THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
2:30 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon. You all heard the President earlier today describe for you his own feelings about public comments amidst very sensitive discussions such as those that are now occurring. I'll tell you at the outset that I am going to follow my President's admonition and describe very little for you about the substance of the dialogue that's underway. In fact, I won't do any of that. The only thing I can do that will help you is to describe a little bit about what's occurred so far today and what's going on right now.
Why don't I take a minute and do that and then take whatever questions you might have.
The President began his discussions today, as you know, meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu. He met for about 40 minutes, one on one with the Prime Minister, which was considerably longer than we had planned for. The President described that as a very warm conversation, as you would expect two very close allies, two very friendly nations to have at a moment when we're dealing with very difficult, very complicated issues. It was clear from the body language of the two that they enjoyed that conversation. It was certainly a very serious one, but it was one that occurred between two leaders I think we could safely characterize as friends.
The two delegations from both sides joined the Prime Minister and the President. They met for an additional 10 minutes in the Oval Office -- in total, about 50 minutes worth of meetings with the Israelis.
Chairman Arafat then arrived, as you know. He met with his delegation and the U.S. delegation with the President in the Oval Office for about 30 minutes, and did a review of various issues underway; again, a very constructive, very warm conversation. The President's had more opportunities to meet together with the Chairman and they are able to do business, I think, as two fairly experienced leaders who know how to cut through a lot of the issues and get to the central questions that are certainly embedded in the dialogues, in the dialogue taking place here today.
Q Would you describe them as friends, too?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, yes, absolutely. Absolutely. The President has a great deal of respect for the Chairman. They have a very cordial and a very friendly way in which they do business.
Q It was one on one?
MR. MCCURRY: Why don't we just hold on here and then I'll walk through some of the rest of this.
The President then asked the two delegations to retire. He and the Chairman met for about 20 minutes privately. So again, they met about 50 minutes total with the Palestinian side. We then were joined by King Hussein. His Majesty arrived at the White House just prior to the conclusion of the second meeting. And we took a break to prepare for the arrival of many of you for the photo opportunity.
In fact, one humorous moment -- we asked Ambassador Dennis Ross, our special Middle East Coordinator, to go across the hall and just sort of check the temperature before we ushered in the press corps. And Dennis went into the Roosevelt Room to find the Chairman, the Prime Minister and King Hussein together talking in a very amiable way. They had clearly shaken hands and exchanged greetings and were preparing to see the President. So he then ushered them in. And the very relaxed atmosphere that you saw in the Oval Office very much characterized the day.
Q What room was that?
MR. MCCURRY: That was in the Roosevelt Room.
Q He saw them shake hands or he just knew that they had?
MR. MCCURRY: They did. We had several U.S. officials
Q Is there a photograph of that moment?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe. We can check. I don't know if there was a photographer there at the time.
Q Are they friends?
MR. MCCURRY: The President then invited the three leaders and some of their senior officials into the Oval Office for the four-way meeting that then occurred. They met around from about 1:15 p.m. until roughly 2:00 p.m. -- so around 45 minutes they met together. That was an impressive session by the descriptions by many of those there. The President summarized the conversations he had had with the Prime Minister and the Chairman, gave his own perspective on some of the differences that clearly do exist in their respective positions, but also talked about some of the ways in which they might be able to bridge some of those differences.
The King spoke next -- the President invited King Hussein to then speak. The King gave what everyone described as a very emotional appeal to these parties to honor the commitments both have made to peace and to try to do everything possible to erase the anger and the frustration of recent days, and to move into a more constructive relationship that would allow them to deal with some of the differences that exist. He said he considered this in some ways almost a religious obligation and talked about how he, himself, prays five times a day for peace and how all of the people in that room have that fundamental obligation. It was a very impressive, and some said very emotional moment in that meeting.
Prime Minister Netanyahu then made a presentation, speaking alternatively to the group, but sometimes directly addressing Chairman Arafat, sometimes directly addressing the King. And then Chairman Arafat spoke, addressing many of his remarks directly to the Prime Minister, but sometimes to the larger group.
I would describe all of these conversations as being sober, but very constructive and very helpful. You'll recall that our own assessment of the situation, the President's rationale for bringing these leaders here is that we're at a moment in this process in which a great deal of trust has been lost, and a great deal of anger, frustration, suspicion had begun to permeate the environment for the dialogue that must occur if the Middle East peace process is to deepen and to nurture the contacts that the parties have in the region.
Certainly, the discussion so far today have gone a long way towards reestablishing that notion of trust that must exist between the parties as they have their discussions. The President suggested to the leaders -- wanting to be a good host, he said, why don't you allow me to serve you a lunch. They then, instead of departing -- we had originally anticipated that the leaders would have departed the White House by now -- instead, the four leaders walked over to the Residence. They began a lunch in the library a short while ago and the King and the President have now withdrawn from that lunch, and Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister Netanyahu are dining together alone, talking in a very serious way about some of the issues that they face. We expect them to be there for quite some time.
Q How did that exactly come about?
MR. MCCURRY: That came about, I think, through suggestion advanced by the President and by the King.
Q Did Netanyahu and Arafat know that this was going to -- that the other two were going to withdraw from lunch and leave them there?
MR. MCCURRY: That was not the scenario that had initially been planned, but one that seemed to make sense, given the conversations today. These are two leaders that have a great deal of work to do, and they have a number of very deep differences that divide them. And they've got -- it's very important, I think, for them to establish a personal relationship that allows them to deal very honestly and very forthrightly with the differences that do exist.
Q Did the President and the King discuss this sort of plan together when they met last night -- maybe we can get them to talk to each other if we invite them to lunch and then we leave -- sort of matchmaking?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we try to work through the complexity of these discussions in ways that will be conducive to the type of face-to-face dialogue that has always been the only way in which you can advance the process itself. This process has only worked in which both the Palestinians and the Israelis have been able to deal with their differences directly together, taking on the burden of resolving differences themselves because, in fact, no one from the outside can do that for them. They have to address --
Q No aides? No Americans were sitting in at all? They're absolutely alone?
MR. MCCURRY: There was originally a plan to have them joined by what is, in effect, the foreign ministers from both. They did have some of their staff there for a while. But the staff then decided they would go and have lunch together. In fact, they're dining across the hall in the China Room. That is the room that houses the China collection. And they --
Q Mike, Mike --
Q Do they have aides or translators?
MR. MCCURRY: Can you please just hold -- one at a time? I'll stay here as long as you can --
Q Mike, when did these two leaders know this was going to happen and who told them?
MR. MCCURRY: During the course of the meeting --
Q Which meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: During the course of the meetings this morning that the President had with both, he said that he would be interested in seeing what they could do to foster and environment today in which they might be able to start dealing with some of these differences. Now, by no means, would I suggest that they are resolving any of the deep disagreements that exist, but they are --
Q Did both then agree to do that, did both agree that they would sit down together, one on one, at some point in the day?
MR. MCCURRY: The nature of the conversation today was such that it was clear that they could work together and begin to have the kind of dialogue that will resolve, we hope, their differences, beginning in this kind of format.
This is, obviously, only the second time that they have met face to face. They've only met once before. They've talked by telephone once before. This meeting is certainly of a different type than the meeting they had before. It is much more relaxed, more informal, and we hope will be conducive to them really beginning to deal directly with very, very difficult issues that still are part of this process.
Q So what happens after the Arafat-Netanyahu meeting is done? The Blair House talks, are they still on hold or what happens to them?
MR. MCCURRY: The foreign ministers have retired to the Blair House. Secretary of State Christopher led the delegations over there and they are now -- they're having lunch, doing some work together on issues, discussing some of the same issues that, no doubt, the two leaders are discussing. They are also then available to be available to the leaders if the leaders are looking for some additional input on technical aspects of some of these issues.
Q As they're sitting there alone, Mike, is there any set of proposals that were already put on the table, for example, the King's proposal to have a committee? Do they actually address themselves to a specific set of proposals?
MR. MCCURRY: I know you're all very interested in specific proposals. The nature of the discussions so far, even though substantive issues have been raised -- and certainly each of the two parties have raised those issues that are most relevant to them and have been of concern to them. In some cases, you would almost describe them as some of the grievances that have been raised. Those issues have been raised, they've been aired, they've been talked about in a very honest, forthright, candid environment.
They are not at a point yet in which they are tabling proposals to resolve these differences, unless that is occurring unknown to me right now, between the two leaders. I don't suspect that's happening. I think that we're -- take it back several steps from there -- this is a point, after a moment of crisis in this process, in which these leaders really needed to show and demonstrate to each other that they could enter into this type of dialogue with confidence that both were making good-faith efforts to bridge differences. They're not at a point yet where they're exploring specific formulae for resolving these differences. That, if it comes, will no doubt come down the road at some point.
But in our view, it was very, very fundamental to this process to see if we could not get these two leaders to reengage, to begin to address the substance that divides them, and we believe we've made a positive step in that direction today.
Q Mike, they are still meeting, they are still dining, or did they finish the meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: They are still dining now, and as near as we can tell from the delegations, they're prepared to stay there for some more time.
Q They have their aides with them now or --
MR. MCCURRY: No, they're together, alone, with interpreters. Is that correct? Can you check? I assume the interpreters are there.
Q Just interpreters. So it would be four people in the room?
MR. MCCURRY: They're still checking on it, actually. The word I had is that the two of them were there alone, but I would imagine they also might have interpreters available.
Q Could you say roughly when the lunch began and roughly when the King and the President withdrew -- i.e., how long they've been alone together, together alone?
MR. MCCURRY: Lunch began about 2:15 p.m., and the President and the King I believe stayed for 15, 20 minutes.
Q What did they have for lunch?
MR. MCCURRY: They're having a pan-roasted chicken with melange of vegetables -- (laughter) -- cous-cous, and for dessert, carrot cake with hazelnut creme and a side of caramelized bananas.
That's about the only specific information that I've said, but I sure babbled well.
Q So they've been there 15 minutes together?
Q Netanyahu and Arafat started their one-on-one about 2:35 p.m., which is just when you walked out here?
MR. MCCURRY: Let's double-check. Probably about 20 minutes ago. So they're underway.
Q I never got the answer to my first question, which was this idea of withdrawing something that the President and King Hussein spoke about last night when they met together.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to get too much into the sausage-making, but how we might create the right environment for discussions today is something that certainly is part of the President and the King's discussion last night.
Q Do you consider this, Mike, as, if you will, a breakthrough?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't consider this a breakthrough -- a breakthrough in our opinion, is they begin to make progress on the issues that are a fundamental part of the Oslo process embedded in the declaration. Remember where we have been over the last week. We've been in a profoundly grave moment in the process in which the capacity of these two sides to have this type of dialogue was just not present, period. Reestablishing some ability for the leaders to address their differences directly was one of our principal goals here and we've moved in that direction today.
I wouldn't describe it as anything more than it is -- there is discussion underway, they were very constructive, at times very sober, once or twice sometimes emotional discussions that occurred here today. But they are all part of airing those issues that must be aired if the process is to move forward.
Q Any reason why Foreign Minister Amre Moussa did not attend the summit?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the preference of the Egyptian government was to have Foreign Minister Moussa available here for consultations, but not to be a participant. And we honored and respected the wishes of the Egyptian government and President Mubarak.
Q Mike, I'm still not quite clear what -- and maybe it isn't clear to anybody -- what happens with the principals once the lunch process is over.
Q Yes, when they finish lunch.
MR. MCCURRY: They will have lunch. They will continue their dialogue however long they choose. At some point, we expect them to retire -- presumably to go back to where their delegations are based. We'll keep you alert to what we anticipate happening.
Tomorrow, we do expect that they will come back for some further discussions. Tomorrow obviously, we are interested in finding some way of summarizing the work here as best we can.
Q But no Blair House?
Q Excuse me, do they meet further this afternoon in the Oval?
MR. MCCURRY: The President was told by his delegation based on all the discussions and based on his own sentiment that he was probably not going to be called upon again today to do anything unless he needed to, at any specific point, answer a question or make a telephone call. He is available to them if he needs to be available.
Q What about Blair House?
Q Will the leaders be going to Blair House, do you think?
Q Is that off now?
MR. MCCURRY: No, as I say, Blair House has got --
Q But I mean the leaders.
MR. MCCURRY: -- minister-level discussions underway. The leaders are here.
Q But you don't expect them to go over there to meet with Christopher or --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't -- I expect what they're doing now is what they're going to be doing for the balance of the day.
Q Mike, I know you said that it was a little too early in the process to be talking about substitute proposals on the table, but what is it then that the foreign ministers could be discussing?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they've got -- they can review other issues that are part of it -- the sequencing, the timing, identifying the issues. Foreign ministers know how to spend their time when leaders are meeting. They do it all the time.
Q What do you think -- what does the President think of the Prime Minister going to see Dole today?
MR. MCCURRY: It's very much -- very appropriate, certainly appropriate to meet with leaders of the opposition party. And in this case, since we have a presidential campaign underway, very appropriate for him to meet with the Republican Party nominee.
Q Then why shouldn't he meet with both sides?
MR. MCCURRY: Say again?
Q Who, Perot?
MR. MCCURRY: With Perot -- I don't -- I can't --
Q No, no, no. (Laughter.)
Q Any idea for a press conference with all of them, including the President?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't anticipate anything of that nature today. And we'll let you know what happens tomorrow when we have a better idea.
Q Is it fair to say that the United States' role today was to bring the two men together and allow them to get talking to one another by themselves in a room. And if that's true, how do you expect to get the readout other than some microphone on what their conversation was?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we think that one of the principal goals today was to reestablish some element of trust in these discussions so that the dialogue could begin to air differences and that they could begin to deal with those differences. Certainly, their ability to do that face to face, then communicate that to their delegations, then to ask whatever assistance they want of the United States in our role as a facilitator, or of the King, or of the Egyptian government since the Egyptian government is nearby -- that is an elemental part of this process. That if they make progress on their own, that's preferable to anything. If they need assistance from those of us who are available to help, we are available.
Our goal today again, as we said yesterday, was to restore some element of trust in this process to reinvigorate the process itself so that the leaders could deal with their differences. And we've taken a positive step in that direction today.
Q I know you can't talk about specifics, but after listening to the two sides separately, did the President have a sense that these are things that can be surmounted and it was just a question of just being willing for each side to give a little, or what was his mood after --
MR. MCCURRY: The President's sense I would describe as being almost as it was prior to the meeting, that these are enormously difficult and complicated questions that the parties have to address. They, themselves, are in difficult positions as they deal with the cross-currents that exist in the region and in their own constituencies, that it takes a great deal of courage for them to do what they have done -- to rise up in the face of some animosity, to come together and to try to address these differences in a forthright way.
That is something that we had hoped for. It's something that has happened today, and we hope it can lead to progress as they address these issues. But we did not hear today the formula that suggests that there are easy answers to these difficult questions.
Q When you say that trust has been restored -- really all that's happened today is that they are talking to each other. How does that evidence trust? How do you define trust?
MR. MCCURRY: The ability on some of these issues where the positions are well-known -- in fact, and sometimes the public articulation of those positions is well-known to you -- the ability to talk about those ways in a nonbelligerent manner, to take some things to one side or the other side have been seen as provocative acts and to raise them in a nonconfrontational way so that they can be aired and understood by all sides, so that in this case, the King and the President can lend some outside perspective on these disagreements -- that's an encouraging development. By no means does that resolve all of the questions. But it does evidence some element of trust that exists between the parties that they're able to honestly and candidly address these differences.
Q Would you define trust as actually accepting the other side's word for something and --
MR. MCCURRY: Understanding the difficulties that the other side perceives, seeing a genuine concern for perception and how things are understood on the other side, and that's an elemental -- I think an elemental moment for any good-faith negotiation is when one side is able to see merit in the other side's position even if there are disagreements, strong disagreements with the position.
Q Mike, you said this morning that it's not possible at this moment to be encouraged about the Middle East peace process and you were very gloomy. Has your assessment changed since then?
MR. MCCURRY: I would not say gloomy, I would say that we are at a very, very difficult moment. We are still at that moment. We have not passed through a moment of crisis because there's still anger, there are still people who are hoping that peace can mean something tangible on the ground in changes in the way people live lives.
We haven't seen that moment arrive yet. We've seen only a willingness on the part of these leaders to try to get back to a path that heads to that destination. In a sense, these leaders turned around and saw the other path, which led into the abyss of more violence, into an escalation of a cycle that we've seen in that region before. And they've turned away from that path and turned in a brighter direction. That doesn't mean that they're going to get there; it doesn't mean that the destination is nigh; it means that there's a willingness now to walk that pathway and see if they can resolve differences. And that's better than where we were a week ago.
Q Mike, is there a photograph of the Prime Minister and the Chairman together in the library? Was there a White House photographer in there at any point during the lunch?
MR. MCCURRY: Apparently, there weren't. But we could --
Q What about when they -- in the Roosevelt Room?
Q What would you say, Mike, is the exact role of King Hussein? Is he sort of trying to assist the President in getting the positions of the two sides closer -- in a way?
MR. MCCURRY: I would say partly that -- partly today his role was inspiration. He spoke in a very moving way about the choice for peace that he made, about what it has meant to the people of Jordan, what it has meant to him personally as a reigning monarch. And from that perspective, I think his contribution today was to lend some moral authority to the notion that these leaders were really doing something noble by trying to address these differences and move forward. But he also has a very keen insight into the process itself.
He also, frankly, thanked the President for calling this session together and said that without it we were at a moment of peril. And that was echoed by the Chairman, echoed by the Prime Minister. So there clearly was some gratitude to the United States for providing an opportunity for the sides to air these differences, to begin to understand better the perspectives of each other.
Q Mike, do you consider that this afternoon, the one-on-one session between the Chairman and Mr. Netanyahu, as the beginning of a -- that requires more time -- that the two of them will be in the neighborhood of each other and exchanging all of these opinions? Do you think that you will go from here to extended marathon discussion that Mr. Netanyahu said when he was coming to Washington?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that those of you familiar with the issues that they have been dealing with -- and they are very difficult issues -- know that not one lunch and one afternoon conversation are going to resolve those, that there would be a lot of work that would lie ahead. We certainly anticipate that. In fact, the structure of the declaration anticipates that in the timing for and sequencing of some of the deliberations that the parties have identified.
So of course, we expect that there will be more work that they will do, more negotiating. They will have to turn to their -- the technical expertise of some of the people who are here as members of the delegation. Certainly Foreign Minister Levy, certain Abu Masen are both going to have to engage along with Dennis Ross and Secretary Christopher. And there will be a great deal of work left to do today -- my guess is tonight and going into the session tomorrow. At that point, we might be in a better position to tell you substantively how some of their discussion have unfolded.
Q Could you explain or describe more of what Clinton said or desired? You've been helpful about what King Hussein has said, but could you do the same for President Clinton?
MR. MCCURRY: I would say the President's presentation both this morning individually to the Prime Minister and to the Chairman, and then collectively as he summarized his morning meetings, was to identify the reasons why he had called this session -- why he felt it was a moment that required this level of diplomacy; to then sketch out the danger that exists, that exists now in the process because of the misapprehensions that people have about the motives of others; and then point towards way in which the parties can directly engage, to begin to break down those barriers that exist to agreement.
And I think he sketched that out very carefully. He was very animated in his presentations both separately with the Chairman and the Prime Minister, and then in summarizing the results for the parties as they met in their quadrilateral format.
We yield to the State Department.
Q Are they discussing -- either the two leaders or the trio or the quartet -- discussing possible solutions, such as Netanyahu's proposal on the way here for open-ended talks someplace else once the summit is over?
MR. MCCURRY: There are a number of ideas that have been advanced by each of the participants. The President has some ideas growing out of his conversation with the King; certainly the Prime Minister and the Chairman both have specific concerns and specific ideas that they have raised. I'd say that, yes, there are substantive discussions of that nature occurring. Where they will lead, I can't give you a clue at this point because we honestly do not know.
Q Mike, at tomorrow's meeting are they also going to take place in the White House between the leaders?
MR. MCCURRY: We anticipate that they will gather again here tomorrow, but as you can see from today, sometimes the scenario that we outline ends up changing at the last minute.
Q After Netanyahu's meeting with Dole, do you see a possible resumption of Netanyahu-Arafat talks tonight?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to speculate because they clearly are engaged directly one-on-one now and they will have to report to you what their own plans are if they choose to do something of that nature.
Q I'd like to come back to the point of translators. Different participants are comfortable to different degrees in English, and you've talked about how eloquent the King was. Was he speaking English, was he speaking Arabic? I was wondering if you could get a readout on the language of use after various encounters.
MR. MCCURRY: He spoke in English at that point. Some of the participants had translations provided in Hebrew. The Prime Minister obviously spoke in English, as did the King. The Chairman spoke in Arabic, but at times in English, as he frequently does in these sessions.
By the way, I'm told that even now, that their luncheon still goes on. The interpreters are with them. So it's the two of them sitting at the table together, and they have behind them individual interpreters.
Q How would you know, Mike, what's the substance of the talks that they had between them only if you had the interpreters and are not prepared to take notes?
MR. MCCURRY: As I said earlier, we will rely upon them as two men of goodwill who clearly are dealing with each other in good faith to report back to their delegations so we can exchange views with them as we would normally in any diplomatic encounter.
Q Are the President and King Hussein together during this period, or are they split apart?
MR. MCCURRY: The King has now departed, he left a short while ago. And the President visited for a short while with the King prior to the King's departure.
Q Mike, based on the positive atmospherics that you outlined over this lunch, it would seem like the minimum result or minimum scenario that would result is a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in some form. Do you expect that will happen now, or is there a greater chance that that will happen now, given what you've experienced so far?
MR. MCCURRY: I think our expectations were those that we described for you. We can't say that they have been satisfied yet because they've only just begun, and we'll see where they go throughout the balance of the day today, and tomorrow we'll be in a better position to summarize where we are.
Q Is there a better chance now?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to rate chances. I think we have to give these leaders some space to breathe and to deal with each other and to see if they can establish a relationship that allows them to make progress on the issues that they have. The first and most important thing was to see them engage and talk. That has happened today and certainly that's better than we were the day before, but what it all means remains to be seen.
Q Bob Dole today called the administration's foreign policy a photo op.
MR. MCCURRY: It's not worth taking time to respond to that.
Q Is it a problem? It's been two or three days --
Q Mike, that's a legitimate question.
MR. MCCURRY: The President was doing very, very hard work today, and I think Senator Dole, in his heart of hearts, knows that. I can understand his frustration in wanting to try to make some news today, but I'll just leave aside what -- I'll leave aside his comments and try to stay focused on the work the President's doing here.
Q You don't find them troublesome? I mean, are they a problem for the administration trying to conduct an important summit at this point?
MR. MCCURRY: No. In fact, it's probably not very much noticed.
Q The Republican criticism was directed clearly at the notion of pressure. Aside from the cous-cous and the chicken, is there anything there behind the scenes that is going to pressure Prime Minister Netanyahu to say yes to what he was already asked -- close the tunnel temporarily, for example?
MR. MCCURRY: I will make a couple of things clear about the way the United States engages in this process. Pressure does not work in the Middle East peace process; it never has. The only thing that works is patient and painstaking diplomacy. That's been the history of this entire process. It's the way it was launched at Madrid, it's been the way it has proceeded at every moment along the way. I would make clear to those who have suggested that we somehow or other were going to lean on Prime Minister Netanyahu that that's not the way we deal with a government that is a close friend of the United States. It is certainly not the way we would deal with any Prime Minister the President respects, as he does respect Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Patience is a virtue in this process. Impatience is the enemy of peace. And that requires this President to understand the difficulties that the Prime Minister faces, that the Chairman faces; understand the political culture in which they must operate, understand the pressures they face on the street and within their own constituencies, and to advance ideas and dialogue in a very careful and a disciplined way. Pressure does not work. Extracting concessions doesn't usually work. What we have to do is to create understanding between parties. And that's what the President has attempted to do today.
Q Many of the issues that these people have now agreed to talk about were seemingly settled right here almost a year ago to the day. Why is it a big deal if they're now talking about it; how is that a step forward?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, because, Gene, I mean, look back at what's happened in the region in this past week. An explosion in violence, in some respects some of the worst violence we've seen since 1967, with the exception of the awful incidents of terrorism that occurred. And that changes the climate in which parties can fulfill agreements, and it can raise doubts and raise suspicions and raise apprehensions, and lead to doubt. And that's -- the first thing that has to be done in that type of circumstance is restore confidence.
If you suggest that really you're only back to square one, there's some truth to that. We really are trying to get them back to a place where they can implement those agreements that they have already made, but understand that one of the agreements they've already made is to identify very specific issues that are fundamental to the Palestinian people and the Israeli people and to deal with those.
Q As the conversations were going on, as the discussion was going on, did you anticipate or did you expect that this one-on-one lunch between President Arafat and Mr. Netanyahu today, that a script like this, that they would stay talking up until now?
MR. MCCURRY: We thought that might be a helpful way for them to do the work that they need to do. We put that idea in motion earlier today in discussions, and as you can see, it has worked to give them the opportunity that we thought they needed to begin to deal with these differences.
Q The President and the Secretary of State, they feel good or are beginning to feel good about this summit that is going on now?
MR. MCCURRY: We're not at a point yet to "feel good." We're at a point where we are laying the basis for doing some hard work that lies ahead.
Q Mike, did either the Chairman or the Prime Minister say they preferred face-to-face talks rather than mediation by the Secretary of State?
MR. MCCURRY: No. They both have enormous respect for the Secretary of State, but as we have said, and the Secretary of State has said, this process has worked best when they are in direct dialogue with each other to move ahead.
Q Mike, would you conclude on the basis of what happened today and what you would expect to happen the rest of today and tomorrow that the peace process has resumed?
MR. MCCURRY: I'd say that the peace process was at a very fragile state. The Secretary of State used a good metaphor the other day; it's like riding a bicycle -- you have to keep riding, because if you stop you'll fall over. It had not stopped, but it was really teetering. And what they did today was, they just decided to pedal a little harder and we'll have to see where they go. In essence, we don't know if it's going to change the circumstances or lead to a resolution of the issues that do exist, but at least it is moving in a better direction than the alternative.
Q Mike, just logistically, will you give us a heads-up when they're wrapping up?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, we can do -- we're going to have to adjust some of our plans for coverage as we go along, obviously, because the scenario is adjusting even as we speak.
Q Do you plan another formal readout of this type?
MR. MCCURRY: There's probably not going to be much more -- I've managed to dance and babble here for quite some time -- there's not going to be a lot more to offer in terms of substance. We can give you maybe some logistics information, that they ended at such and such a time, and here's what we understand their plans are for the balance of the day, but I don't know that there's going to be any more substance.
Q Can we get a shot of them leaving -- a photo op of them leaving?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll see.
Q Did the President in his discussions this morning make it clear to the two leaders how far he could or is able to go in facilitating this process?
MR. MCCURRY: The environment in which the leaders find themselves, what their constraints are, what their needs are, what the needs of their people are, are certainly part of the conversation, sure.
Q No, I mean, the President's own personal role. This is getting back to Prime Minister Netanyahu's suggestion there be some kind of Camp David-style talks. Did the President make it clear that he's not able to engage in that kind of a discussion?
MR. MCCURRY: We would be available to do whatever the parties deemed important to make progress, but I didn't hear any suggestion of that nature.
Q What are the President's plans the rest of this day?
MR. MCCURRY: And to be available to the parties, he's actually -- we do have some other challenges in our life in coming weeks, so he is going to try to spend some time thinking about the debate this afternoon, and he may do one or two other projects.
Q Has the Vice President been involved in any of this?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q And also, Tony Lake? And could you tell us what they've been doing?
MR. MCCURRY: The Vice President, in most matters foreign, has been a very, very principal advisor, key advisor to the President. He was a full participant in these discussions today, as was the National Security Advisor; the Chief of Staff, too, because Mr. Panetta very often lends his thinking and his analysis to the President and all of them were very active in giving their views to the President in between the meetings. Although, interestingly, in these meetings, very often the Secretary of State will participate and sometimes Ambassador Ross participates, but this was the participants only today in the discussions that have occurred so far.
Q Mike, can I just ask you this? When the President talked especially to Mr. Netanyahu, did he only deal with the questions of the Oslo Accord, or did he try to get Mr. Netanyahu at all to think about what has been the bipartisan position of the American government for basics of the Madrid Peace Conference, which is land for peace, no more settlements, et cetera, et cetera? Or is that just too far beyond where we are now?
MR. MCCURRY: That's a good question, Steve. That's beyond where they are. This went to process. These were discussions today that dug in more on where are we in this process and what is the chemical reaction that has occurred and what can we use as an antidote to that chemical reaction to try to get things back on track. The key issues, the substantive issues that all -- those of you who follow the Middle East peace process are so familiar with, they still lie out there and they're just as difficult today as they were the day before, but they will never be resolved in an atmosphere in which the two sides can't directly deal with each other.
Q Can I change the subject?
MR. MCCURRY: We've got a lot more on this. I'll get back to you --
Q Mike, you mentioned that each side raised grievances against the other, and you also said that at times the discussion was emotional, but you said it was not belligerent or confrontational. If it was emotional, how --
MR. MCCURRY: By emotional, I meant, I was speaking in direct reference to the King's presentation, which was really a plea to the leaders to stay on the path of peace and done in an emotional and very effective way. But certainly no words spoken in anger, and no words spoken in a tone of recrimination. This was really about people dealing very honestly with some very tough issues and being candid about them.
Q Mike, in the Oval in the lateral meeting, there was a rather cautious seating arrangement of keeping Netanyahu and Arafat at opposite ends. Given the fact that they had by then already shaken hands and by hindsight now are in face-to-face meetings, was the White House perhaps a bit too cautious in not getting them too close?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. I mean, clearly so. In fact, the suggestion that had been made to the President early is that, you know, gee, when the press comes in they're going to try to get you to arrange a handshake, and the President dispatched Dennis Ross across the hall to say that's going to happen, and then found them already engaged and shaking hands and talking with each other. That was not an issue by the time they wandered over to the Oval Office. But, lo and behold, there was no request for that, although maybe they'll do that later on today for your benefit.
Q Mike, when you said earlier that the President, in his presentation, pointed to ways in which the parties could directly engage, did you mean in terms of today's talks, or after today's talks?
MR. MCCURRY: No. I think today was the beginning of a process that we hope will move beyond today and lead to further dialogue.
Q But did he make specific suggestions on how to --
MR. MCCURRY: I'd prefer to kind of leave that for tomorrow.
Q If reestablishment and maintenance of trust is so fundamental to this process, how, beside nonconfrontational dialogue -- what is the President doing to actually facilitate that?
MR. MCCURRY: One thing that the United States can do -- and in this case, I think President Clinton is particularly good at doing -- is helping take an issue as it's expressed or seen by one side, and then describing for the other side the perspectives of the opposite member. In a sense, sort of helping one side see through the eyes of the other party. And I think he has been particularly good at doing that in sessions, and especially so in the Middle East discussions. And I think he, in a sense, almost serves as an interpreter, helping one side understand the views of the other side. That again, we feel, helps build at least some level of understanding that allows them to then engage a little more directly.
Q Mike, do you expect the role of King Hussein to intensify tomorrow through the length of this summit?
MR. MCCURRY: He is a very, very valued participant in the process. But, of course, he's also, in one sense, a participant in the peace process directly by virtue of his treaty with -- the treaty that Jordan has struck with Israel.
Like President Mubarak, he is a leader within the Arab world that understands the perspectives especially well of the Palestinian people, of their concerns, their hopes, their frustrations, their aspirations for the future. I think he provides a very important analytical addition to the discussion through his presence -- as does President Mubarak, frankly, through his participation. In a sense, President Mubarak has already participated in the meetings here today because he has, we think, played a very key role by meeting with Chairman Arafat in advance of the Chairman's arrival here. His views and his leadership in the Arab world are an indispensable part of this process.
Q Mike, Mubarak today also made it very clear that he didn't come not because of scheduling problems, but because he wanted to show -- his displeasure. On Capitol Hill there seems to be a little bit of displeasure over the second largest recipient of American aid sort of snubbing the President. How do you see that --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I understand some level of frustration on Capitol Hill. But at the same time, President Mubarak has a very keen understanding of this process and a very realistic appraisal of what various outcomes might be in a session of this nature. He spoke and other Egyptian officials have spoken to that and I don't know that you can disagree with some of the view expressed.
He certainly paid tribute to President Clinton for having hosted this meeting, but he made clear his concerns about this meeting and about the events that have occurred. And the depths of his feelings about events that have occurred should not come as a surprise to people who understand how deeply he feels for the needs and the aspirations of the Palestinian people, in particular.
Q When you said just now, I don't know that you can disagree with some of the views expressed, what views were you referring to?
MR. MCCURRY: Your question was, is there a concern on Capitol Hill, or what about concern on Capitol Hill about a principal recipient of U.S. aid being in a position to not participate in a meeting of this nature. My answer was, try to understand from President Mubarak's perspective how he analyzes this situation. We certainly understand the concerns of members of Congress who would take that view.
Q Do you expect the Secretary of State to exchange notes or opinions or assessment with Mr. Abu Masen who is in town, before the day is over?
MR. MCCURRY: I am not sure how they will engage, but we have great respect for the Foreign Minister. He is here in Washington to be available for consultations. I'd make clear again that in the view of the Egyptian government he is not here as a participant. We respect that, but we highly value his own thinking, his own contributions. And I'm sure one or another member of our delegation will be in touch directly with him.
Other subjects. Let's move on now.
Q The Republicans say that the White House is suppressing a letter from, or a memo from FBI Director Louie Freeh that was critical of the use of drugs among White House staff and that that memo should be released to congressional investigators.
MR. MCCURRY: A number of the closing days of the 104th Congress some Republican committees have lost track of a very important part of our U.S. Constitution called the separation of powers. They've made requests in a variety of settings, including this one, for documents that relate to the fundamental ability of the executive to conduct business under the Constitution -- the ability of the President to have confidential discussions with other officials of the government; the ability of the President to have discussions with foreign leaders and to conduct them in an atmosphere of trust and confidentiality.
Imagine what would happen right now if every one of the leaders of the White House thought that Congress would be able to subpoena the memorandum of conversation of many of these meetings that have occurred.
Q You're confirming the memorandum.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm saying -- the memoranda of conversation. This actually relates to a separate request that's been made on another matter. But there have been a number of these requests that do not evidence fundamental respect for the Constitution. And that is the issue that's here.
Q What does this have to do with drugs in the White House staff?
MR. MCCURRY: That's the issue, Brit.
Q Drugs in the White House staff has to do with confidential advice to the President?
MR. MCCURRY: The issue is the ability of the President of the United States to have --
Q To keep secrets.
MR. MCCURRY: -- confidential conversations with senior officials of the government.
Q About drug use?
MR. MCCURRY: With senior officials of government --
Q About criminal activities?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not getting to the substance of the allegation. The question is about a direct communication from a senior officials of the government in private to the President. And the confidentiality of that has to be respected in the opinion of the Attorney General, in the opinion of the White House Counsel, in the opinion of the President.
Q So you're confirming there is such a memo or a letter?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not doing that. I'm giving you a general description of our views on the subject of the President's Constitutional duties.
Q Can you confirm there is such a letter?
MR. MCCURRY: If you hold on for a second, let me look. Okay, there is a -- my understanding is that there is a April 1995 classified memorandum from Director Freeh and the Administrator of the DEA sent to the President through the Attorney General about drug trafficking.
Q At the White House?
Q Drug trafficking?
MR. MCCURRY: No, international drug trafficking is the issue, as I understand it.
Q That's the memo that's under subpoena?
MR. MCCURRY: We have set forth today to Chairman Zeliff our views in a letter from Jack Quinn, and I'll get the letter, review it for you.
Any other subjects?
Q Two quick questions from the only Latin Americans here in this briefing. The first question will be, do you foresee that the summit will last possibly until Thursday? And the second brief question: Do you personally think that if during this summit the Israeli government announced publicly the immediate redeployment of the Israeli army from Hebron, after six months of delay, and the suspension for six months of the use of the tunnel, that would be substantive enough to provide a peaceful atmosphere in the streets of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank so that new issues could be encountered later on?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I can't -- it would be very wrong for me, as the President indicated earlier, to get into the substance of the discussions under way. Clearly, some of the issues that have been discussed publicly between the parties, including some that you referenced, are matters that have been raised today. But I don't want to speculate on what the nature of that dialogue has been between the parties or what would be conducive in restoring calm to the region. The important thing is that leaders should do what they can to restore calm and then to move on to address the issues that divide them.
Q Mike, on the question of Republicans -- Senate letter to the President asking for assurances, one, that he won't pardon any of the Whitewater people, and, two, for some evidence buttressing his claim that Ken Starr is out to get Susan McDougal --
MR. MCCURRY: I can assure them that there is no consideration being given to that issue at this time.
Q Could you rule out future consideration?
MR. MCCURRY: I can assure that there is no consideration being given.
Q That's a no, then, right?
Q You were asked earlier today if the administration had a position on the Federal Express or express carrier provision of the FAA bill. Have you been able to look into that?
MR. MCCURRY: That's a very -- the aviation security bill that's under consideration is very important. Our concern has been that this is a measure that really didn't move through the legislative process the same way the FAA bill did. We think it's very important to get that bill passed.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. MCCURRY: Thank you.
END 3:25 P.M. EDT