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

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 14, 1998


King David Hotel

10:45 P.M. (L)

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Good evening. I think we have hadreally quite an extraordinary day, and let me go through it withyou a little bit.

As you know, one of the issues that had been verytroubling to the Israelis was a part of the -- was thePalestinian Charter, certain paragraphs of which called for thedestruction of Israel. And one of the issues that has, I think,created difficulties as we've gone through this peace process iswhether those paragraphs had actually been fully abrogated. Andwe had said that Chairman Arafat had written to President Clintonabout it and had reaffirmed that they had been abrogated, butnevertheless, it was a problem.

And it was a problem at Wye, frankly, and it was one ofthe issues that President Clinton was deeply moved by MinisterSharansky's explanation as to why it was important to have a morepublic abrogation of the Charter that ordinary people,Palestinians and Israelis, didn't really read letters from aChairman to a President, and they might not pay attention todecisions by an executive committee. But if there were a publicmeeting in which a majority proportion of the PNC actually, inresponse to Chairman Arafat, raised their hands and made clearthat the Charter, those portions of the Charter, were null andvoid forever, that that would really make an impact that would bedeeply felt by both peoples, and that it was that publicdemonstration that was very important.

As I said, I think that President Clinton listened verycarefully to Minister Sharansky on the subject and so, despitethe fact that he thought that this was a very difficult thing todo -- and it was -- I think everybody feels that today was anhistoric day, that a page was turned, that something that hadbeen an underpinning, an ideological underpinning has beenremoved, and that, therefore, we consider what happened todayimportant. And the President, obviously, as you know, praisedit.

I think that what is -- the Palestinians indicated tous, actually, that they were thinking of reprinting thePresident's speech for their schools because of the way that hehad worded and transmitted the sense that people needed tounderstand each other's problems better. And as you know, thetheme yesterday in the Convention Center here to young people wasabout the importance of education and changing minds for the nextgeneration. So this all fit together. So the day in thatregard, I think, was important.

Let me just say, tomorrow we will have a trilateral meeting at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow morning, and then the President goes on with his schedule. I will be going to Jordan for a brief meeting.

Q Are you going to be at the trilateral?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I'll be at the trilateral, yes.

Q Picking up on the trilateral and the covenantaction was sort of required under Wye, and so was an Israelipullback. And Israeli officials -- the usual anonymous situation-- are saying that the reason there wasn't a trilateral tonightis that they object to the U.S. saying, you should reciprocatefor the covenant bashing by agreeing to carry out that pullbackthis week, Friday. Is there anything to that?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, not the way you state it. Ithink that what has happened here is that clearly, as I saidbefore we left, we wanted to come on this trip in order to getthe peace process back on track and move it forward and restorecommunication. And clearly, the PNC meeting was one of the keyelements of what we were trying to do here.

We believe that there has been -- first of all, thefirst phase of the second FRD worked because there wascommunication between the two parties, because they fulfilledtheir obligations -- and one of the problems in this phase hasbeen that that communication is broken down.

There has been, we believe, in this phase that thePalestinians have moved on the problem of terrorism. There havebeen questions and problems that have arisen as a result ofstreet violence and also as a result of questions about theprisoner releases. We believe that those situations can beresolved through the proper channels of various committees. Andwe think that it would be unfortunate if the deployment did nottake place as soon as possible.

Q Just a quick follow-up. Does the Palestinianaction today sort of compel Israel a little bit more beyond thetext of Wye to do something reciprocal?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think the important part here is that the Israelis wanted this PNC action to take place. As I said, the President was deeply moved by what Minister Sharansky described as the need for it. I think that it is one of the elements of what was asked for and I think that it's important for the Israelis to move forward on the deployment. I think it would be unfortunate if that did not happen soon.

But the important part here, Barry, is that this is anevolving process where commitments have to be kept reciprocally,misunderstandings have to be dealt with at the table and not onthe streets, and a schedule that was agreed to at Wye should befollowed up.

Q Is it your understanding the Israeli pullback willnot come on schedule and that the trilateral meeting would bePresident Clinton's intention to press for that? And is hecutting short the rest of his stay to go back after thetrilateral meeting?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, I think that thereare indications that it will not happen on schedule; but we hopevery much that it can be as close to the schedule as possible.And, obviously, one of the issues that we will be talking aboutin the trilateral is how to keep the peace process going and howto move it forward. And the President is not cutting short histrip. He is going to have the trilateral and then he's going togo on and do Bethlehem and Masada and some of his otherappointments.

Q Have the Israelis indicated that they're willingto make any concessions on the prisoner releases? What have theytold you about that?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, what we have said, again, isthat there is a mechanism that exists for dealing with theseissues, and we are urging that both sides deal with questionsabout the prisoner issue through that mechanism. As I have said,the Israelis did what they said they were going to do on theprisoners, initially. It clearly is a very sensitive point forthe Palestinians. And the kinds of questions that have arisenout of it should be dealt with through the proper channels andnot on the streets.

Q But have they told you they are going to make anymovement on that tomorrow?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: These are subjects that are partof the ongoing discussion.

Q The Prime Minister said tonight that Israel wouldbe the one making the decisions on releasing the prisoners, buthe did indicate that the Palestinians could make some changes orhe indicated there were some things the Palestinians could do.Do you have any idea how that issue could be resolved?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that it can beresolved by having honest and frank discussions in this propercommittee setting, this mechanism. I think --let me just kind ofsay for many of the questions that you ask, there is no questionthat the process is an incredibly complicated one and that theproblems and divisions that have existed here for years are verydeep.

I think we made great progress at Wye in setting up astructure of mutual responsibility and I think that it would benaive to think that questions would not arise along the way,which is why we felt it was a good idea, at the same time, toalso have some mechanisms that would allow questions to beresolved. And that's why we keep urging that it's important tohave communication restored because, as I said, communication wasgood during the first phase of this and so some of these issuescan be dealt with that way.

Q Do you have goals for tomorrow, any specific,concrete steps you'd like to see agreed to?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think we're going to review whathas happened here in the last couple of days, and then thinkabout how to move forward.

Q The Prime Minister said that one impediment tomoving ahead with Wye is to get Chairman Arafat to renounce thethreat of unilateral statehood come next May. How realistic isit to expect that Chairman Arafat would make that sort ofunilateral pronunciation now and how serious an impediment do yousee it to the next redeployment?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think one of the thingsthat we objected to was a statement attributed to the PrimeMinister that said that he would not go forward if such arenunciation were not made, and we said that was not somethingthat had been agreed to at Wye, it was a condition that was addedthat we didn't agree to. However, we have said many times andwill, I suppose, say all the time, continuously as it comes up,is that unilateral statements or actions on either side do nothelp the environment of moving this process forward and we wouldhope that there would be restraint on that subject.

Q As a follow-up, are the Prime Minister'sstatements about an undivided Jerusalem just as unhelpful as thestatements on a -- a unilateral statement -- SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, Jerusalem is a final statusissue.

Q The President said today that he was profoundly

honored to be the first American President to address aPalestinian city governed by Palestinians, and he said that hewas looking forward to the time when Palestinians could be free.I'm wondering how much momentum this lent to the concept ofPalestinian statehood and to what extent there was a message forIsrael in that, that history continues to move on?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, I think thatthe whole moment of the day was quite stunning, I think, in termsof the President being the first one to be there. I know I verymuch enjoyed when I was there and then when Prime MinisterNetanyahu came and joined Chairman Arafat and me for lunch. Sothere have been ways that the comings and goings to Gaza haveincreased.

Also, I think we all had a sense of accomplishmentabout the airport, because that was one of the things that weworked out that was part of some of the issues that should beworked out during the interim agreement. And so the fact that wewere able to work that out and that was a concrete result of WyeI think was very satisfying. We have always talked aboutlegitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people and I think thatthe President voiced what we've been talking about.

And let me just say also I think, I must say, with agreat deal of pride today, that listening to the President givehis speech and adding that to what he did at Wye, but the speechtoday I think kind of was the ultimate peacemaker role, becausewhat he was doing was explaining one side to the other andshowing the fact that the next generation needed to understandthe pain, but get beyond it. So I think that you saw PresidentClinton, the peacemaker, really etched very well today.

And the momentum -- if there is a momentum -- is to getthe final status issues done and try to move this peace processforward.

Q Prime Minister Netanyahu faces a difficultpolitical vote on Friday. Is there any inclination by the UnitedStates to cut him a little slack on withdrawal until he gets pastthat and only then push him to withdraw those troops soon?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think we do not getinvolved in any country's domestic politics, this one included.And I think that, as I said, we think it's very important forobligations to be carried out mutually and that it would beunfortunate if there were an overly long delay.

Q May I follow up on that? Are the indications you're getting about the calls relating to internal politics and that sort of thing -- you don't have to comment on the internal politics -- do they relate to that, or are we talking about a broad list of complaints and unresolved issue that the Israelis have put forward before they're willing to do the next phase?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I am not going to comment on thedomestic politics part of it, but I do know, and you've heardPrime Minister Netanyahu put forward a whole series of issuesthat he thinks have not been dealt with. And it has been ourattempt in the last few days, and it will be again tomorrow andthe day after and the day after, to try to help resolve thoseproblems and try to, frankly, nudge both sides into fulfilling their obligations, because they are mutually interactive.

But as the President said today and as we have saidpreviously, we can help and we can push and we can suggest, butit is the leaders themselves who have to make the hard decisions.They made hard decisions at Wye and I think that they are capableof continuing to do so, and it's important to use these variousmechanisms that we set up where we are willing to play a rolethat might move it forward.

Q Did the subject of impeachment come up in the U.S.delegations' talks with the Israelis or the Palestinians? Andsecondly, has it proved any kind of distraction to your workhere?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: No, to both questions.

Q Secretary Albright, can you say whether thequestion of Mr. Pollard's release from jail has come up in any ofyour conversations with the Israelis, and would that be linked inany fashion whatsoever --

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Not in any meeting that I havebeen in this time.

Q Madam Secretary, the historic tenor of todaynotwithstanding, would you say that the peace process still has along way to go, that you may have to renegotiate these issuesevery few weeks under the Wye Accords, much less get into thefinal status talks, which as you know, has not even started onany sort of detailed basis?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, you've allowed me to go back on something which I'm very pleased to do. First of all, I think that people didn't think that the PNC thing could happen. It was a big deal and it was something that the Israelis felt was very important and something that was clearly not easy for Chairman Arafat to do. And especially since many of the Palestinian leadership believe that they have in some form or another already revoked the offensive parts of the Charter.

So I think that we -- I hope that you all don'tunderestimate the importance of today in the fact that ithappened at all and its importance generally to the entireprocess.

I do think that we have already seen the road, and I'msorry to keep repeating the images that I've used, but the roadto peace does have bumps on it and they will continue to bethere. The main thing that we're going to try to do is to avoidany of them being roadblocks. And we are there -- and I don'tthink "renegotiate" is the right word -- I think we are going tobe there in order to try to urge them to use the variousmechanisms that have been set up. And if additional mechanismsare needed, then we will be characteristically inventive.

Q Madam Secretary, a question about the President'sspeech. At one point, he drew a parallel between the families ofpeople who were killed in terrorist attacks and the families ofthe alleged killers in those terrorist attacks. Is that parallelhe meant to draw and could you explain it for us?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that what he was doing wasdrawing the parallel of the children being in pain and the factthat there were tears by both groups of children, and in no waydid he draw any parallel about the cause of the pain, because thePresident has made very clear that there is no room for terrorismor murder.

Q Madam Secretary, to what extent do the Wye Accordshave to Netanyahu personally? Would the Wye Accords -- would itbe practical to expect implementation of Wye in the absence ofNetanyahu's leadership of the government?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, the Wye Accords were agreedto by the Knesset and, therefore, they are what the state ofIsrael has agreed to. That is our interpretation.

Q Madam Secretary, going back to something you saidbefore, I thought I heard Mr. Netanyahu say yesterday that hewill not move until Arafat stops making unilateral statehoodstatements. He seemed to make it a precondition to theagreement. And today Arafat did it all over again. What's goingon here?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that we have saidthat no unilateral statements are helpful, and we -- and Ibelieve that. I mean, all you have to do is either hear them byeither side or watch unilateral actions to know that they are nothelpful to creating an atmosphere where an already difficultpeace process can go forward. And as I have said -- I don't havethe language in front of me, but, as you know, in the WyeAgreement it speaks about avoiding unilateral statements. It,however, does not add that as a condition the way that PrimeMinister Netanyahu stated it.

Q Thank you.


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)

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