Background Briefing by Senior Administration Official
                                THE WHITE HOUSE

                         Office of the Press Secretary
           (En route from Sharm el-Sheikh to Andrews Air Force Base)

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

          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!8 is simply a recognition that
emotions are high here, it!,s still a very volatile region, and implementation
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
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
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, itself?

          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
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 involved?

          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!8 is, I
the wrong word; it!,s eroded, I guess is a better word.

          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 together.

          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,!8 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 Abdullah.

          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 that.

          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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