THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY SECRETARY OF STATE MADELEINE ALBRIGHT
The Briefing Room
5:40 P.M. EST
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Good evening. We're in the middle of some intensive discussions with Chairman Arafat. The President met with him for 90 minutes this morning to lay out his thinking on the four-part package, and the Vice President concluded a meeting with him midday where they focused on the critical security issues and on economic issues. I've just come from an almost two-hour meeting with the Chairman to follow up on the President's discussions, and the President will meet with him again later this evening to wrap up some of today's work.
You will all recognized that this is similar to the process that we followed yesterday with Prime Minister Netanyahu, where the President presents his views and the two leaders have an opportunity to present their concerns, needs, and constraints. Our effort is designed to try to overcome the differences between the two sides so that we can rebuild the trust between the two sides and launch the final status negotiations.
Because we're in the middle of these discussions I can't characterize the progress. What I can say is that we are at an important phase in all our efforts. For the first time, the President has presented his views on how to get the process back on track, and both sides are aware of the significance of such intensive presidential involvement. These ideas reflect our best judgment of what is a reasonable approach to the outstanding issues and we believe that both sides are now grappling with these ideas in a serious way.
Now, on the question of security, as I said, both the President and the Vice President had these discussions with Chairman Arafat, and the Chairman told the President that fighting terror is in the interests of the Palestinian Authority. The President emphasized that the terrorists are waging a relentless war against Israelis and the peace process, and that it's essential that the Palestinian Authority is even more relentless in its effort to counter this offensive.
Now, on the further redeployment, the FRD, the Prime Minister made clear that there will be a further redeployment, but that it is essential that the Palestinians live up to their security obligations. The President emphasized the need for a credible FRD, just as he emphasized with the Chairman today the need for a maximum effort on security. And what we're trying to do is to find a way forward which is consistent with both sides' needs. And in this context we've introduced the concept of parallel processes of implementation of these commitments. We believe that this is a practical way to rebuild confidence that both sides will live up to their obligations under the Oslo agreements.
Another issue that we discussed was on the PLO Covenant. Regarding the removal from the PLO Charter of references to the destruction of the State of Israel, this is an issue, obviously, of great importance. The Palestinian National Council amended the Charter in April 1996, cancelling the articles inconsistent with its commitments to Israel. And the government of Israel at that time welcomed this step.
Many people have questioned exactly which clauses were amended by the PNC decision, so today President Clinton received from Chairman Arafat a letter which for the first time identified specifically and by number all the articles annulled by the PNC's April 1996 action. The letter also says that these changes will be reflected in an official publication of the Charter. It also emphasizes the PLO's recognition of Israel's right to live in peace and security, and the PLO's commitment to live in peace side by side with Israel. We welcome this clarification and believe it addresses the concerns about the ambiguities of the PNC's decision. And we do think that it's an important step towards completing the process of revising the Charter.
So I think that is kind of a readout of where we are midstream here.
Q Madam Secretary, that last clause, I thought you were saying the U.S. accepts the notion that those provisions are dead, but you call it a step in the process.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think -- I'm sorry, Barry.
Q No, I'm just -- there's an argument that they've referred it to a committee. The Labor government bought the PLO's explanation; Mr. Netanyahu doesn't. He says, have a public meeting -- it will serve an emotional and legal purpose to stand up there in broad daylight in Gaza -- you're, after all, our peace partner -- and say it's null and void; we the Palestine National Council say it's null and void. Have they nullified and voided it, or is there more to be done?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: No, look, I think that there is not a question, frankly, of the substance. They have agreed that this has -- that those articles are null and void. What there seems to be a question about is the process of making it clear that they are null and void. And so we think that this letter is an important step in that direction. But, obviously, the partners themselves need to discuss their differences on how this -- I mean, this is something they have to do face to face. But we -- I would say from our perspective that the letter is an important step in the procedural aspect of this.
Q Secretary Albright, does withdrawal in the President's view mean at a minimum double-digit percentage withdrawals from Israel?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I am not going to go into those details. I think, as I said, we are in mid-process and I think it would not be useful to clarify.
Q What do you expect to be the next step in this process, after both sides have digested the President's ideas? Do you see yourself convening Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Arafat in a head-to-head meeting fairly soon to really nail down acceptance of these American ideas?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, what we expect now is that, obviously, there have been some serious discussions -- as I said, the President put his views on the path to get the process back on track. These discussions have been very intensive. And we expect these leaders now to absorb what it is that they heard from the President and their own assessment.
I do expect that at some stage soon I will be trying to get a meeting, a trilateral meeting. But -- soon. I'm not prepared -- I think it's premature at this moment to kind of tell you the exact time and the process -- or I've told you the process, but I think more detail than that.
Clearly, I have to tell you that my impression of these meetings is that there is a lot of serious thinking and work going on, and a lot put on the table. As we have said many, many times, the President can have ideas about how to get the process back on track, but it's up to the leaders themselves to make the really hard decisions. And so they have to absorb what they've heard, and then I will proceed.
Q Madam Secretary, could you explain a confusion in my mind at least about the process? Because as you've described it, the President has laid out ideas and he's heard the interests and concerns of, first, Netanyahu, and today, Arafat. So presumably, you will have to go back to both leaders after a period of thought of your own with further bridging proposals, which they will then have to think about. Is that right?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, we have to see. It may not be -- what I expect, frankly, is that they will think about this. I will probably have to meet with each one of them again. What's happening, as you know, Steve, we keep narrowing these gaps. And I think that, as I said, I don't want to characterize where we are at the moment because we are in the middle, but I do see some kind of a process like the one that you're describing.
Q To clarify, you're saying that you will need another separate meeting with them before you can --
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I don't know. That may happen. Honestly, I think that we need to see where we are after they have thought about this. If they're ready -- I mean, let me just say that what we are doing here is showing the fact that the President and I and the rest of our team are deeply involved in trying to move this process forward. We want to be helpful. The leaders have to make the hard decisions. We can't go on with endless meetings, but we clearly are willing to have meetings that are necessary, that help the process along. But we want some results soon.
Q Madam Secretary, you've been putting a lot of emphasis on the PLO Charter. The side letter to the Hebron Agreement lists a lot of other obligations that the Palestinians agreed to. I'm wondering if you could tell me which of those was discussed and whether any breakthroughs -- or was there any progress such as what you have described here?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, Bob, I'm not going to go into the details of this. Obviously, some of the aspects of this in terms of -- as I told you, there were discussions about security and obligations, mutual obligations. Those are the kinds of things we talked about. And I think that what needs to happen, as I said, is that the mutual respect and recognition and trust that needs to be there comes as a result of interpretations as to how they're fulfilling various obligations, both sides.
Q Madam Secretary, has Israel indicated to you in principle or tentatively that it contemplates additional major weapons purchases from the United States pursuant to the successful completion of these talks and the putting in place, getting the peace process back on track?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: We have not had those discussions during this phase. I don't know whether they've taken place with anybody else, but not in the meetings that I've been involved in.
Q Madam Secretary, do you see any harmful impact on these talks from the President's domestic problems?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Absolutely not. I mean, we spent -- the President spent 90 minutes in a one-on-one. He's about to have another meeting. He is focused -- those were great discussions, and he's very focused on this. He has made very clear that this is a high priority issue, that these meetings are important. And he's devoting a great deal of time to them -- in preparation for them and during the meetings themselves.
Q Will tonight's session be one-on-one also?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Probably.
Q Madam Secretary, on this issue of security, Arafat said today after the White House meeting that their participation in the trilateral meeting with the CIA and the Israelis, and the Israelis accepted the memorandum and the CIA was there, and Netanyahu later on was delaying it. Do you believe that the Israelis are delaying what has been accepted by --
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that these are the kinds of issues that they need to have agreement on, and that we are trying to get back to a sense where this trust that's necessary to move the process forward is reestablished. And I think that it's important that they both have the same understandings. What is essential, and we have said this very often, that Chairman Arafat must do 100 percent effort in the area of security and that that is an essential component of this process. And as I described to you how this is going to work, what would happen is that Israel would implement some part of the FRD early, and in parallel with that further step, the Palestinians would take further steps, principally in the area of security. And then the process of implementation would continue in this kind of parallel steps.
Q Right, and you might be on the scene as this process is launched. So do you still have a position -- if you don't want to give us a figure, which you never have given a figure -- could you characterize the extent of the withdrawal? You wanted a sizable one, a credible one? Does the U.S. have a view how much land ultimately, as a result of this parallel process, Israel should give up?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: No.
Q Or would you try to attach some new adjectives?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: No, I think the adjectives are okay.
Q You still want credible size --
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I stand with those adjectives.
Q Credible and sizable?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Yes.
Q Madam Secretary, when you talk about this parallel process, do you also have in mind a generally concurrent development of the other two parts of your four-part program, namely the timeout and the start of permanent status talks? Do you see all four elements proceeding in parallel, or only the two that you mentioned?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: No, I think we see all of them -- well, we stick with our four-part package, and this is a piece of it. And obviously what we would like to do, as we've said, is to marry this interim process to permanent status talks and discussion of trying to avoid the kinds of actions that we think undermine or complicate this atmosphere of trust that's necessary to go forward.
What I have to tell you, I think, even more than in our previous meetings on this subject is that it's very clear to all of us that we are down to a period where the decisions are very hard and the leaders have to make these decisions. And we would like to help them make them. But in the end, these are tough decisions. They require time, they require thought, and they mostly require a sense of mutual respect.
Q One last question -- in the public speeches they make to us and to their audiences, there are at least a half a dozen issues where they're enormously apart. Is this because this is the end-game phase, are they playing -- privately, do you find them as widely apart on six-ten issues, or are they just playing to the gallery?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, look, I think that they both believe that they are down to the very tough issues. I respect them for this. I think this is not a matter of -- these are not peripheral issues we're dealing with. They're not cosmetic. These are down to the guts of the issues here. And so I don't -- I wouldn't characterize people as being insincere in the way that they characterize the decisions that they have to make.
Q One more question, Madam Secretary. You mentioned that the President laid out his ideas, and you've heard from each of the parties their constraints. Can you tell us, did you get any sense of give or flexibility from either of these leaders during this week's talks?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT I think that what I have a sense of is that while each of them is obviously determined to make the toughest case for his arguments, I do sense that there is some understanding of the other guy's problems. I mean, this is what a negotiation is about, and I think they both understand that.
END 5:55 P.M. EST