THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
BACKGROUND BRIEFING BY SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS
The Briefing Room
8:41 P.M. EST
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This is on BACKGROUND. You all now our briefer here; he can give you a little more color, a little more tick-tock just on what the President's been up to.
Take it away.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, I don't want to get into a lot of detail on the agreement itself, which Dennis will be doing because he has been there full-time. But in terms of the President's engagement, I want to make a point that his engagement has been largely a function of the ebb and flow of the negotiations over the past month. He's probably been on the phone to one or another of the parties on a weekly basis ever since Dennis went back out there. And as Sandy suggested, he has spoken to virtually all of them over the course of this period.
The last time he got on the phone happened to have been Sunday. He was primed for a phone call this morning had it been necessary. And throughout this process he has been very accessible to the team that's been working on this and has made it very clear that at such point as Dennis and his guys on the ground felt that it was necessary, he was prepared to make a phone call.
He did that with Arafat at one point; specifically, right after the shooting incident in Hebron. At other times he has been in either written or oral communication with Prime Minister Netanyahu or Mubarak or Hussein.
Q There were no phone calls today, but he was prepared to make one?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He was prepared -- we came to work this morning expecting the fact that he would have to make a phone call to get the meeting to happen. As it turned out, it wasn't necessary.
Q Who did he think he would have to call?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It might have been to both.
Q When is the last time he spoke to either Netanyahu or Arafat?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I believe the last time that they spoke was last week, but I --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It was January 1st.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On some of this, one of the things we've done is by -- he has been funneling some of his suggestions through Ambassador Indyk and through Ambassador Ross who have been practically camped out with the Prime Minister and the Chairman.
The President's role very often -- very often, as the team -- and our briefer can tell you more about this -- is to reflect on what the parties are saying and to think of ways of reformulating some of what one party wants to say to another in a way that can make progress itself. So a lot of the contributions that the President made were sort of reflecting what he was hearing Dennis saying, passing back an idea or two in that sense.
Some of the times it's sequencing -- you know, what is the proper -- what the State Department likes to call modality. What is the way in which one party should approach another. Who should call whom when. And the President usually has a very good feel of that type of thing, having had taken sort of a personal measure of some of the leaders -- his contributions have been very much of that, lending some ideas to Dennis and Martin.
Frankly, I'll be honest with you, too, sometimes it's lending inspiration. Dennis Ross has -- this has not been an easy process, as everyone here knows, and sometimes the role of the President is to encourage those who are trying to make peace to keep at it and keep trying. And that would be an accurate --
Q How often did the President -- was he in contact with Dennis?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He spoke to Dennis by phone at least once after Dennis's return to the region. He was getting reports from Sandy Berger on a daily basis, sometimes several times a day. I'm told, although I wasn't there, that when he was on vacation in St. Croix (St. Thomas) this was one of the issues that he would repeatedly ask for an update on when he got up in the morning and before he went to bed in the evening.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Obviously, Sandy has been on the phone most directly with the parties in the region; so has Mark Parris, from the NSC, who some of you know. And what he does -- he would really pass ideas back in through them and that would get repeated back to Dennis.
Q Does this clear the way for the President to hold a series of summit meetings with Middle East leaders next month?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We anticipate that there will be meetings sometime in the first quarter with at least the two major figures, and often others are coming in this same time frame. So we don't have anything that is firmly scheduled. There are no plans for a summit, as people were speculating, which would involve all four of the big guys.
Q But by the two major figures you mean Netanyahu and Arafat?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes.
Q And that would be here?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: In Washington.
Q Would that be a negotiating session? What precisely --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, I want to emphasize no visits have been scheduled. But one of the things that the President said this evening to the two leaders was that he hoped to see them here soon so they'd have a chance to discuss the next step.
Q How soon?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Can't speculate.
Q These are not Netanyahu and Arafat together, these are one-on-one between the President and each of them?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That probably is the most likely scenario.
Q Can we go back to these conversations that the President passed messages on to Netanyahu or passed messages on to Arafat? Were these encouragement? Were these ideas to facilitate it? Can you give us an idea what -- some of the ideas of the President to --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It was both. It involved the President's sense of timing, the President's sense of the importance of reaching an agreement under the -- circumstances, the potential risks of not concluding; in some cases, an assessment as to the rate of progress and his feelings about that.
I really don't want to be more specific in terms of specific ideas, but --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Give them the table.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The table. The President made his calls this evening from the table on which they signed the Declaration of Principles in 1993.
Q He received the calls.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He received the calls -- that's right.
Q A detail. Thank you.
Q Can I just get one thing -- when the President started speaking I had some noise in my ear and I just wanted to make sure the very first thing he said. When did the President say that they had called him?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They called him just before --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He said, just a few moments ago.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: -- they went out. Just before Dennis Ross went out --
Q But Sandy said, an hour ago. So --
Q At 8:30 p.m. Sandy said an hour ago.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Just about an hour ago, I think.
Q Now, are Netanyahu -- what sort of ratification does Netanyahu need from the Cabinet, Knesset? And was he able to guarantee the President that that was forthcoming?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They didn't discuss that, but the procedure will be he'll take it to his Cabinet, and then it will go to the Knesset. And it seems quite clear that he has a solid majority in each of those two forums.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On background, it was very important to the parties that -- Ambassador Ross I think probably very soon -- I can't tell back there, but I think he is going to be addressing some of those types of details when he briefs on it. And that's a procedure that the parties want to see happen.
Q Can you be more specific about what King Hussein brought over the weekend? Was it exhortation or was it specific suggestions?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It was a combination of the two, and I think I'd like to let Dennis describe in more detail exactly how that transpired since he was there on the scene.
Q And without the King's intercession, where do you think this would be?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The King made a very important intercession at a very important time, and it helped produce the agreement -- the conceptual agreement on further redeployment, which has made the agreement today possible.
Q What did the President have to tell Mubarak on Sunday night?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They were discussing ways of encouraging the parties to close --
Q Did the U.S. have any role in King Hussein going?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think King Hussein was in touch with Dennis Ross and our party there as he was considering this trip.
Q Was it the U.S. idea that maybe King Hussein could play a role?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think I'll let Dennis give you the exact chronology on that.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Last one.
Q How many phone calls over the weekend? Do we get a number of those phone calls?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. The only one that I'm aware is the one to President Mubarak. But he had numerous phone calls over the weekend with Sandy and then relayed information back to Dennis and Martin via that channel.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And he was sort of on call, as it were, to make calls if our team felt that it was critical that he did so.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The device of using the President either for a meeting or for a phone call is something that typically Dennis uses as a forcing event in the discussions -- saying, I'm going to get the President on the phone with you tomorrow and I want him to hear good news from you. So Dennis uses that as a way --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Obviously, you don't over-use it because to the extent that you do it loses its impact.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 8:52 P.M. EST