Press Briefing by Special Middle East Coordinator, Ambassador Dennis Ross; Cairo, Egypt (8/29/00)
                              THE WHITE HOUSE

                       Office of the Press Secretary
                              (Cairo, Egypt)

For Immediate Release                                   August 29, 2000

                              PRESS BRIEFING

                          The Sheraton Heliopolis
                               Cairo, Egypt

9:45 A.M. (L)

     MR. CROWLEY:  Good morning, fellow world travelers.  Welcome to Cairo.
It has been an amazing trip.  Barely 10 hours ago we were in Arusha,
Tanzania, focused on the Burundi peace process -- and here we are 10 hours
later with the President meeting with President Hosni Mubarak, focused on
the Middle East peace process.

     One peace process where you have the complexity of 19 parties trying
to reach an agreement; here you have fewer parties, but perhaps the most
complex issues of any peace process that the United States is currently
supporting.  And it's a testimony that in both cases the parties in Burundi
and the parties here in the Middle East have tremendous trust and
confidence in the United States and in the President of the United States,
Bill Clinton.

     It was a very important meeting this morning, where the President had
the opportunity to consult with Hosni Mubarak.  Egypt, of course, is a key
player in the peace process.  This was a meeting that the President hoped
to have in Washington, in conjunction with the millennium summit; but given
that he had to make a refueling stop, shifted his schedule here to Cairo so
they'd have the opportunity to consult as we now focus on the millennium
summit in the next couple of weeks.

     Here to give you a readout of this morning's meeting is the
President's Middle East Coordinator, Dennis Ross.

     AMBASSADOR ROSS:  Thanks, PJ.  Let me just add a word, then I'll take
your questions.

     I think PJ said it quite well.  The purpose of this meeting was to
give the two Presidents a chance to compare their assessments on the kinds
of contacts we have both been having with both the Israelis and the
Palestinians.  This was a chance to bring each other up to date, on the one
hand, and was also a chance to consult about how best to try to be helpful
to the parties and how the two of us can be working together to try to be
most helpful to the two of them in order to try to mover towards an

     I think it was a very good meeting.  I think there was a chance to
offer that kind of comparative assessment, and it was also a good
opportunity to talk about how we will continue to work together and to
consult in terms of moving us forward.

     So why don't I take a few questions.

     Q    Did the two Presidents make any sort of commitment to what steps
they're going to take next, either together or individually?

     AMBASSADOR ROSS:  Well, I think the main thing that we've been doing
is working in parallel and keeping in very close touch.  Both of us are
talking to the Israelis and the Palestinians.  As we do so, we're letting
each other know what it is we're hearing.  If one or the other of us comes
up with ideas, we also want to be sure that they're aware of those.  And
that's been a process now underway for the last couple of weeks and we will
continue to do that.

     Q    What are the chances that there will be a three-way meeting, and
not just bilaterals in New York, and therefore going to Washington from New
York next week?

     AMBASSADOR ROSS:  Well, I think the plan right now is to have separate
bilaterals between the President and Chairman Arafat, and the President and
Prime Minister Barak.  And he'll also be seeing other regional leaders.
But the focus is really on what can be done with the two of them

     Q    By the end of the month might there be a three-way?

     AMBASSADOR ROSS:  Well, I think our focus right now is let's work the
substance and focus more on the substance, and we'll focus on the procedure
at a point when we're satisfied that we have the substance to a point where
it makes sense to make a procedural move.  The President has always said
that -- since Camp David -- that he would be prepared to get together with
the leaders when he saw a readiness to make decisions.

     I think we're, obviously, still at a point where we're focused on
developing an approach to substance that gives us a level of confidence
that there's a readiness to make those decisions.

     Q    Dennis, Mubarak said in the photo op that he thinks that with the
cooperation of the United States an agreement can be reached.  Does the
United States share that optimism, that an agreement can be reached before
the deadline?

     AMBASSADOR ROSS:  Well, we have believed an agreement could be
reached, or we would not have gone to Camp David.  Camp David, itself, was
called by the President largely because there was a clear perception on our
part that there was a stalemate between the two sides and we had to break
that stalemate, we had to create a new dynamic.

     But the purpose was to create a new dynamic to reach an agreement.  We
know that, based on discussions we've had at Camp David, that it is
possible to reach an agreement.  The real question is how do you translate
that possibility into a reality.
     I know, and the President was very clear on this in the photo op, that
we don't have a lot of time, that there is a window here, there is a
possibility and it shouldn't be lost.  And there is a risk that it could be
lost.  But there is a possibility and everything needs to be done to try to
capitalize on that possibility.  We're determined to do so, and one of the
things that emerged very clearly from the discussion of the two Presidents
today is the Egyptians are prepared to do all they can, also, to ensure
that that possibility is realized.

     Q    Mr. Ross, you were talking about substance.  Is there any
progress in substance?  And if you can also tell us, with your experience
in all this -- how can you see the parties getting closer together in
Jerusalem?  What kind of ideas are you discussing right now --

     AMBASSADOR ROSS:  Well, first of all, I think the best place to
discuss those ideas is with the parties, and not in this setting.
Secondly, I think that there is a very active effort being made by the
parties with us, with the Egyptians, to try to find ways to overcome

     There is no question in our mind that there is a genuine effort being
made by everybody involved to see if an agreement is possible.  Right now,
we're obviously still working.  The differences that are there are real,
but there's also an intention to try to find ways to overcome them.

     Whether we can do that, I can't yet say.  That we think it's possible,
I can say.

     Q    Any progress, sir, today, after your talks?  Any progress, any
move forward --

     AMBASSADOR ROSS:  Well, I think that we have -- President Mubarak and
President Clinton I think definitely feel that we have, through our
consultations, a mechanism that can be helpful to the parties in overcoming
the differences that continue to exist.  These are hard differences, these
are hard issues.  They require very tough decisions.  They go to the heart
of self-definition and existence and security.  Very tough, painful
decisions are required.  They're of a historic nature.

     But I think both President Clinton and President Mubarak felt that
their discussions today increased the level of our understanding, in terms
of how we, working together, can try to be helpful to them.

     Q    Dennis, after Camp David, not only did the President publicly say
he thought Mr. Arafat was not flexible enough, but we're told he voiced
some exasperation that he had called President Mubarak, called King
Abdullah, and did not feel that they were as helpful as he had hoped in
nudging Arafat along.

     Are the United States and Egypt still on separate pages when it comes
to Jerusalem?  Have they gotten over that at all?

     AMBASSADOR ROSS:  I think that we are working, I think, very well
together.  And I think it's important to understand at the end of the day,
the Palestinians will make their own decisions.  No one is going to make
decisions for them, any more than someone is going to make the decisions
for the Israelis.  Each party will make their own decisions.  There is no
question right now that Egypt is making a very genuine effort in keeping
with the role that Egypt has always played when it comes to peace.

     The U.S. and Egypt have been partners in this process from its very
inception and I would say that partnership is alive and very well today as
we try to bring the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, which is
the core of the Arab/Israeli conflict, to a conclusion.

     Q    How does the President plan to use next week's U.N. meeting to
try to advance the peace talks?

     AMBASSADOR ROSS:  Well, clearly, when the President meets with each of
the leaders, that creates an opportunity to try to crystalize positions, to
try to understand where headway can be made, to try to see what can be
overcome, what has been overcome, what remains to be overcome.  When you're
in a negotiating process, you want to use those kinds of meetings to see
what can be done, I think, to create greater clarity over what has -- what
is or can be agreed and what remains to be agreed and to see whether there
are ideas that can be useful in overcoming those, as well as what kinds of
strategies in the talks, themselves, can be useful for overcoming the

     Q    Do you believe that Israelis -- the Palestinians have resigned
themselves to no agreement by the deadline?

     AMBASSADOR ROSS:  I think that they, as well as we, are focused on
reaching an agreement if we can.  The most important thing to do is to
reach that agreement.  We obviously don't have a lot of time, given a whole
set of different kinds of realities.  But the most important thing is to
see -- can we reach the agreement.  That is probably more important than
focusing on anything else.

     Q    Have you had discussions with either side or both sides about
what happens if it's September 14th or 15th or 16th, whether there's any
kind of wiggle room in that date?

     AMBASSADOR ROSS:  Well, as I said, I think our focus is much more on
reaching the agreement than a particular date.  I think also the two
parties themselves are focused on can they reach an agreement.  That's
where the real effort and energy is right now, more than anything else.

     Q    Was the Syrian track discussed today and how does the United
States feel about the Syrian track, should it be postponed until after an
agreement with the Palestinians or should they proceed with it?

     AMBASSADOR ROSS:  Well, our position has always been that there should
be a comprehensive peace settlement, which means it's important --
obviously critical to resolve the core of the conflict -- which is an
Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- but also we need to reach an agreement
between Israel and Syria and Lebanon and Israel as well, if you want to
have a comprehensive peace.

     And so our focus is not to say we will have one negotiating track to
the exclusion of others.  We would like very much to be in a position to
reach a comprehensive peace and that means we're prepared to do what we can
on all tracks.  That remains true, it always has been and it remains true
today.  And if there are things that we can do to move other tracks along,
we would.

     Q    Would you spell out why the time is so short, especially given
the fact that you say the deadline is not that important?

     AMBASSADOR ROSS:  Our sense of timing is obviously influenced by  a
set of realities.  There is a political reality in Israel, which is plain
to see.  There is a date that was selected by the parties, and agreed to in
the Sharm el-Sheik Agreement.  So you have different realities that affect
each side.

     And to think that you can maintain a process where you don't reach an
agreement at this stage, especially given as far as we have moved -- and
the parties have moved -- I think our view is that this is something that
will be difficult to sustain for a long period of time.  Indeed, whenever
you're in a situation where you make some headway, if you can't reach an
agreement at a certain point, there's always the risk of erosion of the
advances that you made.  And when that happens, then there's -- you find
yourself having to climb a much bigger mountain.

     Q    Was the level of U.S. aid to Egypt discussed today in the

     AMBASSADOR ROSS:  That did not come up in the meeting.

     MR. CROWLEY:  For a man who has had one of the most strange working
vacations that I can remember, I promised him that he wouldn't miss his
11:00 a.m. flight.  So can we make one last question.

     Q    Where are you going?  (Laughter.)

     AMBASSADOR ROSS:  I am returning to Israel, where I will have a chance
to have some vacation and many meetings.

     THE PRESS:  Thank you very much.

     END  10:00 A.M. (L)

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