THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
12:36 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Let me pick up with not much more detail on what we know for the program tomorrow at this point. A short while ago, Ambassador Dennis Ross, our special Middle East coordinator, spoke with King Hussein, who was refueling at Shannon Airport in Ireland. He is expected in, I think, around 7:00 this evening. We will keep you posted as to whether the President and the King get together tonight or tomorrow morning. But I expect that they will have an opportunity to visit prior to the formal beginning of some of the discussions tomorrow.
Prime Minister Netanyahu, his delegation has been in touch with U.S. diplomats. They will be arriving, I gather, either around midnight or very early this morning. Chairman Arafat, as you know, is in Luxembourg for meetings right now with European Union officials, and it's our understanding that he will be departing and arriving here very early tomorrow morning.
The President had a very good conversation a short while ago with President Mubarak of Egypt. The President is very valued partner in the peace process, as you know, and President Clinton often discusses with him matters related to the peace process. President Mubarak had just met with Chairman Arafat and the President had wanted to get from President Mubarak some of his thinking. It's not possible for President Mubarak to be here for these discussions. They will be following the deliberations very closely. They will also be getting reports, obviously, from Egyptian Foreign Minister, Amre Moussa. But we will be closely engaged with the Egyptians.
Q What's his excuse?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to speak for President Mubarak, but his participation in all the deliberations and consultations that lead up to these meetings this week is very much appreciated.
Q Mike, Mubarak's office has been saying that the talks are postponed until Wednesday.
MR. MCCURRY: I just gave you our understanding of what the schedule is.
Q What is your understanding of the schedule?
Q No, you didn't say anything about when the meetings will actually occur.
Q You made no statement about this.
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, to the discussions tomorrow, we expect short working sessions individually with Chairman Arafat and then with Prime Minister Netanyahu, followed by a plenary session later in the day tomorrow. And, then, depending on where the dialogue is at that point, we'll make judgments about how best to proceed, whether they should break into a different format, whether we ought to use the State Department, Blair House or other venues for additional discussions. And then we do anticipate some type of working session on Wednesday morning.
Q Mike, who will be in those sessions? Can you give us a breakdown?
MR. MCCURRY: King Hussein, President Clinton, Prime Minister Netanyahu, Chairman Arafat. There may be others from the U.S. side.
Q You said first there will be short working individual sessions. Will the President --
MR. MCCURRY: I expect the President will meet bilaterally with Prime Minister Netanyahu, then Chairman Arafat, and then they will meet quadrilaterally.
Q Those will be here, but where will the other meetings go on?
MR. MCCURRY: Those are the -- these are the major meetings. They will occur here. If there are additional sessions, working sessions between some of the delegations or diplomats who are accompanying the principals to the meetings, we'll let you know where they might occur. There is some discussion of using Blair House, some discussion of the State Department.
Q Mike, just back on the Mubarak call. You had said earlier he hadn't given an answer. I'm assuming in this phone call is when you got the answer, or did the President try to convince him to come and was told no, or how did that --
MR. MCCURRY: They agreed yesterday that it was important for them to stay in close contact, given Chairman Arafat's visit to Cairo. And certainly President Clinton wanted to follow up with President Mubarak.
Q Right. But earlier this morning you said you still hadn't gotten the answer about whether Mubarak was coming.
MR. MCCURRY: We obviously just did get the answer.
Q Did the President try to convince him to come?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we strongly encouraged their participation given the value we place on President Mubarak's understanding of this process, his keen analysis of the issues that are embedded in the process. But we also understand that there are other ways that he has been a significant participant in this process.
Q Is he boycotting?
Q Wait a minute. Did he try to convince him to come or did he not?
MR. MCCURRY: We had hoped that he would come, but the purpose of this call was to follow up on the discussions that Chairman Arafat has just had with President Mubarak.
Q Did President Mubarak say that he would be in touch with Chairman Arafat during -- did you ask him to do that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he is routinely in touch with Chairman Arafat and we will be in touch with him as we go through the deliberations in coming days.
Q Mike, is it fair to say that the President failed to convince Mubarak to come?
MR. MCCURRY: It would be fair to say that we value his contributions to the process, that we were in close contact with him, and that he is a participant in some fashion because of the role that he has already played in leading up to this meeting.
Q What does the President expect from this meeting in Washington? Would he be satisfied if, at the conclusion of the meeting, the two parties, Israel and the Palestinians, go back to negotiations? Or does the President also expect some substantive moves by either party?
MR. MCCURRY: The President's primary objective in hosting this meeting is to see the parties reengaged on the substance of the peace process. You can tell the difficulty that we face in this process just in the lead-up to this conference. We have seen even some hesitancy even today on the part of Chairman Arafat. That reflects the level of distrust and misunderstanding that exists now. So above all else, our objective is to bring these parties together so they can resume the type of working relationship that has led to so much already in this process. That is our key objective.
Obviously it is also foremost on the President's mind that all these leaders do everything they can to see that the violence in the region subsides. So restoring calm, bringing an end to the violence, seeing that the parties reengage in this process are the objectives that we have for this meeting.
Q Mike, a couple of questions. Is it true that the United States administration would like to build on what has been achieved so far in the peace process and not to delve into the other sticking issues, like Hebron, like this tunnel, which has created a very hard situation now?
MR. MCCURRY: The United States cannot make judgments for the parties themselves about the issues that matter because those issues matter to the parties and we expect that they will raise the issues that matter to them. We are not excluding items from consideration for this conference. We fully expect all sides to bring the issues up that are relevant to those parties and to their constituencies.
Q The Palestinians, Mike, have a long agenda, including the continuation and implementation of the agreements which were signed in the previous administration. And I understand the Secretary of State said over the weekend that Hebron will be on the top of the list to try to bring about a --
MR. MCCURRY: The issue of the redeployment around Hebron is well-known. It has been a principal feature of the diplomacy that has already been conducted between the Palestinians and the government of Israel, and it's certainly expected on the part of the United States that that issue will arise, as will other issues. But we do not prejudge the party's ability to raise those issues that they consider significant. What we consider significant is they go back to the Oslo Agreement, the declaration, the embedded issues in the declaration process and reengage on the substance of those issues. That is the way to make progress looking forward, and that is far preferable than to assign blame or to look at issues that we hope can be put in the past.
Q Will there be a request or an appeal by the administration to cease all of these things which happened in the last seven days, including stationing of tanks and all the military people, the military gear, and disrupting the whole services of the Palestinians?
MR. MCCURRY: Without getting into the specific substantive matters you've raised, it will certainly be the goal of the United States to encourage the parties to do what they can to limit the violence and to restore calm to Israel and to the territories.
Q Mike, surely the administration has some proposals that could bring about a breakthrough in some way, some ideas. I mean, you're not just going in there without any plan at all?
MR. MCCURRY: We always go into these occasions prepared to do our best to facilitate the dialogue between the parties. But they ultimately have to resolve their differences themselves. They are responsible for making the agreements, they are responsible for implementing the agreements, we have a very deep understanding of what the issues are that divide them. And we will do, as we always do, our best effort to bridge their differences to help them understand each other's positions from the perspective that we have as a facilitator of this process. And that could conceivably involve helping them understand ideas that might allow them to bridge their differences.
Q Mike, how open-ended is the timetable for this summit? Is the President likely to defer his departure on Thursday from Washington if there's a feeling that you need more than two days? Camp David took almost two weeks.
MR. MCCURRY: The importance of this process requires the President to leave open his calendar. However, that said, I've given you the structure of the meetings and the essence of what we believe will be the format over Tuesday and Wednesday that will lead us to the point we can have a concluding session.
Q That was a little fast. Could you --
Q Would you expect the Chairman and the Prime Minister to meet -- do you expect the Chairman and the Prime Minister to meet one on one without the President?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to speculate. I've told you that they will meet separately, bilaterally with the President. They will then have a working session. Beyond that, I don't want to speculate what best might occur as they attempt to do the work the leaders are here to do.
Q You said Wednesday you thought there would be something, and I was a little unclear about what you were saying to Leo.
MR. MCCURRY: Our current understanding of how these meetings will participate would allow for the sessions I've told you about Tuesday, and then some type of working session and perhaps a luncheon Wednesday, with some concluding session that would be available to you for your understanding.
Q Mike, you mentioned just today there had been reluctance by Arafat to come here. What did the administration do to overcome that?
MR. MCCURRY: We certainly, through our contacts with the Palestinian delegation and with the Chairman pointed to the significance of the meeting, pointed to the opportunity that exists here for the parties to reengage on the substance of their dialogue, and pointed to the opportunity that exists for them to air differences that clearly are there between the parties. But first and foremost, it's an opportunity for both the Chairman and the Prime Minister to rebuild some level of trust as they work through the enormously complicated issues that lie at the heart of the peace process and as they deal with the very complex situation both of them are in in front of their own constituents and the people that they lead.
Q Mike, let me try this one more time. When the President sits down, separately with Arafat and Netanyahu, will he bring to them any U.S. idea to help to bridge this gap?
MR. MCCURRY: He will bring to them and analytical understanding of those ideas that they have already presented themselves and ideas on how they can bridge the difference between the positions. There is not a --
Q But nothing new, or something new?
MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn't suggest a negotiating paper or a formula. I'll say that we will play the role that we often play here to facilitate understanding and to try to help them bridge differences between the two parties.
Q You wouldn't say a paper?
Q Historically, Mike, in situations like this, the President usually doesn't get as directly engaged unless much of the agenda is already cooked. I mean, does the President face the prospect of possibly being dragged into negotiations on this deal?
MR. MCCURRY: No. He actually sought the opportunity to bring the parties here, but you're correct in saying that it is rare in this process that we engage at this level, at the highest level, without a preordained outcome. I think the fact that President Clinton took the step to call this session to invite the leaders here reflects the seriousness and gravity of this moment. There was no alternative because the alternative was quite clearly fundamental grave risk to the process itself. And that required, in the President's view, an extraordinary step which was the calling of this summit so that the leaders could hopefully reengage on the substance of the process itself.
Q Mike, just a few weeks ago when we had the latest Iraq crisis, we saw the peeling off of some of the coalition partners of 1991. The Saudis and the Turks wouldn't let us use their bases to launch strikes at Iraq. Today, you have rejection or snub or an absence from the Egyptians. Is there a diminution of American influence in the region as such that we're seeing that it's becoming increasingly difficult for Washington diplomacy to prevail over there?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I think, to the contrary, first the coalition in place to restrain and contain the behavior of Saddam Hussein is strong. Those countries that you just mentioned are, in fact, assisting in our efforts to enforce the no-fly zone. They are willing participants in the coalition established to restrain the behavior of Saddam Hussein. There has been no diminution at all in the strength of that coalition as it carries out the strategic interests that the coalition has identified in the region.
On the general question of the complexity of diplomacy in that region, it is difficult. It is always more difficult to make peace and a lot of people resort to violence to express their frustrations. But that's why we have pursued this process so carefully and deliberately. And it is why we have weathered all manner of bumps in the road as we've gone along and deepened the process that exists.
Just review back where we've been over the last three years and the impressive gains that Israel has made in that region in cooperation with Arab partners, review the peace process that has led to a very fundamental strategic decision for peace between Jordan and Israel and the benefits that arrive from that -- King Hussein's participation tomorrow reflecting that. The United States is the indispensable element of leadership in resolving the troubles that exist in that region, playing the role that we have continued to play since Madrid.
Q Just to follow up on that -- as far as the Arab-Israeli conflict is concerned, there's always been in the Arab world a moderate front and a rejectionist front, and American diplomacy has been geared to expanding the moderate front and shrinking the rejectionist front. With Egypt that was presumed to be a leader of the moderate Arab forces not coming to Washington, aren't you facing a reversal of this pattern?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, absolutely. It is almost ludicrous to suggest that the government of Egypt is now somehow or other associated with the rejectionist element in Islam. That is just simply not true, as reflected in the very careful work that President Mubarak has done with Chairman Arafat in preparation for these meetings. They remain a very key, very valued component part of the Middle East peace process and a country which led the way among the Arab nations in establishing peace with Israel. There has been no change at all in that role.
Q Mike, in persuading all of these people to come here, did we offer any assurances to any side that we would push for specific results to any of the specific issues dividing them?
MR. MCCURRY: We attached no preconditions to the discussions. But we asked only that the leaders arrive in a frame of mind to address the fundamental questions that will before them over the next two days: How can we restore calm? What can we do to bring an end to the violence? How can we reengage so that the process is advanced rather than slipping away into turns to reversing course?
Q Mike, has the U.S. found, in consultations with other allies outside of the Middle East, a continuation of the sort of angry at Israel that was being expressed sometimes last week about sort of precipitating this whole thing? And what, if anything, has the U.S. or can the U.S. do to allay this?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've expressed our view that the antidote to frustrations and exasperation are the type of dialogue -- or is the type of dialogue -- that the President will help sponsor over the next few days. We're aware of the views of other governments. Those were reflected in the decision taken by the United Nations Security Council on Saturday. You're aware of our position on that question.
We believe that the best thing that we can do, and the best thing the international community can do at this point is to encourage the parties to directly address their grievances, their issues, their disputes and to continue to make progress implementing the agreements they've already reached.
Q Mike, you said a little while ago that you would ask the parties to go back to Oslo and reengage on the substance of those issues. Does that mean the President regards Hebron as something that should be reopened and renegotiated?
MR. MCCURRY: The status of that issue is clearly defined by the parties themselves, and the issue of redeployment is one that both of the parties are directly addressing and will need to continue to address.
Q Mike, President Clinton is significant to the Oslo Accords and he hosted the -- you know, that declaration of principals three years ago. You said that you would enter as a facilitator. Will he be entering as a full peace partner and employ all the faculties that are available and to the diplomacy of the United States that has been supported three years ago?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the United States will use its offices as it has in the peace process to facilitate direct dialogue between the parties. Ultimately the parties, themselves, have to reach the agreements and that's the role we play. Our role is to facilitate their direct discussions that resolve their differences that lead to the implementation of the agreements they've already signed.
Q What about the -- ground that has been created by the tunnel and a few other things, and the declaration by Mr. Netanyahu that Jerusalem is not negotiable, although Jerusalem is the final analysis of the talks.
MR. MCCURRY: The Prime Minister has committed himself to the pursuit of the Oslo process, which identifies Jerusalem as it is identified in the declaration.
Q Is the campaign worried that this is going to take up too much time from his debate preparation? And, if necessary, is he willing to postpone his trip on Thursday?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to address the question of scheduling until we see where we are on Thursday or Friday. But the President, you know, has got responsibilities first and foremost now to conduct a very important meeting that is key to the peace process. His focus will be on that, properly so. And the President is talented enough that he can address the other assignments he has in this fall campaign season.
Q Mike, while the U.S. can't make judgments for the parties themselves to bridge the differences, does the President have an opinion on whether the Israeli troops should get out of Hebron and whether the Tunnel should be closed?
MR. MCCURRY: We don't make the parties work to address their differences more complicated by taking positions on issues that the parties themselves must resolve.
Q With regard to overcoming Chairman Arafat's hesitancy this morning, did this government enlist support from the Europeans to coax him to Washington and, whether it did or not, will the Europeans have any kind of role at the summit?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they are playing a role, in a sense, already by meeting today with Chairman Arafat, by lending their encouragement, as they have publicly to the process that will be underway here in Washington. Their participation in this process is always valued because the international community itself must support and sustain these parties as they make their agreements, as they implement their agreements, as they resolve their differences.
Q Will they have anybody at any of these meetings, either high or lower levels?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, as to the case with a number of governments that are instrumental in this process -- the Russian Federation, surely; the government of Japan, surely -- we will be keeping all of these participants and partners well briefed as these discussions occur. But first and foremost, the dialogue must be between the parties themselves as they address the differences that they have.
Q On that, Mike, what consultations with the Russian Federation and what role, expected role, if any?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they are -- I'll have to check and see the level of consultation. But there has been consultation with the Russian Federation. I don't know whether that's occurred through the Embassy or --
Q Do you know if it's been over the weekend or what?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe over the weekend. We can find out in greater detail.
Q You mentioned Amre Moussa, the Foreign Minister of Egypt. Will he be here during, and in the discussions as a kind of a delegate of President Mubarak?
MR. MCCURRY: I do not have an answer to that. We'll have to do that later. I also understand Secretary Christopher will be -- he's got an engagement this afternoon -- may be saying some more publicly around 3:00 p.m. And they plan a backgrounder over at the State Department, too. So as the afternoon develops, we may have some more answers probably coming out of our peace team working over at the State Department.
Q Did Mubarak tell the President why he's not coming and you just don't want to tell us?
MR. MCCURRY: I just -- it's not my role to explain scheduling decisions make by the President of Egypt.
Q This is about scheduling?
Q But I mean it wasn't always --
MR. MCCURRY: The government of Egypt indicated yesterday -- the government of Egypt indicated that he had a scheduling conflict. They did that publicly yesterday.
Q Mike, will you brief again later in the day?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't anticipate briefing again today because that's about where we are. And as I say, there will be more details at State that will be available.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 12:55 P.M. EDT