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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release January 20, 1998
                          PRESS BRIEFING BY

                          The Briefing Room

5:38 P.M. EST

MR. MCCURRY: Ladies and gentlemen, the Honorable Madeleine K. Albright, Secretary of State, who you will be able to tell from her voice, has been intensively negotiating today. And to save her voice and because she has interrupted a meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu to come here and see you so we could close out the business day. I need to excuse her fairly promptly, so if you'll keep it brief at this briefing, the Secretary and I would appreciate it.

Madam Secretary.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you very much. The new Madeleine. Let me say that we have, in fact, had some good, serious meetings today on what is a working visit in a friendly atmosphere. It began this morning -- I had breakfast with the Prime Minister for over an hour. Then he came and met with the President for 90 minutes. Lunch with the Vice President. And I have just, as Mike said, interrupted what has been a two-hour meeting with him this afternoon, and I'm going to go back. We will continue some discussions later this evening with the President.

What we are talking about are the appropriate elements for a further redeployment; that is, timing, the quality, quantity, and, of course, security aspects involved in that. We have also been talking about the four-part agenda, which again is obviously security, the time out, the FRDs, and accelerated final status talks.

The President laid out some of his ideas in an attempt to bridge the gaps which still exist. And what you see now is a work in progress. We are discussing the Prime Minister's reactions to the President's ideas and doing some serious work.

Q Do you think, Madam Secretary, that it would be a good idea for the Prime Minister to stay in Washington a few extra days while the Chairman of the PLO, Yasser Arafat, comes in order to facilitate this process and set the stage for a three-way meeting, if that's a good idea?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that's premature. I think that, as I have discovered in the work that I have been doing over the last months, there are gaps. We're trying to narrow those gaps. Chairman Arafat is coming on Thursday and we will see how this progresses.

We are dealing with very, very serious issues now. And they take time and they take very careful work, and I think we don't want to get ahead of ourselves.

Q Speaking of time, what do you think of the Israeli proposition, number one, that they have to see the Palestinaians fulfill unfilled pledges -- and you know what they are, so we'll save time by not going through them -- and that Israel will not withdraw until it sees those pledges carried out, one being a public meeting of the Palestine National Council. Is the U.S. prepared to wait that long? And do you think it's plausible and reasonable that Israel see these things happen first?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Barry, I think these are the kinds of things we're talking about, and I'm not going to go into what's going on in the substantive discussions. We are talking about how both parties can fulfill their mutual obligations and get the peace process back on track. Obviously, those are the kinds of subjects that are part of the discussion. But I'm not going to comment specifically.

Q Well, you brought up timing and I thought you could address the timing issue. Is the U.S. prepared to wait to see the two sides carry out whatever their obligations are?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: What the U.S. wants to do is to see if we can narrow the gaps. And some of the gaps have to do with timing and commitment. So I think that where I want to stick is to say that this is a constructive discussion about those particular issues without going into specifically how we're addressing them.

Q There is a story that you may have seen that there are divisions between you and the White House, that people here are disappointed in you because of lack of progress, and that particularly that Dennis Ross is said to be too soft on the Israelis. Will you respond to that?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I don't think anybody is disappointed in me. No, actually I think there are no divisions. I truly do believe that this is an issue that we're all working on together. In fact, there's very close teamwork. And I'm very pleased with the kind of teamwork that we have. And I think that we're doing well given the fact that we're working on very, very difficult issues. I don't think anybody is hiding the fact that we're working on tough issues.

Q Madam Secretary, what are we to make of Prime Minister Netanyahu's return to the White House this evening? Apparently, some of the things the President suggested struck Mr. Netanyahu as good ideas. How important is his return, and what are some of the things that led him to have some optimism?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that what is important here is that the President and Prime Minister Netanyahu had a very constructive discussion on these issues. The President presented his ideas. The Prime Minister had time -- frankly, dinner at the Israeli Embassy was canceled -- and I think it made it possible for the Prime Minister and the President to be able to continue the discussions based on the kind of work that Dennis and I and Martin Indyk are involved in now.

Q Can you be a little more specific about what areas precisely are leading to this hopeful dialogue?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I don't want to characterize it in any way. I think that what is -- the purpose of these talks, when I suggested them at the last time that I met with the Prime Minister and the Chairman, was for the President to be able to lay out his ideas on how the gaps can be narrowed. I think that both -- the Prime Minister was interested in what the President had to say. It seems useful to be able to explore those ideas further and have some give-and-take face to face rather than on the phone or by mail. So we're taking the opportunity of a free evening to be able to have some additional discussion.

Q The narrowness of the Prime Minister's coalition, margin at the moment -- does the United States think that he has the ability to implement whatever these suggestions or ideas are that the President has made?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that I'm not going to comment on Israeli politics. I think that -- you know, the Prime Minister is the Prime Minister. He has come here in order to have these discussions, and therefore he has the ability to carry through.

Q Madam Secretary, would it be fair to say that you were pleasantly surprised by what you heard from Prime Minister Netanyahu today?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I'm not going to characterize it. I think that what I am very pleased with is that we are having in-depth discussions. It's the kind of thing, actually, that a Secretary of State likes, which is the ability to talk about this issue that has occupied a great deal of our time in an unrushed way in order to be able to examine it from various angles.

Q If nothing gets resolved during this meeting and the Thursday meeting -- have you thought yet about follow-ups, and would you meet with them separately --

Q Or bringing them together here?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think again -- I think we're dealing with the meeting today, the meetings today, which I think have been more lengthy, lengthier than we had thought was possible. We will deal with Chairman Arafat's meetings and then we'll see. I'm not going to predict.

Q Madam Secretary, when you met with the Prime Minister and Chairman Arafat last month in Europe, you said you hoped at this meeting they would be in a position -- at these meetings they would be in a position to make hard decisions necessary to move forward. Have you seen any evidence of hard decisions from Prime Minister Netanyahu?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think we are in the process of setting the stage for hard decisions. That's what this is about.

Q Does "lengthier" mean more "hopeful"? You said "lengthier."

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Lengthier is that, from my perspective as somebody who believes that these subjects are very difficult and complicated, that while they are taking place in a friendly atmosphere, which they are, then I think they're very useful. I don't want to put any other characterization of them.

Q Does this represent a new level of detail on the part of the Clinton administration in terms of putting forward substantive proposals, rather than merely encouraging the process? And also, can I ask you, do you know of any other precedent of a visiting head of government meeting with explicit political opponents like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson while on an official visit to Washington?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, I think that -- I can't remember the first part of it.

Q The first question was, is this a new level of detail?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think there are various times that these discussions have taken place when there's been a lot of detail. I mean, President Clinton in setting up the agreements in the first place when we were all out on the lawn, there was a great deal of detail. So what has happened here is that the President has presented some ideas. We have been elaborating on them for the Prime Minister. And that's what's going on. I think it is standard procedure that in a democracy when somebody comes on a visit, they're allowed to meet with whomever they wish. We do that ourselves when we travel abroad.

Thank you.

Q Don't worry, we'll defend you against these White House people.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Sam, you're so nice.

Q An attack on you is an attack on us.

Q Mike, will there be a readout after the --

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: We're going to try. If there's something -- you know, if I have a voice. We'll see if there is anything.

MR. MCCURRY: Don't promise yourself.


MR. MCCURRY: We'll see. It's hard to say. We don't anticipate it starting until very late. And the wires have said 9:45 p.m. -- I think that sounds right.

Q No, the Israelis have said 9:45 p.m. We say what they say.

MR. MCCURRY: We're anticipating very late, and going very late. And we may provide very minimal readout, but some kind of a readout.

Q Mike, are these guys going to be brought together --

MR. MCCURRY: You had your answer to that already.

Q No, she didn't answer that. She said we'll see after the -- whether she goes someplace.

MR. MCCURRY: I think that's a perfectly legitimate answer. This is part one. Part two is the meetings with the Palestinian Authority and the Chairman, and we're not talking about what modalities are for pursuing diplomacy beyond that.

Q So you're not foreclosing a meeting in Washington of Arafat and Netanyahu?

MR. MCCURRY: We're not suggesting there will be one and we're not suggesting there won't be one.

Q What these stories about the Secretary of State that you've seen. You said you had something --

MR. MCCURRY: Sam, I haven't seen those stories. What are you talking about?

Q The Washington Times is one. And I can produce another.

MR. MCCURRY: The Washington Times? Excuse me.

Q No wonder you haven't seen it.

MR. MCCURRY: No, I didn't see any -- I didn't see that story. But it's just so manifestly untrue and so laughable I don't think it needs a remark.

Q Could you give us more guidance about tonight --

Q Since we usually get kicked out here at 10:00 p.m. tonight, can we have permission to stay here tonight until the meeting is over with and the possibility of a readout?

MR. MCCURRY: Let me see what kind of readout we're going to do. If we're going to do a paper readout, I don't know if that makes a lot of sense.

Q We want to do live shots and stuff like that.

MR. MCCURRY: Okay, I'll see. I understand.

Q -- this is happening after the President returns from the fundraiser --


Q Did Netanyahu say anything as far as -- does he not have to return for the funeral, or he's free to stay if needed to stay?

MR. MCCURRY: I'd have to direct that to the Embassy. I'm not sure what his schedule will be and how it's impacted by that.

Thank you. Goodbye.

Q Mike, you're anticipating a paper readout?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm saying that's one possibility, but I understand Wolf's concern about being equipped to do some reporting.

END 5:52 P.M. EST