THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY SECRETARY OF STATE WARREN CHRISTOPHER The Briefing Room
2:50 P.M. EDT
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Good afternoon. Before taking your questions I want to step back and give a little perspective on today's historic events.
The summit meeting today between King Hussein and Prime Minister Rabin is really a milestone in the transformation of the Middle East. It foreshadows an end to one of the world's most intractable conflicts. The dreams of past generations are becoming today's diplomatic realities. An era of war is coming to an end. Lasting peace in the Middle East finally seems to be within grasp.
Of course, to achieve a comprehensive settlement, which is our goal, much hard work remains. Fundamental issues must be resolved, not only on the Syrian track but on the other tracks as well. And as we continue this work, obviously, we must prevent the opponents of peace from overcoming the strenuous efforts of the parties.
Nevertheless, there is now set in motion a process which I hope and believe to be irreversible. The ice is breaking. We've created a structure for negotiations that can endure in the future and carry us across the finish line. Negotiations between the Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians are now more firmly rooted than they've been at any time in the past. In the multilateral talks, as well, Arabs and Israelis are meeting not only around the world, but now in the region. And we're developing cooperative projects that show the face of peace to the people of the region.
That is the structure for the future. Today's summit meeting represents, I think, something far more than just a symbol. As reflected in the Washington Declaration, it's also produced dramatic results. Most important, I would say is that the state of belligerence, the state of war between Israel and Jordan has finally come to an end after 46 years. Both sides have agreed to accelerate their negotiations toward a full peace between the parties.
The Washington Declaration unlocks the enormous potential there is for economic cooperation between the two countries, so as to make possible the benefits of a warm peace even before the peace is formalized.
I also feel that today's summit improves the environment for a comprehensive and lasting peace in the region. The President and I will make every effort to work toward that end with Israel, with Syria, and with Lebanon, and with all of the countries of the region. We'll continue to support agreements that have been already reached, to support the parties who have reached them, and help achieve new breakthroughs.
It's absolutely essential that we demonstrate to the friends and enemies of peace, to demonstrate to both of them that negotiations do work. To the Arabs and the Israelis who take risks for peace, I want them to know, the President wants them to know that America's voice will continue to be strong and resolute; that we will support them and will do what is necessary in common with their efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East.
Before I conclude, I'd like to pay tribute to the American peace team, both those from here in the United States, from the White House and the State Department, as well as the ambassadors in the region. They've operated with a high degree of professionalism and skill. These are men and women who have devoted their lives to this effort, their professional lives. And, of course, today is a remarkable day for them, a day for the history books.
Q Mr. Secretary, I hate to pick up on a matter of some discord, but the declaration declares Israel giving Jordanian precedence, or at least priority, they hope, over the holy sites, the Muslim holy sites. And you and I, last week, heard Chairman Arafat say that only the Palestinians have authority over the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem. How does the United States anticipate this very touch issue being resolved?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Let me put that in context. Of course, the parties to the Declaration of Principle -- that is, the Palestinians and the Israelis -- decided that the issue of Jerusalem would be a final status issue, and that is where it remains.
What today's declaration indicates is that Jordan will deserve special consideration in that final determination. And entirely, properly so, for Jordan has long had a special responsibility for the maintenance of the religious shrines in Jerusalem. The statement today I see as primarily a religious statement, and one that is a recognition of the reality of Jordan's responsibility for the religious shrines. So I don't think it should cause trouble. I think it's a part of the context for the ultimate negotiation of the final status of Jerusalem.
Q Mr. Secretary, today's statement made a reference to economic boycotts. I'm wondering, first of all, if this is an end to belligerency, why Jordan didn't agree and just end the boycott. And number two, assuming that they haven't, can you give us any kind of a time frame during which you see that happening?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Bob, I think that's one of the most important statements in the Declaration of Principles, somewhat unexpected positive statement in the declaration. The end of the state of belligerency does make many things possible, but it doesn't make them automatic. And I think working toward the lifting of the boycott throughout the region is an extremely important step. But it's a boycott that was imposed on a multilateral basis, and I think what this commits Jordan to do is to work toward lifting any economic boycotts that affect Israel.
Q lift the boycott, why can't Jordan?
Q Mr. Secretary, do you envision now the administration supporting full debt forgiveness for Jordan automatically, or would you take this in stages to see whether King Hussein delivers on different aspects of this agreement?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: In the broad sense, I'd first like to say that the United States has a long pattern and tradition of supporting those who take risks for peace. We've done it before in the region, and what we are doing with respect to Jordan is consistent with that principle, and I hope we'll continue to follow that in the future.
The debt burden for Jordan is extremely high in light of its gross national product. It's a great burden for Jordan, and we've been talking with Jordan about that. Where the matter stands now is that we're exploring the matter with leading legislators on Capitol Hill to move in the direction of some lifting of this burden for the Jordanians. I would expect that it would be sequential, but we're in early stages of those discussions. But the United States is committed, as I say, to support those who are taking the kind of risks for peace that the Jordanians are taking.
Q So it would not be the full $700 million?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Well, as I said, we're in the process of discussions of them, and I certainly don't rule that out. But as I say, I think it will be sequential.
Q Mr. Secretary, is the time to use the momentum of today into a Camp David-like formula to bring Assad and Rabin and to really push dramatically for a breakthrough while the momentum is still with us?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: I think the Syrian track is moving in its own way. We are having serious discussions there, both in Damascus and in Jerusalem. But at the present time the parties want to work through the United States; they want us to facilitate the discussions. I don't think that the time is right for the kind of meeting that you're talking about. But having said that, I don't want to in any way underestimate the importance of that track or underestimate the prospects for over time making progress there as we've made on the other tracks. Both parties are very serious about it, and the statements made by both parties over the weekend I think indicate that, while the matter is in what President Assad said is an exploratory stage, nevertheless, the parties are dealing with the hard issues.
Q Mr. Secretary, beyond the obvious financial incentives, what do you think were the most important things that the United States brought to this process? What was your own role, and what do you think the President brought to this?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Well, first I want to say that it's the parties themselves that deserve the primary credit for this bold and courageous step. No outsider can do more than to assist in the facilitation of this kind of a decision. I also want to emphasize that as you can see from the King's statements and attitude today, this was a major step for him to take. It was one that he took out of concern for his people. It was a principled position that he took, and it was one that clearly was a major step for him.
If you want to look at the places where the United States recently has played a major role in this situation, I believe it was last October that the President met with Crown Prince Hassan and Foreign Minister Peres in the first trilateral session between the two countries. And then it was, I think, on the 22nd of June of this year that the President met with King Hussein and had the discussion that was the immediate trigger to today's ceremony, with King Hussein following up on that meeting with his indication that he was prepared to have the meeting.
I can just say another few words about this. If you look back over several decades, and not just this administration or the prior administration or Democratic administrations or Republican administrations, nevertheless, it is true that for peace to be made in the region, for progress to be made in the region, the United States has been an indispensable party, and I think we'll continue to be indispensable to the progress. The countries look to us. They seem to have a degree of trust in us that's essential. So in the broadest sense, I think the United States plays a vital role.
Q Mr. Secretary, you said it may not be the right time for Hafiz Assad to come to a summit. But what does this event today -- what message does it send to him, number one? Number two, the President said over the last 10 days there had been many things added to the declaration. What was that all about? Can you go through some of the details of that?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: As far as President Assad goes, I would say that today's event indicates that there is a transformation of the landscape in the Middle East, and I think, inevitably, all the countries in the Middle East are affected by it. In my judgment, each one of these historic breakthroughs that happens makes it slightly easier for the next one to happen, makes it somewhat more acceptable. Many, many things are happening in the region. Israelis are being able to travel for the first time to some of the Gulf countries. That sense of isolation, that sense of discrimination is falling into the background, and I think that's bound to affect the environment. I think the environment is better than it's been in the past.
The other half of your statement, John, I think it's absolutely correct that the Washington Declaration has more in it than it had when it was beginning, but I give the parties principal credit for that. They've been in these negotiations, and as they got into them I think -- such a happy circumstance -- they found more in common, they found more things that they were prepared to take risks for.
Indeed, when they, I think, were able to conclude that this brought an end to the state of war, that opened up possibilities. And you see in the declaration a number of practical steps that flow from ending the state of war.
Q Was there any discussion of the so-called "Jordanian option" by which the Palestinian entity would be joined to Jordan, or is that dead?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: There's been no discussion about that. That's certainly something that lies far in the future.
Q Your stated goal with Syria has been for some sort of breakthrough by the end of the year. Do you think there's any possibility that we can see a peace treaty or a similar declaration with Syria by the end of the year?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: I don't want to make any predictions on that. All I will say is that we're going to continue working hard on that track of facilitating discussions between the parties, assisting them and hoping that there will be some tangible progress as we work through the fall. As you know, I'm returning to the region for meetings with the Syrians and the Israelis some time, probably in the first half of August, and we'll see if we can't make some progress at that time.
Thanks very much.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END3:04 P.M. EDT