1998 Mideast Trip: Remarks of the President to the Press Pool

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 15, 1998



10:35 A.M. (L)

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning, everybody. I just had a very good meeting, a very frank meeting, with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat. First, everyone agrees that yesterday's convening of all the Palestinian groups and the vote by the Palestinian National Council and the others to fully and forever reject the conflict with Israel and commit to a path to peace and cooperation was a truly historic day.

And what we focused on in our meeting is how to follow up on that,wheredo we go from here, how can we vigorously implement the process that weagreedto at Wye. And I'd like to just -- I have a few notes here from themeeting --I'd like to go over them with you.

The first thing that we agreed to do was to energize the permanentstatus talks. Keep in mind, the purpose of the Wye Agreement was toresolve thematters that had to be resolved so we could get into permanent status talks andtry to get back as close as possible to the timetable set out in 1993.

Secondly, we agreed to vigorously pursue the security issue through theappropriate committee. There is, I think, no space between the two sidesintheir understanding that maintaining security cooperation and minimizingsecurity problems is the precondition to making all the rest of this work. It'swhat made Wye possible.

Thirdly, the prisoner issue, as you know, is adifficult one, but an informal channel has been agreed to fordealing with that, and it was agreed to -- referred all thequestions to that channel and to pursue that accordingly.

Fourthly, there is a so-called steering committee whichis basically a clearinghouse for a lot of the other specificissues agreed to at Wye -- questions of law enforcement, ofweapons handling, of all the specifics there. They are going tomeet today, and I anticipate that there will be agreement at theend of the day, at the end of this meeting, that a lot of therequirements of Wye for this next phase have, in fact, been met.

Then there are some other issues that I would like tomention, all of which we agreed to establish to deal with throughestablished committee procedures: Education -- I talked aboutthis in my speech in Gaza yesterday; the importance of teachingchildren that a commitment has been made by these two people tobe partners and to share this land together. It's a veryimportant issue to the Israelis and one I think that thePalestinians recognize.

Second, the economic committee, which is veryimportant. And thirdly, one big issue that has been agreed tobut the details haven't been worked out is the whole question ofsafe passage. And there is a committee on safe passage and Iexpect it to meet if not today, then very shortly to continue topush forward on that.

So the message of this trip is that yesterday was ahistoric day. It was a very important day for both peoples.Again, I want to compliment and applaud Chairman Arafat and allthe others who were at that meeting who made the decision --clear, public and unambiguous; that we now have to decidepractical means to go forward, and I think we are well on the wayto doing that. So I have achieved what I came here to achieveand I expect the Secretary of State to be back here in severalweeks and we'll just keep at it.

Q Mr. President, will the redeployment that isscheduled for Friday go ahead?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think the proper way toanswer that is that the Israeli government in my meetingreaffirmed its commitment to the Wye process. And so we have toresolve a number of issues in order for the redeployment to goforward. I think it would be unfortunate if we got too farbehind schedule and I hope we can keep pretty much to theschedule that's there. But, obviously, that remains to be workedout here.

We believe in keeping to these schedules as much aspossible and we work very hard to put all this back on trackhere. I do think that we are back on track. We're going to seethis through and I feel good about where we are now.

Q This clearinghouse you're speaking about --

Q Are they talking again?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, yes, yes. We sat there for howeverlong, an hour and 25 minutes today, with all the parties in theroom, including the major members of each side's team, as well asthe leaders, and everybody had their say. And there was some --we got beyond people stating their own positions to actualconversation, and I'm quite hopeful. I think the proof is alwaysin what happens tomorrow, not what happens today, but I think atleast we've got a process set up and we can go forward.

Q Mr. President, have you been able to insulate thepeace process from the domestic political problems affecting youand the Prime Minister?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, absolutely.

Q How so?

THE PRESIDENT: You show up for work every day. It'snot a complicated thing.

Q These clearinghouses, are these to clear thoseobstacles that stand in the way of Netanyahu going through withthe next phase of the withdrawal? Is this to satisfy him thatthese various issues like unilateral declarations are beingresolved so he can go ahead? I don't understand theclearinghouse.

THE PRESIDENT: No, no. What I am saying is --no, there is a steering committee that we had set up at Wye thatis supposed to deal with things like --

Q Well, yes, prisoners, for instance.

THE PRESIDENT: No, no, that's different. It'ssupposed to deal with things like -- the steering committee dealswith things like the weapons confiscation and destruction issue,the size of the police forces, all those specific issues thatwere set up at Wye not being dealt with in the securitycommittee, not being dealt with in the informal channel onprisoners, not being dealt with in some other way.

And so what I would say, as I think you will get areport before the end of the day here that these folks havegotten together, the reports have been made, and I think adetermination will be made that a number of the requirements ofthe Wye Agreement have been met so that we can go forward. Butthis is a complicated matter, obviously, and I hope we can stayas close to the schedule as possible.

Q He said preconditions for going in. His latestone was unilateral declarations of statehood. He said thatyesterday. Before that it was the covenant. You got thecovenant taken care of. What I am trying to determine is whetherhis preconditions have been swept away.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, the meeting we did yesterday waspart of the Wye Agreement. The other question is one that Ithink both sides should observe, which is it is okay to advocatehow you want this to come out. That's okay. Neither side shouldtry to stop the other from saying what their vision of the futureis. That would be a terrible mistake. But it is not okay toimply that we're not going to resolve all the matters that werelisted in the Oslo Agreement for negotiations by negotiations.That is what we've got to do, and that's where I think the lineought to drawn and the balance ought to be struck. If we stickwith that, you know, we'll have fits and starts, it will be hardparts, but we'll get through this. We'll get through this justfine and it will come out where it ought to.

Thank you.

Q Thank you, sir.


1998 Mideast Trip: Remarks of the President to the Press Pool

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