THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS The Briefing Room
5:45 P.M. EDT
MR. HAMMER: Good afternoon. After Mr. McCurry's nice e-mail to Lockhart, we will certainly try to preserve the integrity of the background briefing and not reveal who it is that's going to brief you. We will have a senior administration official brief on the Norway portion of the trip, and you can then ask questions relating to the bilateral piece, then we'll have another senior administration official come in and talk to you about the Middle East peace process and those elements of the trip.
So, go ahead.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks. Good afternoon. I know you've all been waiting for hours to hear about the exciting bilateral piece of this trip. Let me run you through that, and then one of my colleagues will be down to talk about the Middle East portion in more detail.
I think maybe what I'll do is just start with the schedule, if that helps, and then talk a little bit about what we expect the substance to be on the Norway part. And then if you've got any questions on that, I'd be happy to take them.
The most important thing to note from the get-go is, President Clinton's trip to Norway is the first by a sitting U.S. President. And it follows a very productive working visit by Prime Minister Bondevik to the White House that some of you probably covered on October 15th.
We will leave Andrews Sunday in the late afternoon. I don't have a set time and I don't know that the schedule has actually been out on that yet. That means trick-or-treating and Redskins have to be gotten in early. We arrive Oslo Monday morning at about the time that most of my Pentagon colleagues start their work day, about 7:00 a.m., give or take a little time. But there will be a definite schedule on that soon, too.
There's a brief pitstop at the hotel after the airport, then the President begins the state visit by taking part in an arrival ceremony at the Royal Palace. He'll be greeted there by King Harold. He will then place a courtesy call on the King also at the palace, and that takes us to about 11:00 a.m. on the Morning on Monday.
The President then will go to meet with Prime Minister Bondevik at the Prime Minister's Office. There will be some kind of press availability either before or after the meeting. That isn't set yet either, I don't think.
After the bilat, King Harald will host an official lunch back at the palace. And the President will make a toast there, so there will be those remarks as well, as will the King.
Sometime Monday afternoon, or during Tuesday, I know the President hopes very much to be able to see some of Oslo, but that's -- nothing is set in stone, but at some point during the remainder of the trip, he'll have an opportunity to do that.
And let me just say that the rest of the schedule and the details on that, the Middle East portion, that is the Rabin memorial and then meetings with Middle Eastern leaders who will be there, will be covered by my colleague who will be down in a few moments.
Just a few words, if it's helpful, on what we expect substantively on the bilateral piece of the trip. Well, first and foremost Middle East peace process and the meeting with Prime Minister Bondevik, I think hosting next week's events is just the latest in a series of important steps Norway has taken to advance the Middle East peace process.
I think all of you know, of course, that the secret meetings hosted in Oslo between Israel and the PLO helped lead to the dramatic breakthrough of the Declaration of Principles back in '93, and the ceremony that many of you attended on the White House lawn. An impressive number of Norwegian diplomats have been engaged at a very high level in advancing the Middle East peace process for Norway, for the United Nations. So I expect the peace process and the events of Monday and Tuesday to be the first item of business on the bilateral agenda with Prime Minister Bondevik.
Second item I think that's very important that will come up in their discussions -- they talked about it when the Prime Minister was here -- is the Istanbul OSCE summit. Norway is playing a leading role in that as the Chairman in Office for 1999 of the OSCE, and as a result of that is very much in the thick of things. It's played a lead role in helping to draft a new charter for the OSCE. They'll probably talk about that. It's also played a key role in terms of the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty adaptation that will also be coming up in Istanbul.
OSCE also has an important role in the Balkans, so I would expect them to talk about the state of play of Kosovo and also what's going on in Southeast Europe, more broadly. And finally, I would expect there to be discussion about Norway's cooperation with Russia on a whole host of issues, especially environmental matters like nuclear waste and also probably the situation in Chechnya.
The President and the Prime Minister discussed a broad range of bilateral issues during their meeting a couple of weeks ago on the trade front. For example, maybe they will be able to go over some more things in that area. I would also expect that they'll talk about some joint initiatives they discussed a couple of weeks ago to see about carrying them forward, but more details on that when we get to Norway.
Finally, a very quick word about the courtesy call on King Harold. He and the President have a number of points in common. They both studied political science. They both studied at Oxford. But perhaps most interesting for you, those of you who don't know it, the most unique, both have lived in the White House; the President right now, the King and his mother, Crown Princess Marta spent most of the second world war in Washington, including long stretches of time at the White House hosted by President Roosevelt.
With that, I would be happy to take any of your questions on the bilateral piece.
Q Just to clarify, what is Norway's status in CSCE?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: OSCE? It's the Chairman in Office. There's a rotating presidency of the OSCE every year, and it so happens that for 1999, Norway is the president.
Q Istanbul is the --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The venue is Istanbul.
Q Turkey is not the --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Turkey is the host of the summit, but Norway has been the working chairman, if you like, of all the workings in the OSCE over the last year. Anything?
Going once, going twice, and what exquisite timing.
Q Are there any secret talks going on?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me start with the schedule as it's planned currently. On Monday afternoon, after the luncheon hosted by the Norwegians, the President will have two bilaterals -- first, with Prime Minister Barak, lasting about an hour; and secondly, with Chairman Arafat.
Then, they will have the Rabin commemorative dinner, which they will all be attending. The next day, they have a second commemorative event luncheon, which I think Leah Rabin will be speaking at. And after the luncheon, we're planning a trilateral meeting between the President, Chairman Arafat and the Prime Minister. That is scheduled for about an hour, but as you all know from previous Middle East experiences, it could go longer and may well.
The President, in the press conference with the Nigerian President discussed the purpose of this meeting. Let me embellish a little bit on what he had to say. I think there are two reasons for the President to be going to Oslo at this time related to the Middle East peace process. First is, of course, to commemorate Yitzhak Rabin, a hero of the peace process, a warrior for peace, as the President has described him before, and a man who made a gigantic contribution to the current peace process and, of course, to Israel.
The President, as you know, has participated in previous commemorations of Yitzhak Rabin and felt it very important that he be at this event as well. And I think it's particularly important, given the unique role that Norway played in helping bring about the breakthrough between the Israelis and the Palestinians in the first place, six and a half years ago.
The second purpose is, of course, to keep the process moving forward, particularly as we get into the very difficult, hard issues of the endgame. Since the Wye River agreement was ratified and given life again at Sharm el-Sheik a month and -- almost two months ago, now, the two parties have made some important progress. For example, the safe passage route between Gaza and the West Bank has been opened. A considerable number of Palestinian prisoners have been released. And additional territory on the West Bank has been transferred to Palestinian control. Security cooperation between the two parties has continued to develop and get better.
But now we are in the very difficult endgame discussions, with a very aggressive schedule ahead of us. The parties agreed at Sharm el-Sheik that they would try to reach a framework agreement on permanent status by mid-February. And they've committed to an agreement on permanent status in its entirety by September 2000.
As you all know, these deal with some of the most difficult and tough issues that the parties have ever dealt with, and truly existential questions about the future of Israel and the future of the Palestinian people. And the President sees a good opportunity in Oslo to push that process forward.
I don't anticipate any breakthroughs or any major announcements coming out of Oslo. I see this as part of a process which we've been involved in in a long time and this is one more very useful opportunity to push that process forward. Obviously, with the Israeli Prime Minister, we will also have the opportunity to discuss a variety of other issues, including the Syrian track and trying to get that started again. But I think the main focus will be on Israeli-Palestinian issues.
Why don't I stop there and take your questions.
Q You made some reference to how things go when you negotiate over the Middle East and one thing that almost always happens is you extend your participation, like Wye for instance. The President was there, much longer than he thought he would have to be. Is there any possibility that he would -- I don't know what his schedule is after Oslo -- but is there any possibility, if he sees the opportunity, he would stay on and keep talking?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There is no plans at this point for staying on. We don't have a departure time nailed down for Tuesday night, but there are no plans to stay later than that. Unlike Wye where we were trying to nail down an agreement, here I think we're trying to move a process along. And I don't think it's likely that that will happen.
Q How would you characterize the situation now with Syria? You said that is not going to be the primary focus, it will be the Palestinians and the Israeli's. But it's going to be brought up, I assume, by the Israeli Prime Minister. What is the situation? Do we perceive a desire there, a continued desire on the part of Syria that -- for some movement here?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We believe both the Israelis and the Syrians do want to try find a way to get back to the negotiating table, but have been stymied so far by an inability to agree upon the spot with which those negations would start. There continues to be a very active engagement by us in trying to see if we can't find a formula to get them going. And I would suspect that the Prime Minister and the President will talk about that some more in Oslo. But as you said, I don't think that will be the main focal point of their discussions.
Q Can you just expand a little bit more on what this opportunity is that the President sees for pushing the process ahead?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The parties have, since Oslo, been engaged in interim agreements, and Wye and Sharm el-Sheik were, in many ways, a continuation of the process of interim agreements. That process is now moving ahead and we are achieving success on the ground.
The next major step is to reach a framework agreement on the permanent status, and that is the hardest problem of them all, because you're going to have to deal with issues like boundaries, final status of territory, Jerusalem, refugees, settlements -- all of those issues.
Those are huge, tough nuts to crack, and they won't be cracked in an afternoon, but they are now the issues that are very much on the agenda, and he wants to take advantage of this opportunity to meet with the two of them to push that process along.
Q Do you think February is realistic?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The parties, themselves, have set that date and we certainly want to do everything we can to try and make it happen.
Q What other foreign leaders will be there? And also, why is there a major commemoration for Rabin? It's the fourth anniversary of his assassination, is that right?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's correct.
Q So why now? Why not in the fifth year, or the first? Is there some reason why it's happening this time?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think you'd have to ask the Norwegians why they chose this time. We think it's particularly useful to do so, but it was the Norwegians who picked this particular time and place.
Q And what other foreign leaders are going to be there?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't have a complete list of all the foreign leaders who are going to be there. I know that in my part of the world, it will be Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat.
Q You mean Egypt and Jordan are not coming?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Egypt and Jordan will not be represented at the leader level.
Q They will send lower-level officials?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's correct.
Q Is that disappointing? You extolled those two as being great moderates and very helpful in promoting peace. You're also looking to Egypt to help multilaterally. Aren't you disappointed?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I don't think we're disappointed, because we did recently have a meeting at which the leaders were at, at Sharm el-Sheik. For their own reasons, they're not coming, but I think that our confidence level that Egypt and Jordan will continue to be part of the team pushing for peace breakthroughs continues to be very high.
Q Is there anything specific the United States can do, in addition to what it's done before, to move the process forward?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think one of the most important things we can do is live up to the commitments that we made at Wye to fund the process of peace. And as you know, the President has been pressing the Congress to provide the funding for the Wye River agreements, which was not in the bill that he vetoed. If there's one particular issue, I think that's it.
Q So what does he say to Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister Barak about that? Sorry, we'd like to help you out, but the Congress isn't playing ball?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He said that he's working on it, and he will keep working on it, and he intends to live up to the commitments he has made.
Q Do I understand what you were saying, that it's not going to be a big priority, the Syrian track is on the back burner now?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I wouldn't say the track is on the back burner. What I would say is that what we have is a meeting in Oslo at which Israelis and Palestinians are at. There are no Syrians there, so clearly, the main focus of those conversations is going to be about their track.
Q I'm talking about the President meeting with Barak. That's one on one, which --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And as I said, I expect the Syrian track will be part of their discussion.
Q Can I take you up on that? Mr. Rabin, who you revere often --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Rightly.
Q Well, he said, remember -- but that was, of course, years ago and things change -- that he didn't think the Israeli people could digest a Syrian agreement and a Palestinian agreement at the same time. You know the reasons why -- it's more than you could expect them to handle. The administration now is of the view, I suppose, that it's manageable. The Israeli public and -- of course, you're pushing for territorial withdrawal on every front you can -- the administration feels that the Israeli public can take it in stride and things have changed that much?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The Prime Minister has said that he wants to move on both tracks with a very aggressive calendar. He's outlined not only the calendar I talked about on the Palestinian track, but he's said that he wants to have an agreement which would allow withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon by the middle of next year, and he would also like to reach an agreement with the Syrians by next year.
Q Yes, but what I'm driving at is, why the track is cold.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It is his judgment that he can do both.
Q Yes, but I'm trying to -- I should have put the question differently. What I'm driving at is, the track is not in action right now, and I'm wondering, there's got to be a reason for it. Israeli -- some notion that the Israelis don't think they give you both at the same time; Syria being a little bit reluctant; or the U.S. thinking maybe too much is too much?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: None of the above. I think it is because it has been hard to find a way to get the process moving again. Our sense is, both Prime Minister Barak and President Assad would like to get that track energized. And I can assure you the President would like to get that track energized.
Q Will Syria be represented at any level at Oslo?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't believe so.
Q At any level at all?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm not 100 percent sure, but I don't believe so.
Q Were they invited?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You'd have to ask the Norwegians that.
Q Could you answer a question about implementation of Wye? Will the President try to move to clean up the Wye River accords, as far as implementation is concerned -- the further redeployment, the third withdrawal, and the port, and the second crossing, et cetera, et cetera? There's a whole bunch of things that are still on the table outside of the framework. Will this be one of the --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm sure they will have a chance, both in the bilaterals and the trilateral, to take stock of the progress they've made. And there are issues that remain to be done. And not surprisingly, not everything has been done to the letter of the timetable that was agreed at Sharm. But our impression is, we are basically on the right track, and we are moving forward.
There has been one withdrawal from territory, for example. Another one is scheduled to take place, I think, within the next two weeks. And I think we have every reason to believe that will be on track. So I think there will be a stock-taking, but not with a sense of disappointment at what's happened, but with a sense of, you know, we're making progress, we need to continue to implement the agreement.
Q Given the possible disappointments of Jordan and Egypt not attending notwithstanding, does the agreement between Israel and Mauritania today to establish diplomatic relations, does that provide at least a modest psychological boost to the peace process?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think that any time the circle of peace is widened and Israel's relations with her Arab neighbors get deeper is a positive step forward. That is why we welcomed the announcement between Israel and Mauritania. And again, just for the record, I was not disappointed about Egypt and Jordan. I think we continue to see them as very much active players in pushing this process forward whether or not President Mubarak and King Abdallah were able to make it to Oslo.
Q What Arab nations then will be represented, even at any level?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I just don't have a complete list for you. I know that it will be -- that Egypt and Jordan will have representatives there, but I don't have a complete list for you.
Q -- the money that you need from Congress to implement the Wye Accord. Can you talk about exactly how that money would be spent?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: In the case of the Palestinians the money goes for economic programs, all very much targeted to specific different kinds of infrastructure programs. In the case of Israel it is primarily for assistance in the security field, particularly in helping Israel to absorb the costs of redeploying forces on the West Bank.
Q And how much money is --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: In the case of Jordan it's -- I think it's also economic, primarily economic assistance.
Q What's the sum of money that the President is seeking that he didn't get?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's $1.2 billion for Israel, $400 million for the Palestinians and $300 million for Jordan.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: For Jordan, right? Over three years.
Q You've largely ruled out any kind of extension of the President's stay in Oslo. There has been some speculation that there might be a Middle East coefficient when the President goes to Turkey, that he might go down, for instance and make a trip to Damascus. Any possibility of that that you know of?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There are no plans at this time for additional trips.
Q Would he be willing to do it, would he be willing to do it if that was the linchpin of it to get Syria in?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: All I would say on that is, as you know, that trip has already got quite a number of stops in it, and as far as I know, there are no plans for additional stops.
Q You wouldn't rule it out? As you know, the Syrians have said --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: One of the things I learned about Middle East politics a long time ago is, I don't rule out anything, but there are no plans for additional stops at this time.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 6:03 P.M. EDT