, quite honestly, the President wouldlike to go to Bethlehem simplyas a personal matter at this time of year. And I think he and his familyhave wanted to do thattogether for some time. So I think there's a dimension of simple -- being here at Christmastimeand wanting to visit Bethlehem.

Q It strikes people as strange with the House trying to impeach the President andhe's not back there fighting as hard as he can to save the job that heclearly thinks is importantrather than sightseeing.

MR. BERGER: Well, I think the notion the President is sightseeinghere, Sam, is ridiculous.The President is here on the highest business of the American people andthat is peacemaking.And this trip is not about sightseeing, this trip is about trying to put aWye peace process, difficultas it is, wobbly as it is, back on track by trying to get the parties totalk to each other. And if thePresident will have accomplished that over the next two or three days, Ithink he will haveaccomplished what he set out to do.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: And besides, I'm also going to Jordan on thatday.

Q But you're not being impeached. (Laughter.)

Q You sounded almost confident earlier that a way would be found to make this votetomorrow work for the Israelis, to be enough for the Israelis. Yet you'renot ready to say that themeeting among the three leaders is set, which was a condition ofNetanyahu's. How much dramais there attached to tomorrow's vote? How set is it that it will appeal to the Netanyahu government?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: We didn't bring you all over here for a setproduction. We wantto leave a little drama for all of you.

Q So this is really conditioned on whether Netanyahu accepts thisvote?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Look, I think that we have all -- everybody knows that thepurpose of this meeting, the PNC meeting, was in order for there to be areaffirmation of theabrogation of the offensive parts of the Charter. That will take placethrough a mechanism thatwe believe will satisfy the condition and satisfy Prime Minister Netanyahu. Then I think all of youhave seen this go on long enough -- if it is useful to have a trilateralmeeting we will do it. And if not,then the President will work his magic other ways.

So I think that we are leaving that a little bit open. But we thinkthat tomorrow -- it is our strong belief that tomorrow will meet the expectations of what that meeting issupposed to do.

Q Thank you.

President and First Lady | Vice President and Mrs. Gore
Record of Progress | The Briefing Room
Gateway to Government | Contacting the White House
White House for Kids | White House History
White House Tours | Help | Text Only

Privacy Statement


Middle East Trip: Briefing by National Security Advisor Sandy Berger (12/15/98)

Middle East Trip: Press Briefing by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (12/14/98)

Middle East Trip: Press Briefing by White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart (12/14/98)

The President's Trip to the Middle East: Briefing by Albright and Berger (12/13/98)

The President's Trip to the Middle East: Briefing by Lockhart (12/13/98)

Office of the Press Secretary