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Bill Clinton Administration:
News Conferences & Interviews on the Middle East/Israel

(1993)


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MARCH 9, 1993

Middle East Peace Talks

Q. Did you discuss with the French President at all the Middle East peace process? And are you optimistic, for the next round of talks, that Syria comes to an agreement with Israel?

President Clinton. We have not discussed the Middle East yet. We will over lunch. Yes, I am hopeful.

Q. President Clinton, concerning the Middle East, you said that your country intends to play the role of a full partner in the peace process. How do you intend to translate this? And what would you tell Israeli Prime Minister Rabin when you receive him next week so that to resume the talks, especially concerning the Palestinian deportees?

President Clinton. Well, I think that what we mean by a full partnership was evidenced by the fact that the Secretary of State's first trip abroad was to the Middle East and that he made aggressive efforts there to try to get the talks back on track and to involve as many parties as possible. In terms of what I will tell Prime Minister Rabin when he comes back, I won't say anything I haven't said in public about the deportee issue or anything else. We are working together. I feel comfortable and confident that he very much wants the peace process back on track, and I will support that.

MARCH 15, 1993

Middle East Peace Talks

Q. Mr. President, what do you think are the chances of resuming the Middle East peace talks if deportees are not returned immediately?

The President. I think the Secretary of State's done a commendable job on his trip, and he's worked with the Prime Minister on that issue. And I think we've got a good chance to resume the talks. I certainly hope we will.

Q. Do you think all the parties will come back?

The President. I certainly hope so.

Q. Sir, as you prepare for the first peace talks under your guidance, what do you think the prospects are for a lasting peace in the Middle East?

The President. I think there are a lot of reasons to be hopeful. Obviously, there's difficulty, and there are those who would prefer that it not be done, but I think we have a real shot.

[At this point, one group of reporters left the room, and another group entered. ]

Q. Mr. President, do you think the United States could be helpful in bringing peace between Israel and Syria? Are you optimistic that peace between these two countries can come during this year?

The President. Well, I hope that the peace process will resume shortly. And I'm hopeful that it can produce a good result. I think there's a chance.

Q. What is your reaction to terrorist action in Israel today and the day before? If you've heard about it, what do you think about it?

The President. Yes, I've heard about it, and I'm disturbed about it. I hope it won't deter any of the parties involved from seeking a genuine long-term peace. But the larger security interests of all the nations involved still argue for trying to have a good-faith effort at the peace process.

MAY 7, 1993

Middle East Peace Talks

Q. Mr. President, on the Middle East, you mentioned the Middle East talks. Do you think the U.S. should now offer proposals to bridge the gaps? Should the Syrians offer a full peace before Israel agrees to withdraw from the Golan Heights? And could you accept or see a Palestinian state eventually emerging from the talks?

President Clinton. If I answer any of those questions I will undermine the Middle East peace talks. The real answer to that question is, if those parties can agree among themselves in good faith to proposals which will bring an end to the hostilities between Egypt and Syria— I mean, between Israel and Syria, between Israel and the Palestinians—they can get the multilateral talks going, if they bring in the Jordanians, the Lebanese, that the United States will be prepared to be supportive of their agreements. That is the answer to that. And I hope they can reach them.

JULY 28, 1993

Middle East

Q. [Inaudible]—bombing—near silence of the United States during this fourth day of bombardment of Lebanon—the civilians being driven from—is being interpreted in the Middle East as supportive of these assaults. What are you going to do to stop the bombing, and would Christopher really be welcome in these outraged capitals?

The President. The reason I asked well, I didn't ask; Secretary Christopher and I had a conversation, and we agreed that he should come home—is because we are so concerned about what is going on in the Middle East. I think Hezbollah should stop its attacks, and I think Israel should stop the bombardments. I think that Syria should go from showing restraint to being an active participant to try to stop the fighting. And we ought to do whatever we can to stop the fighting as quickly as possible.

Q. Do I detect correctly, sir, a slight shift in your attitude towards Syria, which you commended yesterday for its role in the current trouble in the Middle East? And do you think you might have been too hasty yesterday and have you changed your mind?

The President. No. I don't think anybody thought that Syria was exactly behind Hezbollah. I just believe that they could do more. I think it's now time for all the players to do more to bring an end to the fighting. I think Syria, and Israel, Jordan, the Palestinians, and the Lebanese, everybody except these political groups that make their living from the continued misery of the Palestinians, everybody else has a vested interest in continuing the Middle East peace process, and I hope that we can get it going again.

AUGUST 30, 1993

Middle East Peace Talks

Q. Mr. President, changing the subject for a second. The Palestinians and the Israelis appear to have some historic breakthrough involving perhaps mutual Israeli-PLO recognition. If the Israelis and the PLO recognize each other, will that result in the U.S. resuming its dialog with the PLO?

The President. Well, first, let me say I am very much encouraged by what is happening there and very hopeful. The administration has worked hard to facilitate it. But ultimately, whatever happens will have to be done by the parties themselves. If there is a new and different landscape in the Middle East, then I might be willing to entertain some questions. But I can't say now. I can't answer your question now. It's hypothetical, and it would only interfere with the discussions now going on. I don't think it's appropriate for the United States even to consider its own position here until the parties have a chance to work out a resolution of this.

Q. But the U.S. did have intervention in this, didn't it? I mean—

The President. Oh, absolutely. I don't know if I would call it an intervention, but we've certainly worked hard to be a handmaiden or whatever the appropriate term is—

Q. So you are involved?

The President. We are involved, but our position has not been at issue here and should not be discussed until the parties themselves worked out their differences.

SEPTEMBER 9, 1993

The President. I just got off the telephone with Prime Minister Rabin. I called him to congratulate him on the agreement that he has reached today.

When we first met, he told me that he was prepared to take risks for peace, and I told him that it was the responsibility of the United States to do everything we could to minimize those risks. And I reaffirmed that today. They have reached a general agreement, but the process of implementing it will be quite complicated. And we expect to be closely involved in the process all along the way. I am extremely happy that it has finally happened. I am very, very hopeful for the future. And this is a very brave and courageous thing that has been done.

Q. will there be a signing ceremony Monday—

Q. Will the U.S.—with the PLO as part of this deal, Mr. President?

The President. Well, let me answer you in this way. Later today we will see what the statements of the parties are, and then I will have another formal statement later in the day. If the PLO's statement today meets the criteria we have repeatedly set down, renouncing terrorism, acknowledging Israel's right to exist, those things, then we will resume our dialog with them and then we'll go forward from there. And we'll have an announcement probably today, perhaps tomorrow, about what happens next with regard to this agreement.

Q. will that constitute formal recognition of the PLO?

The President. I don't want to say any more today. Let's wait until their statement comes out. For the moment, for the next few hours let's savor the fact that they have made this agreement. As Prime Minister Rabin said, it's the first time in 100 years that the Israelis and the Palestinians have agreed on something fundamental and important.

Q. Why do you think the time was right now for such an agreement, sir?

The President. I think that there are many reasons. I think, frankly, the major leaders in Middle East, beginning with Prime Minister Rabin and Mr. Arafat, were at a point in their lives, their careers, their experiences, where for all kinds of reasons they thought the time had come. And I also want to compliment Foreign Minister Peres; I think he deserves a lot of credit.

I think the circumstances were propitious. I think most people thought they had exhausted their reasonable alternatives, and they didn't want to go on in this manner anymore. And I hope we can keep this process going.

But I want to remind you that there are a lot of things that still have to be done to make this really happen, and the United States is committed to doing our share.

Q. Was the U.S. cut out of this deal, Mr. President?

The President. No. You know the facts, but let me briefly reiterate them. We sponsored, along with the Russians, the resumption of the talks. We put on the table a set of basic principles. About 70 percent of them were in the ultimate agreement that came out of the secret channel in Oslo. Our job was to keep these talks going in Washington, and the Secretary of State did a masterful job on two different occasions, once with the deportations and once with the conflict in the Bekaa Valley, when they were in danger of being derailed. And he worked hard. He went to the Middle East. We've worked hard to do that.

We were made aware in the most general terms of what was happening in Norway, but we didn't know a lot of the details, nor should we have known. I think this matter was so volatile and so difficult that it may be that the only way the final agreements could have been reached on the principles was in a secret and totally unknown channel. I think it gave both sides the freedom to reach out to one another.

So I think we did everything we could have, and a lot of our work is still to be done now that the agreement has been made and is public and has to be implemented. And we're prepared to do our part. But I'm pleased about this, and I hope that it means more good things in the future.

Q. will the U.S. find the money, sir, to support this kind of agreement? Because after all, there's going to be a lot of aid needed.

The President. [Inaudible]—a lot of work, a lot of economic reconstruction that has to be done. I believe we'll do our part. I believe the Congress will be willing, and I think the American people will be willing. I think that our people will appreciate the absolutely historic significance of this. This is a huge development in the

Q. Did you offer to sponsor a signing ceremony or have some kind of official recognition in Washington?

The President. We've been discussing that for the last several days, but I think that I should wait until there is a formal statement by the Israelis and the PLO later today, and then we'll have more to say about that. Thank you.

SEPTEMBER 10, 1993

Israeli-Palestinian Declaration

Q. Mr. President, are you going to invite Arafat and Rabin to the ceremonies on Monday?

The President. The parties will decide, as they've made all the other decisions, who will come to the ceremony. Whatever their decision is is fine with me.

Q. can you give us an idea of what the United States is prepared to do to help this agreement work?

The President. I'll be talking a little more about that later, and I'll have a statement as soon as this meeting is over. I want to talk to the Members here about it first.

Q. Well, can you give us an idea of what this meeting is all about?

The President. Well, we're going to brief them on—the Secretary of State and I are—about, obviously, our strong support for the agreement, what America's responsibilities will be, what our allies and friends around the world are interested in doing about it, and where we go from here.

Q. Mr. President, does the start of the dialog with the Palestinians also mean that you will recognize the Palestinians as Israel has?

The President. Well, it means that we're going to

Q. I mean the Palestinian entity.

The President. I understand that. We expect to work with the Palestinians and the Israelis in implementing the agreement. And we expect the dialog to produce further and clearer expressions of our policy on that.

Q. Mr. President, are there any circumstances under which Yasser Arafat might come to the ceremony? And if not, when would you expect that he might come to the United States and might meet with you or your representatives?

The President. Well, let me say in terms of the ceremony, the people who will be here representing the United States and Israel—I mean, excuse me, the PLO and Israel—are the people that the PLO and Israel decide will come. That is entirely up to them. We are a sponsor of the peace process, and we understand that we must play a major role in trying to ensure its success. And the Secretary of State worked very hard to keep it going at difficult moments along the way in the last few months. But the thing that made it work was: They got together and agreed; they made decisions for themselves, face to face, on matters that they could never have taken an intermediary suggestion on because they were so sweeping. I think that's the system that works.

So what I have said and what I communicated personally to Prime Minister Rabin is that they should decide who is going to show up and sign, and whoever they decide will be here is fine with us, and we will welcome them. The gentleman from Norwegian Television. I think we ought

Q. Mr. President, could you please elaborate on the Norwegian mediating role in this process? And then, one more question: How and when were you informed about the secret process going on in Oslo?

The President. Well, we had been aware for some time. I don't remember the exact date, but we've known for quite a while about the discussions in Norway. But frankly, we didn't want to know much of the details because the people were talking to each other.

I will say again, I think that's what made this agreement possible. If they had tried to do some of the things they had done in public, I think the constituencies of both sides would have made it virtually impossible for the agreement to be made. And I think that the world is indebted to Norway for providing a genuine opportunity for face-to-face and totally private and honest and open consultations.

It was made possible, I think, by the fact that we were able to keep the formal process going here. Many of the ideas embraced by the parties directly were ones discussed here, but which could not be agreed to in a public forum. So I think the world owes Norway a great debt of gratitude, and I think the people of the Middle East do as well.

Q. Mr. President, you spoke of the need for a strong philosophy to guide the United States and its friends in this new atmosphere. Can you give us a sense of what some of the touchstones, some of the essence of that strong philosophy in your view should be?

The President. Well, first of all, after the end of the cold war, we know from just a cursory reading of any morning newspaper that the end of danger and misery and difficulty and oppression has far from passed from the face of the Earth. The United States still has interests and values which compel us to support peace, the absence of oppression, the recognition of human rights both on an individual and a group basis and, wherever possible, democracy. And I believe that while we must work with our friends and neighbors and allies through multilateral organizations as much as possible, the leadership of the United States is still absolutely essential to bring many of these conflicts to a successful conclusion.

That does not answer all the specific details about any particular area, but it is clear to me that for the foreseeable future, we have a unique role which we must assume, and it is very much in our interests as well as consistent with our values to do it.

Q. Mr. President, can you tell us what you might do to discourage radical elements that might try to sabotage this agreement?

The President. Well, I think I should answer that in more affirmative terms. What we're going to try to do is to generate as much support for this agreement as possible, not just in the United States and throughout the world but also in the Middle East, within the Arab States, within the Palestinian communities, within our friends in Israel. We believe that to the extent we can show leadership and work with others who are interested in supporting this—and I want to emphasize we've gotten clear expressions of interest and support for implementing this agreement from the Europeans, from the Japanese, from Norway and the other Scandinavian countries, from the Gulf countries, from many of the Arab States—to whatever extent we can show that this can work and can lead from here to a more comprehensive resolution of the other issues still rending the Middle East, I think that will tend to undermine the ability of any specific group to derail this process.

Press Secretary Myers. One more question.

Q. Can I follow on that?

The President. Yes.

Q. Will the United States support a U.N. force in the Gaza Strip if necessary, and specifically, what will the U.S. do to help ensure the security of Israel and the Palestinian entity?

The President. Well, that has to be worked out by the parties. There will plainly be some peace guarantees. Through what mechanism it's not clear. There were some after Camp David, and I would point out that they worked very, very well. Most people are probably not even aware of the long-standing presence of American forces in a multilateral context in the Middle East in the aftermath of Camp David because it did work so well. But no specific decisions have been made. That has to be worked out with the parties, and they'll bring a proposal to us, and we'll be working with them all along the way. And you will know it as it develops. But we've not made a specific decision, and it would be inappropriate for me to speculate about it now.

SEPTEMBER 14, 1993

Middle East

Q. Mr. President, a day after the historic signing ceremony here on the South Lawn yesterday, the Israelis appear to be establishing a relationship with Morocco, a formal relationship, and there is this agreement between Israel and Jordan. What specifically are you doing now, to try to promote the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between Israel and other Arab nations, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, good friends of the United States? And do you think that is in the cards in the immediate future?

The President. Well, let me first say that I am very, very pleased that Prime Minister Rabin and Foreign Minister Peres bare been received by King Hassan in Morocco. When we learned of this development yesterday, and we talked about it in some detail—Prime Minister Rabin and I talked about it—I was very pleased, because I think that the King may have set an example, which I hope other Arab states will consider following now, to try to continue now to just establish dialog.

We are at this moment focusing on three or four aspects of what we can do to implement this relationship. One is, what about all the practical problems that are still out there? You know, elections have to be held. Economic endeavors have to be undertaken in the Gaza, and there are lots of things that just have to be done practically. So we have a team now looking at all these practical problems to see what can the United States do to facilitate this.

The second thing we're doing is looking at what we can do to try to organize an appropriate level of investment. And in that regard, we're looking primarily at maybe having a donors meeting and trying to bring in the interested European countries and Asian countries and Arab countries to talk about how we can put together the kind of package we ought to have. Yesterday I met with a couple of hundred American Jewish and Arab leaders from around the country, and I asked them to participate front the point of view and private sector and partnerships and helping to develop these areas so we could really move this relationship forward.

And then the third thing that we're going to do is to discuss on a political level what we should do to try to facilitate further political contacts. The announcement between Israel and Jordan today is very helpful. And I hope that will give further encouragement to other Arab countries.

OCTOBER 25, 1993

Palestinian Prisoners

Q. President Mubarak, can we ask about your feelings about Israel's releasing these Palestinian prisoners today?

President Mubarak. I think it's a very good act. And we have discussed this before with Prime Minister Rabin. And the man really-[inaudible]—in doing as far as he could to restore peace and reach a comprehensive settlement to the problem. It's a very good step forward.

Q. Mr. President, your feelings?

President Clinton. I agree. I'm very pleased. He should come every day. I can say I agree- [laughter] —shorten my answer.

Middle East Peace Process

Q. I want to follow up on your answer on Syria for a second. Do you think the political traffic in Israel right now could bear a breakthrough on the Syria-Israel front? That is, do you think Prime Minister Rabin could sell to the Israeli public Asad back on the Golan and Arafat in the West Bank in the same window of time here?

President Clinton. I don't know what the answer to that is, but I will say this: At least we can all count, and we know that if you look at the composition of the Knesset with the Shas minority party out of the coalition, temporarily at least, but not yet voting against the peace process, it is important that the Prime Minister know that there is not only a lot of popular support for what is being done but that that popular support can be translated at least into a Knesset that does not attempt to tie his hands in going forward.

Which is why the position of the United States has been, number one, that I believe Prime Minister Rabin wants a comprehensive peace. in the Middle East; number two, that in order to do it he has to have the support of the people of Israel, which means we have to implement the present agreement between Israel and the PLO, we have to continue to make progress in opening up other Arab nations' attitudes toward Israel, we have to continue to make progress on the other tracks. And there has to be some time in which he can work out whatever his situation is with this parliamentary body. We don't need to have him in a position where he can't make peace.

Now, I can't offer you a definitive analysis of Israeli politics or public opinion, but I think what I'm committed to doing is to getting this thing on track. Everybody in Israel has got to know in the end there can't be a total peace in the Middle East unless there is some peace with Syria. But the timing is very important, and progress on the things that are now at hand is very important.

NOVEMBER 10, 1993

Israel

Q. Mr. President, there's a growing expectation that Israel and Jordan are going to sign a peace treaty when Prime Minister Rabin visits the White House on Friday. Could you tell us what's the likelihood of that? And also on Mr. Rabin, Israeli radio says that he's written you a letter asking you to cut the prison sentence of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard to 10 years.

Are you going to do that?

The President. First of all, I am delighted by the reports of progress in the relationships between Israel and Jordan. And as you we are talking with both of them. And we've been involved with that. But I don't think anything will happen Friday on that. I would he pleased if it did. But the truth is, we have no reason to believe that anything will he happening Friday.

On the Pollard case, it is true that the Prince Minister has written me about Jonathan Pollard. I have asked the Justice Department to review his case, as I do in every request for executive clemency. I have not received a report from them yet. And I will not make a decision on the Pollard case until I get some sort of indication from them.

NOVEMBER 12, 1993

Middle East Peace Process

Q. Mr. President, are you considering a stop in the Middle East during your Europe trip in January to help the momentum of the Middle East peace process?

The President. The Prime Minister and I are going to talk about what we can do to keep this going, but that's not one of the things that's been raised so far by anyone.

[At this point, one group of reporters left the room, and another group entered.]

Q. President Clinton, is King Hussein strong enough to make peace with Israel before President Asad?

The President. I think he's in a good position to proceed now. And of course, we all have come out for a process that will lead to comprehensive peace in the Middle East. But I think King Hussein obviously wants peace, and the recent elections must surely encourage him.

I think the people of Jordan want peace.

Q. Do you think there's a chance to reach any progress with the Syrians?

The President. I hope so. We're going to discuss that today and a number of other issues. Over the long rim, I think we'll have to make progress with everyone.

PLO Terrorism

Q. Mr. Prime Minister, what's your comment on the involvement of PLO people in the kidnaping and killing of an Israeli?

Prime Minister Rabin. We consider it as a great and dangerous violation of the commitment of the PLO. In the letter that was signed by the Chairman of the PLO to me, he committed himself to renounce and reject terrorism. Keeping commitments is the basis for the advancement towards peace. We'll keep our commitments; we demand them to keep their commitments and to come up openly in renouncing and taking the disciplined measures to which he is committed, as it is written in the letter that he signed and sent to me.

NOVEMBER 13, 1993

Middle East Peace Process

Q. Mr. President, PLO Chairman Arafat seems to have condemned the murder of an Israeli at the end of October. Do you think this is in response to your request and Mr. Rabin's request?

The President. Well, perhaps, but regardless I think it's a very positive sign. I've only received limited reports this morning, but from what I've heard it's a very positive sign. It's the sort of thing that will enable them to work together and to implement the accord.

Q. Were there any direct contacts between you and Arafat in order to get him to condemn the murder?

The President. We bail no direct contacts, the White House did not, but we made it very clear what our position was, and I think that the Israelis—they have direct contact of course with the PLO now because of the implementation of the accord. And I think perhaps again I would say we maybe ought to give most of the credit to that. I hope the meeting yesterday highlighted it and our position is clear. But they need to keep their word to each other, that's the most important thing.


Sources: Public Papers of the President

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