George Bush News Conferences & Interviews: Middle East/Israel
JANUARY 9, 1991
Q. Mr. President, a question on Israel. Tariq `Aziz was emphatic that if Iraq is attacked, Israel will be attacked. What are your obligations to Israel? Are you prepared to fight a war throughout the Middle East?
The President. That is too hypothetical a question for me to answer. We are prepared to do what we need to do to fully implement 678. And I would think that he'd think long and hard before he started yet another war. There is one war on -- that's his war against Kuwait. That's his aggression against Kuwait. And I don't think he wants to start another one. So, I'm not going to buy into that hypothesis that the United States would obviously feel that that was a most provocative act, most provocative.
Q. If I may, I don't believe it was a hypothetical question. The question was, what are your obligations to Israel?
The President. We have friends all over the world. We have friends in this coalition. And I'm determined that the United States will fill our obligations there. Clearly, if a friend in that area was attacked, wantonly attacked for no cause whatsoever, not only the United States but I think many people around the world would view that as a flagrant provocation. And I'll leave it stand right there.
JANUARY 25, 1991
Persian Gulf Conflict
Q. Mr. President, the reports from Israel now indicate that the injuries to civilians, perhaps deaths, may have been caused by Patriot missiles themselves not striking their targets, or at least if they struck them parts of them fell back on the civilian population -- which raises anew the question of the sufficiency of the Patriot missile and the question about whether you are now contemplating additional measures to try to deal with this obviously persistent problem?
The President. We are certainly dealing with that all the time and we want to find ways to stop it. We want to find ways to stop these brutal, senseless, nonmilitary-value attacks on civilian populations.
Q. Can you give us a sense of your level of confidence in the Israelis continuing to show restraint here? Obviously, it can't be any easier for them now than before.
The President. No, although this one -- I felt I might be asked that question walking in here -- and there's still -- I'm still not certain that we know all the details exactly of what happened on this. I will again express enormous confidence in the Patriots. They are doing very, very well. But whether this was debris falling down from an intercept, or not, I simply don't want to comment on it because we don't yet know it for sure.
MARCH 8, 1991
Security in the Persian Gulf
Q. Sir, my colleagues have elected that I speak first. I would like to take the opportunity to thank you personally, the administration and this great country and people, for what you have done. I believe this is an historical stand. And as our Ambassador has said, you will go into history as a great leader and a great man.
Sir, my first question is, the coalition has won the war, and I believe we have a great battle ahead of us, that is, to win the peace. What kind of arrangement do you foresee the United States, the coalition, and the Gulf States and, of course, the Arabs would have for security arrangements within the Gulf States and the Arab States?
The President. I think this is a time, as Abraham Lincoln once said in our history, to think anew. And we are starting to think anew by dispatching our Secretary of State to the region. There will not be a United States plan to bring peace to Lebanon, to the Gulf, or to the Israeli-Palestine question. There will not be a single, sole U.S. plan. We want to be an instrumental part of it. We think, given what's happened in the Gulf, perhaps we have more credibility to be a part of it. When I spoke at our meeting to the joint session of Congress the other day, I spoke about our interest in being a catalyst for peace. And that's what Baker is out there to do.
I would love to think that the day would come when the Israeli-Arab world hostility could end. And that's going to take compromise on both sides. We are very openminded as to how that should be brought about. When I talked about territory for peace, that wasn't exactly a new statement. We have been proponents of Resolutions 242 and 338 for a long time, and so have other countries, many other countries. I'd say most every country, but then some have pulled away from them. So, we're going to push, after consultation, in trying to get common ground with our coalition partners and then with Israel and others, to push on all three fronts.
Obviously, the security in the Gulf is quite different. I will repeat -- I don't want to lecture here, but I will repeat that we are not interested in a longterm ground troop presence. The Iranians, for example, are accusing us, or not accusing us but are very much concerned about that. So are others. And we would be playing right into the hands of our critics if we sent a signal that we wanted to leave a sizable U.S. force on the ground out there. We don't. Our families want them home.
But on the other hand, I spelled out the other day some security requirements for the Gulf and what we think might be new arrangements that will provide for a more stable and more secure Gulf. Lebanon, again, and the Israeli question -- these will be evolved after the Baker consultations.
Q. Mr. President, President Mubarak has called once again for a Middle East, including Israel, free of weapons of mass destruction. Do you agree with this initiative and other proposals for the limitation of arms shipments to the region, including Israel?
The President. You heard me speak on proliferation. I don't think you're going to disarm Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Syria -- anybody. I think that's idealistic. I'm not implying that that -- what my dear friend Hosni Mubarak is saying. But I would like to think that out of all this we could have a vastly reduced flow of arms to this troubled corner of the world.
We have been very much concerned about these shipments. In some places we've been involved in them, to many of the countries right here in which your papers are located and Israel. But when I made this pitch for nonproliferation the other day, it is something that again we want to talk about within this whole concept of security and stability, not of just the Gulf region but of the other parts of the Middle East as well.
So, I'm not certain how we'll come down, what the final arrangements will be, but we are very openminded about talking and then doing what we say after we talk, in terms of fewer weapons going into the area.
Q. What do you mean by political rights to Palestinian people in your speech?
The President. About political rights? Listen, there will not be peace until the whole question of where the Palestinians have a right to be is taken care of. And some say ``state.'' It's not been our position in favor of the state, and there we differ with many of our Arab friends. But the question is, get the Palestine question resolved. And obviously, the framework has got to be the action taken by the United Nations. Or at least, that doesn't have to be the only answer, but that's some common ground there. That's something that Israel agreed to, that's something that Arab States agreed to, and is subject to a lot of interpretation problems. But there is a common place to start from. But there's got to be discussions. We can't have state of war forever and ever. I mean, we're in kind of a healing mode now. I'd like to heal some wounds. I'd like to be a catalyst that can help overcome old enmities.
Now, maybe that's too idealistic, but even if he can't do that, there has got to be a resolution of the Palestine question. And we know it, and we feel strongly about it, and we're prepared to play a useful role. But as I say, people are going to have to move on all sides of this question. The status quo ain't going to get the job done.
Q. You had a talk with the PLO; are you willing to resume the talks?
The President. I wouldn't say right now. They're coming at us at the wrong time. I don't think they've requested that. They were broken off because, as you recall, some terrorists -- what we call terrorism. They were calling it something else. But I think I would be very -- and I'm one who wanted to keep those talks going and did as long as we could. But to me, they've lost credibility. They've lost credibility with this office right here. And the reason they have is because they behaved very badly to those of their own fundamental faith.
That's not all PLO people; I'm sure there are some good people there. But their leadership betrayed their friends and got in with the wrong side. And it's going to take some time. So, I'm not in any rush to do that at all.
MARCH 13, 1991
Middle East Peace Process
Q. Thank you, Mr. President. I would like to ask you about Secretary Baker's trip to the Middle East. Do you see any sign that Israeli or Palestinian leaders are willing to make any kind of fundamental change in their long-held positions?
The President. Well, I would say this, Terry [Terence Hunt, Associated Press], that the reports -- and I've gotten a report every night, each night, from Jim Baker, and then Brent Scowcroft has been, I think, even in more touch with him. I think that the Secretary feels that the climate is now better than it's been in a long time for making progress.
I can't tell you about radically shifting positions, but it is my view that we ought to move forward. I think the United States is in as good a position, if not better position, than it has ever been to be a catalyst for peace there.
Put it this way -- let me rephrase it -- I haven't seen anything pessimistic coming out of the Baker reports. I've not had the report since he's been into Syria. But up until then, I was fully informed, and I think the mood is that we have a chance now. But that's as far as I would want to go.
Q. You mentioned the unity of the coalition in times of war. To what extent are you seeking unity in this postwar period, specifically on the Israeli-Palestinian question and the idea of land for peace?
The President. I've already expressed myself in terms of our continued support for [United Nations Security Council Resolutions] 242 and 338 that address themselves to that question. So, we are not backing off from that. But I think that we have a real opportunity. I think we have renewed credibility in that part of the world. I think there is a recognition in Israel that, in reducing the threat to them by the victory over Saddam Hussein, we've done something solid for peace. And I know there's that same sense of appreciation and understanding in the Gulf.
So, I think the coalition partners, such as Canada and the United States, are in the best position we've been in, in a long, long time not only to stay in touch and consult, but to get something done in these three areas that have been denied peace for far too long.
Palestine Liberation Organization
Q. Do you and the President see eye-to-eye on the role of the PLO under the current leadership?
The Prime Minister. My own opinion is the one that I gave the House of Commons the other day. I think that the credibility of the leadership of the PLO is zero. When you have people encouraging Scud missiles as they rain down on Israel and actively siding with the enemy in a major war, then of course you have people, as far as I'm concerned, of very questionable credibility.
Canada has always taken the position that there has to be a solution to the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinians. And it is up to the Palestinian people to choose their representatives. And it's not up to Canada or the United States or, I assume, anyone else to impose choices on them. But if we had our druthers, I think you can conclude what it might be.
For the life of me, I can't figure out why anyone would be supportive of a group of people who have displayed such consistently egregious judgment. But the United States may have a different view on it.
The President. I've expressed my disappointment in the PLO. The PLO, you remember -- I believe it was at the Rabat summit years ago, was designated as the sole spokesman for the Palestinian people. But their leader chose wrong on this; went far beyond where he had to go in order to express his understanding about the dilemma that Iraq was in. Put it this way: he supported Saddam overly zealously and diminished his credibility -- not any further in the United States, necessarily, because it had gone way down when those terrorist vessels came along the coast of Israel. But he diminished his credibility in the Arab world. He diminished his credibility with the coalition partners.
So, whether there is something that can come out of that organization that has been designated the spokesman for the Palestinian people that will be more reasonable or more sensible, let's hope there will be. But I don't think we're very far apart, if at all, on this with that the Canadian Prime Minister has said.
Arms Sales to the Middle East
Q. Mr. President, since you cited the reduced threat to Israel here this afternoon and your desire to halt the proliferation of arms in the region, are you reconsidering any potential arms sales to Israel, and is the administration reconsidering its pledge, promise, commitment -- whatever you want to call it -- to sell some $15 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia?
The President. When the Secretary of State gets back, we will be talking about that whole question. I have repeated my desire to try to curb proliferation. That doesn't mean we're going to refuse to sell anything to everybody. We're not going to cut off all weapons sales. We don't want to see imbalances develop. We won't want to see the threats to individual countries increased because of imbalance. But it is a subject, Jim [Jim Miklaszewski, NBC News], that we will be talking about and trying to find an answer to.
I don't know what the questions are before the Congress now or the administration in detail on Israel requests. We think we've been pretty generous and fair in terms of this recent appropriation bill with the State of Israel. But I'll be reserving on that before going further until I talk to the Secretary when he gets back.
I would like to think that the diminished threat to Israel -- and it is significantly diminished because of what's happened in Iraq -- will be a reason that we will just not have ever-increasing arms sales.
You've got other countries, though, that want arms. The Saudi sale -- that was put on kind of a hold, and I just can't tell you where that stands right this minute.
MARCH 14, 1991
Middle East Problems
Q. I would like to ask President Bush two questions. Mr. President, are you determined to solve the Palestinian problem the way you were determined to liberate Kuwait? And if so, on which basis and what formula -- an international conference, direct negotiations between Israel and the Arab countries, or a regional conference? A last point: What is the importance you give to the Lebanese question? Thank you.
President Bush. The answer is, yes, to the first part of your question, we are determined to play a useful role. The answer to the second part of your question is, that is one of the reasons for my anxiousness to see President Mitterrand, to discuss exactly how we should proceed.
The United States has expressed its position on an international conference over and over again, saying that at the right time it could be useful. President Mitterrand has surfaced some ideas of his own that can be useful. And to respond to the second part of the question, we simply have not come across or settled on one path, one single approach, to try to solve this Palestine-Israel question.
It is very important that it do be solved. And we did discuss a lot of ideas, some of which I would not feel comfortable in bringing out here.
Q. A question for both of you, President Bush, President Mitterrand. Are you not somewhat irritated by the intransigence shown by Israel? And are you going to exercise perhaps more than friendly pressure on Mr. Shamir that he should perhaps be a little less intransigent?
President Bush. Well, your question implies to me a little bit that there's only one intransigent party in the Middle East. And so, what we're trying to do is get those who are deemed by one or another of us as intransigent to come forward. We have Arab countries that are in a state of war with Israel. And let's hope that out of this conflict in the Gulf, countries will see that the answer is to cease having a state of war. Let's hope that countries who have been unwilling to talk with Israel will be willing to talk with Israel. Let's hope Israel will be forthcoming.
But I just didn't want to leave the question such that there was an intransigence on the part of only one country. Yes, they've been reluctant to do certain things for valid reasons of their own security. But let us find ways now where we can kind of help guarantee their security requirements, and let's encourage those who have been unwilling to even talk to them, say nothing of end the state of war with them, to do both. So, that's what our diplomatic efforts will be aimed at.
APRIL 26, 1991
Middle East Peace Talks
Q. Sir, has Secretary Baker made any progress in the Middle East as far as moving forward the -- --
The President. Yes, he's made progress. I just talked to him. There's sadness in his family -- his mother just passed away, so he will be coming home, stopping short of the two meetings that he had hoped to have in Israel. But it is most appropriate. I mean, they're a very close family. And, incidentally, Barbara and I expressed our regrets to him. We've known Mrs. Baker for many, many years. She's one of God's very special people. And so, he has this personal sadness.
But he did have a meeting with Prime Minister Shamir. And I think it's fair to say that, though problems remain, I think the bottom line is there's some reason for optimism. I don't want to state why; I'm not going to go into the details of it. I will get debriefed by him when he gets here. And there are still some sticky problems, but we're not going to give up. We're going to continue to try to bring peace to that troubled corner of the world.
MAY 23, 1991
Q. Mr. President, do you share Secretary of State Baker's frustration with the new Israeli settlements in the occupied territories? And how much of an impediment to a peace process are these settlements?
The President. Secretary Baker reiterated the long-standing policy of the United States Government, not just in our administration but, as General Powell and Secretary Cheney know, of previous administrations. And so, I didn't see anything particularly new in what he said. I have appealed to the Soviet Union -- I mean, to Israel not to move forward with more settlements. They know it's our policy. And I can understand the Secretary's concern and perhaps frustration by this. However, Israel's moving in some ways that I will not discuss with you. And so, I have no reason to be totally pessimistic. The settlements have been and will continue to be a difficult problem for us.
Middle East Peace Talks
Q. Mr. President, given that Secretary Baker portrayed the Israel new settlements every time he went back there as something of an insult, a thumb in the eye, and given the fact that U.S. aid generally props up Israel, are you willing to now use that lever to pressure Israel?
The President. What I want to do -- I'm not pressuring anybody. What I want to do is get people to talk in that part of the world where they haven't talked before. And what I want to do is take the credibility that I believe the United States has now in Israel and in the Gulf countries and in the other countries in the Middle East to try to be a catalyst for peace. So, we're not talking about pressure. And what Secretary Baker was doing was reiterating a long-standing policy of the United States.
Thank you all very much. A follow-on; no more new ones.
Q. Do you agree with Secretary Baker that those settlements were the main impediment to success on his trip?
The President. I would want to read his testimony, but new settlements do not enhance the prospects for peace.
JULY 1, 1991
Q. Mr. President, this fall, Israel intends to ask the United States to guarantee $10 billion in loans to build housing for Jewish refugees from the Soviet Union. Could you tell us how you feel about linking approval of these loans guarantees with some pledge from Israel to decrease the building of new settlements in the occupied territories?
The President. Well, I don't think it ought to be a quid pro quo. What I do think, and I've said this over and over again, that it is against U.S. policy for these settlements to be built. So, I'll leave it right there and avoid the linkage that you understandably ask about, but say that the best thing for Israel to do is to keep its commitment that was given at one point not to go in and build further settlements. It is counterproductive to the peace process. Now, having said that, I want to be fair: There are other things and by other countries that are counterproductive to the peace process. I'd love to see direct talks between these countries.
But we have not changed our position on sanctions, I mean on settlements, and we're not going to change our position on settlements. So please, those in Israel, do what you can to see that that policy of settlement after settlement is not continued. It is counterproductive. And having heard the Secretary of State say that and seen what followed on, I will promptly add, as he has, that we want to be sure that others move forward in the peace process, too. But it's not constructive to getting these parties to come together and work for a peace that I think the entire world wants and that all of them want. So, we'll keep working it, but we're not giving one inch on the settlements question.
Middle East Peace Process
Q. Mr. President, you spoke a bit ago about everyone in the Middle East wanting peace. Yet the Israelis seem to have stiff-armed your proposals. The Syrians don't seem to like the terms either. Is there more here than meets the eye?
The President. Probably more than meets the eye, but not as much as I'd like to see meet the eye. I mean, in other words, I think I'd like to see the process further along, but there are a few things that I think offer hope. In fact, in my last communication from President [Prime Minister] Shamir of Israel was a commitment to try to work for peace. There are some broad commitments, but frankly, I'd like to see us further along on some of the details. And please don't press me on what those details are. But I'm not going to give up hope on this, and I don't think the Secretary is. But we need to have more progress, and we need to have it sooner.
I am told that the credibility of the United States for being the catalyst for peace is still very, very strong and very good, not only in Israel but in the Arab countries as well. So, that is an ingredient that wasn't there before, that's still there, that I hope will lead to peace.
Q. It's been suggested that the United States might just call a peace conference and see who shows up. Is that an option?
The President. Well, I don't want to go into options, but yes, I've seen suggestions of that nature. And at some point, I think I owe the American people my view of the details I'm not willing to discuss right now. And that wouldn't bother me one bit, to get up and say, here's what we've been trying to do. So, there's no timeframe on anything of that nature. But I think there's a lot of people that are wondering what in the world is going on. And I've invoked quiet diplomacy and the need for confidentiality, but I can't do that forever; I just simply can't do it. I owe it to the American people, and I think the people around the world, to say, hey, here's what the United States thinks is a good formula.
JULY 8, 1991
Aftermath of the Persian Gulf Conflict
Q. Mr. President, the United States entered the war, the Gulf war, with certain friends and a certain coalition. Do you feel that through this experience, the passing of the war, and after the war, the United States has the same friends, the same judgment of them, the same coalition? And what about Israel and that frame of reference?
The President. I think that, basically, the countries that we worked with in forming the coalition, and then moving forward together to kick the aggressor out of Kuwait, are still very friendly with the United States. There are varying degrees, obviously. We had strained relations with Syria. Now I think they're better. We've had historically great relations with Italy, for example; Britain, France. And those relations have been nothing but enhanced by the way the coalition worked and by the U.S. role in it, in my view.
Whether we can take this -- and I think -- and again, I don't want to kind of sound chauvinistic or overly proud, but I do think that out of all of this, the United States has a new standing and a certain credibility in these countries that you mentioned and in other countries. I think that includes Israel. You asked about Israel.
We would like to take that credibility, if I'm correct that it exists, and be the catalyst for peace in the whole Middle East. And we're running into some difficulties. They wouldn't have been hard to predict by any of you all -- you follow foreign affairs and you follow these international tensions. And so, they're predictable, you might say. We're not going to give up. We're going to keep on trying. And I think that various countries are going to have to give a little.
I'd love to see direct talks between the parties. I'd love to see the ending of this boycott. I'd love to see an end to the settlements. I'd like to see a lot of things happen that aren't happening. But we're going to keep trying. And I think that our participation in -- some might say, coleadership of the coalition is helpful to us in that regard. And let's hope we can move the peace process forward.
Good God, that area -- you see Israeli kids, you see Palestinian kids -- and it's not my generation, it's not the next, it's the one after that, that worries me. Do these kids, whatever country they're from, have to live in this kind of fear and animosity? Do they have to grow up now, yet another generation of young kids, because grown people can't get together to solve heretofore intractable problems?
And so, I look at it quite emotionally, and I want very much to have us keep trying. I salute our Secretary of State, who has tried. And I can't give you the most optimistic answer right now as to where all of that stands; I wish I could. But we are going to stay involved for the reason I gave you.
JULY 15, 1991
Middle East Peace Talks
Q. Mr. President, how would you describe the significance of this breakthrough? Do you see real hope here?
The President. Well, again, I will wait until I hear from Jim Baker after he's been in the area, been to several of these countries. But I think, in fairness to President Mubarak who worked with President Assad of Syria on this, and to others, we would say, from what we've seen, we would say breakthrough. But we've learned that you -- we want to go into all the details so that there can't have been some hang-up. But clearly, it is a coming forward by President Assad that we view as very, very positive -- breakthrough, perhaps or maybe, but I think these words -- we've got to be careful until the details are finalized.
Q. What is your plan, and why is it still a secret? And what will Israel respond to this, since it's already rejected it?
The President. Well, I don't know that Israel has rejected this. And the plan has -- the major components of it are well-known. But there are details of it better kept for quiet diplomacy. So, I think mostly people realize what we're talking about here in trying to get these parties to engage one with the other, starting mechanism being a conference of sorts. But we're just going to go forward and keep pressing. And I don't believe Israel has rejected this. They haven't had a chance to even understand what President Assad is proposing. And one of their concerns has been that Syria hasn't been coming forward, and now if it is proper that they are coming forward, that clearly would, I would think, be good for those who want peace in the area. It is a very important step that's taken place.
Q. You mean he has made a concession on some of the -- --
The President. I wouldn't call it a concession. He's just agreed now to come forward to the kinds of meetings that are necessary to get this process going. And that is a major step if it proves to be correct.
Q. Mr. President, how will you convince Israel to get on board now that the Syrians have made this move?
The President. I would like to think that when they say they want peace, that they would get on board naturally. They've been wanting talks with people in the area, and if all goes well here, that's exactly what will happen. So, I'm not going to do anything other than -- to suggest that they'll be unwilling to. My view is that, if it's as represented, that they will want to. They've made statements to us of wanting to do these things, so now here will be a good test, a good -- --
Q. You mean they have not responded?
The President. Well, we haven't asked Israel to respond to the Syrian response yet. We're, as I say, examining it in every detail.
JULY 17, 1991
Middle East Peace Process
Q. Does the letter from President Assad put pressure on Israel to come around on the peace process?
The President. Well, we're analyzing that, and I can answer your question better after I hear from Jim Baker on his trip. But it's not a question of pressure. It's a question of trying to bring people to understand that peace and talking to each other is in everybody's interest. So, I'm not going to term it what action or lack of action is going to bring pressure on any party. But I do consider it, from what we've seen, to be positive. Now we've got to pin down the details and move forward.
JULY 20, 1991
Middle East Peace Process
Q. Mr. President -- President Bush -- what do you think are the possibilities that there will be a Middle East peace conference? You say you're getting very positive reports from Damascus and Cairo, but there seem to be signals otherwise from Israel. What do you think is going to happen? Do you have any fallback position or options?
President Bush. Well, we're not trying to fall back at this juncture, because Jim Baker has encountered positive responses in Syria. I've seen his report -- I talked to him yesterday, as a matter of fact -- I've seen his reports from Egypt which I would interpret as positive. He's on to Saudi Arabia now.
And I believe in my heart of hearts that when this is explained on his last stop, when this is explained in Israel, that all countries will see that it is in their interests to come forward and talk peace. And that's what this is all about.
And so, we don't have any fallback position. We think we've put forward some good ideas. And I'm very happy that certain countries now see the merits in these ideas, and I hope that all of them will. There's still some important stops on this mission: Saudi Arabia is one, Jordan another, and of course, Israel terribly important in the equation too.
I've heard mixed statements in the press from different countries, but that's not the way these things happen. You don't get deterred when one minister or another responds in any country. You just go forward with what you think is right. And I again salute our Secretary of State. I go back to Brit's question. I don't know how -- Jim Baker used to get tired when he drove across town in Washington, DC -- literally. He'd call me up and tell me how tired he was, campaigning and all of that. Now he's going all around the world all the time, dedicated to trying to help solve this problem.
And so, I see no reason to have any fallback position. What I see is to be as supportive as we can, not only of what Baker is trying to do but to get -- my involvement -- to get these other countries along the way to be supportive. And we're going to do just exactly that. I think the world is crying out for a peaceful solution in the Middle East. And as long as I've known Turgut Ozal, he's told me: You must help solve this problem. And that's exactly what we're trying to do.
And so, every time you hear some negative comment or comment of reserve, you can't get discouraged. You go forward on a question of principle. And that's what the United States is doing. And I'm very proud of our Secretary of State.
JULY 21, 1991
Middle East Peace Process
Q. Well, I actually wanted to ask, sir, you talked earlier about not wanting to use the word pressure in relation to Israel. But haven't the circumstances of the last few days -- given what the Saudis have done, given what the Syrians have done -- hasn't this created a new situation which requires possibly a new response from the Israelis?
The President. Well, we're asking that there be positive responses from all the parties. And our policy is well-known with Israel on settlements; we haven't changed one bit. So, there's some sticking points there. But I think most people around the world view what has happened as positive -- the Syrian letter, the responses out of Lebanon, the responses out of Egypt, are positive. And I'm confident, I hope it's not misplaced confidence, that when the Secretary gets to Israel he will find that they, like all these other countries, realize that time for peace is at hand.
We've been talking, for example, on Cyprus here. And I haven't yet had the chance to hear from Mr. Demirel's position, but our position has been there ought to be a quadripartite meeting. And the Greeks have not agreed to that yet, and this proposal was made by the Turks, but there's, you know, there's still details to be worked out. But that's our position. We've got it out there on Cyprus and we're discussing it with the Greek Government and the Turkish Government.
Similarly, in the Middle East, we've put out a proposal that now is getting the kinds of support from various parties that I think the world has long awaited. So, we'll just keep trying. We can't dictate on either of these two questions, but we sure can be helpful.
Q. Mr. President, if you did succeed in arranging a Middle East peace conference, would you travel to the region to host the -- --
The President. I think it's premature. I'd go anywhere if it would really, truly be productive to help there or help on any other question. But I think it's way premature to suggest that the presence of the President of the United States at this juncture at some meeting or other could be helpful. But the process is moving; I think that's the key point. I just haven't really even thought about that particular question.
Q. Would the suspension of the settlements, would that help -- stopping where they are right now, just marking time -- would that be a key thing that the Israelis could do now?
The President. Well, I would think so. And that's been our position. I had a one-on-one discussion with Mr. Shamir about this months ago and made clear to him that the United States' policy was that there should be no more settlements. And so, that was -- our position hasn't changed on that. And so, we just leave it right there.
Q. Mr., President, surely Mr. Shamir has made clear to you that Israel -- --
The President. Now, wait a minute. You don't ask in that tone; just ask the question.
Q. It would seem that Mr. Shamir has made clear that he does not accept the U.S. proposal and yet -- --
The President. I'm not so sure of that. You don't know what he's made clear to me and what he hasn't. What I'm saying is I'm hopeful he'll accept it.
Q. But, sir, is a settlement freeze the most important thing the Israelis could do now?
The President. Well, I'm not sure. There's a lot of -- we're talking about a conference that will lead to one-on-one talks. All of these questions are important. But, John, the question of settlements has been important. I think anybody in the Middle East will tell you -- and I hesitate to speak for my guest that I just met -- but I haven't encountered anybody in this part of the world that thinks increasing settlements is a helpful thing. And the U.S. policy has been opposed to it for years. So, this isn't anything new with us. This isn't new at all.
JULY 31, 1991
Middle East Peace Talks
Q. Mr. President, can I ask you, the fact that you're going ahead with this peace conference, does that mean that you have Israel's acceptance of the outlines of your conditions for a peace conference, or is there still a hangup, or have you got a commitment from Mr. Shamir?
President Bush. Well, I would wait and let Secretary Baker answer that question after this next meeting. And if I had to express a degree of optimism or pessimism, I'd say I'm a little more optimistic today. But the visit of Jim Baker now is for what we said here, to obtain Israel's answer to our proposal for peace. And if I had the answer in my pocket -- or he did -- I'd expect that we would say so.
AUGUST 2, 1991
Middle East Peace Talks
Q. Mr. President, you're on the record several times saying that the implementation of U.N. Resolution 242 and 338, land-for-peace, should be the basis of ending this 40-year conflict. Do you still feel that way?
The President. Well, the United States has not changed its position on 242 and 338, of course. But the point now is not to further elaborate on how we think the outcome should be; this is a matter to be negotiated. But the United States' policy hasn't changed.
Q. But you admit that there has to be concessions on both sides, though.
The President. I would leave that for the discussions. One way to avoid progress is to start spelling out what should happen or how it should work before the parties sit down. The big news and the important news is, there seems to be agreement on this conference. And I think -- I'll tell you, people all around the world are hoping that this proves to be true. We don't want to miss this opportunity for peace.
Q. Mr. President, on the Palestinians, what is the latest with Jim Baker and how he's resolving the issue with the Palestinians?
The President. I would just leave that for him to make an announcement at the appropriate time. There are some sensitive negotiations going on. It would not be helpful for me to talk about formulas, what the U.S. is trying to do on all of this. We're involved in a process of real diplomacy here, and I should have said at the outset that I'm just not going to go into details of that nature.
Q. Mr. President, do you consider East Jerusalem to be occupied territory subject to the U.N. resolution?
The President. You must have missed what I said earlier here about trying to get something going. This is no time to go into contentious issues, representational issues. The policy of the United States is clear. But what we've got to do now is be this catalyst to get people talking. And for me to go into issues of that nature at this point, I'm simply not going to do that.
AUGUST 11, 1991
Q. You've given thanks to Iran, to Syria, and to Lebanon. Is it perhaps time for Israel to do something specific?
The President. Well, Jim [Jim Miklaszewski, NBC News], I've said that all countries holding hostages ought to release them -- people that are not held under procedures of law but have been taken hostage. I just hope that we soon wake up in this world and recognize that holding hostages is a counterproductive way to make a statement of policy or for any other reason.
Q. Well, sir, excuse me, but if you're responding to this question on Israel, are you saying that Israel is holding hostages?
The President. I'm just saying I just defined for you what hostage-holding is.
Q. Are you saying that Israel should release the Shiite prisoners that it holds?
The President. I'm saying everybody that is held as a hostage should be released by every country, whichever it is.
Q. Have you talked to Secretary-General Perez de Cuellar since his meeting with McCarthy, and have you talked to the Israeli leaders about this -- --
The President. No, I've not talked to any of them.
Q. Will you be talking to the Israeli leaders about McCarthy's letter? McCarthy says that in the letter is this request for the 400 Arab prisoners to be released from Israel.
The President. I imagine that we'll be in touch with Israel through the proper channels, but I haven't talked to any of the people you ask about. They know our position. Having been reiterated here, I hope that it's heard loud and clear around the world.
Q. Whether they are called prisoners or hostages that Israel is holding, would you endorse their release now?
The President. I'd love to see all people held against their will released. And by that, I mean those who are taken as hostages. Now, if somebody is taken for legitimate legal purposes, that's something else again. But yes, to the degree they fit the description, I'd like to see every country release them, and I'd like to see the whole world turn away from holding hostages.
You know, we went through a spate of hijackings as a way to express one's political disapproval. And there was a little condonation of this: ``Well, you have to understand where these people are coming from and what their reasons are.'' And somehow the world has come together against that. I'm not saying it'll ever happen, but I think people recognize that putting innocents at risk is not the way one makes a political statement. So, let's hope that the world comes together now against taking hostages and kidnaping people and pulling them away from their homes to hold them hostage for some political goal, whatever it is.
Q. The Revolutionary Justice Organization said that the reason that they released Mr. Tracy was because of positive indicators, developments, and progress in the negotiations that are going on to release the people that they want freed, presumably those held by Israel. Can you shed any light on the status of those negotiations; and particularly, does Israel seem to be bending, perhaps, on releasing those PLO prisoners?
The President. We can't shed any light on it, but let's hope progress is made on all fronts in releasing these people. But I can't help you with any details. I know a little more than I'm saying, but nothing that would have a positive effect on seeing people released. But it is so important that these people are released from prison.
AUGUST 13, 1991
Q. Sir, do you have anything from the Israelis on the prospects for releasing Sheik Obeid?
The President. No, there wasn't anything at all from them. I noticed that they are very interested in getting back their own, having accounted their own military, and I can certainly sympathize with that. I wasn't perhaps overly clear on that the other day, but when I spoke about people being taken for political reasons I still feel strongly that everybody ought to release those.
But then we've seen that there are some that are held in Germany that are violent breakers of the law. There are some soldiers unaccounted for, and all that should be cleared up, certainly. But those that are in jails convicted of terrorist acts, hijacking planes, bombings, clearly they've got to pay the price. But it's these political kidnapings and hostage-takings where I hope people will all go ahead and release them.
Q. So are the soldiers in that category?
The President. Well, there's a full accounting that's required, and I can certainly understand Israel's desire to have the full accounting for those people. Absolutely.
Q. Is the United States putting any pressure on Israel to go in the same direction?
The President. No, no pressure. We can't pressure anybody. But we keep repeating our policy, and I still repeat that I don't want to get the hopes up of families. I think that's still the tragedy in all of this.
Q. He indicated that the release of those seven, or the accounting for those seven Israeli military guys, that that seems to be really the main sticking point. And he said that if that could be solved then the hostage situation could be solved; not a direct quote, but it seems to be what he's saying.
The President. I think the military people are unaccounted for, whether they're MIA's in Vietnam or whether they're Israeli soldiers presumably held somewhere else, there should be a full accounting. And I certainly share Israel's concern, just as I expect all countries share our concern about MIA's that are not accounted for.
SEPTEMBER 6, 1991
Aid to Israel
Q. What does Shamir say about this?
The President. Well, the Secretary's had two good talks. At this juncture I gather he wants to go forward. But as President of the United States I'm taking the strong recommendation, and strongly approve of it incidentally, but from the Secretary of State that this be deferred. And I think farsighted Members of Congress understand exactly why it should be deferred. We don't need an acrimonious debate just as we're about to get this peace conference convened.
Q. Mr. Bush, would you want the deferment if Israel had changed its housing, its settlement policy? If they were no longer putting up housing in the settlements, would you feel freer to go ahead with the -- --
The President. Our settlement policy is well-known. I don't want to have any debate on this question now. Everybody knows the United States policy about settlements, and that policy is not going to change. And I must do a better job convincing the people here and in Israel that we are correct on this, with our underlying desire for peace. But it isn't a question of that. My point here is: Defer discussion on all these matters now, and let's go to this conference that's just about put together. And I'm convinced that the debate we're talking about would be counterproductive to peace.
We've worked very, very hard. Everyone knows of our special and friendly relationship with Israel, and I feel strongly about that in my heart, but I know it is in the interest of world peace that this be deferred.
Q. How are you going -- with Soviet participation as you plan the conference? Are you going to just go it alone?
The President. Well, the Secretary will be in Moscow, that will be discussed. But the Soviets have played a very constructive role in all of this, and I see no reason that any of these changes that have taken place inside the Soviet Union will change that. I think they want to see it go forward.
Q. Mr. President, on the loan guarantees, are you convinced that the Israelis will be willing to go along with the peace conference if this is put on hold?
The President. Well, I'm convinced that they've already indicated a willingness to go forward without conditions of that nature, and I see no reason that they'd change that right now. It would be counterproductive. Look, we all know the passions on both sides, and this is no time to inflame the passions on both sides. Israel's stated its position, but there was never any linkage on their part, and we're trying to avoid linkage on our part.
SEPTEMBER 11, 1991
Middle East Peace Talks
Q. Mr. President, are you going to lose on the loan guarantees to Israel in Congress?
The President. Well, I don't know what you mean by lose on it. What I'm for is the peace process to be successful, and we're working diligently for that. And so, the program I'm recommending in my view is the best to enhance peace in the area that's vital, of vital interest to the American people, the people in the Middle East, and indeed, to around the world. If I've ever seen one initiative that has support worldwide, it is this concept of at last getting people in the area to talk to each other about peace.
And so, what I'm suggesting in a simple delay here, in my view and in the view of all of us in the administration, is the best way to set the proper tone for these talks to start. And I feel very strongly about it. So, it's not a question of winning or losing in my view. Strong-willed people look at these matters differently. My view is that a delay is in the interest, and I'm going to fight for it. And I think the American people will back me on it if we take the case to the people. But what we're really trying to do is work it out without getting into a lot of confrontation. And I think that's the approach to take at this point.
Q. Can you avoid confrontation when they're bringing the fight to you, when they're going around you? When the Government of Israel has its own -- --
The President. I can take quite a few punches. But that's not what we're talking about here. We're talking about working harmoniously together in the spirit of co- operation. And I've seen comments from abroad that I didn't particularly appreciate. But we're the United States of America, and we have a leadership role around the world that has to be fulfilled. And I'm calling the shots in this question in the way I think is best. And I've got some selling to do with certain Members of Congress, and that's understandable to me.
So, we'll see how it comes out. But I'm not approaching this in the spirit of confrontation if that's the question. You haven't seen any real controversial statements coming out of here up till now.
Q. You're not committed to the guarantees after the 120 days, sir, are you?
The President. I'm committed to seeing that they get considered. And we generally have been quite supportive of the idea of absorption. We've taken the lead, the lead around the world in facilitating the question of the Soviet Jews coming to Israel and the Ethiopian Jews as well. The position of this administration is not only well known but I think it's highly respected in Israel and around the world for this.
So, we're not backing off from that. And in principle, this concept of helping, we want to do it. But I'm not committed to any numbers and never have been. There was a very misleading statement in the papers today, out of Israel, that I'd like to clear up because it said that we were committed, and they wanted what we'd committed to. And I'm sorry to tell you that simply is not correct. And if they're going to deal on this question, we ought to be dealing from the facts. And so, that one was not a fact, just some spokesman. I don't know who he was or what he was trying to do. But it gives me a good chance to make clear that that isn't correct.
Q. Do you take threats from the Israelis that they may stay away from the peace conference if they don't get -- do you take those seriously?
The President. I've seen no threats from them. I've seen no threats from them. We have a special and a good, strong relationship with Israel, and that's going to continue. But I've seen no threats, and we don't deal in threats over here. And we don't try to threaten other people. That's not the way you accomplish something in foreign affairs.
Q. Are you concerned, though, that they may not come to the peace table?
The President. No. I think they're committed, and I think it's a good thing they are. And I think others are committed, and we want the climate to be right to facilitate their coming to the table. Everybody wants these parties to come to the table all around the world.
What we're talking about here is a simple delay of 120 days before this matter is debated because out of the debate is going to come a lot of posturing and positioning that in my view will not help the peace process. So, that's what it boils down to, and that's why this very reasonable request is being made.
SEPTEMBER 12, 1991
The President. Since the end of the Gulf war, we've worked extremely hard to take advantage of what we believe are new and exciting possibilities for peace in the Middle East. Secretary of State Baker has traveled to the region about a half a dozen times and will go again in a few days. As a result of these efforts we're on the brink of an historic breakthrough. We've come a long, long way, and we're close to being able to convene a peace conference that, in turn, would launch direct peace negotiations between Israel and the Arab States, something the state of Israel has sought since its inception.
A few days ago, I asked Congress to defer consideration for 120 days of Israel's request for $10 billion in additional U.S. loan guarantees meant to help Israel absorb its many new emigrants. I did so in the interests of peace. I did so because we must avoid a contentious debate that would raise a host of controversial issues, issues so sensitive that a debate now could well destroy our ability to bring one or more of the parties to the peace table.
A good deal of confusion surrounds this request for deferral, confusion that I'd like to try to clear up. Let me begin by making clear what my request for delay is not about. It's not about the strength of my or this country's support for emigration to Israel. Both as Vice President and President I've tried my hardest to do everything possible to liberate Jews living in Ethiopia and the Soviet Union so that they could emigrate to Israel. Today, in no small part due to American efforts, hundreds of thousands of people are now living in Israel able at last to live free of fear, free to practice their faith.
Nor should our request for delay be viewed as an indication that there exists any question in my mind about the need for a strong and secure Israel. For more than 40 years the United States has been Israel's closest friend in the world, and this remains the case and will as long as I am President of the United States.
This is a friendship backed up with real support. Just months ago, American men and women in uniform risked their lives to defend Israelis in the face of Iraqi Scud missiles. And indeed, Desert Storm, while winning a war against aggression, also achieved the defeat of Israel's most dangerous adversary. And during the current fiscal year alone and despite our own economic problems, the United States provided Israel with more than $4 billion in economic and military aid, nearly $1,000 for every Israeli man, woman and child, as well as with $400 million in loan guarantees to facilitate emigrant absorption.
My request that Congress delay consideration of the Israeli request for $10 billion in new loan guarantees to support emigrant absorption is about peace. For the first time in history, the vision of Israelis sitting with their Arab neighbors to talk peace is a real prospect. Nothing should be done that might interfere with this prospect. And if necessary, I will use my veto power to prevent that from happening. Peace is what these new emigrants to Israel and, indeed, all Israelis long for. Their chance for a decent job, a decent life, depends on it.
Israeli Loan Guarantees
Q. Back on the question of the Israeli loan guarantees, even many of your Republican supporters on the Hill say that Israel should have had this money a long time ago. And they don't support the 120-day delay that you're asking for. Is there any kind of compromise? Is there any kind of middle ground? You sound very tough today on wanting to hold to that 120.
The President. I just sound principled. I am convinced that this debate would be counterproductive to peace. And I owe it to the Member of Congress to say it as forcefully as I can. I've worn out of the telephone in there and one ear, and I'm going to move over to the other ear and keep on it. Because this is, peace is vital here, and we've worked too hard to have that request of mine denied. And I think the American people will support me. They know we support Israel. I've just detailed some of what we've done. So, there should be no question about that. I am giving the Congress -- and I did it with the leaders today, having an opportunity here, thank you, to do it here -- to give my best judgment. And I'm up against some powerful political forces, but I owe it to the American people to tell them how strongly I feel about the deferral.
Q. Are those power political forces ungrateful for what you've done so far on a peace process? And why doesn't the peace argument sell with them?
The President. I think it will sell, but it's taken a little time. And we're up against a very strong and effective, sometimes, groups that go up to the Hill. I heard today there was something like a thousand lobbyists on the Hill working the other side of the question. We've got one lonely little guy down here doing it. [Laughter] However, I like this forum better too.
Q. Are they ungrateful for what you're trying to do?
The President. I don't know whether -- I'm not talking about gratitude. I'm talking about world peace. And we've got to get it into a far broader perspective. And that's exactly what I'm talking about, and I think people will understand that.
Q. Mr. President, you said that a contentious debate now could actually keep some parties away from the peace table. Yet, the Israelis claim that those Arabs who have indicated a willingness to participate in the peace process have not made the settlement issue a precondition. They say that's your precondition. As one columnist said this week, ``It's your obsession.'' Is that fair?
The President. I would simply say that I read some charges coming out of a source in Israel that we'd made a deal with the Arabs that we would fight this. That's not true. That is factually incorrect. It's simply not true. No, it is my judgment, and Jim's, and everybody else that's working this problem and has been for months, that this is the approach we ought to take because we don't want a contentious debate on settlements or anything else over there at this junction. We want to get these parties to the table. And I don't think it's asking too much to have a 120-day delay. I think Congress should listen carefully to what I'm asking for, and I hope that they will go along with this.
Q. Mr. President, you talked about powerful political forces at work. It sounds like you're feeling the heat from the Israeli lobby. Do you think that there's unfair foreign intervention in the U.S. political process here?
The President. No, I don't think -- I think everybody ought to fight for what they believe in. That's exactly what I'm beginning to do right here. We've laid back down, we've been lying in the weeds, saying let's not get all these debate subjects going. The best thing for peace, to move the process forward, is just have this deferral.
But I'm going to fight for what I believe. And it may be popular politically, but probably it's not. But that's not the question here. That's not -- the question is whether it's good 1992 politics. What's important here is that we give this process a chance. I don't care if I get one vote. I'm going to stand for what I believe here. And I believe the American people will be with me if we put it on this question of principle. And nobody has been a better friend to Israel than the United States, and no one will continue to be a better friend than the United States.
But here we are simply asking for a 120-day deferral, and that's what motivates me. It doesn't have anything to do with lobbies or politics or anything else.
Q. Mr. President, just how much damage is being caused by this showdown?
The President. I don't think there's any damage. Lawsy, we'll be debating something else tomorrow. But I think this one's very important, and that's why I want to be sure that our position is out there. I'm not only half in jest about what's happening up there on the Hill. Listen, there's a tremendous effort going on. And we have had a low profile on this. And I wake up now and see that we better get our message out loud and clear.
Q. Does this strain itself threaten the peace process?
The President. No. It has nothing to do with the peace process in my view. If what would happen, the result is what would strain it, not the -- --
Q. Isn't there a loss of trust, sir? Do the Israelis trust you as much as they did?
The President. Well, you'll have to ask the Israelis that. I can't tell you about that. All I'm doing is expressing the foreign policy of the United States of America. And we're going to say what we think is best. If they agree, fine. They've got to worry about their priorities. But I think many people there want to see this peace process go forward. The polling numbers in Israel are overwhelming in support of the peace process.
And so, what I'm trying to say is, listen to the degree America's judgment and leadership matters, listen to what we say, how strongly we feel about this. And I think the people there will respond. I think the American people will respond.
Mr. Fitzwater. The final question please.
Q. Have you made a commitment to the Israelis and to the Congress, if that delay is acceded to, that you will support the loan guarantee unequivocally and with no further conditions?
The President. What was that?
Q. Have you made a commitment to the Israelis and to their supporters in the Congress that if they agree to the delay, that you will then support the loan guarantee?
The President. Absolutely not. That would undermine everything. I proposed that the question be considered in 120 days without any objection on our part and that in principle a concept of absorption aid, the principle that we backed up by $400 million this year, will still be a valid principle. But to agree to something of that nature would be just the same -- if I feel it's detrimental to the peace process as presented now, that kind of agreement would be equally detrimental to the peace process.
I'm really going to have to run. I'm going to Philadelphia here in a minute, and then I've got something else I've got to do before I go there.
SEPTEMBER 16, 1991
Israeli Loan Guarantees
Q. Mr. President, polls and politicians in Israel and the United States indicate that you would have more success in delaying the Israeli loan guarantees if you linked it to settlements. Isn't that in essence what you are doing, and why not make that explicit link?
The President. It is my view that the less debate we have on these contentious issues now, the better. And it is my view that the peace process is enhanced overall by this deferral. And so, our policy is based on that. And I am absolutely convinced it's right. The United States' views on settlements didn't originate with this administration, but I feel very strongly about the settlement question. And I've stated it over and over again. But I think rather than reiterate positions, what we need to do is simply defer consideration of that request and take it up at a later date. And I am convinced that that's in the best interests of peace.
Incidentally, I just interrupted my lunch with the Chancellor to take a phone call from Jim Baker who had just concluded 3 hours of meetings in Israel. And I expect I'll be talking to him later on.
But what I am proposing is in the best interest of peace. And peace is in the best interest of Israel, and it's in the best interest of other countries in the area. And certainly, as I, having discussed this with the Chancellor, I know he feels it's in the best interest of all the European countries as well.
Q. Has this become a personal issue between you and Prime Minister Shamir and Housing Minister Sharon?
The President. No. I haven't talked to them lately. I've stated the position of the United States of America, and it isn't going to change. I feel as strongly about it today as I did when I made the statement. And it's when the policy was formulated. And we are the United States, and this is the foreign policy of the United States while I'm President. And so, there's no rancor about it. And there's no personalities involved. But I will follow through now on what I feel is best for the United States of America. And I'm absolutely convinced it's in the best interest of the peace process.
The Chancellor. Mr. President, if you allow, I would like to add a brief remark, add to the subject. And let me reassure you I'm not going to interfere in internal American affairs. But I would like to make one thing very clear that I think I share with nearly all of my European colleagues. We completely and unequivocally support the President's initiative for a peace conference for the Middle East. And all of us hope and pray that this initiative is crowned by success. We all hope that at the end we will not be faced with a situation where we say we won the war but we lost the peace.
And I would like to say something here as regards the President's position that he's taken over the years. I know of no American President who has done as much for the State of Israel as President George Bush.
Middle East Peace Talks
Q. Mr. Kohl, a followup to what you said, sir. By your statements do you mean that if Israel comes to you for the $10-billion guarantee, you will not accept it, the EC will not accept it? And do you think a peace conference should be held if Israel and the Palestinians refuse to come?
The Chancellor. We do have talks with Israel, and these talks are going on, which is why I'm not going to discuss them publicly because, as we all know, discussing these matters publicly usually always increases the asking price, so to speak, in general negotiations. But I think it is well known that we have adopted a highly critical position as regards the settlement policy.
The President. I might add to that that it's very encouraging and, I think, proper that the Israelis continue to express an interest in attending the peace conference. Clearly that's true on the part of others. And so, I don't think we ought to go into this kind of negative thought that it might not happen. The whole policy is based on bringing these people together and bringing peace to the area. So, I've been pleased that the parties seem to be still going forward in terms of attending a peace conference.
And I know that Chancellor agrees with that because we've had a chance to both talk about how strongly we feel that these peace talks, when they take place, would be in the interest not just to peace in the Middle East but world peace. I mean, a lot of other countries are involved in all of this.
OCTOBER 4, 1991
Israeli Loan Guarantees
Q. There have been complaints in Israel that by delaying these loan guarantees you're prejudging the settlement issue and tilting toward the Arabs. How do you -- --
The President. I disagree with that. My position has been one, in a sense, of reiteration of longstanding U.S. position. And I think it was the right thing to do. I'm very pleased with the strong support from the American people for the position I've taken. The support from around the world is strong. And I think it's not prejudging or getting on one side or another of this ageless dispute.
OCTOBER 25, 1991
Middle East Peace Conference
Q. Mr. President, Prime Minister Shamir will lead Israel's delegation to Madrid. As recently as yesterday, he said there would be no territorial concessions to Arab States, no freeze on Israeli settlements. Can there be any progress in Madrid and afterward if that's his stand?
The President. Terry [Terrence Hunt, Associated Press], I knew you were going to -- somebody was going to ask these questions of the -- detailed questions about stated position of participants in the conference. It is most understandable. I'm not going to reply to them. What I do not want to do is inadvertently complicate the process. Let the parties sit down, as they plan to do, and discuss these, one priority or another. It is not for the United States to do that.
Our positions are known on 242 and 338. Our positions are known on a lot of other subjects that will probably be discussed there. But we are trying to be a catalyst to bring people together and let them talk about the differences. So, I'm sorry, I'm not going to take, answer, respond definitely to this question, nor to others about the specific issues that divide the parties. We're not trying to impose a settlement. We're trying to bring people together so they can achieve a settlement.
Q. Will you outline the U.S. stands, though, when you open the conference?
The President. I don't think we need to do that at this juncture. The United States positions are clear. But it isn't a question. We're not having a conference about U.S. policy. We're having a conference about bringing people together to settle age-old disputes.
Q. Will you see Mr. Shamir?
The President. Yes, I certainly will, and I'll see other delegations heads. And I'll see President Gorbachev, and I hope to see the Prime Minister of Spain and the ruling Monarch, the King of Spain. So, I'll have, I don't know how many, bilateral meetings. That hasn't been set up. But clearly, I will, and look forward to it.
DECEMBER 19, 1991
Middle East Peace Conference
Q. Mr. President, I would like to ask about the Middle East also, Mr. President. In spite of the good relations the United States has with Israel and the potential leverage it has, it hasn't been able to convince Israel to stop the settlements activities. Now, the Arabs claim that without a halt to the settlements there cannot be peace. Now, can the United States do anything more than to say that they are an obstacle to peace and to ask of Israel to stop them in order to promote the idea of peace more energetically, so to speak?
The President. What we would like to do is see those matters discussed in substance. That's one of the reasons I expressed frustration about talks that talk only about where the next meeting is going to be. But we have problems that everyone in this room knows, and I think around the world knows, about the settlements, feeling they are an obstacle to peace. And we have made that clear to our Israeli friends. We have problems with some of the Arab positions, the boycott for example. We have made that clear to some of our friends in that part of the world.
So, we cannot wave a wand and dictate. We can make suggestions as to what would facilitate the peace process, and we have tried to do that.
Q. Mr. President, your administration has linked before the progress of the peace process to the flexibility of Israel in these negotiations and to the freezing of building settlements on the West Bank. What is your assessment, Mr. President, to the Israeli flexibility in these talks, and are you going to approve the $10-billion loan guarantee next January, especially now that Prime Minister Shamir continued to build settlements on the West Bank?
The President. Well, no decision has been taken on the last matter, no final decision at all. What was the first part of it? I'm sorry, I missed the first part of the question. I know it related to settlements, but -- --
Q. That the administration has linked the progress in the peace process and the flexibility of Israel to the $10-billion loan guarantee.
The President. Well no, we haven't made such linkage, but we've stated very clearly what our position is on settlements. I don't think I'll reiterate it because I tried to spell it out to this gentleman back here. We have said the settlements are counterproductive to peace. And some in Israel happen to agree with us on that, as a matter of fact. But having said that, there are things that the Arab countries should do on their own to move forward towards getting the climate ready for a successful conclusion of the peace talks.
Q. Mr. President, you talked of the democracy the Republics and the Soviet Union are entitled to. And you talked about the freedom the people of Cuba are entitled to. What about the Palestinians who are 2 million living under Israeli occupation?
The President. One of the reasons we brought the parties together in a historic meeting in Madrid with Palestinians present was to have that question addressed and resolved in a peaceful manner. And so I would simply refer you to those talks wherein and therein lies the real answer. It isn't going to be done by acts of violence on one side or another. It isn't going to be done by the enormous frustration that leads to terrorism or whatever. It is going to be done at the negotiating table, and thank God it has started. And our role: Keep the parties there and have them discuss the final resolution of the question that has now been asked of me three times, and it has been asked of me three times because it really gets to the heart, one of the subjects that gets to the heart of the peace process. So, our role will be to try to continue to be the catalyst for peace.
Source: Public Papers of the President