THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
BACKGROUND BRIEFING BY SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS Aboard Air Force One En Route to London, England
9:13 P.M. EST
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Just to answer your question, this is not something that the Americans put forward. It was not an American proposal. This is a proposal that was originally put forward in September by the two governments.
Q -- what exactly are you referring to --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: -- whether or not the twin track was a U.S. proposal. And it was put forth by the British and Irish government in September. There was disagreement, this canceled summit, and then they've been working over the last two months to put it back on track.
Q Who had to move the most in making this agreement?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me just go through a little bit more about what our role is and what happened. I think it's difficult to, you know, analyze who moved where and what. I think there's -- since September there's been -- election of David Trimble. I think there has been a lot more consultations with John Hume and Adams and others, as well as the Unionists in the north. To get an understanding of their political considerations, obviously the election of David Trimble -- need to have some additional time to talk to him.
You'll notice in the draft communique it has a reference to an elected assembly. That's a direct result of the conversations with David Trimble. It's an idea he's putting forward, Ian Paisley's been putting forward and others. So there's some movement in that direction. There's some other language in there that moves more towards the Nationalist side.
So I think both sides reached out a little bit more than they had in September and had some further discussions. But the basic principle is the same. This is a way to address both the issue of decommissioning and the need to get to all-party talks. If you notice in the draft communique, it says very clearly that the goal is to reach, to quote it exactly, "to an early launch of all-party negotiations with the firm aim of achieving it by the end of the end of February."
Q -- catalyst -- one thing that Lake did to break the camel's back or --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, this is very much negotiations by the two governments. They've been working night and day over the last week to get this done. There have been a number of phone calls between the two prime ministers. The staffs have been working really night and day to get it there.
Our role consistently for the last two years has been to provide support for those who take risks for peace, to, as Mike said, listen to ideas, give our judgment. The United States has -- (inaudible) -- and Northern Ireland both because of our relationship with Britain and because of our relationship with Ireland, I think our role is trusted by all sides.
Q It seems like there was some kind of rush on the part of Ireland and Britain to finish this before the President arrived. Is that your understanding? Were they trying to get it done before the President got there?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think you've got to look back on -- this is -- they've been working on this really since September. Obviously a presidential visit can have certain catalyst effects, but I think this is really something they've been working on for some time to do it. I'll leave it to them to characterize why --
Q -- reports yesterday that there was no chance of a breakthrough before -- for an agreement before the President's arrival. Was that an erroneous report?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, this has been up and down and back and forth very much over the last two weeks. Any time you get into an end negotiations, there's gloomy reports and there are positive reports. Frankly, we were getting both kinds of reports consistently over the last week.
One thing -- I also want to just walk you through a little bit what our role has been to give you some facts. I think it starts with the President. He's been very involved. He put this on the agenda when he came into office. This is something he felt the United States could play a helpful role in moving this process forward, asked us to look at where we could be helpful. And from the Gerry Adams visa to today we've been reaching out to both governments, to all parties trying to help -- be helpful.
Most recently -- there's actually a fact sheet in the press kit that goes through kind of what we've done over the years, so I won't go through all that, but from September on --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Did you guys get the press kit?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We put that in there to kind of --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There's a good -- good tick-tock in there on some of --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: -- basically starts with the President. The President's met with David Trimble, John Hume. He's talked to the two Prime Ministers regularly about this issue. The Vice President similarly has been very engaged in meeting with Alderdice, Adams, Trimble, again engaged in conversations and meetings.
Tony's had regular conversations with all of those people. Others, myself included, have been involved in those -- basically trying to figure out where the common ground here was and to underscore where they could -- how they could bridge the gap, putting forward a set of ideas.
The President in the last few days has spoke to Prime Minister Bruton. Tony spoke to Prime Minister -- Irish Foreign Minister Dick Spring. He's spoken tonight to Adams and to Trimble.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Tony.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. Spoke to this evening to Adams and Trimble.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This evening Tony talked to both Adams and Trimble, as well as the British and Irish on this. Over the last few weeks, he's had numerous conversations with a number of party leaders in Northern Ireland, as well as the two governments constantly feeding back ideas of where we --
Q -- ideas that he pointed out to either one of the parties that's now showing up in the communique -- (inaudible) -- break this loggerjam -- instead of just -- (inaudible) -- lot of talk -- anything specific you can think of?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think I'm -- we're not really going to get into the specifics of what he proposed beyond saying that generally we thought the twin track was a way forward and that the importance of the decommissioning issue had to be addressed, and the need to move to all-party talks had to be on the table. Beyond that it was a question of defining it and refining it. And we were helpful along the way --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: One point on that. Sometimes by suggesting -- in a negotiation like this, sometimes by suggesting ideas from outside as two parties are working through a complicated task, that can sometimes spur more creative thought by the parties themselves. It's ultimately the parties who have to come to an agreement on --
Q -- couple of these ideas --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This is not an American proposal, and I think you have to look at it that way. This is not something the American government sold to both sides.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: -- idea that was put forward in September as -- as a way to try and bridge this. The summit fell apart in September and they've been trying to basically put it back together since then. And our role --
Q -- Senator Mitchell for the job?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The two governments did. That came from them --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He emerged some time ago actually --
Q -- made the suggestion -- mentioned. Were they used in the final communique?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There are elements of our discussions throughout this, but I'm just not going to get into this --. I think you're also looking for something that's not there. This is their proposal and their idea. And this was really worked between the two Prime Ministers very tightly over the last week. And it's not accurate to say that we were in there pulling the strings. It was really the two governments doing it. Our role consistently has been supportive, encouraging, offering ideas that could be helpful, offering to help provide feedback to the various parties on what we thought was a reasonable proposal. But it really does come from both --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: -- sound like the Middle East peace process?
Q Yes, boy, I -- flashback city.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, there's a parallel there, because sometimes the role that the United States can play is really one that stimulates more creativity on the parties themselves as they are in direct dialogue. It's not dissimilar. I mean, obviously, a much different set of issues, different complexity to them, but it's a similar kind of facilitating role. When we say facilitating role, it's that -- you know, it helps stimulate creative thinking on the part -- the parties themselves.
Q -- twin tracks, just exactly how that works?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Basically, it will be one track will be a -- actually fairly well defined in the communique. The political track will be talking about what's ont the agenda, what the all-party talks will encompass, and really all the preparatory work for the all-party talks where there going to end up getting into the substantive negotiations of the future of Northern Ireland. And that aim is that they would hopefully do that by the end of February. I think the term is the firm aim of doing that by the end of February. The second track --
Q -- by February -- actually having the all-party talks or have the preparation ready?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Having the all-party talks start by then is the firm aim. It's a target date is the word I would use.
Q -- prepare for it while on the other hand they're doing --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Preparatory talks for the all-party talks is --
Q -- contingent upon the decommissioning issue being resolved?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: -- that's one of the issues that is going to be addressed. I mean, it's not clear -- no one knows quite the end game here. And Senator Mitchell has his work cut out for him.
Q -- second track --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: -- second track is how to deal with the issue of weapons. And it says very explicitly in here that they're going to be asked to identify and advise on a suitable and acceptable method for verifiable -- full and verifiable decommissioning and report on whether there's a clear commitment to work constructively to achieve that goal. And the international body is an independent body that's going to offer its views on how to achieve that. And the hope here is that there will be enough progress on both tracks to resolve the outstanding issues which are primarily the decommissioning issue and what is the nature of the all-party talks to be able to launch then at the end of February.
Q So then if the decommissioning --
MR. MCCURRY: This is the last question. It's 9:20 p.m.
Q -- if the decommissioning issue then is not solved by the end of the -- by January, then the all-party talks cannot go on, correct?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think that's looking at it the wrong way. This is starting a process, which will --
Q -- half full.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. We're hoping that this will engender confidence on all sides in the process so that that will -- the all-party talks will be launched. It's also important to remember that the body's recommendations are not binding. The governments are free to accept them or reject them as they see --. There are no guarantees at the end of this, but I think the fact that the two governments have agreed to launch this process, hopefully that the parties will participate is a major step forward in the peace process, and one that itself is --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Although my understanding is that both Major and Bruton have said tonight in their press conference that they've held that they would obviously consider the recommendations of this international body very seriously -- words to that effect.
Q -- won't be all-party talks --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There is a firm commitment on both governments to do all they can to try and achieve that goal. And that is not to be minimized.
Q They recommend everybody -- Litfenoff (ph.) in 1939 said the way to disarm is to disarm. If you ask everybody to disarm, is it then a question of verifying a disarmament? Could you have a cease-fire and --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, there are a lot of ways to do it. You can have people holding on to their weapons, turning them over to a third party, putting in lists. I mean, there's -- there are 20 different ways to approach this issue. And that's one of the things that Senator Mitchell is going to be looking at.
Q -- effort to prevent a breakdown?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would say it's a major step forward in the peace process, one that creates a process that will provide new confidence and help in moving it forward.
Q -- accomplishment, does the President have any specific proposals he's bringing now to advance the process in all the bilaterals?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I mean --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: -- little bit about how this will affect the tenor of the talks.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS: I think obviously we're very pleased with it, and it will enable us to have conversations about how to move this forward as opposed to how to launch it, which is moving the process forward.
Q Do you have specific proposals you're bringing with you to bring --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think at this point we're going to try and see how we can be helpful in getting the parties to participate constructively in the twin track, which is -- makes our visit frankly much more substantive than sort of just negotiating how to get the twin track launched. Now you can talk about what is the nature of the all-party talks, what is the issue of the decommissioning issue, and will add substance and weight to the visit. It underscores the importance of the United States in Northern Ireland itself, where you're going to be meeting with a range of leaders. We're going to be seeing all of the political leaders there. And this is clearly going to be top on the agenda with all of them. And I think it helps engender confidence in the process for them to be able to talk through their concerns with the President of the United States and have us continue to support those who are involved in this process. That in itself will be a major --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The other way of looking at this is had there not been this development tonight, this trip, which has gotten beyond just the issue of the peace process in Northern Ireland, important components that involve European security issues, Bosnia, a range of economic issues that will be under consideration, that might have been dominated by trying to keep a process on track. Tonight these two governments have become two engines that have gotten back on track and are now accelerating. And that's been done by them. We can now contribute ideas on how they can keep their momentum and how they can keep moving forward.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It also helps reinforce the theme that the President mentioned when he left the White House this evening, which is that the United States stands with the peacemakers of the world. And we're prepared to stand by those who take risks for peace, not just in Northern Ireland, not just -- but anywhere. And I think particularly given the progress we've made in Bosnia this week, it really underscores the need, one, for American leadership in the world, and, two, for our engagement in the efforts to support those who are taking risks for peace.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 9:33 P.M. EST