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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release January 20, 2000
                         REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
                        AND CHAIRMAN YASSER ARAFAT
                           IN PHOTO OPPORTUNITY

                              The Oval Office

3:22 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Let me just say I am delighted to have Chairman Arafat back in the White House. As all of you know, I am absolutely committed to seeing a comprehensive peace agreement involving the Palestinians and the Israelis, committed to doing whatever I can to achieve that. The resolution of the issues between Palestinians and Israelis is at the core of the comprehensive effort that we all want to make for peace throughout the Middle East, and we have to work through them.

As in any process like this, there must be inevitable and difficult compromises. No one can get everything that either side wants. But I'm convinced we can get there and I'm convinced that Chairman Arafat is proceeding in great good faith and so I'm glad to see him, glad he's here.

Q Mr. President, is it possible for these talks to be completed by the deadline for the framework agreement? And, if not, would you support extending it?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think that will have to be worked out between the two sides, and specifically between Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister Barak. And they will work that out. I think the main thing I want you to know is that I'm convinced it's possible for them to reach a comprehensive peace in a reasonably short period of time. And I'm going to do whatever I can to facilitate it.

Q Chairman Arafat, so far you've got promises and no action. How optimistic are you, sir, about the implementation of the accords?

CHAIRMAN ARAFAT: First of all, a few days ago we did receive the 5 percent of the territories according to the Sharm al-Sheik agreement. And within two weeks we will receive the 6th percent. And this is something that Prime Minister Barak and I agreed to 24 hours, 48 hours before arriving in the United States.

There is no doubt that there will be difficulties along the way. These are expected difficulties. But there is also determination that we will have to reach the comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East, not only on the Palestinian track, but also on the Syrian and Lebanese tracks, as well.

And here I would like to take this opportunity to thank President Clinton for all the efforts that he's exerting on the Syrian track, the Lebanese track and, of course, on our Palestinian track.

Q Mr. Chairman, what do you think of the President's remark, which was said earlier at the State Department -- so it must be U.S. policy, we're hearing it all over town now -- that nobody can expect 100 percent, that there has to be some compromise. You know, we've just had an experience with Syria insisting on 100 percent and the talks are now suspended. Will you settle for less than 100 percent of your demands?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't agree with that, by the way, that characterization of the question in the Syrian-Israeli talks.

Q Okay.

CHAIRMAN ARAFAT: The negotiations is the best way. This is what happened with Egypt, this is what happened with Jordan and this is what will happen with Syria, as well as Lebanon, and also it happened with the Palestinians with the help of President Clinton.

Q Missing the deadline of February, will that inevitably mean the missing of the deadline of September, too, or will you work not to do that?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't think anything is inevitable here. I think that both these leaders and these parties are absolutely committed to resolving this in the most expeditious possible way. So I think we should always let them speak for themselves and make their own decisions, and I'll do my best to be helpful.

Q -- comprehensive peace in the Middle East in that one year?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, we certainly could have and I'll be disappointed if we don't; because we have the leaders who can do it, the issues are clear -- even if they're difficult, they're clear -- and I certainly think we could have it and I'm going to do everything I can every day I've got to try to achieve it.

Q Mr. President, when can we expect talks on the Syrian tracks to be resumed?

THE PRESIDENT: I think they'll both have something to say about the before long. I think they'll keep working right along. This is not -- you shouldn't overreact to what has been said about this. I think they're both completely determined to get this resolved in an appropriate way. And I think they'll have things to say about it as we go along here. But don't read too much into this. Actually, the parties have a framework for making these decisions that's more clear and more bridgeable than I would have thought by now.

END 3:28 P.M. EST