President Clinton News Conferences & Interviews: Middle East/Israel
JANUARY 16, 1994
Middle East Peace Process
Q. Mr. President, do you feel that you have a firm commitment from President Asad to normalize relations with Israel? And by that I mean open borders, free trade, and diplomatic relations.
President Clinton. The short answer is yes. I believe that President Asad has made a clear, forthright, and very important statement on normal, peaceful relations.
Now, in order to achieve those relations, a peace agreement has to be negotiated in good faith and carried out. But this is an important statement, the first time that there has been a clear expression that there will be a possibility of that sort of relationship.
Q. Mr. President, it has proven that separate agreements were unsuccessful, and the proof is the Lebanese accords and the Jericho accords. Don't you think that we need a very clear commitment on a comprehensive peace? Then regarding the implementation of U.N. resolutions, regarding Iraq, U.N. resolutions were implemented. But as far as Lebanon and Resolution 425, until now the Security Council Resolution was not implemented despite the American approval. So how can this situation be improved? How can we get the commitment to implement these resolutions?
Thank you, sir.
President Clinton. First of all, as to the specifics of implementation, that will be part of the process of negotiation. But let me answer the first and more important question, I think.
I think all the parties in this process recognize that it cannot succeed unless all the tracks are brought to a successful conclusion. That is, I think even—President Asad was very eloquent in our meeting today about the question of Lebanon, and Jordan for that matter, in saying that even Syria, if it were fully satisfied with its differences with Israel, that they could be worked out, that there still would have to be a comprehensive peace in which the issues affecting Lebanon, issues affecting Jordan, and the issues relating to the PLO would, in addition to the Syrian issues, would all be resolved. We are all committed to that.
U.S. Role in Middle East Peace
Q. President Clinton, peace is an international issue. The U.S. administration is striving seriously to achieve peace. It is an international need; it's a need for the U.S.A. and Syria and Israel. One wonders why the peace process tumbles every now and then. And how will the U.S. administration, as the major sponsor of the peace process, tackle obstacles bound to face us in the future? Thank you.
President Clinton. First of all, I think it tumbles every now and then because it's difficult to do. If it were easy to do it would have been done before. The parties have been at odds for a long time. There is a lot of mistrust to overcome. There are a lot of details to be worked out. And whenever there is any ambiguity at all or uncertainty, then that is likely to lead to other problems down the road. So there are lots of reasons why it happens.
What the United States is trying to do is to take advantage of what I think is an appropriate moment in history when you have leaders committed to getting this done, leaders who understand that the interests of their people will be served over the long run by comprehensive peace. And so what we can do, I think, is to try to keep the process going, keep the trust level up among the parties, try to be an honest broker, and work through the problems. And when these difficulties do arise, as they have, as you implied, in the aftermath of the PLO-Israel accord, to try to help work through them as quickly as possible and get things back on track.
FEBRUARY 25, 1994
The President. Good morning. I want to speak briefly about events in the Middle East and in Russia.
Early this morning, Palestinian Muslim worshipers at prayer in the Mosque of Abraham in Hebron were brutally gunned down by a lone Israeli settler. It can be no coincidence that the murderer struck during the holy month of Ramadan and chose a site sacred to Muslims and to Jews. His likely purpose was to ruin the historic reconciliation now underway between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
On behalf of the American people I condemn this crime in the strongest possible terms. I am outraged and saddened that such a gross act of murder could be perpetrated. And I extend my deepest sympathies to the families of those who have been killed and wounded.
I also call on all the parties to exercise maximum restraint in what we all understand is a terribly emotional situation. Extremists on both sides are determined to drag Arabs and Israelis back into the darkness of unending conflict and bloodshed. We must prevent them from extinguishing the hopes and the visions and the aspirations of ordinary people for a life of peaceful existence.
The answer now is to redouble our efforts to conclude the talks between Israel and the PLO and begin the implementation of the agreement they have made as rapidly as possible. Accordingly, this morning I asked the Secretary of State to contact Prime Minister Rabin and Chairman Arafat and to invite them to send all their negotiators involved in the Israel-PLO talks to Washington as soon as possible and to stay here in continuous session until their work is completed. They have both agreed to do that.
Our purpose is to accelerate the negotiations on the Declaration of Principles and to try to bring them to a successful conclusion in the shortest possible time. Those negotiations have already made considerable progress as marked by the Cairo agreement. It is my hope that the parties can turn today's tragic event into a catalyst for further progress and reconciliation.
Q. Mr. President, you referred to the perpetrator of the massacre today as a lone settler, and the evidence so far suggests that he did act alone. But there have been repeated reports over the years of Americans providing aid, both fundraising and other sorts of aid, to extremist groups on both sides. And I wonder whether, in light of today's massacre, whether there is more that needs to be done here to try to prevent Americans from providing aid and other forms of support to Jewish extremist groups that may be involved in these sorts of actions.
The President. Well, let me say, based on what we now know, we have no reason to believe that this killer was involved with any group. If we find out differently, we will assess our position at that time.
I can say this, that Prime Minister Rabin, himself, has recognized the need to strengthen the security provided by Israeli forces against extremists, including Israeli extremists. But as far as we know, this was the action of one individual.
Q. Mr. President, what is it about this massacre as opposed to other setbacks that have occurred in the Middle East that has brought you to this podium today, that makes you feel it's necessary to make a strong statement?
The President. First of all, its scope and setting is horrible from a purely human point of view. Secondly, it comes at a time when it appears to be clearly designed to affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of others by derailing the peace process. And I am hoping that the statesmanship of the leaders in the region and the attention that this will bring to the terrible problem will not only diffuse what could become a much worse round of killings and counterattacks, but will actually be used to thwart the purpose of the murder and to reinvigorate the peace process.
Q. Mr. President, just to follow up on the earlier question, there have been reports from the scene that the Israeli army stood by and allowed this massacre to go on. What kind of recommendation would you make to Israel to try to do an investigation to see what happened and change the perception maybe of that?
The President. Well, we have no reason—we do not know that to be true. I can say that at this time. And we have—the Secretary of State has talked with Prime Minister Rabin. I was not able to talk with him myself yet because of the other meetings I had this morning. I believe the Israelis are committed to increasing security where they can do so. And I don't want to comment on that without some evidence or reason to believe its true.
MARCH 24, 1994
Middle East Peace Process
Q. Mr. President, what did you tell the American Jewish leaders today about the status of a united Jerusalem?
The President. I told them that the position—I told them what I've always told you in public. I'll tell you the exact words I used. I said, "My position has not changed on that issue. But my position is also that the United States and other countries should refrain from intervening in these peace talks between the parties themselves. And part of the Declaration of Principles between Israel and the PLO was that the disposition of that issue would be a so-called final status issue to be resolved at the end of the talks. And I have respected that process." So I have made it clear that the United States has not changed it's position. The way we handled the resolution on the Hebron massacre in the U.N. gave us the opportunity to make that clear again. But we are trying to get these peace talks going, and we are going to let the parties make their decisions for the future of the Middle East on their own, and we are going to do everything we can to facilitate it.
MAY 3, 1994
[An Israeli journalist asked what evidence the President had of a strategic change on the part of President Hafiz al-Asad of Syria regarding peace with Israel and regarding terrorism.]
The President. The evidence I find is that he has welcomed a very frank and candid and explicit exchange of views and ideas about how to make a lasting peace and achieve normal and peaceful relationships with Israel.
Secretary Christopher has been asked by President Asad, and approved by Prime Minister Rabin, to serve as an intermediary at this point in having what I believe are the most serious conversations ever held since the creation of this terrible divide between Israel and Syria, between a leader of Syria and a leader of Israel.
I have had several conversations with President Asad and of course with Prime Minister Rabin, with whom I talked just this afternoon about the ongoing progress of Middle East peace negotiations. And all I can tell you is that all of us believe that we have a greater chance to achieve a breakthrough agreement than ever before. And obviously, that breakthrough agreement ultimately would have to include an agreement with Lebanon recognizing the territorial integrity of Lebanon and excising terrorism from Lebanon. And I believe we are on that road, and we have a real chance to make progress this year.
Obviously, since their conversations are private, I can't say more. But all I can tell you is I honestly believe that, and I think the other major actors in this drama believe it as well.
Ms. Woodruff. Mr. President, I've just been told that just in the first few minutes that a Palestinian delegate, PLO delegate, has announced in the Middle East that the Israelis and the PLO have wound up their talks, and they have reached an agreement on Palestinian autonomy, which was something you referred to just a few moments ago.
We want to go—continue in our Jerusalem location now with a question from a Palestinian journalist.
[A Palestinian journalist in Jerusalem asked about loans and loan guarantees for Palestinians.]
The President. Well, first, let me say, I agree it will take more than $2 billion to totally construct a successful economy on the West Bank and around Jericho and in other places—in Gaza and Jericho, excuse me. But I think the $2 billion is a very good start. That's what we might call real money. I mean, it's a pretty good beginning.
And let me say, in anticipation of—I've not checked this today, but I asked if we could have in Cairo, when the agreement is signed between the PLO and Israel, a delegation of American business people, American Jews and Arab-American business people who have pledged themselves to work together to bring private capital and private investment in to support the other commitments that the governments have made at the donors conference.
So, I believe you can look forward to a significant increase in private investment from the United States from both Arab-Americans and Jewish-American business people in these areas because of their common determination to work together to see that you are able to work and live together.
JULY 1, 1994
Middle East Peace Process
Mr. Walther. Mr. President, today Mr. Arafat is visiting the Gaza Strip. Is this a milestone in the development in the Middle East?
The President. Yes, it's a very important trip because it symbolizes what has happened, which is that the Palestinians are beginning to have control over their own lives and affairs. It is a tribute to the courage of the Israelis and the Palestinians and to their leaders, to Mr. Arafat and to Prime Minister Rabin. And it's also a tribute to the peace process in which the United States, as you know, has been very actively involved.
The only way to settle the peace problems in the Middle East is to continue the peace process. I saw King Hussein just last week. We are in close touch with President Asad. We are working with Lebanon. We are hoping for a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. And I hope this trip today will show that peace can be achieved and what a good thing it will be.
AUGUST 3, 1994
Q. Mr. President, if I could go back to a foreign policy issue. Syria appears to be the big missing piece of the puzzle in the Middle East now. Following the meeting between the Israeli Prime Minister and King Hussein of Jordan, do you see any indication that Syria wants to make peace at this point? Do you see any reason for optimism that they're willing to talk directly to Israel?
The President. I think there are difficult issues still between Israel and Syria, but I believe both leaders do want to make peace. As you know, before I announced that King Hussein and Prime Minister Rabin would come here to end their state of war and to commit to establishing full peace, I had a long talk with President Asad on the telephone. I then spoke with him again. I am convinced that he is still very much interested in a comprehensive peace. And we have one piece of public evidence of that, which is that the whole ceremony between Israel and Jordan signing the Washington Declaration was shown on television in Syria without comment. We have other indications that they are. And you may be sure that the Secretary of State and Dennis Ross and all of our team, as well as I, are doing everything we can to keep pushing that.
Q. What are those other indications, sir?
The President. I don't think I should say more than that. We've been pretty successful in the Middle East by letting the parties make their own decisions and letting them percolate up.
AUGUST 19, 1994
Middle East Peace Process
Q. Mr. President, on the Middle East, sir, progress continues between Israel and the Palestinians, but there is still violence. But I wondered, sir, if you have an assessment on that. Is there any update on the Syrian front? Have you heard recently from President Asad? And also, has any progress been made in countering worldwide terrorism?
The President. You've asked me a lot of questions there. Let me try to answer them all. I believe we are still on a path of steady progress in the hope of achieving an agreement that resolves the differences between Israel and Syria. Serious problems remain, but I would say significant advances are being made.
With regard to the Palestinian agreement, I think everyone always knew there would be some operational difficulties because the PLO had, to be fair to them, never had been in charge of a country. That is, they had never had to operate a government and to deal with all the mundane and maybe sometimes even boring day to day problems that, unless they are properly managed, you can't keep a society together. I think we're making some headway there. I don't want to minimize the difficulties, but I do not expect them to be so great as to derail what we're doing.
On the terrorism front, I can tell you that every week, several times a week, I get an update on our efforts. And while, as you could appreciate, I cannot discuss many of them in great detail, I believe that we are making progress. But I believe this is a problem we'll all have to be very vigilant about for years to come.
OCTOBER 21, 1994
Middle East Peace Process
Q. Mr. President, when you met last January with President Asad of Syria, he said that peace with Israel was a strategic option. And you said that he was taking the risks for peace. Has he followed through on that? Do you think that he's been forthright enough? And when you go to the Middle East next week, what can you do to break this impasse between Syria and Israel?
The President. Well, I can say that there has been progress in the negotiations between Israel and Syria. Let me also say in general terms why I'm going there.
As you know, I and my administration have worked very hard for a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. It is very much in the interest of the United States. I have been invited by King Hussein and Prime Minister Rabin to be at this signing, and I think it's important that, particularly now, with the violent reaction to the efforts at peace, that the United States stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our friends and allies who are taking such terrific risks to make peace.
While I am there, I will visit Syria because it is my judgment that the visit will further the goal of an ultimate peace agreement between Israel and Syria. And until that is done, we will never have comprehensive peace in the Middle East. There has been some progress in the negotiations, which are, as you know, candid and confidential between the two. I think there will be more progress. I want there to be more progress, and I think this visit will further it.
Q. I have a three-part question. In the overall sense, what do you expect to achieve from this trip? In view of the recent incidents, are there real security concerns? And in the interest of reconciliation, will you try to persuade Israel to release some of the thousands of political Palestinian prisoners that it still holds?
The President. First of all, let me begin with your second question. I have confidence in the security capacity of the governments and the countries that I will visit and in, of course, the work of our own Secret Service. And I think it is terribly important, especially since there have been violent reactions from the enemies of peace, that the United States stand with the friends of peace and the champions of peace at this time. It is even more important than it would have been a few days ago that I go there and that our country stick up for this.
Secondly, what I hope to achieve is to continue to further the peace process. This peace treaty is a huge step forward. I will have the opportunity in Cairo to meet with President Mubarak and Mr. Arafat. I will have a chance there to talk about the importance of implementing fully the PLO-Israel accord. I will have the opportunity to go to Syria. As to what specific things I will discuss with Prime Minister Rabin and others, I think it's better for me to have the conversations and discuss it later.
Q. ——be trying to move everything forward?
The President. I will definitely be trying to move everything forward. My purpose in going there is, first, to stand with our friends at this moment when they're standing up for peace and the enemies of peace are trying to derail them and, secondly, to move the peace process forward.
Q. Mr. President, how difficult a decision was this to go to Damascus, since your own State Department still lists Syria as a country that supports international terrorism? And a related question, only this morning, there were Katiusha rockets landing from southern Lebanon, an area dominated by Syrian control, landing in northern Israel. How do you believe that this will advance the peace process? And do you have any assurances in advance from President Asad that he's willing to go further now than he went in Geneva earlier this year?
The President. First, I think that with regard to the Katiusha rockets, I think that matter will be resolved between the parties involved before the trip develops. Secondly, with regard to meeting President Asad, even though Syria is on the terrorist list, that remains an issue between our two countries. It is a serious issue. It has been constantly discussed between us, and it will continue to be. But I do not believe that we can permit it to keep us from pursuing a comprehensive peace as long as nothing in our peace agreements undermines our commitment to end terrorism.
So I believe that anything I can do, just as I did when I met with President Asad in Geneva, to further the peace process is something that ought to be done. And I believe that by meeting with him and talking with him and working with him, we will continue to make some advances.
Q. Mr. President, what can the United States do to make sure that Hamas is not getting money from organizations here in the United States, not recruiting people and training people here in the United States? And are you satisfied with Yasser Arafat's response so far, in his willingness to really crack down on Hamas and other terrorist groups?
The President. We can, here, do everything we can through the FBI and our other law enforcement agencies to make sure that we're handling any possible illegal activities in the United States redounding to the benefit of Hamas vigorously. And just in the last week, I have given instructions to the proper Federal agencies to redouble our efforts in that regard.
With regard to your question about Mr. Arafat, I do believe, and the Israelis believe, that he did his best to support them with good intelligence when Corporal Waxman was captured and held hostage. And I believe that in the wake of the killing of Corporal Waxman, the determination of the PLO to distance itself from Hamas and to enforce the law within its territories has stiffened, and I think it will continue to stiffen.
Q. Do think that he has cracked down sufficiently in the Gaza, especially regarding this latest incident?
The President. I think that he's moving in the right direction. One of the things that we are always trying to determine in this moment when they're taking over in the West Bank and Gaza is the capacity of the Palestinian Government, the PLO government, to do that work, and we're trying to support an increase in that capacity. I can say that I believe that they're moving in the right direction.
OCTOBER 24, 1994
Middle East Peace Process
Mr. Meyer. I know that you have to go in a moment, but I wanted to ask you a quick question about Syria. You're making the trip to the Middle East this week, and you're visiting Syria, a country that we still consider a renegade nation, a country that has not done enough, say some, to control radical elements in the region. What do you hope to accomplish there this week?
The President. I don't expect a dramatic breakthrough, and I want to caution the American people about that going in. I mean, the primary purpose of going to the Middle East is to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel and Jordan, particularly given the difficult events of the last couple of weeks and the violence that they've undergone. I was asked to come there and witness the signing because the United States played a major role in this peace agreement.
But I'm going to Syria because achieving a full peace in the Middle East requires a peace between Israel and Syria, which will make possible a peace between Israel and Lebanon. And that would be a huge plus for the United States and all the world to have a comprehensive peace there. I'm going because progress has been made. Terrorism is still an issue with Syria, and it will continue to be. But it seems clear to me that the best way to end terrorism in the Middle East is to have a comprehensive peace settlement there. And I do believe we're making progress. And I think if I go to Syria we will make further progress. Since I am in the region, I think that I ought to keep working and not just celebrate what we've done already, but to keep making progress toward the future.
Q. In light of the recent events that are going on in Israel and your upcoming trip, what kind of assistance will you give to or pressure will you put on Arafat to control what's going on in terms of the violence coming out of the territories?
The President. That's an excellent question, first of all. Let me tell you a little about my trip, so I can answer that question. The King of Jordan and the Prime Minister of Israel are going to sign this peace agreement in a couple of days, and they've asked the United States, the President, to be the witness of it because we worked so hard on it.
I'm going to go to Cairo to see President Mubarak, who's been a real partner of ours in this Middle East peace process, and to visit with Chairman Arafat there in Egypt about all the issues you just raised. I'm also going to Syria, as you know, to hope to make further progress there because until we have a peace with Syria, we can't get a peace with Lebanon and a comprehensive peace in the area.
There are two questions in the question you asked. One is the question you asked, what are you going to do to see that Chairman Arafat keeps his commitments under the agreement he made with Israel? The second question is, what can we do to increase his capacity to keep those commitments?
Keep in mind, the really difficult thing in this Middle East peace package is, if Israel makes an agreement with Jordan, they are two nations, with two systems of law enforcement, two armies, two sets of borders. They can—they have a real capacity to enforce their agreement, the same as if we can ever get this agreement with Syria or with Lebanon; you will have borders, armies, institutions, law enforcement.
With the agreement with the PLO in the West Bank and—I mean, in Gaza and Jericho—I mean, in Jericho and the West Bank, you have only the beginnings of the capacity to honor this. Now, when Corporal Waxman was kidnapped, I believe that Mr. Arafat really made an effort to help find out where he was and to share intelligence with the Israelis, and it was a good first step. But I will press him to honor the agreements in spirit and letter, but we also have to develop his capacity to honor the agreements. That is very important because, keep in mind, the PLO had never—not only never run a police force or an army before but never had to see the lights come on or do all the things Mayor White has to worry about: does the sewer system work; does the water system work; what is the order and structure of events?
So the challenge is not only to get them to want to keep their commitments but to ensure that they can keep their commitments.
Q. My question is the Middle East again, back to that, Lebanon, and how soon do you think we can expect a treaty between Lebanon and Israel? And the second part of the question is, can we get the travel ban to Lebanon lifted? And then, I believe you are more than a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize.
The President. First of all, I think there will be a peace with Lebanon, for reasons that you clearly understand by the question you asked. Peace with Lebanon will probably come about the time peace with Syria does. I think we have some chance of getting there. I wouldn't expect some sort of immediate breakthrough; I don't want to unduly raise expectations. But we are making good, steady progress. And I think it is very much in the interests of the people and the governments of Syria, Lebanon, and Israel to keep going with the peace process. I cannot set a time for you on that. If I knew, I probably couldn't say, but I don't know.
But I can tell you, we're making good progress. The travel ban is an issue which will come up. We are trying to take these issues one by one, as we can. I'm encouraged by the travel that's going back and forth in other countries now, especially between Israel and Jordan. I'm encouraged by the lifting of the embargo against Israel by the GCC countries. So this is another barrier that will surely fall; even though I can't tell you when, I think it'll be sooner rather than later because we seem to be on a pretty good roll here.
If the people of Israel can keep their courage up and the people of the Middle East can keep their courage up and we won't be intimidated by these terrorists and enemies of peace, I think we'll get there in a reasonable time. And I thank you for your question.
OCTOBER 26, 1994
Q. President Clinton, in connection with terrorism, and also Chairman Arafat, how will the U.S. objectively evaluate what he is doing to combat terrorism? And is there any plan that the U.S. would have to peg the amount of money that it would raise for the implementation of the agreement between Israel and PLO to his cracking down on terrorism?
President Clinton. Let me answer the second part of that question first, because I think it's important to get this out. There was absolutely no discussion of tying any effort—of aid by the United States or the international community to this effort. The effort to combat terrorism is the first step that is the precondition to making the whole peace process work.
So we did discuss the need that we have always acknowledged and supported to continue with elections in the territories, to have economic development assistance. But there was no quid pro quo discussion. Chairman Arafat started the discussion himself with his desire to combat terrorist groups and with his willingness to do all that he could.
I think that we would all admit that it is impossible to guarantee 100 percent success in any effort. I mean, in the United States we're not 100 percent successful in combatting crime or organized crime. What we want is 100 percent effort. And I think it will be obvious to the Israelis, who are partners in the peace process with the PLO, and to the United States and to the other parties whether that effort is being made. I must say that from my own observation, based on what our own people have told me, there has been an increasing effort in the last several weeks on the part of Chairman Arafat and the authorities in the territories to do what they can on this front. And I think it will continue to increase. And I think President Mubarak agrees with that.
NOVEMBER 21, 1994
Aid to Israel
Q. Mr. President, with a new Republican Congress, what will happen to the foreign aid and to the American troops in the Golan Heights?
The President. Well, first of all, with regard to the foreign aid, I have just pledged to the Prime Minister that I will support next year continuing the aid to Israel at its present level, in addition to some new security initiatives with regard to the Arrow missiles, supercomputers, and a couple of other things. So we are going to have a very robust security relationship with Israel, and I believe the aid levels will be maintained. We have enjoyed in this country, historically, a bipartisan level of support for Israel.
Now, with regard to the Golan, I can only tell you that we in the United States must await an agreement of peace between Israel and Syria. If a peace agreement is reached regarding the Golan in which we were asked to participate, obviously that is something that I would consider.
We have been in the Sinai, as a result of the agreement between Egypt and Israel, for quite a long time now without incident. I am very proud of the role the United States has been asked to play there as a monitor, not as a defender of Israel's security but as a monitor. But that has not been discussed now; we are a good ways from that. And that is something for Israel and for Syria to resolve between themselves before the United States can be involved in that.
Aid to Palestinians
Q. Mr. President, can you shape foreign policy with Jesse Helms in Congress, and can you speed up foreign aid to Arafat, who seems to be on the brink of civil war?
The President. I do think we should speed it up. There will be a meeting next week, a donors' meeting in Brussels, and we're going to try to move about $125 million out in a hurry. I do believe that the donors must work to get the assistance out quickly to enable the people in the areas to receive and to feel some benefits of the peace. I think that's critically important.
Middle East Peace Process
Q. Mr. President, do you see any chance of resuming the talks here in Washington between Israel and Syria in full scale of delegations and military——
The President. I have no comment about that except to tell you that we will continue to do everything we can to reach a peace agreement and to facilitate the peace between the parties.
Q. Mr. President, in view of the Republican victory in the election to the Congress, do you intend to change the foreign policy of the United States vis-a-vis the Middle East, or do you feel that this policy enjoys a bipartisan support in the American Congress or in the American public?
The President. No, I have no intention of changing it; it's working. My policy in the Middle East is to support the peace process, to support a comprehensive peace, to stand behind Israel in its security, to increase the feeling that peace is possible, and then to make the benefits of peace apparent to all the parties who sign on to it. So that policy has worked very well for 2 years, and I intend to continue it.
Q. Mr. President, what do you think of what happened in the Gaza Strip in the last few days?
The President. Well, I think we have to work hard to stand up against terror and to try to bring the benefits of peace to the people who support the peace. And that is a difficult situation; we know that it is. But our policy will remain clear and steadfast there. We'll continue to support the peace process.
Q. Don't you think that the way that President Asad treated you, it was an insult from your point of view?
The President. I wouldn't characterize it in that way. I would say that if you look at the way my press conference and my comments about terrorism were played in the Syrian media, I don't think you can say it in that way. I do think that we have to keep working to build more trust and confidence between the two countries. And I have urged President Asad to do that, to do whatever can be done to reach out to the people as well as to the Government of Israel to make it clear that Syria does genuinely wish a peace.
I am convinced that the President of Syria wants to make peace with Israel, but I think that my opinion is not nearly as important as not only the opinion of the leaders of Israel but the people of Israel. Israel is a very great democracy, and the people need to feel in their bones that peace and security are both possible. And I am going to keep working to that end.
Q. Mr. President, yesterday the Palestinian Minister said that unless sponsors speeded up aid to the territories very soon it might be too late. Do you share that bleak assessment, and what role do you think the violence in Gaza—I'm sorry—what do you think the connection was between the violence in Gaza and the fact that the economic situation is hurting?
The President. I don't think you can draw a direct connection, but I do believe that when you bring peace to a place, you need to work hard to make sure that the benefits of peace become apparent to people who are the targets of the enemies of peace. And the poor in Gaza are clearly the targets of the enemies of peace. So we have to work harder and more aggressively, all of us who support the peace process, to try to make the benefits more apparent.
We all knew that this would be difficult. The Prime Minister knew it would be difficult. There had never been, in effect, a national Palestinian Government there, if you will. There are difficulties. But I think the responsibility is on all of us who wish to see benefits of peace to keep pushing it. That's what the donors conference is about. And I think there is a sense of urgency among those who understand that the money, the investment need to go out.
Q. Mr. President, one more question. The Prime Minister mentioned the danger of the Islamic extremists. Do you intend, as the President of the most powerful country, to build a coalition against the Islamic extremists and the danger?
The President. First, let me say that I agree that it's a danger, and we are monitoring it very closely. We keep up with it, and we're going to do whatever is appropriate.
Source: Public Papers of the President