THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
BACKGROUND BRIEFING BY SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL
The Briefing Room
3:55 P.M. EDT
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Prime Minister Peres is finishing up right now his last official meeting of what we think is a very successful and, from our standpoint, very useful visit here to Washington. This is something that had been scheduled for some time, but as the President suggested at the signing ceremony a little while ago, it was a good opportunity for the two leaders to take stock of where things are across the range of the various issues in this relationship after some fairly dramatic events in the Middle East, and they took that opportunity.
You've got a joint statement which I think summarizes the content of their discussions. I would summarize that with just a few points. From our standpoint, from the standpoint of the Israelis, I think, what we have reviewed is a very good relationship, a relationship with deep roots; one that is rich, mutually advantageous and growing in importance in view of some of trends that we see in the Middle East today. It's one that the two leaders feel will need to evolve in response to some of those developments, and one that we will focus attention on systematically over the next few months to ensure that that happens.
I think that's pretty much all I need to say at this point. I'd be happy to answer any questions.
Q Did the Prime Minister give the U.S. some sort of an idea of how he would proceed now, in the next round of Palestinian talks? Did he speak specifically of his intentions with Hebron and other aspects of unresolved problems?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He did note that they would be moving ahead on this track and there was a general review of some of the issues that would have to be dealt with, such as Hebron, as they proceeded. I think it would be safe to say that they looked at the general prospects for moving ahead on the peace process.
Q And you mean with the President, correct?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: With the President, right.
Q Yesterday the Prime Minister said on Nightline that he didn't rule out the reaction against the nuclear effort of Iran, as it was done by Israel in '81 against Iraq. So what is your position on that -- it came up and talked about it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: About the Iranian nuclear potential?
Q About the possible military reaction?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think it's safe to say they didn't discuss contingency plans in that degree of detail.
Q They discussed it on TV.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The question of Iran and its nuclear potential is one that has been of concern to this administration from day one. It's one that we've spent a lot of efforts trying to deal with, with our G-7 partners in terms of walling off that whole area of cooperation with Iran, with the Russians, with whom we've had an ongoing and very serious and high-level dialogue designed to stem what we consider to be a nuclear weapons development program in Iran. And this is obviously something that we do consult with the Israelis about.
There was a discussion of Iran in general, and the threat that it imposes to the region, and we think it's important that the two countries continue to talk about that subject.
Q Did you also discuss Israel possibly someday signing the nonproliferation treaty for her own nuclear arsenal?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We did not discuss the nuclear -- the Israeli nuclear program, no.
Q What level of person would you envision would be on this joint terrorism commission? Would that be -- would they have a staff and sort of a permanent party head?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It provides, as you've seen in the text which I think has been released, for twice yearly meetings. This is a pattern that we have with a lot of joint committees that the two countries have established over the years. And while there is no formal secretariat for most of these operations, you have a cadre of people on both sides who get to know each other very well and work very closely together. And so you do have, in fact, the development of institutional ties which operate both informally during the course of the year, and more formally at the specifically designated biannual meetings, or twice yearly meetings. So I would expect that this would follow that kind of a pattern.
We haven't identified our representative yet; I don't think that the Israelis have either.
Q The Prime Minister the other day was saying something about it's about time to establish at least a study group to explore a joint -- a mutual defense pact. Did this come up in these discussions, and what is the status of that idea?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You've seen the joint statement, and the joint statement refers to the establishment of a steering committee headed on our side by the Secretary of State and on the Israeli side by the Foreign Minister, and two working groups reporting to it, one of which is looking at security and defense issues. That group will consider, in the words of the statement, "all options, including the possibility of more formal security accords for how best to meet common threats in the years to come."
What does that mean? It means that we have agreed to have a discussion without prejudice to exactly where we come out as to how you will structure our cooperation in the fields of defense and security in the years ahead. We have a fairly well-developed structure of security and defense cooperation. It spans a lot of areas, it involves a lot of people, involves a number of institutions that have been created over the years. What we're going to be doing now is looking at that and seeing what is the most rational, effective and efficient way to organize that without, as I say, prejudice to exactly what the outcome will be.
Q In principal is the administration open to the possibility of a formal pact, defense pact with Israel?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: As I said, this is a process without prejudice as to where we come out. It says all options.
Q So it is under active consideration?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What has been agreed is there will be a further discussion of all options which would enable us to enhance our cooperation in security and defense matters.
Q Did they discuss President Clinton's upcoming meeting with President Arafat tomorrow, and specifically, what aspects of the discussion did Prime Minister Peres express --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: As I indicated in response to Barry's question, there was some discussion of the Palestinian track and where it might go. The President noted that he was going to be seeing Arafat tomorrow. I think they both felt it was important that this meeting take place at this time, in wake of the PNC decision last week to amend the covenant. We think it's a good opportunity, as well.
Q There's a phrase here on this pact we're talking about -- or this study -- to meet common threats in the peace to come. I mean, I don't know where to go with "common threats." You don't want us to assume that any threat to Israel is a threat to the United States, do you?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I said earlier that the discussion will be without prejudice as to where we come out. Common threats will be, to some extent, a function of that discussion. There's an earlier reference to the leaders agreeing that the strategic cooperation is going to grow in importance as a function of certain trends in the region. And I think that cycles back into that earlier statement.
There are things that disturb us both -- the spread of weapons of mass destruction, the spread of the means of delivering them. There are countries in the region that are clearly a threat to things in the region, to trends in the region that we both value. I wouldn't want to be any more specific than that. And the purpose of this statement is not to be any more specific than that.
Q But let me ask you one quick follow. Do you remember -- what, 15 years ago -- there was the notion of some sort of a pact, some sort of any arrangement, not only to U.S. and Israel, but to Arab countries. "Common threat" makes me think of that, you know, you can't --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You're referring Baghdad-pact type stuff or what?
A No -- well, I forget whose idea it was. I think it was Haig's period of Secretary of State, I may be wrong. Anyhow, not to sidetrack you, what I'm trying to say is, does this study have in mind the possibility of including pro-American Arab countries, as well?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This study, this exercise will look at all options. And I think you could include just about anything you wanted under that rubric. I'm not trying to duck anything, but I think you're trying -- you're not trying, but you're suggesting that there is greater focus on this at this point than there really is. This is a good faith effort to try to look at the universe and see what makes sense, quite frankly.
Q Did they discuss the Labor Party's decision to drop objections to the establishment of a Palestinian state and what U.S. policy might be in response to that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There was -- I think the Prime Minister at one point alluded to it as a step that had been taken. There wasn't an extended discussion of it and it didn't really require a U.S. response in policy terms. It was part of the general discussion that I was referring to earlier.
Q Does it alter U.S. policy?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This is a change in the Labor Party platform. It's not really something that we have to respond to.
Did you have a question?
Q Yes, two unrelated questions, actually. One, in the conversations, since Prime Minister Peres is heading toward France, did the role of French officials involving the cease-fire come up, and specifically, French calls to involve Iran more? And, secondly, can you give us some sort of look ahead toward the meeting with Arafat tomorrow?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There was a review in general terms of the negotiations which resulted in the understanding on southern Lebanon, which was reached last week and announced in Jerusalem and elsewhere. It covered a number of areas. It covered various parts of the diplomacy, and I don't really see a purpose in getting into the details.
The Prime Minister indicated that he would be in touch with the French, and I think all of us recognize the need to establish the mechanisms as quickly as possible that were called for in the understanding that is the monitoring commission and the consultative commission. And we'll be in touch, certainly, both Israel and the United States, with France and other countries involved with a view toward taking us forward. We consider them to be partners in this exercise.
Q I guess, is there a U.S. concern that the French want to bring Iran into the dialogue?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't really consider that to be a realistic possibility, and that specific concern was not part of the discussion, leading me to believe that the Israelis don't consider it to be a realistic possibility either.
With respect to the Palestinian discussion tomorrow, I don't want to prejudge that, but I think you can assume that, given what the PNC did last week, it will be an opportunity to express our encouragement and appreciation over that step and an opportunity to look ahead and consider how we can continue to support the Palestinians as they move forward along the track that they have committed to.
Q Did the Prime Minister tell the President that he would, in fact, be meeting with Arafat tonight? And, if so, did the Prime Minister say what he would be discussing with the Chairman?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think you had better refer that one to the Israelis themselves. I don't want to speak for the Prime Minister.
Q Did ancient Jerusalem come up specifically?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, it did not want.
Q So you're saying tomorrow's discussions with Arafat are going to be more of a general nature, that the President is not looking for any specific accomplishments from this meeting?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I really don't want to predict what is going to be said at that meeting. I have given you a general approach which will be followed. I really don't want to be much more specific than that. I'm sorry. We will probably be here tomorrow doing this, so we can discuss it then.
Q Well, some of us have to write about it in the morning. Are there any goals for an outcome to this meeting, other than just a general review?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We think it's an important moment in terms of the progress of the agreements that were signed here on the South Lawn in 1993. And we think that it's appropriate that the President and the Chairman have an opportunity to take stock in light of the important decisions that they have recently made, and discuss the range of issues which will affect the progress from this point on.
Q Will any agreements be signed, any --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We don't anticipate any agreements being signed, no.
Q Will there be any more aid offered?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We will undoubtedly be discussing the general question of aid. I don't want to predict where that discussion will go.
Q How much aid has the U.S. committed so far?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We committed in 1994, I believe, half a billion dollars. And I think that we --
Q Over five years?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Over five years. And I think we are -- you'd have to check this, Barry, but I think it's $175 million has been disbursed in the intervening period.
Q What about the laggards, the other donors who don't write their checks? Have you had any success lately?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: As you know, there has been an ongoing mechanism to coordinate donor activities, which met as recently as -- I think it was, what, three weeks ago in Brussels, to discuss how we could use some of the commitments that have been made previously, make them available on a real-time basis to meet some of the urgent needs that have developed in the Gaza and the West Bank over the past several months.
We did get some additional movement at that meeting, and we got some additional money, which was new money, as well. So we're encouraged by that. I mean, this is a never-ending problem, as you know.
Q That $175 million figure, what is the source of that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: My memory is the source of that.
Q Is that U.S. money or --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's U.S. money. That's U.S. money, yes.
Q Is Arafat seeking additional money or acceleration of the disbursal of --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He is not here seeking money. He is going to be here, and we are prepared to see him in the Oval Office. He is here in connection, I think, with a think tank meeting, which will be taking place tonight and tomorrow.
Q Let me put it a different way. Is the administration considering offering additional aid in addition to the half billion, or accelerating the disbursal of that half billion that is already committed?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think we're simply going to be reviewing where we stand and discussing what would be appropriate over the future.
Q This thing tomorrow, is it a luncheon that he is having with him or is it a one-on-one?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It will be -- it will be a meeting in the Oval Office. I believe the scheduled time is 9:45.
Q With other people or just him alone?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The format to be determined, I think.
Q Do you know what think-tank he's meeting at?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I can't remember the name of it.
Q How many times has he been to the White House?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Arafat? He had a meeting with the President last September, after the singing of the interim agreement. He, of course, had been here before for the original Oslo One signing in September of '93, as well. I think it is the third time, therefore.
Q Let me ask one further question on the subject of terrorism. Did you hear any discussion of the relationship between Israel and Turkey and what role Israel might play in that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It didn't come up.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 4:10 P.M. EDT