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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release January 20, 1998
                     AND PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU 
                         IN PHOTO OPPORTUNITY 

Oval Office

10:19 A.M. EST

Q Good morning, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning.

Q Mr. President, Cuba is about to be in the news. What does the United States gain from pressing the embargo?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me say our position on that is that we want Cuba to move toward freedom and openness, and if they do we'll respond. That's always been our position, and I believe in the end it will prevail.

Q Mr. President, on the Middle East, Mr. Arafat is talking with some threatening phrases, speaking of maybe the intifada will be resumed. And of course the Prime Minister said last night that's no way to negotiate. How do you feel about --

THE PRESIDENT: I agree with that. I think if he makes an observation that if this whole thing fails that it won't be good, then that's understandable. But I don't think it should be encouraged. I've really looked forward to this week. I've worked hard to get ready for the meeting. I'm anxious to begin my sixth meeting with the Prime Minister and then to see Mr. Arafat in a couple of days. And I think we have to have a positive attitude. We need to be reassuring to people. We don't want to undermine any confidence. We need to keep working.

Q Mr. President, you said yesterday that you had high hopes, and that seems out of step with some of the views of your top officials here. What makes you have high hopes for these talks?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I've often been out of step in having high hopes with a lot of people. It may be a defect in my nature, but I think -- for one thing I think that Israel wants peace and a resolution of this. And I believe that it's very much in the interests of the Palestinians and Mr. Arafat to seek to resolve it, and we're working very hard. I've just found that, more often than not, you ultimately have success if you stay at something and keep working at it in good faith.

Q Mr. President, could you just tell us what you believe a credible withdrawal would be? And does Chairman Arafat need to do anything before such a withdrawal should take place?

THE PRESIDENT: I think that's a conversation I need to have with the Prime Minister first. I don't -- and I will do that.

Q Mr. Netanyahu, may I ask you one question, please? Are you in a more difficult situation because of the new make-up of your Cabinet, because it's a smaller coalition? Is it more difficult for you to make concessions and to negotiate?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: This is a difficult day for me because I've lost a good friend, the Deputy Premier and Minister of Education. But the composition of the government is irrelevant. The people who could topple the government before Mr. Levy departed could topple it after he departed. And I say to them what I say to everyone here and to President Clinton: we made a decision to go to peace. This is what this government is about -- peace with security. And I am sure that I can muster the necessary support across the government and across the coalition for something that will move the peace process forward and maintain secure and defensible boundaries for Israel.

Q And you believe you have enough support within your now more limited government to pass any sort of vote for withdrawal, for further Israeli withdrawal?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: For a withdrawal that will ensure our defenses, that is what we're prepared to do. We're prepared to move forward but not to jeopardize the security of the state of Israel.

THE PRESIDENT: Welcome. Let me just briefly say that I am delighted to see the Prime Minister again. This is our sixth meeting. I'm looking forward to it. We're working hard to make progress, and I want to reaffirm to the people of Israel the strong support of the United States for Israel and the strong support of the United States for the security of Israel and a peace process that proceeds within that commitment. And I think we can succeed.

Q Mr. President, what are your expectations from the meeting with the Prime Minister?

THE PRESIDENT: That we're going to have a good-faith, detailed, frank discussion and do our best to make some progress. And I think we've got a chance to do that.

Q Are you going to pressure Mr. Netanyahu to give concessions to the Palestinians?

THE PRESIDENT: I'm going to have a discussion with him about where we think the peace process is. I wouldn't use that word. Israel has to make its own decisions about its own security and its own future.

Q Who do you think is breaching the agreement more severely, more seriously? The Israelis or the Palestinians?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't think it's fruitful to discuss that. I think what we ought to talk about is what both sides can do now to get the peace process moving again. That's the most important thing.

(Several non-English questions and answers between Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Israeli press.)

END 10:26 A.M. EST