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Background Briefing by Senior Administration Official on Trilateral Meeting

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Trip to Oslo Norway

Office of the Press Secretary
(Oslo, Norway)

For Immediate Release November 2, 1999


Radisson SAS Plaza
Oslo, Norway

7:20 P.M. (L)

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: All right, let me say something briefly and then you can ask questions. I think that we feel very good about these two days, in no small part because there has been a clear understanding between the two sides, with the President, on a process for getting from where we are today to a February 13th target of achieving a framework agreement. There's a process in which the team, who will be working very intensively together -- Israelis and Palestinians -- as well as very regular meetings and contacts between the two leaders, meaning Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat.

We will also be involved throughout this period. I will probably be making trips every couple of weeks; the Secretary of State will make at least one trip, maybe two, between now and February. And in terms of the President convening a summit, that is something that would be done if there has been sufficient progress and a sufficient basis laid to make such a summit useful.

I think it's fair to say that in these meetings the spirit of Rabin was quite present. Last night when the Israelis and the Palestinians met together they both felt, I think, inspired by the comments of the King of Norway and Leah Rabin and it very much infused the atmosphere of the meeting and affected those talks. I think we felt it today, as well, in the three-way meeting. There was a real sense of history there.

Both leaders focused on the fact that they would have very difficult, fateful decisions to make, but they were determined to press ahead. They knew there would be difficulties, they know there are going to be ups and downs. As Chairman Arafat said at one point, notwithstanding those difficulties, where there is a will, there is a way. And I think that from our perspective, certainly from the President's perspective, he feels very good about what has happened here.

There is a new spirit between the two sides. There is going to be an effort on their part not only to work intensively, but also, I think, in terms of how they interact with each other, they're going to try to create as positive an atmosphere as possible -- again, notwithstanding the difficulties that are bound to emerge when you're dealing with such fateful issues.

So why don't I stop there and I'll take your questions.

Q Where do things stand with regard to the issue of settlements that Arafat raised yesterday?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, obviously, that is an issue, it's one of the issues for the permanent status negotiations. The Palestinians have their concerns. The Israelis, obviously, are prepared to talk about these issues. As one of the issues of permanent status, it has to be dealt with and resolved.

And I would say that you're about to see an intensive period of about three months where the two sides are going to see if they can come to a framework agreement which will resolve all the permanent status issues, including that one.

Q Arafat's complaint was that they're building and expanding right now, they're changing the facts on the ground even as the negotiations are about to start. Now, is there going to be a stop on settlement enlargement? And where does the United States stand on this issue?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think, A, where we stand on the issue is, in a three month period, clearly, the focus ought to be on trying to resolve the issues through negotiations. And that's what we're talking about, a three month period.

The Palestinian concerns are there, they're real. And the Israelis, I think, understand the Palestinian concerns and their focus, I think, will be resolving this issue at the table.

Q What is the Secretary's schedule for the Middle East? You said she's going to make at least one or two trips?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I said she would make at least one trip, possibly two, between now and the February time frame.

Q How and when, sir?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: February 13th is the date that the framework would be completed by, or should be completed by.

Q And at what point would you -- have you given yourself a deadline for deciding when enough progress would be made to call a Camp David-style summit or a three-way push for --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think -- again, this is one of those things where you have to see what the rhythm of the negotiations is and you have to see what they're producing. This is something that the President is prepared to do, provided there is a sufficient basis and a reason to believe that this is something that would be helpful. We can't know that right now, because we're going to have to see what is produced in this process over the next couple of months.

Obviously, we're going to be in a pretty good position to make these kinds of judgments, because we're going to be heavily involved in the process throughout this period.

Q Did they agree on a time table for resolving specific issues or setting interim deadlines before February 13th?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, they didn't focus that way. They focused principally on establishing a structure for the teams, having the teams meet on an intensive basis and having the two leaders get together on a very regular basis, as well. They didn't pick an actual time period for how often the leaders will get together, but they agreed it should be very regular.

Q And what will Clinton do between now and February 13th?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, obviously, he'll stay very involved in terms of knowing what is going on. I'm sure if there are appropriate points for him to do telephone calls to the leaders, you'll see that, because that's something that he has done throughout this process. And the fact that I'll be there and that, on at least one occasion, the Secretary will be there, will also give him an additional chance to hear from us about where things stand.

Q How do you see Norway's role in this? Do you foresee a new or renewed back channel?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This is a time when the parties are dealing directly with each other. So I think what Norway has done, once again, with this commemoration they helped to create an event that I think has infused all sides with a renewed spirit, with a renewed dedication, with a renewed awareness of the stakes. And I think that, in itself, is an extremely positive contribution.

Q You said a new spirit came out of this. Would it over-simplify what you're saying to say that that was the main thing that came out of -- or was there something more concrete than a new spirit?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think our objective is -- I was laying out last night -- was to be sure that there was a kind of new energy in the talks and a clear structure for how they should get from where they are today until February 13th. That was the objective we had.

Creating a more positive environment in which the talks would be conducted is, I think, a secondary benefit, but an important one -- because, clearly, when you're trying to resolve issues as fundamental as the issues that have to be resolved, having that kind of an environment is going to be very important.

Q The Jerusalem Post reported this morning that one of Barak's red lines was keeping Jerusalem as the capital. And Arafat has also said here that Jerusalem was essential to him. What is the structure that you see in the next three months for coming to a general, principal idea about Jerusalem? Obviously, they're not going to solve it outright, but how do they get to some kind of --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think both sides know -- neither side has any illusion about what they're entering into right now. I mean, these are the most difficult issues, these are the most fateful issues. And I think the first thing they have to do is engage in a discussion on them. They haven't had that discussion.

So they're going to engage in a discussion on them. I think that they will work hard to try to come to grips with where the limitations are on each side, where the needs are on each side, what the interests are on each side, what each side feels it needs to be able to explain to its own public. And they, through that kind of a mechanism, through that kind of a process I think they'll see -- they'll try to see where they can build bridges between themselves, where they can resolve issues or where issues obviously need not only the negotiators to be involved, but the leaders to be very involved.

This is one where -- none of the permanent status issues are easy issues. None of them lend themselves to quick or easy solutions. They're going to require intensive discussion where they will try to find the basis on which they build bridges between themselves.

Q Would it be a real framework agreement if the framework agreement on February 13th does not even mention Jerusalem?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I got this question last night about is the approach designed to deal with some issues and defer others?

Their objective going into this is to try to achieve a framework agreement on all the issues, on all the permanent status issues. Whether they will be able to do that, that's what the negotiations, that's what we're going to see over the coming time. Whether they come up with an alternative, we'll have to wait and see. But that's clearly not their objective or their preference. They want to focus on developing a framework agreement that will send a very clear message that at a general level this conflict is over.

Q I have two questions. You're saying that there were no pre-conditions for these bilateral talks, these intensive talks. Is that right; there were no pre-conditions?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's right. The Sharm agreement made it clear that permanent status talks were to begin immediately. Now, on September 13th, they formally began; but the truth is, the two sides didn't get down to business.

What is happening now is the two sides are going to get down to business, they're going to get down to business in an intensive way. They'll have the leaders involved on a very regular basis and they will develop a very, I think, intricate set of teams to deal with the issues, as well.

Q And if the summit happens, it will happen in the United States?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We didn't get to locale. I think the idea is that the President would convene a summit if we felt that the basis for such a summit was there.

END 7:30 P.M. (L)

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