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                     Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release                                  December 15, 1998
                       SANDY BERGER TO THE POOL


12:14 P.M. (L)

Q The President's positive statements, frankly, you know -- I achieved what I wanted to achieve; they're back on track -- but there's no little bits of backup there, because everything is still, like, this committee is going to meet and that committee is going to meet, and the pullback may be a little off schedule. So where are we?

MR. BERGER: Wye was a very important step in the process. There have been some implementation. We want to keep it on track. What happened yesterday was a very important development in terms of implementation of Wye. It was extremely important to the Israelis that the PNC covenant be repealed in the relevant parts. That took place. That's an important obligation that's been undertaken by the Palestinians. And the rest of this process has to work its way out.

Q Everybody is focused on the pullback right now. It seems the Palestinians did something just now and Israel has something hanging that they're supposed to do, and we don't know if they're going to do it, but it sounds like they're going to be at least a little late. Did they say they're going to do it?

MR. BERGER: They said that they would fulfill their obligations under the Wye Agreement. I think the President said earlier that we expect them to do that. There are timetables under Wye; we would hope that the parties would comply more or less with those timetables.

Q Did they say that the Palestinians have failed to do something that required them to withdraw?

MR. BERGER: Well, the Israelis still express concerns particularly in the area of the violence that has taken place over the last two or three weeks. The Palestinian Authority I think has undertaken steps to try to control that violence. I would hope if that remained under control the Israelis would go forward as is provided under Wye.

Q But are they adding any additional conditions before they would meet a withdrawal?

MR. BERGER: Well, the Prime Minister has said there are certain things that the Palestinians have to do before there is a withdrawal. They have to comply with the agreement. Now, to the extent that there have been statements asking them to do things that go beyond the agreement, that's not something that Wye requires.

Q I couldn't expect you to confirm their ultimatums, but they made one the other day. They said, if Arafat doesn't stop making these statements, Netanyahu says, I can't proceed. Now, if they quietly slipped away and you don't want to dwell on it, fine.

MR. BERGER: That is not -- there is no obligation in the Wye Agreement for Arafat to renounce his hopes and aspirations. I think it would be extremely helpful if he expressed those in terms of objectives that he seeks to accomplish during negotiations. I think if that takes place, it will eliminate one of the irritants to the Israelis.

Q Sandy, the President spoke or reenergizing the final status talks. Were there any specific commitments or schedules agreed to on that?

MR. BERGER: As far as I know, there's only been one meeting that's taken place between Foreign Minister Sharon and Abu Mazen on final status. But they agreed today that they would begin to meet, they would meet on a regular basis, on a continuing basis, and really begin to tackle the very difficult final status issues.

Q Can you give us a little of the atmosphere?

Q And the first --

MR. BERGER: I don't know, but I would hope that that meeting would take place in a matter of days -- tomorrow, the next day.

Q Do you think -- atmosphere to the meeting -- did Netanyahu and Arafat get along, did they shake hands or -- cordial, businesslike, whatever?

MR. BERGER: No, they certainly shook hands and it was cordial and -- everybody agreed that what happened yesterday was extremely significant. Mr. Sharansky, who was one of the principal proponents of the concept, the idea in Wye that the PNC should specifically renounce these provisions, said in rather strong and quite passionate terms that he felt what happened yesterday was extremely significant.

Both parties expressed frustrations that they've had for a long time. On the part of the Israelis, the frustration is with violence, in particular, and with the unilateral statements that Barry was speaking of earlier. With the Palestinians, their concerns relate to settlement activity and they relate to prisoners, in particular.

One of the things to come out of this meeting was an activation of something that was in Wye, but has not yet really gotten off the ground, which is an informal channel to deal with prisoner issues on an individual basis.

Q You've asked them to deal with those two, the U.S. isn't part of that? It stays that way? Okay.

Q To what extent, Sandy, did Netanyahu complain about the President's characterization yesterday about prisoners' kids versus victims of terrorism's kids?

MR. BERGER: I did not hear the Prime Minister speak to that.

Q Nothing personal said about it -- "we don't like your remarks," or --

MR. BERGER: I think there was a conversation with Mr. Sharon and he raised the metaphor the President used yesterday in a very friendly way. The President said to him, first of all, he denounced terrorism in the speech very, very strongly. The point he was making is that continued conflict between the parties produces pain and hardship in which many of the victims are children. And if we think about this in terms of our children, we should try to think about how we move beyond this to a way of dealing with each other as neighbors and partners that doesn't inflict another generation of children who have to suffer.

There was no other intent in terms of the President's remarks. I thought it was a very powerful way of making a point that people here have suffered on both sides.

Q Sandy, so what's the bottom line? Is Wye back on track?

MR. BERGER: Yes, I think it's a bumpy track -- (laughter) -- but it's on track.

Q Are you revising the President's words?

MR. BERGER: I'm annotating. (Laughter.)

Q Questioning the President's --

MR. BERGER: Let's be careful here. (Laughter.) There goes my job. No, I think he'd be the first to say -- it's the essential question here. I think that we've move Wye along in the last two days. I think we've got them back talking to each other, which is extremely important. That was really what -- for 18 months they were not talking to each other. As a result, the process totally broke down. We got them to Wye; we started a dialogue; we created some agreements and we created some processes. And I think, hopefully now they'll start dealing with these issues less through public statements and more through dialogue.

Q Is there a guarantee that they'll keep talking to each other now?

MR. BERGER: There's no guarantee in the Middle East.

Q Does the President have to be here, be with them to get them to talk each time?

MR. BERGER: No. Obviously, this process can only be sustained if the parties themselves engage directly, and they do -- they have -- in some areas, for example, in security, there has been cooperation between the parties. And I don't want to suggest there hasn't been any cooperation between the parties. But we need to kind of now kick this thing into higher gear.

Q Can you tell us what are the main problems between the Israelis and Palestinians now?

Q In a nutshell.

MR. BERGER: I think on the Israeli side, the main problems relate to violence that's taken place in the West Bank in recent weeks, which the Israelis, quite legitimately, find objectionable.

I think that there is also on the part of the Israelis a concern with unilateral statements -- with statements by particularly Chairman Arafat which have suggested that he will take unilateral steps on May 4th, regardless of the negotiation. I think those are the principal concerns; there are others.

I think on the Palestinian side, there is concern, number one, that there be some way to deal with the prisoner issue, which is a very emotional and charged issue for the Palestinians. And number two, there's obviously concern on the part of the Palestinians with settlement activity which is going on, some of it around Bethlehem here, which they find objectionable.

There are many, many other issues.

Q Can you take one more?

Q Did you sleep, Sandy?

Q You don't look good. (Laughter.)

Q You don't look good? (Laughter.)

END 12:25 P.M. (L)