Office of the Press Secretary

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 11, 1998


The Briefing Room

8:40 A.M. EST

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Good morning and thank you all forjoining us. President Clinton is traveling to the region tomorrow inorder to fulfill the commitments of America -- that America made atWye and to encourage Israelis and Palestinians to meet theirs. Whilein the region the President will have the chance to speak directly toIsraelis and Palestinians to share their hopes, listen to theirfears, and reaffirm America's steadfast support for the peaceprocess.

The President is making this trip because he isdedicated to helping both sides overcome the challenges that stillexist to a productive negotiating process and a durable peace.

We knew when we left Wye that we would be facing a bumpyroad, and some of those bumps have already been jarring. But therecan be no question that Wye has moved us further down the roadtowards peace and away from the long and dangerous impasse thatpreceded it.

We can't forget that prior to Wye a deep crisis ofconfidence had developed between the parties, feeding the forces ofextremism and raising grave doubts about whether the peace processcould ever be put back on track. Why demonstrated yet again that thedesire among the peoples of the Middle East to live in peace isunquenchable.

The first phase of the Wye implementation process hasnow been completed and it has produced real results, and it hasrevived Israeli-Palestinian cooperation that continues despite thecurrent difficulties. Simply put, implementation is working and mustcontinue. Full bilateral security cooperation has resumed. ThePalestinian Authority has reenergized its fight against terror.Palestinian weapons collection has begun and a Department of Justiceteam is supporting the process. An anti-incitement committee ofAmericans, Israelis, and Palestinians is looking at ways to endprovocative hostile rhetoric and to help the two peoples move beyonddistrust and fear to understanding and security. The Gaza Airport isopen for business and Israel has carried out the first stage of itsfurther redeployment.

But there's no denying that the second phase ofimplementation has proven more difficult than the first. Provocativerhetoric, violence and disputes over key issues suchas prisoner exchanges have created real difficulties and it'sunrealistic to expect that after an 18-month crisis of confidenceIsraelis and Palestinians would build strong workingrelationships easily or quickly.

Nonetheless, both sides need to move forward toimplement the second phase. The Wye Agreement must beimplemented as signed. Palestinian security efforts must becomprehensive and sustained. The Palestinian National Councilmembers and other Palestinian leaders must meet their commitmentto reaffirm Chairman Arafat's letter concerning the nullificationof the PNC Charter so that it is clear once and for all thatprovisions calling for the destruction of Israel are null andvoid.

Yesterday the PLO Central Committee took an importantstep towards this final result, and Israel must move ahead withthe second stage of its further redeployment.

All these steps require more of what the parties showedat Wye -- leadership, courage, and a willingness to cooperate. Ibelieve we can and will overcome the challenges we face,implement Wye and move on to permanent status negotiations. TheUnited States is committed to doing everything we can to makethat happen and to bring about a peace that is secure andlasting.

And now Sandy will preview the trip itself and we,along with Dennis Ross, will answer your questions.

MR. BERGER: Thank you, Madam Secretary. It may beearly here, but it's a quarter of 4:00 p.m. in Israel, so youshould not feel too tired.

This is the President's fourth trip to Israel. Infact, this is the first President who has made more than one tripto Israel during his presidency. It's a trip that is bothhistoric and, as the Secretary indicated, challenging. What Iwant to do is take you through the highlights of the President'sschedule. The good news is this is one of the shorter foreigntrips the President will make this year. The bad news is thatwhat the trip lacks in length it more than makes up for inintensity, as we cover a lot of ground in three days.

We will leave here tomorrow morning at 6:30 a.m. andarrive somewhat close to midnight in Ben Gurion Airport, wherethere will be an official greeting and arrival ceremony. PrimeMinister Netanyahu, President Weizman, President Clinton will allspeak briefly, I am sure. And then the party will stay onSaturday night in Jerusalem.

The first order of business on Sunday morning is abilateral meeting between the President and the Prime Minister.You can expect discussion, obviously, on implementation of theWye Agreement and other issues of mutual concern -- such as thesituation in Iraq. As the Secretary has noted, Wye was animportant breakthrough, but it did not, obviously, resolve all ofthe differences between the parties that will be, obviously, thesubject of these discussions. It did point a way towardresolving these differences through dialogue and compromise.

From there, the President will visit the gravesite offormer Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, accompanied by Mrs. LeahRabin. Later, the President will meet with Israeli PresidentWeizman at his residence and take part with him in amenorah-lighting ceremony that will mark the first night ofHanukkah, a traditional event that President Weizman has everyyear, something the President very much looks forward to takingpart in.

In the early evening, the President will deliver aspeech at the Jerusalem Convention Center to a diverse cross-section of Israeli citizens, particularly younger Israelis, highschool and university age. You can expect the President to makeone point very clear: America has unshakable ties to the Stateof Israel and an enduring commitment to Israel's security. It isone of our closest allies and shall remain so.

At the same time, Israel's security is absolutely aprerequisite to peace, and I expect the President to talk at somedetail on that speech about the Wye River Agreement and why itpromotes both the security of Israel and peace of Israel.

Finally, on that busy Sunday, we look forward to anofficial dinner hosted by Prime Minister Netanyahu, and that willbe the end of the day.

On Monday, our first stop will be in Gaza at the NewInternational Airport which, as you know, was -- its opening waspart of the Wye River process. The President will travel thereby helicopter. Chairman Arafat will greet the President and givehim a tour of the airport. From there, the President will travelto Gaza City for a bilateral meeting with Chairman Arafat, to befollowed by a lunch hosted by the Chairman.

Again, I think we can expect the bilateral to focus onissues surrounding the implementation of Wye and the need forcontinued progress toward implementation despite the issues thatwill continue to arise. I also expect that they will discusssome economic issues involving the efforts of the internationalcommunity to spur development in the Palestinian Authority.

Late in the afternoon, the President will address thePalestinian National Council and other organizations at theShawwa Center. Before he speaks, the President will witness thePNC's affirmation of the historic decision to revoke from thePalestinian Charter the passages calling for the destruction ofIsrael. In the speech, you can expect the President to praisethat step and the strides of the Palestinian people through thepeace process, as well as the obligations that they haveundertaken as part of the peace process.

After the speech, he will return to Jerusalem on Mondaynight. On Tuesday, the President, together with SecretaryAlbright and the First Lady, will start the day by speaking tomembers of our embassy and consul general communities, as thePresident almost invariably does when he travels abroad. He willmeet with the opposition leader, Mr. Barak. Then he will visitBethlehem, tour the Church of the Nativity with Chairman Arafat,light a Christmas tree. Obviously, on the week before Christmas,this is an event and a moment the President very much looksforward to in a personal way.

From Bethlehem, the President will rejoin PrimeMinister Netanyahu at Masada, a place of tremendous significanceto the Israeli people. For nearly a decade during the Jewishrevolt against the Romans, a small group of Jews and theirfamilies held Masada until, under siege by an army of 15,000Romans, they chose death at their own hands rather thanenslavement.

We then come back to Washington, where you can doeither your Christmas, Hanukkah or Ramadan shopping, depending onyour persuasion.

Q The Prime Minister shouldn't ask about -- PrimeMinister Netanyahu has all but renounced this treaty in an effortto save himself. A lot of hard-line Israelis see the President'svisit as provocative by going to Gaza and embracing what they sayis the Palestinian state. How would it help if, as a result ofthe President's visit, Netanyahu is thrown out and thehard-liners win in Israel?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, it's very mucha part of the Wye Agreement for the President to go and make thistrip. We agreed to it, it is part of the implementation process,and I think it will have an effect of showing that the UnitedStates continues to back the Wye Agreement and that the leaders,themselves, who made very hard decisions, will be carrying themout.

I think that this is a process, as I stated, that isnot without its difficulties, but you have to keep in mind thatthe first further redeployment, the first phase has gone onsuccessfully. We're in the middle of the second one, and weexpect that it will, in fact, be carried out. I think that theleaders understand the processes that need to take place, butwhat I think we will see, as we have seen in the past, is thatboth the Israeli people and the Palestinian people support thisagreement and that's what their leaders need.

Q -- the President's visit to Gaza and the embracingof Arafat there lends credence to a Palestinian state in thefuture?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: It does not do that. The bottomline here is that it is a part of the Wye Agreement. And as wehave said many times, the issue of Palestinian statehood is apermanent status issue. It is something that needs to benegotiated and it is part of the next process. That is where thePresident has stood. That is clearly part of statements that heand the rest of us have made, and it is not in any way movingthat process forward. We are going there in terms of our ownobligations as far as the Wye Agreement are concerned.

Q Nonetheless, what, in fact, do you think thepresidential visit to Gaza will have on Palestinian aspirations?And when you say the council affirms -- I know why it doesn'tspeak of a vote, but the Charter says the only way the Chartercan be changed is by affirmative vote. Do you want a vote or doyou just want them to say amen?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think they probably don'tsay amen. (Laughter.) I think that -- let me say I think thatthis will be done through a set of procedures that have beenagreed upon, and once and for all, as both Mr. Berger and I havesaid, it will be evident that those sections of the Charter willbe null and void. And I think the President's presence thereshows that we are fulfilling our part of the agreement.

Let me also say -- I think you were with us, Barry --the Prime Minister went to Gaza when we all had lunch togetherwith Chairman Arafat. So I think that this is a normal kind ofunrolling of events here, a normal procedure. The airport hasbeen opened as a result of agreement among the two leaders withour help, and so I think it's just very appropriate for thePresident to be there.

Q Well, what about aspirations, though? I mean, ifyou step back from the technicalities of why he's going on thetrip, what do you suppose a presidential visit to Gaza -- comingdown in a helicopter at Gaza Airport, meeting with Arafat,meeting with the Palestinian leaders, the people who wrote thiscovenant, or their successors -- what does this do to Palestinianaspirations for a state? Does it encourage them? Does it givethem reason to take heart and have hope they'll have a state?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think the thing that we havefelt is important throughout the whole peace process is for thereto be a partnership between the two parties -- a respect for eachother, an understanding that there are two leaders comingtogether to make some decisions. The issue of the Palestinianstate, as we have said many, many times, is not an issue that isgoing to be declared unilaterally or to be strengthened byvarious symbols. It is something that is going to be donethrough a negotiating process that is part of the permanentstatus talks.

Q What do you think the cloud of impeachment -- whateffect will it have on his trip? I mean, will it be a realdetraction from what he intends to do? How can it not affect?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: We are going on this trip on adate that was determined as part of the Wye Agreement. December14th was something that was chosen as a part of the process, asthree phases were to unfold. And the President is doing his job.

Q Well, you don't think it will have any effect, atall?

MR. BERGER: No, I don't. I think throughout thisprocess there have been a number of developments on the foreignpolicy front -- whether that has been negotiations in NorthernIreland or the events in Iraq or the events in Kosovo, or as theSecretary says now, this trip. I think the American peopleexpect the President to fulfill his responsibilities to carry outAmerican foreign policy and that's what he's doing in this trip.

Q Well, Sandy, let me follow up on that. Has thePresident, though, expressed some reservations about going on thetrip, given the timing of the vote on the House floor nextweekend? Has he been told in response that not to go would deala setback to the Middle East peace effort?

MR. BERGER: I don't think the President has secondthoughts for a second about going on this trip -- notwithstandingthe challenges that surround what is going on in Israel, what isgoing on in the Palestinian areas. The President undertook, andthe parties agreed at Wye, the President's presence at this PNCmeeting was an essential part of the process and he's determinedto go.

Q Madam Secretary or Mr. Berger, can I ask you aquestion about Iraq? What is the latest that you can tell us onIraq, please?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, as you know, Chairman Butleris kind of in the middle of a series of inspections that he isdoing. We are obviously watching the situation very carefully.Chairman Butler will be making his report to the SecurityCouncil. We will then make our own assessment as to theprogress, and it can go one or two ways. There may or may not bea comprehensive review. We will consider all our options that wehave, and as I have said a number of times, as has Mr. Berger andthe President, the military option remains on the table.

Q Madam Secretary, if I can ask you about complianceof departments, are you saying the United States in its role asjudge, really, of the two sides' implementation efforts, has madethe political judgment that those sides are fully implementingall their agreements and obligations in Wye, or are there someareas of real concern that the United States has with one side oranother, and if so, what are those?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I have just, in my openingstatement, said that we are satisfied with, and as are theparties, with the implementation of the first phase of the Wyeimplementation. We're in the middle of the second phase. Ithink that from our perspective, there is more that can be doneon security, and we would hope to see that happen. And we alsobelieve that it's important for disputes that have come up overthe prisoner issue to be resolved at the negotiating tablethrough appropriate channels and that that is the best way todeal with that issue. And we also would hope that there would be-- that this whole business of unilateral statements andunilateral actions that do not help the environment would cease.

Q Just to follow up on the area of security, can yoube any more specific? Gun collection, for instance. Is theUnited States content with the Palestinian effort on --

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: The process has begun and it needsto continue. I'm not going to characterize our level ofcontentment at the moment. I think that what is important is forthe process to be carried out according to the specificationsthat were laid out at Wye.

Q Madam Secretary, you spoke of a set of proceduresat the PNC meeting and you said they had been agreed upon. Whatare the procedures, and did the Israelis specifically agree tothem in the Wye discussions?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, we have said thatthere would be a set of procedures, there will be a set ofprocedures. I'm not going to go beyond that.

Q On the Palestinian Charter issue, the Israelishave said there must be a vote -- the Palestinians say no, therewill not be a vote. Does the U.S. have a position, and is --

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Our position is that there will bea set of agreed-upon procedures. What has happened here -- letme just remind you -- is that as a part of Wye that was athree-step process. The Palestinian Council was to abrogate theoffensive articles or, to put it differently, was to reaffirm theletter that Chairman Arafat sent to President Clinton.

There was a second phase of that with the PalestinianCentral Council, which took place by an overwhelming majorityvote yesterday. And the third phase is what will happen at thePNC-plus meeting in Gaza, and there, there will be a set ofprocedures which will, once and for all, make clear that thoseparts of the covenant are null and void.

Q Your answer on Iraq was decidedly low-key andnonconfrontational. Whereas, on the weekend that the planes werewithdrawn, Mr. Berger, Mr. Cohen and the President suggested thatif Saddam Hussein did not comply as he then apparently promised,military action would ensue without warning. Are you suggestingthat if Chairman Butler says that Saddam is not in compliance,that in fact, instead of carrying out that implied threat, you'lldilly-dally around and consider it and think about it and allthat?

MR. BERGER: I want to go back to the question here.We expect that the Israelis will find these proceduressatisfactory. Now, that's the answer to your question.

Q Did they specifically agree in advance?

MR. BERGER: No, but we expect that they will findthese procedures satisfactory.

As to your question, Sam, we have made it clear that weexpect Iraq to cooperate with UNSCOM. There has been a periodover the last two weeks in which UNSCOM has been back and beenable to monitor. They've asked for some documents, they've notreceived them all. There have been inspections, they're in themiddle of that right now. We want to see this process play itscourse. There's not a lot of time left for Chairman Butler toundertake these -- essentially, this period of testingcooperation. We ultimately will make our own judgment, butobviously, his judgment will be important.

Q Chairman Butler's judgment, if he delivers onenext week, would not be definitive?

MR. BERGER: Only the President of the United Statescan make a judgment about whether to use military force or not touse military force of the United States. As to the question ofwhether or not there has been sufficient cooperation, UNSCOMChairman's views, obviously, we will listen to carefully.

Q Isn't it a green light you've just given to SaddamHussein?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Absolutely not. And let me just-- I met with a very large number of leaders in Brussels, andalso I was in France. I can also assure you that I said to allof them that if there is not compliance to go to the point theway you raised it, that there are no warnings and that diplomacyhas come to an end. So we have made that point. But at themoment, we are in the middle of the process that Chairman Butleris undertaking, and therefore, I think we need to wait to seewhat our reaction is, depending upon what we learn hisinspections have brought about, or if there is compliance ornoncompliance.

Q Why are we in the middle of the process? When theUnited States decided to act on its own to launch militarystrikes, we went to Butler and said, essentially, pull yourpeople out, we're striking. The President of the United Statesset five explicit conditions for Iraq, two of which, on theirface, Iraq is now violating. Why do we need to wait for Butlerto come back and say, no, they're not cooperating? Why can't we,on the face, say, you're not cooperating?

MR. BERGER: David, I think we've said all along, thebest option here would be an UNSCOM that can do its job. IfUNSCOM can't do its job, then we're left to take our own action.And that continues to be our position. Through the process thatis now taking place, Chairman Butler and we will make a judgmentas to whether UNSCOM can do its job. If it can, that's so muchthe better. If it can't, then we will be faced with our owndecisions about how to respond.

Q But just, if I may follow, you don't have ajudgment on that now?

MR. BERGER: There's not a judgment I'm going to shareat this point. We'll see how these inspections, whether in facthe cooperates with these inspections, and we'll make decisionsbased upon that.

Q Mr. Secretary, back to the -- what do you think ofthe situation, what is the current standing on the issue of therelease of Pollard? And have the Israelis tried to link it tothe release of the Palestinian prisoners?

MR. BERGER: The White House Counsel, Mr. Ruff, hassent a letter to all of the agencies of the U.S. government thathave an interest in the matter and asked for their views andinformation. I think he's asked for that information by January.That will be reviewed. Recommendations will be made to thePresident; he will make a judgment.

As to the question of whether that's been linked toanything else, the answer is no.

Q Why aren't the three leaders meeting at the sametime at the same place anywhere during this trip?

MR. BERGER: That is a possibility, it has not been setyet.

Q Isn't it a bad sign that they're not meetingtogether?

MR. BERGER: It's a possibility that they will, but ithas not been set yet.

Q Madam Secretary, one main reason for the tensionnow for a few days was the issue of the prisoners. Can youclarify for us -- there are different interpretations between thetwo sides. What is the U.S. understanding of how many and whatkind of prisoners should have been released?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, the Israelishave done what they said they would do -- that was part of theagreement. Clearly, this has become a very sensitive issuebecause of some misunderstanding. And this is why I have saidthat this needs to be dealt with in the proper channels. But theIsraelis have done what they said they would do, and I do thinkthat it's important here for us to be able to help them resolvethis sensitive issue through the proper channels.

Q Madam Secretary, Israeli's Foreign Minister hassaid that the Palestinians violated almost every paragraph in theWye Agreement. Now, if in Gaza the -- wouldn't be so clear, sothe process is not --

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I didn't understand the last --

Q Now, after Israel said that there is violationalmost in every paragraph of the Wye Agreement, if they wouldn'tbe satisfied from the cancellation of the PNC paragraph aboutIsrael, it seems to be that the process is really stuck and thereis no way out from it.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I do not take such apessimistic view. As I've said, we believe that the first phase,the parties fulfilled their obligations. In the second phase,there clearly are difficulties that we hope will be resolvedthrough the appropriate channels. And I think nobody everexpected this process to be easy. Keep in mind, however, what itwas like before we went to Wye and the fact that the whole thingwas stalled and that there was increased danger of violence as aresult of non-action.

So I think that we know that there are problems hereand this trip for the President is part of the agreement that wesigned at Wye. And also, the President is going to be workingvery hard -- we all are -- on this trip, because we have faith inthis agreement. The leaders, both of them, took some verycourageous decisions when they signed Wye. We now have to makesure that the appropriate steps are taken and that both sidescarry out their obligations. This is an agreement that requiresmutual responsibilities to be carried out.

Q What's the nature of the congressional delegation?How many, and what will be their roles?

MR. BERGER: We will put a list out later today. Ithink there are around 20 members of Congress coming with us.

Q All moderate Republicans except for Mr. Dingell?(Laughter.)

MR. BERGER: The list will be put out later today withparty affiliations, state, and the complete spelling of theirnames.

Q Thank you.


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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