Middle East Trip: Briefing by National Security Advisor Sandy Berger (12/15/98)

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 15, 1998



12:14 P.M. (L)

Q The President's positive statements, frankly, you know -- Iachieved what I wanted to achieve; they're back on track -- but there's nolittle bits of backup there, because everything is still, like, thiscommitteeis going to meet and that committee is going to meet, and the pullback maybea little off schedule. So where are we?

MR. BERGER: Wye was a very important step in the process. There have been some implementation. We want to keep it on track. What happened yesterday was a very important development in terms of implementation of Wye. It was extremely important to the Israelis that the PNC covenant be repealed in the relevant parts. That took place. That's an important obligation that's been undertaken by the Palestinians. And the rest of this process has to work its way out.

Q Everybody is focused on the pullback right now. It seems the Palestinians did something just now and Israel has something hanging that they're supposed to do, and we don't know if they're going to do it, but it sounds like they're going to be at least a little late. Did they say they're going to do it?

MR. BERGER: They said that they would fulfill their obligations under the Wye Agreement. I think the President said earlier that we expect them to do that. There are timetables under Wye; we would hope that the parties would comply more or less with those timetables.

Q Did they say that the Palestinians have failed todo something that required them to withdraw?

MR. BERGER: Well, the Israelis still express concerns particularly in the area of the violence that has taken place over the last two or three weeks. The Palestinian Authority I think has undertaken steps to try to control that violence. I would hope if that remained under control the Israelis would go forward as is provided under Wye.

Q But are they adding any additional conditionsbefore they would meet a withdrawal?

MR. BERGER: Well, the Prime Minister has said thereare certain things that the Palestinians have to do before thereis a withdrawal. They have to comply with the agreement. Now,to the extent that there have been statements asking them to dothings that go beyond the agreement, that's not something thatWye requires.

Q I couldn't expect you to confirm their ultimatums,but they made one the other day. They said, if Arafat doesn'tstop making these statements, Netanyahu says, I can't proceed.Now, if they quietly slipped away and you don't want to dwell onit, fine.

MR. BERGER: That is not -- there is no obligation inthe Wye Agreement for Arafat to renounce his hopes andaspirations. I think it would be extremely helpful if heexpressed those in terms of objectives that he seeks toaccomplish during negotiations. I think if that takes place, itwill eliminate one of the irritants to the Israelis.

Q Sandy, the President spoke or reenergizing thefinal status talks. Were there any specific commitments orschedules agreed to on that?

MR. BERGER: As far as I know, there's only been onemeeting that's taken place between Foreign Minister Sharon andAbu Mazen on final status. But they agreed today that they wouldbegin to meet, they would meet on a regular basis, on acontinuing basis, and really begin to tackle the very difficultfinal status issues.

Q Can you give us a little of the atmosphere?

Q And the first --

MR. BERGER: I don't know, but I would hope that thatmeeting would take place in a matter of days -- tomorrow, thenext day.

Q Do you think -- atmosphere to the meeting -- did Netanyahu and Arafat get along, did they shake hands or -- cordial, businesslike, whatever?

MR. BERGER: No, they certainly shook hands and it wascordial and -- everybody agreed that what happened yesterday wasextremely significant. Mr. Sharansky, who was one of theprincipal proponents of the concept, the idea in Wye that the PNCshould specifically renounce these provisions, said in ratherstrong and quite passionate terms that he felt what happenedyesterday was extremely significant.

Both parties expressed frustrations that they've hadfor a long time. On the part of the Israelis, the frustration iswith violence, in particular, and with the unilateral statementsthat Barry was speaking of earlier. With the Palestinians, theirconcerns relate to settlement activity and they relate toprisoners, in particular.

One of the things to come out of this meeting was anactivation of something that was in Wye, but has not yet reallygotten off the ground, which is an informal channel to deal withprisoner issues on an individual basis.

Q You've asked them to deal with those two, the U.S.isn't part of that? It stays that way? Okay.

Q To what extent, Sandy, did Netanyahu complainabout the President's characterization yesterday about prisoners'kids versus victims of terrorism's kids?

MR. BERGER: I did not hear the Prime Minister speak tothat.

Q Nothing personal said about it -- "we don't likeyour remarks," or --

MR. BERGER: I think there was a conversation with Mr.Sharon and he raised the metaphor the President used yesterday ina very friendly way. The President said to him, first of all, hedenounced terrorism in the speech very, very strongly. The pointhe was making is that continued conflict between the partiesproduces pain and hardship in which many of the victims arechildren. And if we think about this in terms of our children,we should try to think about how we move beyond this to a way ofdealing with each other as neighbors and partners that doesn'tinflict another generation of children who have to suffer.

There was no other intent in terms of the President's remarks. I thought it was a very powerful way of making a point that people here have suffered on both sides.

Q Sandy, so what's the bottom line? Is Wye back ontrack?

MR. BERGER: Yes, I think it's a bumpy track --(laughter) -- but it's on track.

Q Are you revising the President's words?

MR. BERGER: I'm annotating. (Laughter.)

Q Questioning the President's --

MR. BERGER: Let's be careful here. (Laughter.) Theregoes my job. No, I think he'd be the first to say -- it's theessential question here. I think that we've move Wye along inthe last two days. I think we've got them back talking to eachother, which is extremely important. That was really what -- for18 months they were not talking to each other. As a result, theprocess totally broke down. We got them to Wye; we started adialogue; we created some agreements and we created someprocesses. And I think, hopefully now they'll start dealing withthese issues less through public statements and more throughdialogue.

Q Is there a guarantee that they'll keep talking toeach other now?

MR. BERGER: There's no guarantee in the Middle East.

Q Does the President have to be here, be with themto get them to talk each time?

MR. BERGER: No. Obviously, this process can only besustained if the parties themselves engage directly, and they do-- they have -- in some areas, for example, in security, therehas been cooperation between the parties. And I don't want tosuggest there hasn't been any cooperation between the parties.But we need to kind of now kick this thing into higher gear.

Q Can you tell us what are the main problems betweenthe Israelis and Palestinians now?

Q In a nutshell.

MR. BERGER: I think on the Israeli side, the main problems relate to violence that's taken place in the West Bank in recent weeks, which the Israelis, quite legitimately, find objectionable.

I think that there is also on the part of the Israelisa concern with unilateral statements -- with statements byparticularly Chairman Arafat which have suggested that he willtake unilateral steps on May 4th, regardless of the negotiation.I think those are the principal concerns; there are others.

I think on the Palestinian side, there is concern,number one, that there be some way to deal with the prisonerissue, which is a very emotional and charged issue for thePalestinians. And number two, there's obviously concern on thepart of the Palestinians with settlement activity which is goingon, some of it around Bethlehem here, which they findobjectionable.

There are many, many other issues.

Q Can you take one more?

Q Did you sleep, Sandy?

Q You don't look good. (Laughter.)

Q You don't look good? (Laughter.)


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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