THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release December 13, 1998 3:12 P.M. (L)
PRESS BRIEFING BY
SECRETARY OF STATE MADELEINE ALBRIGHT
AND NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR SANDY BERGER
The King David Hotel
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Good afternoon, everybody. Just a very brief couple of opening remarks. The President came to the region in order to not only put the peace process back on track, but to move it forward. Our assessment is that the first phase for the redeployment went well, primarily because the parties were talking with each other. And what needs to happen now in the second phase is that there needs to be a restoration of that level of communication, and that is what the President has been working on this morning.
He has had a couple of meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and then I met with Foreign Minister Sharon, where we went over a number of issues of mutual concern. And then we had about a two-hour meeting with their whole delegation and our whole delegation, listening primarily to the Israeli assessment of things were.
Tomorrow we will be listening to the Palestinian assessment, and we will continue to do what it is that the President does so well, which is to try to get them again to talk to each other on these issues that are being raised as questions of how the implementation is going forward.
MR. BERGER: Just to add a few words. As the Secretary indicated, the President and Mrs. Clinton, Prime Minister and Mrs. Netanyahu had breakfast together this morning at about 9:30 a.m. at our hotel. We then went over to the Prime Minister's office. The President spent a little time one on one with the Prime Minister, maybe 10 minutes or 15 minutes. And then we spent about two hours in the larger delegation. I think the tone of that meeting was very good, very positive, very constructive.
As you know, the President has just gone to the gravesite of the late Prime Minister Rabin. He'll be going back to the hotel for a while, then will be going to President Weizman's house with the annual Menorah lighting ceremony. And then tonight, the President will be speaking in a major speech here in Israel -- it's a speech to the Israeli people, first of all, about the central importance of the Israel-U.S. relationship, our continuing deep commitment to that relationship; and second of all, about the Wye Agreement and the peace process and why it is so important to stay on track; notwithstanding the difficulties, that there is no alternative for the people of Israel or the Palestinian people than to fulfill their commitments under the agreement, at the same time intensifying the pace of the final status negotiations.
Q Madam Secretary, do you and the President have a clear understanding of what Prime Minister Netanyahu will accept as an authentic vote tomorrow in Gaza? Specifically, will he accept a show of hands from delegations which may or may not be authentic delegates under the Charter?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, as you know, there will be -- the authentic delegates will be there, along with some others, and there will be a process that will reaffirm the fact that Chairman Arafat has now written to the President abrogating the paragraphs in the Charter that are counter to the Israeli nation. And we are satisfied that Prime Minister Netanyahu will be satisfied with the outcome of that meeting.
Q Including a show of hands?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I'm not going to go into the details. I think that 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 today because the President spoke with a great understanding of Israel's security concerns, made a strong statement how violence is awful and all that, but I didn't hear him say, and you are usually the one who says it anyhow, 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 slightly at the beginning, as you know. We would like this timetable to get back on track. We also want to make absolutely clear to Chairman Arafat, as we have in the past and we will again tomorrow, that he has to fight terrorism on a sustained basis. A phrase you haven't heard in a while, Barry, is he has to do it 24 hours 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 Israeli people. But it is essential, this is a -- the Wye Agreement is something that is based on mutual responsibility and it's very important to stay on track.
Q Did the Prime Minister give you any indication he would be satisfied with the procedures to be used tomorrow on the vote?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that you will -- the Prime Minister would like to see a way -- it be very clear that once and for all, the Covenant, the Charter -- those parts of the Covenant that are obnoxious are null and void. And we believe that that will be the result of that meeting.
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 Israeli reporters dealt with impeachment, not with the Middle East? And is the impeachment controversy affecting the President's ability to deal with the Middle East -- goals on this trip?
MR. BERGER: I think the answer to the second question is, no. The President is held in enormous regard here in Israel. I believe that's indisputable. And also by the Palestinian people. I think both the Israeli government and the Israeli people and the Palestinians look to the President for leadership in helping them to get the peace process back on track. I think that's no less true today than it was when we had the Wye meeting, a year ago or two years ago or three years ago.
As to the questions, I think the President expects questions of that sort 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. We will have our meetings tomorrow and, as I said, it is our desire to restore the level of communication. But we don't know 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 are waiting to have a Cabinet decision on the 18th, and so I think they -- we would expect, as I responded previously, that we stay on track with the process. But they have announced their Cabinet meetings for later.
Q Madam Secretary, President Netanyahu in his remarks said that a condition for the pullback was a renunciation of May 4th, unilateral declaration of statehood. Is that at all realistic in your mind, that there could be such a renunciation? And, B, do you see that there is a way to solve the prisoners issue through perhaps a three-way committee where you go through -- U.S., Palestinians, Israelis -- go prisoner by prisoner, case by case?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, on the first one, we've already said when the Prime Minister made that statement that Wye memorandum was signed, that was not one of the conditions. But at the same time, we have also said that unilateral actions and unilateral statements generally are not helpful to the atmosphere of having the Wye process go forward.
On the prisoner issue, clearly this is a very sensitive issue and is one that needs to be resolved at the table and not out in the streets. And we are looking at ways that we can be helpful in trying to get what is clearly a very sensitive issue resolved in some useful way.
Q Madam Albright, the Prime Minister seemed to lay out a long litany of conditions before the redeployments would go forward. As you said, the purpose of this mission is to move the peace process forward. Did you come out of this with a clear sort of road map ahead of a fairly short list of must do's before redeployments can go forward?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that the main issues really are that we have to deal with the question of the violence. I think that, as I said, if there are differences, they need to be dealt with at the negotiating table. We are stressing that -- that clearly this is a -- nobody thought that the Wye Agreement itself, as you all know, was not an easy task and it's a complex agreement that has a number of interlocking, mutually responsible parts. And as difficulties arise they need to be negotiated at the table or worked out in a diplomatic way, not out in the street. So I think that that's one issue that we have to deal with.
As I just mentioned, we want to deal -- try to get at the sensitive issue of prisoners. The PNC aspect we believe will be dealt with tomorrow. And I think, basically, it is a matter of having both sides fulfill their obligations, and that means that the security aspects need to be dealt with and the Israelis need to move forward with their redeployment.
Q For either one, the President has always said that he wants the parties to take risks for peace. But many people here seem to think if Prime Minister Netanyahu moves forward with Wye, the risk he takes is that his government will collapse. Two questions: Isn't that an awful lot to ask any leader? And do you share that sort of dire assessment of where things stand in terms of his domestic politics?
MR. BERGER: Well, the Prime Minister made very clear, and he did again today, that he is committed to implementation of the Wye Agreement. He wants to see it -- he wants to see compliance on both sides. But he reaffirmed today to the President his commitment to compliance with the agreement, recognizing that that takes place in a very complex political environment for him.
Q You said it before, but maybe it's worth saying again, as to why the President's going to Gaza does not give some impetuous to the idea of a Palestinian state?
MR. BERGER: Well, the Secretary of State has been to Gaza and the Foreign Minister of Israel has been to Gaza. The President is going to Gaza pursuant to an agreement reached by both parties at Wye in an effort to facilitate the PNC revoking the offensive 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 a reflection of a judgment about the final status of the Palestinian territories.
It's been our position plainly and repeatedly stated that the status of the territories is an issue to be resolved through negotiations by the parties.
Q But people have made the point that they used to burn the flag over there, the American 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 a result of the work that's taken place in the last 18 months and the Wye River memorandum is that the Palestinians are -- we are seeing the Palestinians try to take an increasingly responsible approach to the peace process; it requires them to do what we said, which is to follow through on the various security measures and fighting terrorism all the time.
I think that we have had, I think, a useful dialogue with Chairman Arafat and the airport has been opened as a result of President Clinton's hard work, and I think it makes a lot of sense for us to go there and be able to push the process forward and take -- and again, clarify what is required to get the peace process back on track and moving ahead, and frankly, also begin to really launch the 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 speech tomorrow takes note of how their living conditions or economic conditions have worsened since Oslo. Will he be -- is that a tone that he will strike? They're afraid he's just going to lecture them on terrorism and not take note of their daily lives.
MR. BERGER: I don't think it's the President's intention to lecture either in Israel or in Gaza. I think he will talk in both places about the responsibilities that flow from the peace process. But I think the President feels very strongly that until and unless the dividends of peace flow to the beneficiaries of peace, it's going to be very difficult for the peace process to continue. And one of the reasons, for example, that it's important that the Gaza Airport has opened up is strictly economic. This is an economic lifeline from Gaza to the rest of the world in terms of exporting what they grow and what they make and will have tangible economic benefits.
The Donors Conference that the Secretary chaired in Washington which raised several billion dollars for the Palestinians was premised on the notion that it is extremely important for the Palestinian people to feel the benefits of peace in their daily lives in order for them to support hard decisions that their leaders need to make in cracking down on terror and doing 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 some irritation the other day that they hadn't been consulted on top of -- this money going on top of the annual aid programs.
MR. BERGER: Well, I've spoken with Congressman Livingston and I believe the Secretary has. This is a supplemental that will be not an emergency supplemental, will be an offset supplemental -- that is it will be paid for and it will be over a three-year period. It will include $1.2 billion for Israel, $400 million for the Palestinians. The other $500 million is money that has already 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 is widespread 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 the point, economic system is supposed to go down. We were told in a briefing that there would be a net reduction by Israel, a voluntary reduction of $60 million by some shuffling of military and economic. What happened to that principle that as Israel, for instance, which is a fairly well-off country stands on its own, that the U.S. can back off, can ease back --
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, that other part of it, the reduction will continue to be in place. This additional money is due to costs incurred as a result of the further redeployment -- a variety of costs in terms of relocation and security issues. And so I do think that the other plan of 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 a day and return to Washington to deal with Congress. Can you tell us, what is the point of staying on Tuesday to visit Masada and Bethlehem when you have important business in Washington?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think the trip is as planned and it is a trip that I think is important in its whole in terms of visiting with a number of Israeli and Palestinian people, leaders, and I think showing the President's and our respect for this amazing area of the world in which the religions are united, at a time when all the religions seem to be celebrating very special holidays. And I think it is part of making the trip a whole trip in terms of the President's desire to show the importance of the region to the United States.
Q If you're making progress on negotiations between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat, is there a possibility that you might extend the trip like you did in Wye?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Did you bring enough clothes?
MR. BERGER: I just wanted to add one thing. I thought that was a nicely ambiguous answer. (Laughter.) I want to go back to Tuesday. This will also give the President, who will have spent Monday with Chairman Arafat, a chance to close the loop with Prime Minister Netanyahu in terms of both carrying to Chairman Arafat the concerns that we heard today and also, listening to Chairman Arafat tomorrow, carrying those concerns back to Prime Minister Netanyahu. And then it was very much the way the Wye process worked -- the President really being a vehicle for listening to, interpreting and trying to convey to the other party the concerns of each other.
Q Is it possible that Tuesday's visit to Bethlehem might be cancelled and instead you will spend the time in meetings?
MR. BERGER: The schedule -- we have every intention of following the schedule that has been planned. Lots of very hardworking advance people have put an enormous amount of time in this schedule. I think, quite honestly, the President would like to go to Bethlehem simply as a personal matter at this time of year. And I think he and his family have wanted to do that together for some time. So I think there's a dimension of simple -- being here at Christmastime and wanting to visit Bethlehem.
Q It strikes people as strange with the House trying to impeach the President and he's not back there fighting as hard as he can to save the job that he clearly thinks is important rather than sightseeing.
MR. BERGER: Well, I think the notion the President is sightseeing here, Sam, is ridiculous. The President is here on the highest business of the American people and that is peacemaking. And this trip is not about sightseeing, this trip is about trying to put a Wye peace process, difficult as it is, wobbly as it is, back on track by trying to get the parties to talk to each other. And if the President will have accomplished that over the next two or three days, I think he will have accomplished what he set out to do.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: And besides, I'm also going to Jordan on that day.
Q But you're not being impeached. (Laughter.)
Q You sounded almost confident earlier that a way would be found to make this vote tomorrow work for the Israelis, to be enough for the Israelis. Yet you're not ready to say that the meeting among the three leaders is set, which was a condition of Netanyahu's. How much drama is 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 set production. We want to leave a little drama for all of you.
Q So this is really conditioned on whether Netanyahu accepts this vote?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Look, I think that we have all -- everybody knows that the purpose of this meeting, the PNC meeting, was in order for there to be a reaffirmation of the abrogation of the offensive parts of the Charter. That will take place through a mechanism that we believe will satisfy the condition and satisfy Prime Minister Netanyahu. Then I think all of you have seen this go on long enough -- if it is useful to have a trilateral meeting 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 think that tomorrow -- it is our strong belief that tomorrow will meet the expectations of what that meeting is supposed to do.
Q Thank you.