THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
3:20 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: I thought, given the extraordinary performance of the press corps in actually having a foreign visitor here at the White House in which every question dealt with the subject matter of this very important bilateral meeting, we are not planning to do much of any kind of readout on the meeting. There's not much more to be said beyond what the Prime Minister and the President have just said publicly in the press conference.
As to the President's reaction to the meeting, he, in general, thought it was a very enjoyable encounter with the Prime Minister. He looks forward to knowing even better, if he has the opportunity to continue his work in years ahead. That being President Clinton.
He found the personal interaction with the Prime Minister to be very valuable. The meeting at various points, as the President talked privately with the Prime Minister, got personal. They talked a little bit about their experiences, and the Prime Minister's experiences when he served here. The President took him aside at the conclusion of the press conference and they talked for quite a while in the Blue Room, and the President suggested if it's possible, just to put you on notice, that if they'd like to come back and have a tour later on -- the Prime Minister's wife is here and I believe one or two of his children are here -- and the President invited them, if they've got time, depending on their schedule, to come back down and take a little tour later. So you might see some commotion later if either the Prime Minister or his wife come back down.
But, in general, the President was delighted with the meetings. A couple of substantive points on what the President announced: He made reference to the first meeting of the joint U.S.-Israeli counterterrorism committee that was -- the discussion of which began in Sharm el-Sheikh. That first meeting will take place here in Washington sometime before the end of July. It will take place at the sub-ministerial level, but they have not determined participants at this point.
We can get -- we are getting more details on the early
warning missile launch package that the President also announced.
The goal here is to build on a prototype developed during the Persian
Gulf War that was provided by the United States to Israel at that
time. That prototype has now been developed and refined, and it is a
package that would enable Israel to have 24-hour-a-day,
365-days-a-year, real-time access to early warning of missile
launches in the region -- obviously, designed to deal with any
prospects in the future of missile proliferation involving rogue
or others in the region.
Q Mike, that includes the transfer of technology and equipment to Israel?
MR. MCCURRY: It is a provision of, I believe, through the U.S. base command directly to the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv of real-time signal intelligence, presumably.
Q And is that why it takes until the -- sometime before the end of next year for it to --
MR. MCCURRY: Just to set up the mechanism for making those transfers. It will be in place, as the President said, by the end of the year. They will work -- there will be a group of experts who will work between U.S. base command and Ministry of Defense Tel Aviv.
Q Is the first time this is -- was this talked about at all at Sharm al-Sheikh or at the meeting before --
MR. MCCURRY: There have been some discussions in the past about this, but we're in the position now to formalize this.
Q Different from what was announced when Peres was here the last time --
Q April 28th.
Q -- was that announced then?
MR. MCCURRY: This is -- my understanding is that it is a -- they had talked in general about that type of intelligence sharing, but they specified the form it will take now. And I'm getting more details as to the form.
Q Is there a dollar amount on this?
MR. MCCURRY: We're getting more details.
Q Mike, could you clarify a point? This did exist at the end of the Gulf War. Are you saying the United States government closed it down after the Gulf War?
MR. MCCURRY: It was provided during the Persian Gulf War, returned to the United States. But that was, in a sense, a prototype of the system that I understand will now be available. I'm going to get more details on it. Let's move on to another subject.
Q I just want a quick one -- a last one. Is this essentially technology or intelligence? You remember Deutch went to Israel -- does it grow out of that?
MR. MCCURRY: My understanding is that it's intelligence sharing, but obviously there needs to be in place the right type of hardware and the mechanisms to make that direct transfer, since it's a direct real-time transfer. And we're going to get more information on that for you.
Q The advance billing on the visit was there'd be some give by Netanyahu in several areas -- the fencing out of the Palestinian workers, something on Hebron maybe, something maybe on meeting with Arafat. Was the President -- well no, you're not responsible for advance billing.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of that advance billing. Let me just tell you --
Q Is the President disappointed on any of these fronts?
MR. MCCURRY: The President, as I just told you, was very satisfied with a very substantive and serious meeting. He looks forward to future exchanges with the Prime Minister.
Let me tell you what did happen. I'm not sure where you got the advance billing, but I can tell you what we said here and what we expected here because it's close to what happened.
There were obviously three areas that were significant in the discussions -- the Palestinians, the role that the discussions can play as they move into the final status talks; the needs on both sides, the Israeli side and the Palestinian side, of both security needs and economic needs as they deepen the process. That was clearly a key focus, as you can could tell from the press conference. Secondly, how to broaden the circle of dialogue that relates to Israel's place in the region and the peace process generally -- how do you engage Lebanon and Syria in a way that will advance each of those tracks.
And third, the whole concept of reciprocity and what is needed by both the people of Israel and the people in the region to take the next necessary steps towards peace. And the President clearly emphasized that reciprocity is a two-way street. And, obviously, with concern about terror and the need to address terror comes the need to make fruitful the benefits of peace. And they spent a great deal of time on that.
It's clear that the Prime Minister came here to have a very serious meeting with the President. This was far beyond a get-acquainted session because the substance of their dialogue very quickly moved into all of the most difficult issues in the process. And the President is satisfied that the Prime Minister is very serious about those issues, but that he is also, having just formed his government, in a position where he's still developing some of his own ideas and proposals and policies on those measures, as you could tell very clearly from what he said publicly, whether it was issues related to settlements or others.
Q Mike, there was a feeling that they are very close to announce a possible meeting between Netanyahu and Arafat, but then again nobody committed himself to anything. Was that concretely achieved?
MR. MCCURRY: I have nothing to add to what both the President and Prime Minister said at great length on that subject.
Q Was there any discussion of the committee to monitor the truce in Southern Lebanon?
MR. MCCURRY: No, that was swirling about earlier today, and you got, I think, an incorrect steer from wherever you got that. There was nothing about a phone call to Assad. That was rattling around here earlier today; I don't know where that came from. That was not a part of the discussion.
There is concern about how you -- as you know from State Department folks, there has been a lot of talk about how you formalize some of the arrangements that came out of Secretary Christopher's work related to Lebanon earlier this year. But a lot of that discussion has been in and around the State Department and was not a part of the President's conversation with the Prime Minister.
Q Do you know how satisfied the President was by the talks? Does he feel that perhaps he didn't assess him properly in the election? Did he misjudge the character of Netanyahu when he was making his statements earlier that seemed to be tilted the other way?
MR. MCCURRY: No. I mean, he has got -- he was pretty direct and blunt himself in addressing that. And I think it's clear that the President believes deeply in the Middle East peace process and believes that he must work with those who are determined to advance it.
Q Given our remarkable restraint earlier, would you entertain a question on minimum wage? The Republican version did not --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, let me tell you -- I expect the President at about 5:00 p.m. will be in the Rose Garden to react to the vote on minimum wage. Clearly, we are very satisfied with the defeat of the amendment by Senator Bond and are very hopeful that we'll have final passage of that very shortly.
Q And would he sign what the -- he would sign the package --
MR. MCCURRY: There is going to have to be more work on this in the conference. We're disappointed that Senator Kennedy's amendment failed, but there will be more work to come on the bill as it goes into conference. And clearly, there's work to be done on the House-passed version as well. But the administration is satisfied we've taken a step closer towards the minimum wage that millions of American people need. The President will have more to say on that shortly. I don't expect him to take any questions because he's just done a press conference.
There's one other thing that we are also announcing today. Earlier today the Bosnia Federation Parliament adopted a new defense law. Because of that and because of the satisfaction of our concerns about the presence of foreign fighting -- organized foreign fighting units in Bosnia, and the amelioration of that, the steps taken by the government of Bosnia-Herzegovina, we are announcing today are package for equipment and training and how that will work -- the contract, who the contractor will be, what defense items and material will be provided. It's $100-million package. And we'll also reaffirm what has been talked about publicly in that past, that there will be $140 million in training assistance available from other sources. We've got a statement from the President and a fact sheet that is now available, or soon to be available? Almost available, but it will be coming out soon.
Q Yes, but, Mike, just yesterday after the extensive Washington Post story and other reports, the State Department was talking about the need to look into reports of not hundreds of foreign fighters, but certainly a sizable Islamic contingent, not organized but there. Does that mean you're now satisfied that those folks are simply happily married to local ladies and not engaged in any deleterious behavior?
MR. MCCURRY: We are satisfied that the certification made by the President on June 26th is accurate and reflects the requirements, the stipulations of the Dayton Accords. That makes us no less vigilant when it comes to monitoring any foreign nationals who have taken up civilian roles or may be undercover or may be pursuing other walks of life, however temporarily.
And as I'm sure you've been told both at the Pentagon and the State Department, we will remain vigilant in monitoring the activity of those who we believe are still present. We do believe the number is far minimal compared to the presence at one time of perhaps thousands of Mujahadin in Bosnia. And we're convinced that we will have cooperation from the government of Bosnia-Herzegovina as we attempt to understand more about what type of activity they might pursue. The key thing to the President is they clearly are not an organized fighting force; they clearly don't have a military capability you would associate with an organized military force.
Q Will the President be in touch with any Arab leaders in sort of not reporting on the meeting with Netanyahu, but at least giving some flavor?
MR. MCCURRY: It is almost a matter of practice following a meeting at this level with those engaged in the Middle East peace process that we do share thoughts and view subsequently with other governments and certainly with the Palestinian Authority. In some fashion, that will happen. I don't necessary suggest that the President will do that directly, but either through Secretary Christopher or through others at the State Department, those in the peace process team here in our government, there will be an exchange of views with certainly the Egyptian government, certainly with Damascus, with Lebanon, and with the Palestinian Authority, and no doubt others as well.
Q Do you expect the President to have contact with any?
MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn't necessarily rule it out, but it has not always been the practice that the President directly engages.
Q What's the length of time on the meetings? Two hours?
MR. MCCURRY: He met for well over an hour and 45 minutes privately -- well, he met in the Oval Office for an hour and 45 minutes total. I believe about at least 45 minutes of that was privately with the Prime Minister. They were then joined by Secretary Christopher and by Mr. Gold on the Israeli side plus note-takers. That session then went on much longer than anticipated. In fact, the President and the Prime Minister instructed their delegations to go ahead and begin lunch, and they missed the first two courses. Mary Ellen can tell us what the first two courses were that they missed.
MS. GLYNN: We're working on the menu right now.
MR. MCCURRY: We're working on the menu; she doesn't have the menu. They got there in time for the salmon.
Q What was the total time then? Was it two and a half --
MR. MCCURRY: The luncheon then went on, the working luncheon went on for close to one hour. The President then had, again, a private tete-a-tete after the press conference, just it was more personal and social in nature.
Q Is there anything further you can say about Netanyahu's invitation to the President to come visit Jerusalem? That's routine to say we'd like you to come, but it sounded a little more than routine in this case. Might he do it soon or might he do it before November?
MR. MCCURRY: I have no indication that that would happen before November. But it also would not happen unless, as the President suggested, there was a sufficient reason through his presence in the region to help advance the process. As much as -- the President has enjoyed each and every trip that he's taken to Jerusalem, to Israel and would look forward to making another visit there. But it has been generally in connection with developments in the peace process.
That's clearly -- we're in the middle of working through a new set of concerns and dealing with a new set of perspectives. And we wouldn't suggest anything but that that's going to be hard work that will take some time. But the President was pleased with the reaffirmation and the commitment to the process that he received from the Prime Minister today.
Chilled sunchock soup with salmon and watercress.
Q Chilled what soup?
MR. MCCURRY: And rosemary and garlic roasted chicken, ragout of summer vegetables, shitake polenta with pan juices. Oh, that's what they missed.
Q Sounds like a --
MR. MCCURRY: Where was the salmon? I thought they had salmon.
Q Mike, before we get hungry here, the President stressed peace for security and security for --
MR. MCCURRY: It's the old trick that I was taught by Mr. Boucher at the State Department -- when you don't have substance, give them fluff -- (laughter) -- and make it as filling as possible.
Q The President stressed peace for security and security for peace. Has there been any rethinking in the White House in the past weeks on the question of land for peace?
MR. MCCURRY: No. Our views on land for peace have remained unchanged. The President conveyed them directly to the Prime Minister today. They had a good exchange of views on that subject.
Q Mike, were there any reassurances given within the meeting that perhaps weren't expressed publicly on the completion of the partial Israeli troop pullback from Hebron or on easing the closure to the Palestinian areas? The President specifically, I believe, referred to something about easing the closure --
MR. MCCURRY: I have nothing to add to what the President and Prime Minister said on those subjects. They spoke at length on those subjects.
Q Mike, is the U.S. still committed to providing money to the Palestinian Authority, especially in light that Netanyahu has a clear difference of opinion over their compliance than the State Department? And can you shed any light on --
MR. MCCURRY: Let me take that. First, I mean, we remain committed to economic revitalization in the West Bank and the territories. And indeed, we have used available forms of U.S. assistance towards that end. You also heard the Prime Minister here express very directly some understanding and appreciation of the economic burden that the Palestinian community faces as a result of the closures. He made it very clear that that is directly connected to the security threat that Israel perceives. And that certainly has been made clear by the government. But it was of note that the Prime Minister recognized that that is causing economic hardship for law-abiding citizens in the territories.
Q Can you go back to land for peace?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, there was a second part of the question.
Q Yes, can you shed any light on what list of violations of the accords Netanyahu may have brought with him to share with the President?
MR. MCCURRY: I cannot. And I believe that while there may have been some discussion of that, there was most likely more direct discussion in the Secretary of State's bilateral. They haven't briefed to that end.
Q I wanted to take you back to land for peace. Was it as flat as all that? Because you remember Netanyahu spoke of his -- that it's given to various interpretations of two U.N. resolutions. And he explains his interpretation, which sounded a little bit like land for peace, but not quite the Peres-Rabin version. Did the President just say flatly, we haven't changed our mind about land for peace, or was the President open to some varied interpretation of it? Because Netanyahu is not saying no land for peace.
MR. MCCURRY: You're right, the Prime Minister has a very nuanced presentation of views on 242 and 338, as he conveyed in the press conference. The President conveyed our views, which are well-known because we've said that often publicly. But it's clear that they -- that what remains substantially clear is that there has to be negotiations between the parties to resolve what are clearly different perspectives on the meaning of the those resolutions and on the whole meaning of the concept of land for peace. The only way that that question is resolved is not through discussions between the U.S. President and the Israeli Prime Minister, but between the government of Israel and the parties, and specifically with Syria when it comes to the Golan. And everybody knows that. And the President did not need to dwell on that point at length.
Q Wisconsin welfare -- tomorrow's the 30-day deadline. What's going to happen?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe that tomorrow is the 30-day deadline, but it's going to happen.
Q End of the comment period.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, the comment period is coming to an end, and it's going to happen. The President looks forward to that happening soon.
Q Speaking of tomorrow, what else -- any news tomorrow on the speech?
MR. MCCURRY: Nothing more on tomorrow.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 3:38 P.M. EDT