View Header


                     Office of the Press Secretary
                            (Rabat, Morocco)
For Immediate Release                                      July 25, 1999
                             PRESS BRIEFING

                            The Hilton Hotel
                             Rabat, Morocco

7:30 P.M. (L)

COLONEL CROWLEY: Good afternoon. We have two of our distinguished marchers that have restored themselves from this afternoon's activity -- Sandy Berger and Dennis Ross, Special Middle East Coordinator, are here to give you a sense of the day.

Q How was the walk?

MR. BERGER: First of all, the walk was 14 miles and the crowd was 75 million. (Laughter.)

This was quite an extraordinary experience for the President. I think he feels very good that he came because of his very strong respect for King Hassan as an individual, and what he has meant for this region, for this country, for the peace process; and also as a demonstration to the people of Morocco and the people of the region of the United States' strong support for this area of the world.

The President, this was an opportunity as well for the President to see perhaps 30 or 40 heads of government, heads of state, both in the time before he saw the new King and then later, after the long march, when he had some time during the religious ceremony. He, I would say, basically probably saw everybody who is on this list of people who attended. There were a number of different themes and sub-themes. Obviously, the Middle East peace process was an important element of his conversations. He had a long conversation with Prime Minister Barak. He then brought Chairman Arafat over. The two of them talked together. He brought Prime Minister Barak together with the Crown Prince of Kuwait -- as far as I know, that's the first time that has ever happened. And I also believe that Prime Minister Barak today spoke with the President of Algeria, President Bouteflika, which I believe has not happened in the past.

And as I listened to Prime Minister Barak, basically what he was saying was, it's a new day, it's a new opportunity, let us work together. And that, clearly, was the President's message.

He also saw President Obasanjo of Nigeria. We're very pleased with the developments that are going on in Nigeria and the strong measures that he has undertaken in this extraordinary transition to democracy. The President expressed his support. He saw Thabo Mbeki, the new President of South Africa, and they talked a bit about what is going on in that area of the world.

And, just generally, he had actually a sit-down meeting with President Mubarak; and then later this evening, before we leave, the President will have short bilateral meetings with Chairman Arafat, with the Prime Minister of Morocco and with, I believe, the President of Algeria, Mr. Bouteflika.

The walk itself, the procession itself was an extraordinary experience. The outpouring of grief and affection for King Hassan is something the likes of which I have never seen. I don't know how many people there were, there were millions of people, clearly, and they responded very emotionally to the King and they responded very positively to the new King.

The President, Mrs. Clinton and I had a brief meeting with the new King, King Mohammed, before the procession. It was a very warm meeting. The President has met the new King -- then the Crown Prince -- on several occasions. He was in the White House in 1997 for a meeting with the President. He then spoke to him at King Hussein's funeral. The First Lady, as you know, has been here -- I think this is her third trip in not a long period of time. And there is clearly a very strong, I think, personal affection that King Hassan had for both the First Lady and the President, and that was expressed to them by the new King. The President said to the new King that, as King Hassan had said to Mrs. Clinton that he considered her part of his family, that the new King should consider himself part of the American family and that we will stand by him and that we are available to help him as he deals with the various challenges here in Morocco.

Let me ask Ambassador Ross to say a few words, then I'll take some questions if you like.

AMBASSADOR ROSS: I just wanted to say a word or two about King Hassan and what he's meant to the peace process. King Hassan was instrumental in launching the whole peace process because he was the key behind the initial moves between the Egyptians and Israelis back in the late 1970s. President Sadat's trip to Israel was paved, in no small part, by King Hassan. In an interesting way, he helped launched the peace process in life; and what we saw here today in death was another manifestation of how he tried to reduce or remove the barriers between Arabs and Israelis.

One of the things we saw today was Prime Minister Barak in a setting where he mingled very easily with almost all of the leaders who were there -- especially from the Arab world. We didn't see barriers in that room. We saw a landscape where Arabs and Israelis were existing in a very normal way. What in the past would have been unthinkable, what in the past was, in fact, abnormal, was quite normal today -- and in no small part it's a tribute to King Hassan and what he represented. We will miss him because he has been such a force for peace, but he also provides for us a very strong legacy upon which to work. And I think everyone who was here today felt that.

MR. BERGER: Let me just add one fact or one piece of texture here. The Moroccans asked the President if he would walk at the front of the procession, with the King -- which he did. He also was joined at various times by the President of Algeria, by President Chirac, by King Abdullah of Jordan and perhaps others -- that's right, former Prime Minister Hariri of Lebanon.

It was a little bit dicey at the beginning of the procession as the crowd, as the people in the procession crowded in to get close to the bier, to the casket. And our security people did a really marvelous job in trying to keep the President standing upright and untrampled upon.

Q Did Syria send a delegation?

MR. BERGER: Syria, I believe, had a delegation here. I did not see -- I don't know if you did, Dennis -- Shara; Assad was not here. But I'm told that there was a Syrian delegation. I did not --

Q And as far as you know, the President had no conversation with any Syrian officials?

MR. BERGER: I think only because we didn't see them. I think he certainly would have, had he seen them; and I expect he would have spoken to President Assad, had he been here.

Q What did they talk about in the three-way meeting, Sandy?

MR. BERGER: With Arafat?

Q Yes, sir.

MR. BERGER: There was a scheduled meeting between Arafat and Barak, which was to have taken place on Friday -- Saturday, excuse me -- which was postponed because of this. It has now been rescheduled until Tuesday.

And I think it was -- the conversation, to the extent I heard it, was about, again, the opportunity that existed now, the desire that Prime Minister Barak expressed to work with the Palestinians on the basis of respect and trust. It was a cordial discussion -- it was certainly not specific as to elements of the peace process. We will see Chairman Arafat, I think, in about a half hour.

Q Is that going to be specific?

MR. BERGER: Again, I think that it's very important here for Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat to deal with each other directly. The President spoke to Chairman Arafat, as you know, last week, after the Barak meeting and gave him his impressions. And I think there will be some further discussion generally of where we are and the strong commitment on the Israeli side, and certainly the strong commitment on our part to move expeditiously to implement Wye, to move into final status negotiations and to really see tangible benefits come from the peace process for the Palestinians.

So it's certainly not going to be a negotiating session. It's basically, I think, the President probably will give him some further notions of his own impressions of where the process is going.

Q Does the President share the view of Mr. Barak that the Middle East peace process now would sort of leapfrog beyond the expectation of Wye and blend in elements of the final settlement? Or does he believe it should go step-by-step, as the Palestinians --

MR. BERGER: First of all, that is not what Prime Minister Barak has said. What Prime Minister Barak has said is that he is committed to implementing the Wye agreement, period, full stop. He has also said that he has some other constructs that might blend the two together at some stage, that he wants to discuss with Chairman Arafat. If Chairman Arafat finds those to be advantageous from the perspective of the Palestinians, then they'll proceed in that direction. If Chairman Arafat wants to proceed through full implementation of Wye, Prime Minister Barak has made it very clear he'll do that.

Q Sandy, one thing. Just to confirm, he changed his mind about walking the full route when he was asked to be at the head of the delegation?

MR. BERGER: No, those two facts are unrelated. I think there were -- this was obviously not an ideal situation from a security standpoint, as you can imagine. I think the President really felt very strongly that he just wanted to do this. And balancing the security aspects, on the one hand, and the statement that it would make to the Moroccan people to make this walk in honor of King Hassan, I think he felt the latter was overriding.

Q Thank you.

END 7:42 P.M. (L)