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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 11, 1998
                           PRESS BRIEFING BY 
                           The Briefing Room

8:40 A.M. EST

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Good morning and thank you all for joining us. President Clinton is traveling to the region tomorrow in order to fulfill the commitments of America -- that America made at Wye and to encourage Israelis and Palestinians to meet theirs. While in the region the President will have the chance to speak directly to Israelis and Palestinians to share their hopes, listen to their fears, and reaffirm America's steadfast support for the peace process.

The President is making this trip because he is dedicated to helping both sides overcome the challenges that still exist to a productive negotiating process and a durable peace.

We knew when we left Wye that we would be facing a bumpy road, and some of those bumps have already been jarring. But there can be no question that Wye has moved us further down the road towards peace and away from the long and dangerous impasse that preceded it.

We can't forget that prior to Wye a deep crisis of confidence had developed between the parties, feeding the forces of extremism and raising grave doubts about whether the peace process could ever be put back on track. Wye demonstrated yet again that the desire among the peoples of the Middle East to live in peace is unquenchable.

The first phase of the Wye implementation process has now been completed and it has produced real results, and it has revived Israeli-Palestinian cooperation that continues despite the current difficulties. Simply put, implementation is working and must continue. Full bilateral security cooperation has resumed. The Palestinian Authority has reenergized its fight against terror. Palestinian weapons collection has begun and a Department of Justice team is supporting the process. An anti-incitement committee of Americans, Israelis, and Palestinians is looking at ways to end provocative hostile rhetoric and to help the two peoples move beyond distrust and fear to understanding and security. The Gaza Airport is open for business and Israel has carried out the first stage of its further redeployment.

But there's no denying that the second phase of implementation has proven more difficult than the first. Provocative rhetoric, violence and disputes over key issues such as prisoner exchanges have created real difficulties and it's unrealistic to expect that after an 18-month crisis of confidence Israelis and Palestinians would build strong working relationships easily or quickly.

Nonetheless, both sides need to move forward to implement the second phase. The Wye Agreement must be implemented as signed. Palestinian security efforts must be comprehensive and sustained. The Palestinian National Council members and other Palestinian leaders must meet their commitment to reaffirm Chairman Arafat's letter concerning the nullification of the PNC Charter so that it is clear once and for all that provisions calling for the destruction of Israel are null and void.

Yesterday the PLO Central Committee took an important step towards this final result, and Israel must move ahead with the second stage of its further redeployment.

All these steps require more of what the parties showed at Wye -- leadership, courage, and a willingness to cooperate. I believe we can and will overcome the challenges we face, implement Wye and move on to permanent status negotiations. The United States is committed to doing everything we can to make that happen and to bring about a peace that is secure and lasting.

And now Sandy will preview the trip itself and we, along with Dennis Ross, will answer your questions.

MR. BERGER: Thank you, Madam Secretary. It may be early here, but it's a quarter of 4:00 p.m. in Israel, so you should not feel too tired.

This is the President's fourth trip to Israel. In fact, this is the first President who has made more than one trip to Israel during his presidency. It's a trip that is both historic and, as the Secretary indicated, challenging. What I want to do is take you through the highlights of the President's schedule. The good news is this is one of the shorter foreign trips the President will make this year. The bad news is that what the trip lacks in length it more than makes up for in intensity, as we cover a lot of ground in three days.

We will leave here tomorrow morning at 6:30 a.m. and arrive somewhat close to midnight in Ben Gurion Airport, where there will be an official greeting and arrival ceremony. Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Weizman, President Clinton will all speak briefly, I am sure. And then the party will stay on Saturday night in Jerusalem.

The first order of business on Sunday morning is a bilateral meeting between the President and the Prime Minister. You can expect discussion, obviously, on implementation of the Wye Agreement and other issues of mutual concern -- such as the situation in Iraq. As the Secretary has noted, Wye was an important breakthrough, but it did not, obviously, resolve all of the differences between the parties that will be, obviously, the subject of these discussions. It did point a way toward resolving these differences through dialogue and compromise.

From there, the President will visit the gravesite of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, accompanied by Mrs. Leah Rabin. Later, the President will meet with Israeli President Weizman at his residence and take part with him in a menorah-lighting ceremony that will mark the first night of Hanukkah, a traditional event that President Weizman has every year, something the President very much looks forward to taking part in.

In the early evening, the President will deliver a speech at the Jerusalem Convention Center to a diverse cross-section of Israeli citizens, particularly younger Israelis, high school and university age. You can expect the President to make one point very clear: America has unshakable ties to the State of Israel and an enduring commitment to Israel's security. It is one of our closest allies and shall remain so.

At the same time, Israel's security is absolutely a prerequisite to peace, and I expect the President to talk at some detail on that speech about the Wye River Agreement and why it promotes both the security of Israel and peace of Israel.

Finally, on that busy Sunday, we look forward to an official dinner hosted by Prime Minister Netanyahu, and that will be the end of the day.

On Monday, our first stop will be in Gaza at the New International Airport which, as you know, was -- its opening was part of the Wye River process. The President will travel there by helicopter. Chairman Arafat will greet the President and give him a tour of the airport. From there, the President will travel to Gaza City for a bilateral meeting with Chairman Arafat, to be followed by a lunch hosted by the Chairman.

Again, I think we can expect the bilateral to focus on issues surrounding the implementation of Wye and the need for continued progress toward implementation despite the issues that will continue to arise. I also expect that they will discuss some economic issues involving the efforts of the international community to spur development in the Palestinian Authority.

Late in the afternoon, the President will address the Palestinian National Council and other organizations at the Shawwa Center. Before he speaks, the President will witness the PNC's affirmation of the historic decision to revoke from the Palestinian Charter the passages calling for the destruction of Israel. In the speech, you can expect the President to praise that step and the strides of the Palestinian people through the peace process, as well as the obligations that they have undertaken as part of the peace process.

After the speech, he will return to Jerusalem on Monday night. On Tuesday, the President, together with Secretary Albright and the First Lady, will start the day by speaking to members of our embassy and consul general communities, as the President almost invariably does when he travels abroad. He will meet with the opposition leader, Mr. Barak. Then he will visit Bethlehem, tour the Church of the Nativity with Chairman Arafat, light a Christmas tree. Obviously, on the week before Christmas, this is an event and a moment the President very much looks forward to in a personal way.

From Bethlehem, the President will rejoin Prime Minister Netanyahu at Masada, a place of tremendous significance to the Israeli people. For nearly a decade during the Jewish revolt against the Romans, a small group of Jews and their families held Masada until, under siege by an army of 15,000 Romans, they chose death at their own hands rather than enslavement.

We then come back to Washington, where you can do either your Christmas, Hanukkah or Ramadan shopping, depending on your persuasion.

Q The Prime Minister shouldn't ask about -- Prime Minister Netanyahu has all but renounced this treaty in an effort to save himself. A lot of hard-line Israelis see the President's visit as provocative by going to Gaza and embracing what they say is the Palestinian state. How would it help if, as a result of the President's visit, Netanyahu is thrown out and the hard-liners win in Israel?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, it's very much a part of the Wye Agreement for the President to go and make this trip. We agreed to it, it is part of the implementation process, and I think it will have an effect of showing that the United States continues to back the Wye Agreement and that the leaders, themselves, who made very hard decisions, will be carrying them out.

I think that this is a process, as I stated, that is not without its difficulties, but you have to keep in mind that the first further redeployment, the first phase has gone on successfully. We're in the middle of the second one, and we expect that it will, in fact, be carried out. I think that the leaders understand the processes that need to take place, but what I think we will see, as we have seen in the past, is that both the Israeli people and the Palestinian people support this agreement and that's what their leaders need.

Q -- the President's visit to Gaza and the embracing of Arafat there lends credence to a Palestinian state in the future?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: It does not do that. The bottom line here is that it is a part of the Wye Agreement. And as we have said many times, the issue of Palestinian statehood is a permanent status issue. It is something that needs to be negotiated and it is part of the next process. That is where the President has stood. That is clearly part of statements that he and the rest of us have made, and it is not in any way moving that process forward. We are going there in terms of our own obligations as far as the Wye Agreement are concerned.

Q Nonetheless, what, in fact, do you think the presidential visit to Gaza will have on Palestinian aspirations? And when you say the council affirms -- I know why it doesn't speak of a vote, but the Charter says the only way the Charter can be changed is by affirmative vote. Do you want a vote or do you just want them to say amen?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think they probably don't say amen. (Laughter.) I think that -- let me say I think that this will be done through a set of procedures that have been agreed upon, and once and for all, as both Mr. Berger and I have said, it will be evident that those sections of the Charter will be null and void. And I think the President's presence there shows that we are fulfilling our part of the agreement.

Let me also say -- I think you were with us, Barry -- the Prime Minister went to Gaza when we all had lunch together with Chairman Arafat. So I think that this is a normal kind of unrolling of events here, a normal procedure. The airport has been opened as a result of agreement among the two leaders with our help, and so I think it's just very appropriate for the President to be there.

Q Well, what about aspirations, though? I mean, if you step back from the technicalities of why he's going on the trip, what do you suppose a presidential visit to Gaza -- coming down in a helicopter at Gaza Airport, meeting with Arafat, meeting with the Palestinian leaders, the people who wrote this covenant, or their successors -- what does this do to Palestinian aspirations for a state? Does it encourage them? Does it give them reason to take heart and have hope they'll have a state?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think the thing that we have felt is important throughout the whole peace process is for there to be a partnership between the two parties -- a respect for each other, an understanding that there are two leaders coming together to make some decisions. The issue of the Palestinian state, as we have said many, many times, is not an issue that is going to be declared unilaterally or to be strengthened by various symbols. It is something that is going to be done through a negotiating process that is part of the permanent status talks.

Q What do you think the cloud of impeachment -- what effect will it have on his trip? I mean, will it be a real detraction from what he intends to do? How can it not affect?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: We are going on this trip on a date that was determined as part of the Wye Agreement. December 14th was something that was chosen as a part of the process, as three phases were to unfold. And the President is doing his job.

Q Well, you don't think it will have any effect, at all?

MR. BERGER: No, I don't. I think throughout this process there have been a number of developments on the foreign policy front -- whether that has been negotiations in Northern Ireland or the events in Iraq or the events in Kosovo, or as the Secretary says now, this trip. I think the American people expect the President to fulfill his responsibilities to carry out American foreign policy and that's what he's doing in this trip.

Q Well, Sandy, let me follow up on that. Has the President, though, expressed some reservations about going on the trip, given the timing of the vote on the House floor next weekend? Has he been told in response that not to go would deal a setback to the Middle East peace effort?

MR. BERGER: I don't think the President has second thoughts for a second about going on this trip -- notwithstanding the challenges that surround what is going on in Israel, what is going on in the Palestinian areas. The President undertook, and the parties agreed at Wye, the President's presence at this PNC meeting was an essential part of the process and he's determined to go.

Q Madam Secretary or Mr. Berger, can I ask you a question about Iraq? What is the latest that you can tell us on Iraq, please?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, as you know, Chairman Butler is kind of in the middle of a series of inspections that he is doing. We are obviously watching the situation very carefully. Chairman Butler will be making his report to the Security Council. We will then make our own assessment as to the progress, and it can go one or two ways. There may or may not be a comprehensive review. We will consider all our options that we have, and as I have said a number of times, as has Mr. Berger and the President, the military option remains on the table.

Q Madam Secretary, if I can ask you about compliance of departments, are you saying the United States in its role as judge, really, of the two sides' implementation efforts, has made the political judgment that those sides are fully implementing all their agreements and obligations in Wye, or are there some areas of real concern that the United States has with one side or another, and if so, what are those?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I have just, in my opening statement, said that we are satisfied with, and as are the parties, with the implementation of the first phase of the Wye implementation. We're in the middle of the second phase. I think that from our perspective, there is more that can be done on security, and we would hope to see that happen. And we also believe that it's important for disputes that have come up over the prisoner issue to be resolved at the negotiating table through appropriate channels and that that is the best way to deal with that issue. And we also would hope that there would be -- that this whole business of unilateral statements and unilateral actions that do not help the environment would cease.

Q Just to follow up on the area of security, can you be any more specific? Gun collection, for instance. Is the United States content with the Palestinian effort on --

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: The process has begun and it needs to continue. I'm not going to characterize our level of contentment at the moment. I think that what is important is for the process to be carried out according to the specifications that were laid out at Wye.

Q Madam Secretary, you spoke of a set of procedures at the PNC meeting and you said they had been agreed upon. What are the procedures, and did the Israelis specifically agree to them in the Wye discussions?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, we have said that there would be a set of procedures, there will be a set of procedures. I'm not going to go beyond that.

Q On the Palestinian Charter issue, the Israelis have said there must be a vote -- the Palestinians say no, there will not be a vote. Does the U.S. have a position, and is --

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Our position is that there will be a set of agreed-upon procedures. What has happened here -- let me just remind you -- is that as a part of Wye that was a three-step process. The Palestinian Council was to abrogate the offensive articles or, to put it differently, was to reaffirm the letter that Chairman Arafat sent to President Clinton.

There was a second phase of that with the Palestinian Central Council, which took place by an overwhelming majority vote yesterday. And the third phase is what will happen at the PNC-plus meeting in Gaza, and there, there will be a set of procedures which will, once and for all, make clear that those parts of the covenant are null and void.

Q Your answer on Iraq was decidedly low-key and nonconfrontational. Whereas, on the weekend that the planes were withdrawn, Mr. Berger, Mr. Cohen and the President suggested that if Saddam Hussein did not comply as he then apparently promised, military action would ensue without warning. Are you suggesting that if Chairman Butler says that Saddam is not in compliance, that in fact, instead of carrying out that implied threat, you'll dilly-dally around and consider it and think about it and all that?

MR. BERGER: I want to go back to the question here. We expect that the Israelis will find these procedures satisfactory. Now, that's the answer to your question.

Q Did they specifically agree in advance?

MR. BERGER: No, but we expect that they will find these procedures satisfactory.

As to your question, Sam, we have made it clear that we expect Iraq to cooperate with UNSCOM. There has been a period over the last two weeks in which UNSCOM has been back and been able to monitor. They've asked for some documents, they've not received them all. There have been inspections, they're in the middle of that right now. We want to see this process play its course. There's not a lot of time left for Chairman Butler to undertake these -- essentially, this period of testing cooperation. We ultimately will make our own judgment, but obviously, his judgment will be important.

Q Chairman Butler's judgment, if he delivers one next week, would not be definitive?

MR. BERGER: Only the President of the United States can make a judgment about whether to use military force or not to use military force of the United States. As to the question of whether or not there has been sufficient cooperation, UNSCOM Chairman's views, obviously, we will listen to carefully.

Q Isn't it a green light you've just given to Saddam Hussein?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Absolutely not. And let me just -- I met with a very large number of leaders in Brussels, and also I was in France. I can also assure you that I said to all of them that if there is not compliance to go to the point the way you raised it, that there are no warnings and that diplomacy has come to an end. So we have made that point. But at the moment, we are in the middle of the process that Chairman Butler is undertaking, and therefore, I think we need to wait to see what our reaction is, depending upon what we learn his inspections have brought about, or if there is compliance or noncompliance.

Q Why are we in the middle of the process? When the United States decided to act on its own to launch military strikes, we went to Butler and said, essentially, pull your people out, we're striking. The President of the United States set five explicit conditions for Iraq, two of which, on their face, Iraq is now violating. Why do we need to wait for Butler to come back and say, no, they're not cooperating? Why can't we, on the face, say, you're not cooperating?

MR. BERGER: David, I think we've said all along, the best option here would be an UNSCOM that can do its job. If UNSCOM can't do its job, then we're left to take our own action. And that continues to be our position. Through the process that is now taking place, Chairman Butler and we will make a judgment as to whether UNSCOM can do its job. If it can, that's so much the better. If it can't, then we will be faced with our own decisions about how to respond.

Q But just, if I may follow, you don't have a judgment on that now?

MR. BERGER: There's not a judgment I'm going to share at this point. We'll see how these inspections, whether in fact he cooperates with these inspections, and we'll make decisions based upon that.

Q Mr. Secretary, back to the -- what do you think of the situation, what is the current standing on the issue of the release of Pollard? And have the Israelis tried to link it to the release of the Palestinian prisoners?

MR. BERGER: The White House Counsel, Mr. Ruff, has sent a letter to all of the agencies of the U.S. government that have an interest in the matter and asked for their views and information. I think he's asked for that information by January. That will be reviewed. Recommendations will be made to the President; he will make a judgment.

As to the question of whether that's been linked to anything else, the answer is no.

Q Why aren't the three leaders meeting at the same time at the same place anywhere during this trip?

MR. BERGER: That is a possibility, it has not been set yet.

Q Isn't it a bad sign that they're not meeting together?

MR. BERGER: It's a possibility that they will, but it has not been set yet.

Q Madam Secretary, one main reason for the tension now for a few days was the issue of the prisoners. Can you clarify for us -- there are different interpretations between the two sides. What is the U.S. understanding of how many and what kind of prisoners should have been released?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, the Israelis have done what they said they would do -- that was part of the agreement. Clearly, this has become a very sensitive issue because of some misunderstanding. And this is why I have said that this needs to be dealt with in the proper channels. But the Israelis have done what they said they would do, and I do think that it's important here for us to be able to help them resolve this sensitive issue through the proper channels.

Q Madam Secretary, Israeli's Foreign Minister has said that the Palestinians violated almost every paragraph in the Wye Agreement. Now, if in Gaza the -- wouldn't be so clear, so the process is not --

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I didn't understand the last --

Q Now, after Israel said that there is violation almost in every paragraph of the Wye Agreement, if they wouldn't be satisfied from the cancellation of the PNC paragraph about Israel, it seems to be that the process is really stuck and there is no way out from it.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I do not take such a pessimistic view. As I've said, we believe that the first phase, the parties fulfilled their obligations. In the second phase, there clearly are difficulties that we hope will be resolved through the appropriate channels. And I think nobody ever expected this process to be easy. Keep in mind, however, what it was like before we went to Wye and the fact that the whole thing was stalled and that there was increased danger of violence as a result of non-action.

So I think that we know that there are problems here and this trip for the President is part of the agreement that we signed at Wye. And also, the President is going to be working very hard -- we all are -- on this trip, because we have faith in this agreement. The leaders, both of them, took some very courageous decisions when they signed Wye. We now have to make sure that the appropriate steps are taken and that both sides carry out their obligations. This is an agreement that requires mutual responsibilities to be carried out.

Q What's the nature of the congressional delegation? How many, and what will be their roles?

MR. BERGER: We will put a list out later today. I think there are around 20 members of Congress coming with us.

Q All moderate Republicans except for Mr. Dingell? (Laughter.)

MR. BERGER: The list will be put out later today with party affiliations, state, and the complete spelling of their names.

Q Thank you.

END 9:13 A.M. EST