THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release December 14, 1998 10:45 P.M. (L)
PRESS BRIEFING BY
SECRETARY OF STATE MADELEINE ALBRIGHT
King David Hotel
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Good evening. I think we have had really quite an extraordinary day, and let me go through it with you a little bit.
As you know, one of the issues that had been very troubling to the Israelis was a part of the -- was the Palestinian Charter, certain paragraphs of which called for the destruction of Israel. And one of the issues that has, I think, created difficulties as we've gone through this peace process is whether those paragraphs had actually been fully abrogated. And we had said that Chairman Arafat had written to President Clinton about it and had reaffirmed that they had been abrogated, but nevertheless, it was a problem.
And it was a problem at Wye, frankly, and it was one of the issues that President Clinton was deeply moved by Minister Sharansky's explanation as to why it was important to have a more public abrogation of the Charter that ordinary people, Palestinians and Israelis, didn't really read letters from a Chairman to a President, and they might not pay attention to decisions by an executive committee. But if there were a public meeting in which a majority proportion of the PNC actually, in response to Chairman Arafat, raised their hands and made clear that the Charter, those portions of the Charter, were null and void forever, that that would really make an impact that would be deeply felt by both peoples, and that it was that public demonstration that was very important.
As I said, I think that President Clinton listened very carefully to Minister Sharansky on the subject and so, despite the fact that he thought that this was a very difficult thing to do -- and it was -- I think everybody feels that today was an historic day, that a page was turned, that something that had been an underpinning, an ideological underpinning has been removed, and that, therefore, we consider what happened today important. And the President, obviously, as you know, praised it.
I think that what is -- the Palestinians indicated to us, actually, that they were thinking of reprinting the President's speech for their schools because of the way that he had worded and transmitted the sense that people needed to understand each other's problems better. And as you know, the theme yesterday in the Convention Center here to young people was about the importance of education and changing minds for the next generation. So this all fit together. So the day in that regard, I think, was important.
Let me just say, tomorrow we will have a trilateral meeting at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow morning, and then the President goes on with his schedule. I will be going to Jordan for a brief meeting.
Q Are you going to be at the trilateral?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I'll be at the trilateral, yes.
Q Picking up on the trilateral and the covenant action was sort of required under Wye, and so was an Israeli pullback. And Israeli officials -- the usual anonymous situation -- are saying that the reason there wasn't a trilateral tonight is that they object to the U.S. saying, you should reciprocate for the covenant bashing by agreeing to carry out that pullback this week, Friday. Is there anything to that?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, not the way you state it. I think that what has happened here is that clearly, as I said before we left, we wanted to come on this trip in order to get the peace process back on track and move it forward and restore communication. And clearly, the PNC meeting was one of the key elements of what we were trying to do here.
We believe that there has been -- first of all, the first phase of the second FRD worked because there was communication between the two parties, because they fulfilled their obligations -- and one of the problems in this phase has been that that communication is broken down.
There has been, we believe, in this phase that the Palestinians have moved on the problem of terrorism. There have been questions and problems that have arisen as a result of street violence and also as a result of questions about the prisoner releases. We believe that those situations can be resolved through the proper channels of various committees. And we think that it would be unfortunate if the deployment did not take place as soon as possible.
Q Just a quick follow-up. Does the Palestinian action today sort of compel Israel a little bit more beyond the text of Wye to do something reciprocal?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think the important part here is that the Israelis wanted this PNC action to take place. As I said, the President was deeply moved by what Minister Sharansky described as the need for it. I think that it is one of the elements of what was asked for and I think that it's important for the Israelis to move forward on the deployment. I think it would be unfortunate if that did not happen soon.
But the important part here, Barry, is that this is an evolving process where commitments have to be kept reciprocally, misunderstandings have to be dealt with at the table and not on the streets, and a schedule that was agreed to at Wye should be followed up.
Q Is it your understanding the Israeli pullback will not come on schedule and that the trilateral meeting would be President Clinton's intention to press for that? And is he cutting short the rest of his stay to go back after the trilateral meeting?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, I think that there are indications that it will not happen on schedule; but we hope very much that it can be as close to the schedule as possible. And, obviously, one of the issues that we will be talking about in the trilateral is how to keep the peace process going and how to move it forward. And the President is not cutting short his trip. He is going to have the trilateral and then he's going to go on and do Bethlehem and Masada and some of his other appointments.
Q Have the Israelis indicated that they're willing to make any concessions on the prisoner releases? What have they told you about that?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, what we have said, again, is that there is a mechanism that exists for dealing with these issues, and we are urging that both sides deal with questions about the prisoner issue through that mechanism. As I have said, the Israelis did what they said they were going to do on the prisoners, initially. It clearly is a very sensitive point for the Palestinians. And the kinds of questions that have arisen out of it should be dealt with through the proper channels and not on the streets.
Q But have they told you they are going to make any movement on that tomorrow?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: These are subjects that are part of the ongoing discussion.
Q The Prime Minister said tonight that Israel would be the one making the decisions on releasing the prisoners, but he did indicate that the Palestinians could make some changes or he indicated there were some things the Palestinians could do. Do you have any idea how that issue could be resolved?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that it can be resolved by having honest and frank discussions in this proper committee setting, this mechanism. I think --let me just kind of say for many of the questions that you ask, there is no question that the process is an incredibly complicated one and that the problems and divisions that have existed here for years are very deep.
I think we made great progress at Wye in setting up a structure of mutual responsibility and I think that it would be naive to think that questions would not arise along the way, which is why we felt it was a good idea, at the same time, to also have some mechanisms that would allow questions to be resolved. And that's why we keep urging that it's important to have communication restored because, as I said, communication was good during the first phase of this and so some of these issues can be dealt with that way.
Q Do you have goals for tomorrow, any specific, concrete steps you'd like to see agreed to?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think we're going to review what has happened here in the last couple of days, and then think about how to move forward.
Q The Prime Minister said that one impediment to moving ahead with Wye is to get Chairman Arafat to renounce the threat of unilateral statehood come next May. How realistic is it to expect that Chairman Arafat would make that sort of unilateral pronunciation now and how serious an impediment do you see it to the next redeployment?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think one of the things that we objected to was a statement attributed to the Prime Minister that said that he would not go forward if such a renunciation were not made, and we said that was not something that had been agreed to at Wye, it was a condition that was added that we didn't agree to. However, we have said many times and will, I suppose, say all the time, continuously as it comes up, is that unilateral statements or actions on either side do not help the environment of moving this process forward and we would hope that there would be restraint on that subject.
Q As a follow-up, are the Prime Minister's statements about an undivided Jerusalem just as unhelpful as the statements on a -- a unilateral statement -- SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, Jerusalem is a final status issue.
Q The President said today that he was profoundly
honored to be the first American President to address a Palestinian city governed by Palestinians, and he said that he was looking forward to the time when Palestinians could be free. I'm wondering how much momentum this lent to the concept of Palestinian statehood and to what extent there was a message for Israel in that, that history continues to move on?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, I think that the whole moment of the day was quite stunning, I think, in terms of the President being the first one to be there. I know I very much enjoyed when I was there and then when Prime Minister Netanyahu came and joined Chairman Arafat and me for lunch. So there have been ways that the comings and goings to Gaza have increased.
Also, I think we all had a sense of accomplishment about the airport, because that was one of the things that we worked out that was part of some of the issues that should be worked out during the interim agreement. And so the fact that we were able to work that out and that was a concrete result of Wye I think was very satisfying. We have always talked about legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people and I think that the President voiced what we've been talking about.
And let me just say also I think, I must say, with a great deal of pride today, that listening to the President give his speech and adding that to what he did at Wye, but the speech today I think kind of was the ultimate peacemaker role, because what he was doing was explaining one side to the other and showing the fact that the next generation needed to understand the pain, but get beyond it. So I think that you saw President Clinton, the peacemaker, really etched very well today.
And the momentum -- if there is a momentum -- is to get the final status issues done and try to move this peace process forward.
Q Prime Minister Netanyahu faces a difficult political vote on Friday. Is there any inclination by the United States to cut him a little slack on withdrawal until he gets past that and only then push him to withdraw those troops soon?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think we do not get involved in any country's domestic politics, this one included. And I think that, as I said, we think it's very important for obligations to be carried out mutually and that it would be unfortunate if there were an overly long delay.
Q May I follow up on that? Are the indications you're getting about the calls relating to internal politics and that sort of thing -- you don't have to comment on the internal politics -- do they relate to that, or are we talking about a broad list of complaints and unresolved issue that the Israelis have put forward before they're willing to do the next phase?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I am not going to comment on the domestic politics part of it, but I do know, and you've heard Prime Minister Netanyahu put forward a whole series of issues that he thinks have not been dealt with. And it has been our attempt in the last few days, and it will be again tomorrow and the day after and the day after, to try to help resolve those problems and try to, frankly, nudge both sides into fulfilling their obligations, because they are mutually interactive.
But as the President said today and as we have said previously, we can help and we can push and we can suggest, but it is the leaders themselves who have to make the hard decisions. They made hard decisions at Wye and I think that they are capable of continuing to do so, and it's important to use these various mechanisms that we set up where we are willing to play a role that might move it forward.
Q Did the subject of impeachment come up in the U.S. delegations' talks with the Israelis or the Palestinians? And secondly, has it proved any kind of distraction to your work here?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: No, to both questions.
Q Secretary Albright, can you say whether the question of Mr. Pollard's release from jail has come up in any of your conversations with the Israelis, and would that be linked in any fashion whatsoever --
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Not in any meeting that I have been in this time.
Q Madam Secretary, the historic tenor of today notwithstanding, would you say that the peace process still has a long way to go, that you may have to renegotiate these issues every few weeks under the Wye Accords, much less get into the final status talks, which as you know, has not even started on any sort of detailed basis?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, you've allowed me to go back on something which I'm very pleased to do. First of all, I think that people didn't think that the PNC thing could happen. It was a big deal and it was something that the Israelis felt was very important and something that was clearly not easy for Chairman Arafat to do. And especially since many of the Palestinian leadership believe that they have in some form or another already revoked the offensive parts of the Charter.
So I think that we -- I hope that you all don't underestimate the importance of today in the fact that it happened at all and its importance generally to the entire process.
I do think that we have already seen the road, and I'm sorry to keep repeating the images that I've used, but the road to peace does have bumps on it and they will continue to be there. The main thing that we're going to try to do is to avoid any of them being roadblocks. And we are there -- and I don't think "renegotiate" is the right word -- I think we are going to be there in order to try to urge them to use the various mechanisms that have been set up. And if additional mechanisms are needed, then we will be characteristically inventive.
Q Madam Secretary, a question about the President's speech. At one point, he drew a parallel between the families of people who were killed in terrorist attacks and the families of the alleged killers in those terrorist attacks. Is that parallel he meant to draw and could you explain it for us?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that what he was doing was drawing the parallel of the children being in pain and the fact that there were tears by both groups of children, and in no way did he draw any parallel about the cause of the pain, because the President has made very clear that there is no room for terrorism or murder.
Q Madam Secretary, to what extent do the Wye Accords have to Netanyahu personally? Would the Wye Accords -- would it be practical to expect implementation of Wye in the absence of Netanyahu's leadership of the government?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, the Wye Accords were agreed to by the Knesset and, therefore, they are what the state of Israel has agreed to. That is our interpretation.
Q Madam Secretary, going back to something you said before, I thought I heard Mr. Netanyahu say yesterday that he will not move until Arafat stops making unilateral statehood statements. He seemed to make it a precondition to the agreement. And today Arafat did it all over again. What's going on here?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that we have said that no unilateral statements are helpful, and we -- and I believe that. I mean, all you have to do is either hear them by either side or watch unilateral actions to know that they are not helpful to creating an atmosphere where an already difficult peace process can go forward. And as I have said -- I don't have the language in front of me, but, as you know, in the Wye Agreement it speaks about avoiding unilateral statements. It, however, does not add that as a condition the way that Prime Minister Netanyahu stated it.
Q Thank you.