THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
6:00 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Hello, everybody. Let me anticipate most of the questions you're going to have and see if I can answer them in advance. A couple points I'll tell you -- just moments ago, the President signed a proclamation ordering that, as a mark of respect for the memory of Prime Minister Rabin and America's support for the peace process in the Middle East, he has ordered that the flag of the United States be flown at half-staff* at all public buildings and grounds, all military posts and naval stations, and all naval vessels of the United States and obviously our diplomatic installations around the world, as well.
A couple of other things -- I'll just run through what has gone on this afternoon as the President and his senior policy advisors got the very tragic news from Israel and dealt with it. For most of the afternoon, beginning about 3:00 p.m., Secretary Christopher, National Security Advisor Tony Lake, and Ambassador Martin Indyk coordinated information that they had available and relayed it to the President. We've also had, obviously, our folks from the NSC who are active in the peace process and folks from the State Department, including Ambassador Dennis Ross, our Special Middle East Coordinator, actively involved in just tracking down information and making arrangements.
The President was notified by Tony Lake by phone around 3:23 p.m. this afternoon that Prime Minister Rabin had been shot at the rally. The President, as you know, issued a statement upon that news expressing his outrage at the event. Mr. Lake had several other conversations with Secretary Christopher and the President; then went over to notify the President in person just after 4:00 p.m. that Prime Minister Rabin had died from his gunshot wounds.
The President, just before 5:00 p.m., had a conversation, very short conversation with Mrs. Rabin, and then later on in the evening, about 5:30 p.m., had a conversation with Acting Prime Minister Peres. The President was struck by the fact that in both calls, both Mrs. Rabin and Acting Prime Minister Peres made the point that after tonight's rally -- or just during the period walking up to the rally they'd never seen the Prime Minister happier. He was very satisfied with where the peace process was and very pleased personally with the way things were going. And obviously, the irony of that was something I think satisfying to the President that that would have been his last memories.
The President does have plans this evening to have discussions with other leaders in the Middle East. I would imagine specifically he would attempt to talk to President Mubarak and King Hussein. He's instructed Secretary Christopher to have some additional follow-up conversations with Chairman Arafat and others in the region.
The President will likely depart sometime tomorrow for Israel with a delegation from the United States. He has invited the bipartisan congressional leadership to accompany him to the funeral services, which the government has now announced will be held Monday.
Beyond that, I think the President's statement this evening pretty much speaks for himself. He described for you how he feels personally. The nature of his conversations tonight reflects the very personal relationship that has developed with the Prime Minister and the leadership of Israel as a result of the President's work in this process and as a result of advancing the prospects for peace in the Middle East with both Prime Minister Rabin and now Acting Prime Minister Peres and others in the region.
So I would say that tonight the President's thinking is concentrating on his own grief at the loss of a friend. There will be much work that lies ahead in coming days on the peace process, to which the United States will devote itself. But for tonight, tomorrow night and the coming days, I think, in memory of Yitzhak Rabin, we will be devoting our thoughts and our immediate work to his memory, knowing that the work of the peace process will continue and will require the effort of the President, the Secretary and others who are part of the peace process.
I don't know that there's a lot more beyond that I can tell you.
Q Mike, when Tony called the President he was in the Residence?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q When he went over to see him, the same thing? Was Tony here when he found out?
MR. MCCURRY: Tony arrived here just after 3:00 p.m. and learned the news much as we all did, just around 3:00 p.m. this afternoon.
Q Do you have anything on that organization that the assassin belonged to?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I don't have anything on that. And obviously, most of the comment on that will have to come from the government of Israel.
Q What's the judgment on the impact on the peace process?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to comment on the peace process or what this means. In fact, I think you'll see that U.S. officials tonight and tomorrow are really not going to be available for that kind of analysis. We think it would be inappropriate to make that kind of analysis. The President has spoken for his entire peace team in saying that, in memory of the legacy of Yitzhak Rabin, that work will continue. And it will continue, but we'll leave the instant analysis up to others.
Q What will the U.S. do at this moment --
Q Mike, he's going to visit other countries in the Middle East?
MR. MCCURRY: No, his plans are only to go to Israel for the service and then return here to Washington.
Q What can the U.S. do at this moment to keep the peace process moving?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we will continue our work, but I'm not going to analyze all of that for you now.
Q Is Christopher also going to -- is he charged to talk to Syrian President Assad?
MR. MCCURRY: I suspect that will be one of the calls on the list of the Secretary.
Q The President won't speak to Arafat, or he will?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he will -- there will be a funeral service in Israel Monday, and I imagine there will be opportunity for several conversations in the coming days.
Q Mike, has the United States pledged any kind of assistance, military or otherwise to Israel? And are they in a heightened state of alert?
MR. MCCURRY: You should ask the government of Israel that question.
Q Who will call Assad? Is it Christopher or is the President?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we'll -- if that contact is made, we'll report on it to you appropriately.
Q Was Ambassador Indyk in Israel today, in Tel Aviv?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q But, Mike, to clarify, when he calls Mubarak and Hussein and others, that will --
MR. MCCURRY: He intends to try to make those calls tonight.
Q The President, himself?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q As part of the calls, are you -- what about the Hill? Are you in touch with Dole and --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've had -- we've been in contact with Speaker Gingrich already, and we're attempting to reach Majority Leader Dole, Minority Leader Daschle and Minority Leader Gephardt so that we can arrange a congressional delegation to accompany the President tomorrow.
Q Did Mr. Gingrich say he would go?
MR. MCCURRY: The President and Speaker -- others will speak on the Speaker's behalf, but he obviously is greatly saddened by this news and indicated a strong willingness to accompany the President if we can work out logistics. Obviously, it will difficult to do logistics on short notice, but we'll do out best.
Q Mike, the President saw the Prime Minister only last week, I believe. Is there anything you could tell us from their last meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President was struck by his words here at the White House. He quoted them just now. And he was recalling that he had a brief conversation, I guess, in New York at the U.N. anniversary commemoration just recently, and I suspect you'll hear the President talk a little bit more about that in coming days.
Q Did the President and Mr. Rabin ever talk about the risks, the personal risk that Mr. Rabin was taking --
MR. MCCURRY: Those are obvious.
Anything else? Okay, that's it for now. Thanks.
END 6:10 P.M. EST