THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY SECRETARY OF STATE WARREN CHRISTOPHER
The Briefing Room
4:40 P.M. EST
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Good afternoon. As you know, today President Clinton hosted the unprecedented meeting, attended by Vice President Gore, Tony Lake, myself, and representatives from Israel, Egypt, and Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. We gather today at a very critical moment in the peace process. The terrorists and their supporters have accelerated their deadly efforts to kill the hopes for peace. Today I think we've sent the terrorists and the rejectionists of whatever stripe a very strong message, a message that they will not succeed, a message that the momentum for peace will be maintained.
This meeting, of course, followed the historic ArabIsraeli summit that President Mubarak hosted last week, 10 days ago, in Cairo. In the face of terrorism and hardship, even despair, President Mubarak, Prime Minister Rabin, Chairman Arafat, King Hussein stepped forward to once again commit themselves to a vision of hope and peace for the Middle East. Today, at President Clinton's direction, we came together to carry that vision forward and to give it concrete expression.
I want to thank Foreign Minister Moussa, Peres, and Kabariti of Jordan; as well as Dr. Sha-ath, the Minister of Planning of the Palestinian Authority. They came very long distances on relatively short notice, and many of them at considerable sacrifice to themselves, and I'm very grateful to them. I also want to thank Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Posuvalyuk for joining us here.
As we met today we certainly have illusions about the difficulties ahead, but we face the difficulties armed with the knowledge that we've already made tremendous progress. We also face these difficulties with the understanding that beyond the continuing violence and suspicion there still lies an opportunity to secure what President Clinton once called "the quiet miracle of a normal life."
Before reviewing the results of the five-party ministerial, I want to report on a very productive meeting that I had this morning between the Israeli representative, Foreign Minister -- Palestinian Authority, Dr. Sha-ath. In our discussion, both made clear that there would be no turning back from the search for peace; both expressed their determination to work together to overcome the challenges that the Israelis and the Palestinians currently face. Toward this end, they agreed that I could give you the following statements on their behalf. You have copies of those, which are really an integral part of the overall joint communique.
First, they reaffirmed that Israel and the Palestinian Authority are committed to fulfilling all elements of their existing agreements. Second, they expressed understanding for one another's requirements. They agreed that both Israel's security needs and the Palestinians' political and economic needs must be satisfied through a cooperative and interrelated approach. Third, the Palestinian Authority underscored its commitment to preempt terror, to punish those responsible, and to deny terrorists any safe haven. Both parties made clear that application of these measures would enhance the conditions for security and a normalized economic situation based upon free movement of people and goods.
The Israelis, for their part, reaffirmed their commitment to full implementation of the second phase of the Declaration of Principles. Both sides agreed to promptly negotiate all aspects of this phase, including transfer of authority, redeployment and elections. Finally, both parties agreed that these understandings can help build trust and confidence, and they expressed their determination to use them to ensure a successful Israeli-Palestinian meeting when they meet sometime later this week in a meeting, of course, at the highest level between Prime Minister Rabin and Chairman Arafat.
So this particular set of understandings -- or conclusions, I should say -- was, I think, a result of the bilateral meeting that we had this morning, as well as work that was done through the night. And I think it's a very significant step forward by these two to recommit themselves to the peace process.
Now let me turn to today's ministerial meeting. Our purpose was to deepen the process of regional cooperation in support of peace. The results of our discussions are reflected in the declaration that you have in which you'll see there was agreement on cooperation in four different areas: political, economic, security, and human. In the political, I've just reported on the progress made to advance the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. These efforts received, as you'll see from the documents, strong support in the ministerial meeting.
We also expressed appreciation for the continued implementation of the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty. And finally, we underscored our hope that breakthroughs could be reached between Israel, Syria and Lebanon. We all expressed the hope that Syria and Lebanon would be joining us at meetings like this in the future.
With respect to security, we agreed that without security there can be no peace. The parties declared their commitment to combat all the efforts to destroy the peace process, particularly acts of terrorism. The parties agreed that in a framework of peace and reconciliation in the region, they intend to achieve equal security at lower levels of armament, including pursuit of a mutually-verifiable zone of free -- mutually-verifiable zone free of weapons of mass destruction.
On the economic front, the declaration reaffirms the importance of promoting economic development and investment. This, of course, is especially urgent for the Palestinians. We will work with the other donors to redouble our efforts to provide assistance quickly. We'll explore ways to promote liberalized trade between the parties and the United States.
The parties expressed particular appreciation for the United States' proposal to extend duty-free treatment to products in industrial zones to be created in the West Bank and Gaza, and for free trade zones that may be established in Taba, Eilat and Aqaba. The United States will consult further with the parties and with the Congress with respect to these very important free trade zones, certainly one of the most significant matters to come out of today's meeting.
At the same time, we will continue our efforts to create a Middle East development bank. We'll continue our efforts to promote trade and tourism. And we will work hard on planning for the Amman summit, which is a follow-on to last year's very important precedent-breaking Casablanca Economic Conference.
In this connection, I also want to highlight the important meeting that Egypt hosted last week in Taba, where Secretary Brown, Commerce, met with the trade ministers from Egypt, Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. That gathering represented yet another major step in efforts to develop regional economic cooperation, the kind of cooperation that is so important to underlie a lasting peace. At Taba the parties pledged to support efforts to end all trade barriers and boycotts.
Finally, with respect to the human dimension, we agreed to address that dimension by endorsing efforts to build bridges between the region's peoples and by developing new patterns and new programs of cooperation.
This declaration is a road map for the months ahead. We know that, of course, another declaration by itself is not sufficient. We must work vigorously to make the goals that we've set forth here a reality. As President Clinton demonstrated and as was demonstrated by the attendance today of Vice President Gore and the National Security Adviser Tony Lake, and myself, the United States is committed to seeing this process through.
Under the President's leadership, the United States has stood by the parties when there have been triumphs, such as at the signing ceremony here in Washington and at Araba. We have stood by the parties in tragedy at Hebron and at Bait Lee. And we'll remain by their side as they work toward the final efforts to achieve a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. I believe that today's step marks a significant step in that long and difficult journey.
That ends my summary of the conclusions reached in the bilateral meeting, as well as the joint communique. But there's one other matter that I thought you'd be interested in and so I'll mention it to you before taking a few questions.
In the course of discussions between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the Palestinians expressed a deep concern about settlement activity. The Israelis, while emphasizing that decisions would be made on that subject by the Israelis themselves, also restated their policy as follows: They are committed to building no new settlements, to no confiscation of land for buildings, and to no investment of public Israeli dollars in private homes in the territories.
The Israelis also emphasized in the course of the discussions that they welcomed the Palestinians commitment on fighting terror, but they also emphasized that the implementation of these commitments is all important.
Now, with that and on the understanding that a backgrounder will be following me, and because I have some foreign ministers waiting for bilateral meetings, I'll take just a few of your questions.
Q Mr. Secretary, on that touchy, touchy issue of the closing of the borders, can you report any developments here? I mean, you talk about security a lot, but from the Palestinian viewpoint, they are angry about the borders being closed, Palestinians unable to go into Israeli proper to work. The President's statement implicitly -- some of us think -- implicitly criticized Israel. What did they do about it?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Well, I think there was a recognition of the importance of the economic activity. You will see that in the joint communique. But there was no explicit understanding or conclusion reached on that subject.
Q Do you think it will make it easier, Mr. Secretary, now for Arafat and Rabin when they meet again this week -- will this conference contribute to their amicable understanding of what's going to happen?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Yes, I think it will contribute significantly. The last meeting they had, by their own statements, did not make progress. But I think the fact that we were able to meet today and the Foreign Minister of Israel and the representative of the Palestinian Authority were able to agree to these conclusions, I think that gives a momentum for that process that will be felt between the parties when they meet. So I think we go into that meeting in a new and improved environment because of these meetings here today and the agreements that were reached.
Q Can you speak about your hope that Israel and Syria and Lebanon will reach a comprehensive peace? Did you discuss in the meeting ways of moving the Syria and Israeli track and Syria-Lebanese track ahead and getting it out of this stalemate?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: No. We expressed the wish that they were there and the hope that they'd be there in the near future, but we didn't have a detailed discussion of either of those tracks except to express the importance of a comprehensive peace to all the parties.
Q Mr. Secretary, what steps do you think you are going to take? Are you going to call Assad tomorrow to brief him on the meeting? What steps are you going to take to allay Syria's fears from a meeting like that --
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Well, there's no reason for them to be apprehensive about this meeting. The meeting focused, of course, on the Israeli-Palestinian track, ways to invigorate it and get it restarted. But this meeting took into account the importance of the other tracks and committed ourselves to pursuing those tracks. Yes, we will brief the Syrians and the Lebanese on the results of this meeting so as to reassure them, and we'll be taking steps to see if we can't make progress on that track as well. We'd like to end the stalemate that might exist.
Q Was there any recognition of the fact that $1 million the Palestinians are losing as a result of the closure of the territories -- was there any immediate infusion of economic assistance? I know that the dimensions have been recognized of the importance, but what are we doing in the immediate, steps to alleviate the sufferings of the Palestinians under occupation?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Well, there was a good deal of discussion about ways that we could speed up some of the programs. We agreed that we'd review all of our programs to see if we couldn't speed up the disbursement of funds, to find some ways to make more visible progress. I think there was a common understanding that the situation there is one that presents difficulties for all parties. The problems of terror that confront the Israelis, the economic problems that confront the Palestinians are the core of these difficulties, and we hope to find -- and we hope that the parties will find some way out of that. And we hope they'll be spurred and given an incentive by the very positive meeting that took place today. The fact that the parties were able to meet and reach these conclusions in this relatively short period of time, both bilaterally and then the five-party communique, I think is an indication of the recommitment of the parties to this process. Despite all the difficulties, the parties know that there is no turning back. This is irreversible. Conditions have been changed permanently in the region, and the parties must measure up to their responsibilities. And I think they, today they said they knew that.
Now, you'll be having a backgrounder that will give you more details on all of these, and perhaps amplify on some of these answers I gave. Thank you very much.
END4:50 P.M. EST