THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Jerusalem, Israel) _____________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release November 6, 1995
PRESS BRIEFING BY AMBASSADOR MARTIN INDYK
Renaissance Hotel Jerusalem, Israel
10:24 P.M. (L)
MR. JOHNSON: Good evening. We've asked the Ambassador to Israel for the United States Martin Indyk to give you a briefing today on the bilateral meetings that the President has held this evening. He'll give you a little opening announcement and then take a few questions from you.
AMBASSADOR INDYK: Thank you, David. I've been told that you have been held here against your will. Nice to see you again, Barry.
Q We're here so the networks can do their standups.
AMBASSADOR INDYK: So I just want to apologize to you and tell you that I had nothing to do with it. I've been
asked by the White House to provide you with some color and context for today's events.
Obviously, Israel is a nation that is grieving at this time, and the people of the United States are grieving with Israel for the loss of their great leader, Yitzhak Rabin. The President came here today. He committed to doing so about a half an hour after Prime Minister Rabin died at Ichilov Hospital. I can actually tell you that when I spoke to him on the phone just as Mrs. Rabin was saying good-bye to her husband, I told him that the funeral would be on Monday and he said, "I will be there." And he came today, as you could see, to say good-bye to a very dear friend.
He also came to express solidarity with the people of Israel at a very tragic and traumatic moment. And the fact that he came with two other Presidents, three Secretaries of State, 44 congressmen and senators, including the entire leadership of the House and the Senate, plus an array of religious leaders and Jewish community leaders I think was a very strong manifestation of the depth and breadth of the ties that exist between the United States and Israel and the deep sense of mourning that we have in the United States for the passing of Yitzhak Rabin.
His third purpose in coming here was to send a message of peace. And his determination and the determination of the United States, which is, I believe, was expressed today by -- on a bipartisan basis that we are committed to ensuring that the legacy of Yitzhak Rabin is a legacy of secure and lasting peace for the people of Israel and for the people of the Middle East.
You all witnessed the extraordinary event today -- the attendance of world leaders, the incredibly moving eulogies, and the role that the United States played in this. The meetings that took place this evening, the bilaterals, were not meetings designed to get at the substance of issues. The President was deeply conscious of the fact that we are in the beginning of the mourning period for Prime Minister Rabin, and the meetings were much more focused on reminiscing about this great man and about a commitment to pursuing the peace process on the part of all the people -- all of the people -- that the President met with.
He met with President Weizman. He came back to the -- at the President's house. He came back to the King David and met with Prime Minister Peres in a one-on-one that lasted about 40 minutes and then a larger meeting with the Israeli -- many of the Israeli Cabinet and the Chief of Staff; and on our side, the President and most of his National Security Council and the Secretary of the Treasury.
Mr. Peres also met with the congressional delegation, and he had a -- I believe he had a private meeting with Congressman Gingrich and Congressman Gephardt.
He met with President Mubarak, and he met with King Hussein. And he had a final short meeting with the leader of the opposition here, Bibi Netanyahu, and a delegation from the Likud which included Dan Meridor, Benny Begin, and Zalman Shoval and Moshe Katzav.
As I said, all of those meetings really focused on the enormity of the event and the enormity of the man, Yitzhak Rabin, and on a commitment to pursuing peace. I think on the part of all the leaders that the President met with, that was the common theme -- of a sense that this tragic moment must be turned into an opportunity to try to ensure that the peace process moves forward and those that would kill the peace will not succeed.
The President also stressed in his speech that you would have heard already, and also in his meetings with Israeli leaders, the importance of unity at this time and the importance of distancing ourselves and distancing Israelis from the hatred and the extremism, and creating an environment that is more positive and supportive of the common decencies and correct behavior and ensuring that the hatred that was expressed in the assassin's bullets found no quarter in Israel as much as in the United States.
Let me take your questions.
Q Martin, is there understanding on the President's part that opposition to what the Rabin government is doing -- and Lord knows what Peres certainly would do because he was even more dovish than Rabin -- isn't always extreme, that perhaps half the country is opposed to territorial concessions to the Arabs in exchange for promises? Is the administration going to continue to call the critics "extremists" or does it see a solid Syria? When he's talking about lower the rhetoric, who is he talking to, just critics or extremists?
AMBASSADOR INDYK: I think the President is very well aware that Israel is a vibrant democracy where opinions are strongly expressed. But he's also concerned in an environment in which, just as he was concerned in the United States -- and this is something that came up in his discussions about the Oklahoma City bombing -- the kind of environment where the rhetoric of hatred becomes somehow -- seeps into the debate and becomes seen at least by extremists as acceptable. And that's what he was driving at, Barry.
Q Well, what did the Netanyahu meeting accomplish then? I mean is he -- do you feel he now -- what did he meet, about 10 minutes -- does he now have a solid --
AMBASSADOR INDYK: -- actually about 25 or 30 minutes, Barry.
Q And was there some question there would even be a meeting. Does he now have a better understanding of what is --
AMBASSADOR INDYK: There was no question that there would ever be a -- there was never a question about whether there would be a meeting.
Q We kept being told maybe, maybe not.
AMBASSADOR INDYK: Well, I'm sorry, that simply is not the case.
Q All right, met with him for 25 minutes. Does the President now have an understanding what the serious opposition is about in their objections to what is going on?
AMBASSADOR INDYK: I think what the President heard from all of the people he met with, including the Likud opposition, was a commitment to the peace process, to continuing the peace process.
Q At the meeting Acting Prime Minister Peres had with the congressional leaders, was there any discussion of the timing of elections? There is a report that he told them that he would not call early elections.
AMBASSADOR INDYK: As far as I'm aware, that is not an accurate report. I think it's too early for the Israelis to be making a judgment about that issue. As I understand it, there will be an effort to, on the part of the Acting Prime Minister, to put together a government. And until that effort gets underway, it would be premature, I think, for anybody to speculate about what would happen. And certainly that was not part of the discussions with the President.
Q What specifically, Martin, does Acting Prime Minister Peres have to do in order to continue Prime Minister Rabin's legacy for peace? What does he have to do? Does he have to move quickly to tie -- to strengthen his Cabinet? Does he have to reach out to the Palestinians? Does he have to accelerate or continue the move? What specifically does the U.S. government feel he should do?
AMBASSADOR INDYK: I really don't think it's up to us to be telling the Israeli government what it should be doing. The President is much more focused on what we should be doing and that, in the first instance, is to send a very strong message of steadfastness and support that we are standing shoulder to shoulder with the people of Israel at this moment of tragedy when they have lost a great leader; and then to see what we can do to fulfill the President's commitment to work with Israel to try to achieve a lasting and comprehensive peace.
But I want to emphasize again that this is a period of mourning. And the President was not focused on next steps in the peace process or new ideas for moving the process forward or anything like that.
Q -- did the President have a one-on-one meeting with the Likud leader and then a meeting with the delegation?
AMBASSADOR INDYK: No, he met with the Likud delegation.
Q How important was it in your view that Mr. Mubarak and King Hussein came today?
Q What was the question?
AMBASSADOR INDYK: The question was how important was it that King Hussein and President Mubarak came today. As King Hussein muttered to the President, this was the first time in a long time that he'd been in Jerusalem. And to see the Royal Jordanian Airline land at Ben Gurion Airport, I think that, combined with the King's incredible presence and his eulogy, was very important in terms of reenforcing a sense that the Israeli people already have that Jordan is very committed to a warm peace. And I think that anybody who heard the King speak about his relationship with Rabin and comparing him to his revered grandfather, King Abdullah, who was also assassinated for his work towards peace -- I think that that made a very powerful impression.
President Mubarak came here -- this was his first visit to Israel, let alone Jerusalem, since he has been President. And even though it was it was at such a moment of sadness, I think it was also an extremely important move, a gesture by him to demonstrate Egypt's clear and unequivocal support for peace with Israel.
Of course, it wasn't just these two Arab leaders. The Armeni Foreign Minister was here, the Qataris were represented, the Tunisians, the Moroccan Prime Minister. King Hassan would have been here if he had not had a -- been genuinely sick. And then, of course, all the other world leaders. It was, I think, a truly extraordinary event in terms of demonstrating to Israel and to the world how revered was -- is -- the peacemaker, Yitzhak Rabin.
Q From the speech of President Mubarak, was there --
AMBASSADOR INDYK: You know, President Mubarak's speech, as I said, made a clear and unequivocal commitment of Egypt to peace with Israel. There's something you might not know and that is all the speakers were restricted to three minutes. Not all of them respected that, but if -- the implication of your questions was that it was a very short speech. That was because that was requested by the organizers.
Syria has down-played the whole event and there has been a very low-key factual reporting. I've seen a few commentaries which focus on how the ball is in Israel's court and Syria's ready for peace. But beyond that, very little reaction from Syria.
Q I'd like to try on the loyal opposition again. Your summary of what the meeting with Netanyahu and his subordinates produced -- he heard a commitment to continue the peace process. Well, Netanyahu, of course, says he committed to a peace process. He said that before he saw the President. He said that Saturday. He would go about it differently. He's not in favor of a war process, he's in favor of the peace process, he says. Are his views considered extremist? Is it Netanyahu and his people that the President is lecturing to curb rhetoric, or is he talking about some far right or far left fringe element? What is he talking about?
AMBASSADOR INDYK: I don't think the President has been lecturing anybody. It's not his style, Barry.
Q Oh, no, on the plane he very much did. He said that with Israel's division it's a good time to lower rhetoric because it weakens the fabric of the society, the democracy.
AMBASSADOR INDYK: Well, I don't think that's --
Q We have the same problem, he said.
AMBASSADOR INDYK: I don't think that's lecturing. Is there another question?
Q You don't want to talk about the opposition? You want to just skip by it?
AMBASSADOR INDYK: I think I've already briefed you on that.
Q It's 50 percent of the viewpoint of this country, and you tell us, to summarize meeting with the head of the opposition party who may very well be the next prime minister, that he heard a commitment to the peace process. That's not exactly an account of what happened there.
AMBASSADOR INDYK: Barry, I think I've given you an account of what has happened in each meeting, about exactly the same amount of time spend on it, and I'm sorry if you're not satisfied.
Q Did the President suggest any concrete steps that various forces the Israeli society could take to lower the rhetoric, especially in light of the Oklahoma bombing incident we had in the United States --
AMBASSADOR INDYK: He did not suggest specific things, he was just making the point about the way in which after the Oklahoma bombing there was a reassessment of some of the hate rhetoric. And he was drawing a comparison with some of the language that has been used here and stressing, as he did in his eulogy, that hatred can breed hatred and if people do not come together to denounce it, we can end up with these kinds of tragic events. And so I think there is a feeling on the part of Israelis from the left to the right that this is a moment when they need to come together and to unite. And, as I say, I think he -- the President heard that from all of the people he -- all of the Israelis that he met with this evening.
Q You and the embassy obviously had a hell of a job getting ready for today on very short notice. Would it have made your life easier were the embassy in Jerusalem? (Laughter.)
AMBASSADOR INDYK: Yes. But as you can see, we managed anyway. And I hope that we were able to facilitate your work as best we could.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 10:45 P.M. (L)