Press Background Briefing by Senior Administration Official (10/17/00)
                              THE WHITE HOUSE

                       Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release                         October 17, 2000

                         PRESS BACKGROUND BRIEFING

                           Aboard Air Force One
          En route from Sharm el-Sheikh to Andrews Air Force Base

2:00 P.M. (L)

          Q    So where did you wind up, as opposed to where you wanted to
get?  Did you get what you wanted?

          SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, I think we accomplished what
we hoped to accomplish.  We weren?t sure whether we could. We?ve had a very
ugly and tragic and bitter two weeks out here.  Feelings are running very,
very high. We came here with three objectives.  One was to get an agreement
between the two parties to a series of concrete steps that hopefully will
lead to a de-escalation of the violence, ultimately halting the violence.
And we were able to do that; I can talk more about that.

          Second, both parties have wanted to have a fact-finding
commission that would look at how this happened, what lessons can be
learned and how to avoid it.  They differed quite sharply on constitution
and composition of that.  We were able to resolve that.  And, third, we
wanted to create a path back to the negotiations.  And they both agreed
over the next two weeks we?re going to consult with a view towards perhaps
bringing them back together in some fashion.

          Q    After all of the -- a lot of  people didn?t want these two
leaders to come here.  There has been a lot of ugly words on both sides.
Is there a realistic chance that this agreement is going to stick?

          SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think that both Prime Minister
Barak and Chairman Arafat have every intention of trying to implement this
agreement.  Now, there is obviously a dynamic out here that is not easy to
reverse and is going to take some very strong measures.  But both parties
-- particularly, Chairman Arafat has agreed to a public statement
renouncing the violence, which he?s not made up until now; to concrete
steps on the ground, with respect to controlling demonstrations; a whole
series of other measures.  And, in turn, the Israelis have agreed to end
the closure -- that?s both the internal closure between Gaza and the West
Bank and also the external closure between Gaza and Egypt and the West Bank
and Jordan; and to, over a period of the next several days, to redeploy
forces back to their pre-crisis levels.  This will be difficult and we
should have no illusion that anybody can wave a magic wand.

          But now there is a common commitment to a common set of steps.
And, therefore, I hope that over the next several days we?ll see the
effects of this.

          Q    There are a lot of qualifiers in this summary.  Hopefully,
they?ll be able to reduce the violence.  Maybe they?ll get back on a path
to peace. Does the administration wish there was something more concrete,
something more specific, something harder?

          SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They?ve agreed to all the things
that we wanted them to agree to.  They?ve agreed to all the steps that we
hoped that they would agree to.

          Q    So in no way did you fall short of your expectations?

          SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No.  Not in terms of what they?ve
agreed to do.  Now, the question is, in the implementation of this, how
quickly does it take hold, how completely does it take hold, does something
happen that changes the dynamic?  There are a lot of uncertainties here.
But the security steps that they agreed to were, I would say, actually
beyond what we thought we would be able to get. My saying ?hopefully? is
simply a recognition that emotions are high here, it?s still a very
volatile region, and implementation is not going to be easy.  I think they
intend to implement this.

          Q    Is there an understood time table?  What I mean is, if
something doesn?t happen in 48 hours, can one side say, well, already
they?re backing away from this so we?re going to back away from our side of
it?  Or is it understood that there is a rational process?

          SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There are some timing elements in
this -- we?re not going to discuss the specifics of those.

          Q    What about the trade-offs?

          Q    Do you expect Arafat to make some further statement now
about renouncing violence?


          Q    I mean, he did it indirectly through the President, but he
hasn?t done it directly.


          Q    (Inaudible.)

          SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would hope he would do it soon.

          Q    What were the trade-offs that each side made?  I know, for
example, the Israelis did not want the U.N. to be involved in the
fact-finding commission, that was clearly a compromise on their behalf.
What are your --

          SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Actually, on the commission, the
Israelis were quite pleased with the way that that language came out.  What
the Israelis did not want is an international commission, that is, a
commission that was under the auspices of the U.N. or was seen as an
international body.  This is a commission appointed by the President, under
the auspices of the President.  In selecting members, he will consult with
Barak, Arafat, Kofi Annan.

          But the Israelis were very pleased with the way that came out.
They felt very strongly that they did not want an international commission
and Arafat agreed to that.

          Q    What happens if they don?t meet these deadlines, everything
kind of falls apart?

          SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I don?t want to speculate
on what happens if things don?t go well.  Again, this remains a very tense
and dangerous area.  I believe we will see a ratcheting down of the
violence over the next several days.  But, you know, it only takes one
person to shoot a gun or throw a rock.

          Q    Any progress on any of the Israelis that have been captured
within the last week?  Any sense that is a stumbling block or is something
that is on the minds of the Israelis, as this process moves forward?

          SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It?s certainly on the minds not
only of the Israelis, but on our minds, as well.  Hezbollah -- we have made
it very clear to those who have influence on Hezbollah, including the
Syrians, that they need to do everything in their power to see that these
soldiers are returned.  I think those issues were not involved in these
discussions because those are not issues that are directly related to the
Palestinians.  But it is a dimension of the situation out here which I
think remains volatile.

          Q    How far removed are we from, let?s just say, the spirit of
Camp David?  I mean, how far are these two gentlemen who spent so much time
together in July, so many conversations about peace, how far removed are we
from that set of atmospherics?

          SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, obviously there has been a
lot of ugly scenes in the last two weeks.  And I think that has affected
perceptions on both sides, and it will take time for that to heal.  But I
do think that both these leaders would like to get back into some form of
negotiation, because I think they recognize that we?ve just seen over the
last two weeks the alternative to a negotiated solution.

          Q    What is the time table for the fact-finding commission,

          SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think the President will select
it in the next several weeks.

          Q    Would the report become due before he leaves office?

          SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That?s not specified.

          Q    Is it assumed or understood?

          SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, we actually didn?t talk so
much about when it would be due.  Obviously, it?s a complicated situation
and we want them to do a thorough job.  We will consult with Barak and
Arafat on that over the next few days.

          Q    So we consider that commission instead a Palestinian
compromise, where did the Israelis compromise in this?

          SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think by agreeing to
certain steps in the West Bank and in the territories that will return
things back to the pre-crisis levels.

          Q    Any troop withdrawals?

          SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, there has been substantial
deployments of forces in the last two weeks, as well as closures in the
territories -- as I said, both internal and external.  And those will be
reversed as this process unfolds.

          Q    Did the Palestinians commit to rearresting the militants
and/or terrorists, which the Israelis have complained about so strenuously
the last week or two?


          Q    They did.  Is that a part of the understanding?  Is that
stipulated in the agreement?  Or is that an understood?

          SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President talked about, I
believe, rearrest of prisoners.

          Q    Is that in the agreement, itself?

          SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That?s an understanding that was
part of this.

          Q    Can you talk more about the joint security arrangements, the
new joint security arrangements?  And is Tenet going to be even more

          SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think -- fundamentally,
there is cooperation between the parties, which actually, since Wye, one of
the positive things to come out of Wye was a degree of cooperation at the
level of security forces to security forces dealing with managing flash
points, managing conflict that has atrophied a bit in the past few weeks.
?Atrophy? is, I guess, the wrong word; it?s eroded, I guess is a better

          Q    Collapsed?

          SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Collapsed?  No, it actually
hasn?t collapsed.  There is still some -- surprisingly, they?re still
engaged in it, although not as extensively.  And they?ve committed to
resume that and try to intensify that.  Our role is a facilitator.  Our
role is to help get them together and make sure that they are working

          Q    Is there anything that you?ll have to inform Congress about,
any understandings, agreements?  Anything that you have to --

          SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No obligations or undertakings
the United States has made in this, except to oversee generally the
implementation of this.  Obviously, if we don?t see it being implemented,
we?ll say so.

          Q    Does this reestablish the foundation, basically reestablish
the foundation of the Oslo --

          SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Actually, I didn?t answer --
somebody asked about the peace process and I didn?t answer that very well,
I answered half of it, but not the other half.

          I would say that the third leg of this triangle, which was their
willingness -- well, not ?willingness,? their desire to come back together
and discuss the resumption of a negotiating process suggests to me that
they both want to see negotiations resumed.  And we will talk with them
over the next two weeks about the best way to do that.

          Q    Neither of them looked very happy today, and obviously if no
one wanted to answer questions there?s --

          SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it has been a very
difficult time.  I think it?s very difficult for Prime Minister Barak to
see those two soldiers massacred by a mob.  And I think that it has been
difficult for Arafat to see so many funerals.  So I don?t think it?s a -- I
think it?s a time for some gratification that they can hopefully get back
on a path to -- on the right path.  But I don?t think that, in this
context, triumphalism by either of them is the appropriate mood they want
to strike.

          Q    Let me ask you a hard ball question about politics on both
sides, the Israelis and the Palestinians.  What position do you think
Arafat will find himself in when he goes back and his people who most
wanted this fact-finding commission find out it has an indeterminate date,
it?s controlled by the President of the United States, it may not even
report before he leaves office?  Also, what position do you think Barak
will be in when he comes back and the Likud Party finds out that after the
mob killing of two Israeli police officers, or soldiers, they have to
redeploy and pull back and do things that they might perceive to be
concessions to the Palestinians?  I mean, do these two men walk back home?

          SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: These are mutual steps.  And both
sides benefit if, instead of seeing 10 people killed a day, we see that
reversing and ending and coming back to normalcy.  So I think both will say
this is a mutual process, we?ve undertaken concrete steps and hopefully
their people will see the consequences of that in a more normal life.

          Q    Can you talk a little bit about what it was like inside the
room, if you would?  It seemed like it started off really bad the first
couple of hours and then got better.

          SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: If you look at the last two days,
sort of three circles of activity: Secretary Albright was chairing a
meeting of the foreign ministers from each of the countries over most of
yesterday, as they were drafting language.  I think that was an important
part of this.  There was a fair amount of venting in that session -- not by
Secretary Albright -- (laughter) -- and not against her, either, contrary
to something Reuters said today --wrong, no one called her --

          Q    It was a Palestinian stringer who reported it, so -- we had
a -- well, according to the Palestinian source who gave it --

          SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I?m just spinning you.  In any
case, it was important.  They were confronting each other for the first
time at the foreign minister level and grappling with the consequences and,
as I say, venting a bit -- and drafting some language.

          Q    Trying to blow off some steam?


          Q    Did you see any warmth between the two leaders throughout
the whole --

          SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me finish.  So that?s sort of
one circle.  The second circle is what the President was doing, which was
meeting with the leaders, particularly with Barak, Arafat, Mubarak, but
also with Kofi Annan and King Abdullah.  I guess I was trying to think how
-- what the President was doing, creating space, creating enough space,
opening up the room so that if they -- for an agreement, getting them,
probing to see whether where they could give, how far they could go; and,
in a sense, making the room wider and higher.

          And then in a third and very important circle is work that George
Tenet was doing with senior people from the security services, more
quietly.  And they were basically hammering out the elements of this
security understanding, which they completed last night about 8:00 p.m.
And that was then the kind of foundation -- although, then the President
went into a period of activity from 8:00 p.m. last night until 4:00 a.m.
this morning, in which he was both trying to get the leaders to agree to
this -- there were some changes made; but also then this in the context of
the other two pieces, the commission and the peace process.  Although, that
was actually the least controversial.  They both really wanted to find a
way to see whether negotiations can be restored, that was the least
difficult.  The other thing, the commission and the steps, how they would
be expressed.  And we met with -- until, as I say, about 4:00 a.m.  Then
the President, we came back this morning at 8:00 a.m.  The President met
first with Mubarak, then with Arafat.  He met with Barak last night again,
and then with Barak again, and then with the Secretary General, King

          So we really didn?t know we had this nailed down until, I would
say -- what time was the press conference?

          Q    Noon.

          SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Haven?t been to sleep in about
two days.  Noon?  I was 90 percent sure we had this between 10:00 a.m. and
11:00 a.m.; 95 percent sure of it when the leaders came out of the room
they were in together and the President was smiling; and 100 percent when
the press conference started.  (Laughter.)

          Q    It wasn?t a press conference.

          Q    There were no questions.

          SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Excuse me, I?m sorry.

          Q    The in-your-face announcement.

          SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That was a -- they had agreed
that, let the statements speak for themselves.  Obviously, each would have
to speak to its own constituency.  And they?ll all go back and speak to
their own constituency.  But I think it would not be constructive to do

          Q    Is there anything you want to tell us about the
investigation into the Cole?  Are you getting any hooks?

          SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I?ve had an open line
conversation with Louis Freeh last night.  It was not very informative,
except that -- and he?s heading out there -- he said that the government of
Yemen is now cooperating fully and genuinely.  He?s very pleased with their
cooperation and he thought that the first few days had gone well.

                             END                2:25 P.M. (L)

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