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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 16, 1999
                          PRESS BRIEFING BY

                           The Briefing Room

4:25 P.M. EST

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, we have just concluded two days of very serious, and I think constructive discussions. And what came through to the President and to me was really a very clear determination by both of the sides to reach an agreement. And I think that -- I felt that they both left here with a sincere desire on the part of both of them to reach an agreement and they know, as we do, that there is a lot of work ahead of us, and that while there is a desire to work very hard, everybody knows that the road is not an easy one.

I think that no one has any illusions about the difficulties, but we are looking forward to an intensive round in, as the President said, starting January 3rd, in an area near Washington. And we want to make sure that it is a place where we are able to work in a very serious and intensive way, in an isolated place, where all the issues will be discussed.

I think you won't be surprised that I don't feel that it's appropriate to go into a lot of details, because the kind of diplomacy that we have conducted and will be conducted in order to succeed does not bear being talked about every few minutes.

What I found that was really quite, I think, inspiring, actually, for me, as I watched these two days is that both Prime Minister Barak and Foreign Minister al-Shara spoke very movingly about peace, the importance of peace to their people. They spoke about each other as partners and neighbors. And so that leads me to believe that, despite the difficulties which we all know will exist, it does make me believe that this can be done. Obviously, the United States, the President and I and the peace team led by Dennis Ross is going to be working very, very hard to do whatever we can.

Q Do you see this taking on a Wye River feel, or a more Dayton Accord feel? Will you put them in a nice, plush resort, or will you put them into an air force base?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: What's happening now is that we have people from the State Department looking for appropriate sites that I think will be comfortable. The main kind of needs that we have is that it be close enough to Washington for the President to be able to come and go, as he did for Wye, and that the surroundings really be conducive to hard work, and some informal discussions, I think.

Q Madam Secretary, you said no details, so, of course, I'll ask about details. Same cast of characters, right? Why do I hear confidence-building measures? Is there any suggestion that you're not going to go all the way, that there may be an interim agreement? Does that fellow over there get on an airplane anytime soon? What happens between now and January 3?


Q You only have 10 minutes, then I want to ask you about Chechnya.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Are you coming with us, Barry?

Q No, thanks.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Let me say this. I think obviously this is going to be continuous work for everybody, that there's a great deal of work that has to be done to prepare for January 3rd. We've already said to each other, the three groups, or the two to each other with us, that we will stay in very close contact between now and January 3rd. They have to work with us in terms of setting up the whole procedures and how it's going to work.

I'm not going to give you details on what the final package is going to look like. But we are very intent on working with them. Obviously this is their process; we are the facilitators here. And we're going to be working with them on all the procedural --

Q -- level when they come back? You've reached a new level.


Q Do you expect to maintain that level?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Absolutely, yes.

Q Can you tell us about --

Q What will be the role of that new round, and will it be open-ended?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, the overall goal here is to reach peace and reach an agreement. And as you all know, there are various parts to that. I have stated those many times, that there really are four aspects to these talks: withdrawal, mutual security, the content of peace and the timetable. Those are subjects -- all those subjects are going to be worked on.

And in terms of the round itself, we're not putting limits. We're going to work to the extent that people are getting serious things done. But this is an ongoing activity. They have not met for four years, and they have certainly never met at this level. And it's very hard to predict exactly the length of time.

All I can tell you of what we came out from this is an incredible willingness for everybody to put their shoulder to the wheel and really work. And we will see.

Q Other than their agreements and so forth, to get -- and we as a facilitator, what have we promised both sides? And why shouldn't we know?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: We have not promised anything. We have promised to give it our best effort.

Q No money?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: No. There have been no promises or preconditions, and the President has said that he wants to be personally involved, and everybody is counting on that, and obviously, I will be, and Ambassador Ross and his team, but let me just say there has not been any agreement that has been made in the Middle East that hasn't, in some way, meant that we would be giving some kind of assistance.

But it is premature to discuss anything specific, and obviously, as we move into that, we will be consulting very closely. But I just want to -- there have been no promises made.

Q Does the United States feel that the Syrians can control the Hezbollah?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: We generally believe that it is very important for there to be a deescalation and maximum restraint by all sides so that there is not any violence and the kinds of event that we saw I guess this morning for us in southern Lebanon is what we do not want to see. And we want to make sure, and we did talk today, about the necessity of everybody using maximum restraint to make sure that the enemies of peace are not able to disrupt anything.

Q Did Syria promise to do that?

Q Can you talk about the atmospherics today? Was there a handshake behind the scenes today or yesterday?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Let me say this. There was not a handshake, but I think that the bottom line here -- and I can only give you my impression of this -- is that there was a real movement towards exchanging friendly discussion. We had a couple of times where it was just informal milling at Blair House, and they were talking to each other, talking about families and their aspirations and things that they had done in the past and looking for common threads.

During the talks, themselves, I think you need to understand the shape of the table. Basically, they were sitting across from each other and not very far apart, Barry; just a normal table -- (laughter) -- and I was sitting at the end. So it was not a three-way discussion. It was a face-to-face discussion, and I was kind of doing the formalities of opening it up and calling on people to speak.

So I think that there was a very good personal interaction that made these two days very important.

Q -- two sides agree to talk again in January. Did they also agree on any substance? Any framework for the issues that they should tackle first? Any timetable?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, they -- as I said, they have agreed all the issues are on the table. And that's as far as I'm going to go.

Q A quick question on Chechnya please. You're on your way to Berlin. Can you move Ivanov this time? They've been very resistant to U.S. appeals.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, let me say we are very concerned, and you know the Europeans are. We're going to have a G-8 meeting -- or they have already started, and I will join in tomorrow morning. And we will obviously be talking about Chechnya, and I think everybody is very concerned.

Knut Vollebaek, I'm not sure, actually, whether he got in today or not. You all know more than I, because I've been -- but it is on the subject.

Q Madame Secretary, at what point does President Assad of Syria join these talks?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, let me make this point clear. It's very evident that Foreign Minister Shara is here representing President Assad, and that he has President Assad's confidence. And President Clinton has, over a considerable amount of time in the past, been in touch with President Assad. I just saw President Assad.

And so I think that he is very much a part of these talks, whether he's currently, presently here or not. But I'm sure that at some stage he will. But there is no question in my mind about Foreign Minister Shara being here speaking on President Assad's behalf.

Q Could you please tell us about the discussions, without particulars, the general atmospherics about confidence-building measures. Was there a package of confidence-building measures agreed to over there? Was it a large package? And were both sides receptive to the talks of confidence-building measures?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: There are discussions -- obviously this is part of what is an overall new atmosphere of the importance of confidence-building measures for a new Middle East. And what I found interesting, really, from both sides is the fact that they see what they're doing as historic and as opening up the possibility for an entirely different relationship, not only between Israel and Syria, but for the Middle East as a whole. And I think that rather than discussing anything specific, I just want to let you know that there is very much the sense that this is not just kind of a two dimensional operation, that this is something larger that involves a whole different relationship.

Q -- one peace as opposed to -- peace?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: That's kind of -- I know those are code words, but I think that basically we are talking about something that is a qualitative difference in the relationship within the region. That's why this is so important. I think that's why, as we have looked at what happened these two days and the fact that we're going to be meeting again, that is what makes it so important.

And at the same time, if I can just make this clear, that is what makes it so difficult. I mean, we are talking about a sense of great movement forward and a sense of hope, but also a very kind of realistic view of the fact that we've got a lot to do. And so these two days were filled with hope and also frank realism about the amount of work that needed to be done.

Q One more on Chechnya. Are you going to block a $500-million Ex-Im Bank loan for the Russia oil sector?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I'm not going to discuss what I'm going to do on that. The subject is obviously one that people have been -- that Ex-Im has in front of it, and I have my people looking into it.

Q --


Q Madam Secretary, the U.N. is finally supposed to vote tomorrow on this resolution. Are you confident that the new monitoring organization that will be set up by this resolution will be as strong as UNSCOM was and will be able to do the job that is necessary to eliminate --

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: We will not be -- have been a part of negotiating this resolution or being supporting it if we did not believe that it was going to be able to do the job that we are concerned about, which is making sure that Saddam Hussein does not have the ability to reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction.

Q Did the Syrians specifically reject or not respond to a request by the Israelis to rein in Hezbollah?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I would like to say the following: The discussion came up about what went on in -- what goes on generally in terms of problems with terrorism. That was a general discussion, and we also spoke about the necessity of reining in those forces that create terrorist activity. I do not want to go beyond that.

Q When is the Lebanese track going to be moving, how soon?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I can't go into detail, obviously. For us, the Lebanese track is important. We see the necessity of having a comprehensive peace, and we also, let me say, spoke at some length about the importance of the Palestinian track and the importance of keeping all these tracks going. And Prime Minister Barak made quite clear, as I have a number of times, and as I did when I was in the region, that these tracks need to develop on their own dynamic and that one is not done at the expense of another. And the Lebanese track also has to move.

Q Without getting into specifics, you talked about reining in terrorism. Did they agree to the general principle of trying to rein in terrorism during this interim period between now and January 3rd?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that they both understood the importance of not having terrorist activities disrupt the peace process, and understanding fully that as one moves towards peace what we have found is that the enemies of peace are out there. But there was a discussion of the importance of doing everything possible not to let terrorism disrupt what's going on.

MR. LEAVY: Last question.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I really have to go.

MR. LEAVY: Last question. Bob?

Q Understanding that there are separate tracks, did you get any sense from Prime Minister Barak that Israel will or will not be able to meet the timetable with the Palestinian discussions that's been set for mid-February?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Prime Minister Barak made quite clear his determination to follow through on what he's been doing on the Palestinian track. And when I met with Chairman Arafat, three days ago, four days ago, he also talked about the importance of moving forward on it. It is something that we are all determined to move forward on.

Thank you all very much.

Q Have a nice trip.

END 4:42 P.M. EST