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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release September 23, 1999
                        REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT

The Oval Office

4:10 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Let me say, I am delighted to see Chairman Arafat again. We have a lot to discuss, obviously, about our bilateral relations, and especially about the permanent status talks. He and Prime Minister Barak have agreed on a very ambitious timetable, to have a framework agreement by February, final agreement by next September. The United States is prepared to do all we can to assist them in coming to an agreement.

And I would like to take this opportunity to say that we should first meet our own obligations under the Wye agreement. And I hope the Congress will give me the funding both for Israel and for the Palestinian Authority, so that we can meet our obligations there. And we're working hard, we're into the final budget legs now, and I'm quite hopeful.

Q Mr. President, what did Chairman Arafat ask you vis-a-vis the permanent status talks? Did he ask you for a more active role, more involvement, sir?

THE PRESIDENT: We're just starting -- we're getting off to a late start, so we're just starting our conversation. But you know, I've been active in this all along, for six and a half years, now. I intend to continue to be active, to do whatever I can to help the parties come to an agreement. If they're willing -- and they must be willing, or they would not have agreed to such an ambitious timetable -- then I'll do what I can.

Q -- about the Palestinian-Israeli track? Prime Minister Barak said just yesterday, any time, any place, for the Syrians to resume negotiations. There has yet to be any positive response there. What's your sense of what the hang-up is there, and what can you do to try to move that along?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, we're working on it, and I actually am quite hopeful.

Q Mr. President, is there a chance that you'll visit the area, to give it a push on both tracks?

THE PRESIDENT: I would do anything that would be helpful to facilitate the agreement. Right now, I'm not sure that would be the most helpful thing. I would do anything I could to facilitate the agreement.

Q The question of the state of Palestine, Mr. President, are you willing to spend more capital and secure your legacy as the President of the United States who achieved the Palestinian state and the peaceful settlement of the Middle East?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I'm certainly willing to do anything I can to achieve a peaceful settlement in the Middle East. The question of the state, as you know -- that was a very well-worded question. Congratulations. (Laughter.) But the question of the state is one to be resolved in the permanent status talks that have just begun, so I think they will resolve it. I think, obviously, that the two sides will make an agreement on that, or there won't be an agreement.

MR. LOCKHART: Thank you, pool.

Q Mr. President, what can you tell us --

Q Mr. President, in your U.N. speech --

Q -- what can you tell us about the performance of the Israeli side so far in the last one month?

THE PRESIDENT: I'm encouraged. I think you should all be encouraged by the work that they've done together.

MR. LOCKHART: Thank you, everyone.


END 4:14 P.M. EDT