THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS ON PRESIDENT'S MEETING WITH PRIME MINISTER BARAK
The Briefing Room
6:10 P.M. EDT
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think I probably have less to say than Wolf did, but --
Q Well, we're leading with Wolf anyhow. (Laughter.)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I actually don't have a lot to say because you have had a one-on-one meeting that is breaking now and will be resumed tonight at Camp David. I'll give you a couple of observations that we heard from the President about the meeting, with, as I said, the proviso that this is just the beginning.
But, first, the President felt that it was a very, very positive meeting; that he felt that the Prime Minister was very sincere in terms of what he had to say and also very serious -- not only serious in terms of who he is, but also as someone to be talking to as an interlocutor, someone who he found very thoughtful and someone who made it very clear that he is committed to pursuing peace, that he wants to pursue peace on all the tracks.
The President said that he sees very clearly this is a leader who is going to be scrupulous in terms of fulfilling obligations and also very vigilant in terms of pursuing peace with Israeli security interests in mind.
The President did mention to us that the Prime Minister at one point raised the issue of Kosovo and they actually had a discussion on it for a while because the Prime Minister had said that what had happened in Kosovo and how we had -- what we had done in Kosovo he felt would have a big impact and already had had a big impact internationally.
They will, as I said, continue their discussions tonight. And there really isn't much more that I can add at this point.
Q Will you develop that last thing a little bit?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On Kosovo?
Q No, I mean, you understand where I'm coming from with the question? Clearly it had an impact internationally. Is there any apprehension -- did the Prime Minister present any apprehension that American involvement in a sovereign country could be a harbinger of similar adventures in other places?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I think what he felt, what he was saying is that when those who are prepared to behave the way Milosevic did see that there is a big price to be paid, that that's understood internationally very clearly --
Q So it's a positive thing.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm saying he characterized it as something that, from his standpoint, meant a great deal if you want to shape an international community that is going to be a good deal more stable over time. He portrayed it that way, and he said he also felt it was important from a Middle Eastern standpoint, but not only from the Middle Eastern standpoint.
Q Are we talking about a timetable or next steps?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, they really didn't because, again, they're going to continue tonight, and as you know, then there will be a meeting with the Secretary of State tomorrow and the Secretary of Defense, and then the President will be seeing the Prime Minister again on Monday. So this is a beginning of a conversation that I think both felt -- at least certainly the President felt was very serious and also reflective. I mean, they were both also talking about the future.
Q Did Pollard come up?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Not that I'm aware of.
Q Can you confirm that Barak repeated his four nos that he campaigned on in terms of no return to '67 borders and so on?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I can't. I'm not aware of that being said. I can't say it wasn't, but I'm -- just based on what we know, I'm not aware of that.
Q Did the President also say anything about whether he thought Prime Minister would keep his word along with these other things?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He said -- there's really two points. One is, he emphasized very clearly the sincerity of who he was talking to, and also his conclusion is that he's also dealing with a leader, his words, who will be scrupulous in terms of living up to his obligations.
Q There was some talk in the briefing that was had with Israeli reporters that there would be some discussions with Syrians within weeks. Can you say anything about that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think he has a very clear objective of wanting to have all of the negotiating tracks operating again, as do we. I mean, our position has been, we would like to see all the bilateral tracks up and running again; we would also like to see the multilateral tracks operating again. But how soon you're going to be able to do that, that's still the question.
Q According to Israeli accounts, the Prime Minister expressed certain positions on certain issues. Without going through them -- I would be happy to if you'd like -- but did the President respond specifically to any of the specifics?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I can't say. I don't know, so I can't say.
Q In regard to the Prime Minister's ideas about modifying the Wye agreement, would it be true to say that the Americans are taking their cues from the Palestinians and as long as the Palestinians don't object strongly, which they really don't seem to -- not until now -- that you will also back Barak's ideas about this?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me explain one thing. Wye is an agreement that was adopted. As far as we're concerned, it should be implemented. Now, having said that, we don't exist to block agreements by the parties. If the parties on their own feel there's a particular way to proceed, we'll be supportive of that. So, on the one hand, we want to see Wye implemented -- and certainly we've heard from the Prime Minister that he is prepared to do so. If he has particular ideas and those ideas are discussed with the Palestinians, or the Palestinians have particular ideas, and between the two of them they come to an understanding, we are certainly going to be supportive of the understandings that they come to.
Q And at this point do you have any sense as to where that's going? Is it true you haven't heard great objections from the Palestinians?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We have certainly heard from the Palestinians that they want to see Wye implemented. We have not heard anything from them that suggested they don't want to see Wye implemented.
Q What about the suggestion the Prime Minister made today about final status talks moving forward in a different sequence than what's been envisioned with Wye?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let's be very clear on what is envisioned in Wye. It is an obligation of Wye that Wye is implemented as permanent status talks are going on. Wye has never envisioned a sequence, first you do Wye and then you do permanent status. When Wye was to enter into force, one of the first items was the resumption of permanent status talks. So when people talk about Wye and permanent status going together, that's one of the obligations of Wye. If you're living up to the obligations of Wye, there should be permanent status talks.
Q Did they talk about any other regional issues -- Iran, Iraq?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Not that I'm aware of.
Q What about Jonathan Pollard?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I said I'm not aware that -- if it was raised, I'm not aware of it.
Q It doesn't seem like the President briefed you very well on this.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I had a couple of minutes with him and they had a several-hour meeting. So -- and they had just begun. There's going to be a longer conversation tonight. So I wouldn't assume that every issue was discussed already. They have a lot of time to discuss the whole panoply of issues, both in terms of the peace process and in terms of bilateral relations. This is just the beginning. To assume that they would have done it all in the first two hours kind of misses the reality that they've got a lot more time to have discussions.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And, remember, we've designed this in a way that after the conclusion of the discussions tonight, they then have a period to think about, digest and come back on Monday and have further discussions.
Q Exactly. I'd like to know how Albright's meeting with him tomorrow fits into this scenario. Because, as you described it, it would sound like tomorrow morning is another session of generalities.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me put it this way.
Q Okay, just take us to tomorrow.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You have a very wide array of issues to be discussed. Within the peace process itself there are multiple questions that relate to the Palestinians, the Syrians, the Lebanese track, multilaterals. Then you have bilateral issues. This is a chance, this is the first meeting of the new Prime Minister, so we want to go through the bilateral issues as well. There are regional questions. I was asked, have they discussed regional questions. Of course, they will discuss regional questions. You can count on the fact that they will discuss regional questions. So there is a large number of issues to be covered.
The Secretary will follow up on this initial meeting from today and will, in each area -- obviously we want to have discussions and address particular questions we have. So over the course of several days we're going to have the opportunity both to brainstorm and also to make judgments between us, ourselves, about how we want to proceed.
One of the things we'll also be telling the Prime Minister is we, too, will want to be able to consult with the Palestinians and others in the Arab world as we make judgments about how we can best contribute to making this process move forward.
Q Do you intend to wait for the end of this visit to communicate to the interested Arab parties?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. I don't think that we're going to communicate in advance of the completion of the visit.
Q Will the United States encourage an early meeting between Assad and Prime Minister Barak before a breakthrough occurs over --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think that we very strongly believe in bilateral meetings and we very strongly believe in direct negotiations between the parties. The kind of meetings that we will propose I think will depend upon what discussions we've had here. We're obviously just in the beginning of these. But if we're going to succeed in negotiations I think it's important that we get negotiations between the parties resumed as soon as possible, and no level of contact should be ruled out.
Q Is there any plans for a meeting between the President and Assad? There is a report in Egypt to that effect.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, not at this time. Let us get through this visit before we decide what our next step is.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 6:20 P.M. EDT