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Ronald Reagan Administration:
Press Conference With Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir of Israel

(March 16, 1988)


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The President. It's been a pleasure to meet with Prime Minister Shamir again and to have this opportunity to review with him the important issue of peace in the Middle East. We have a unique relationship with Israel, a relationship of trust, friendship, and shared ideals. I think we can be proud of the achievements that we've made over the last 7 years in giving more substance and dimension to the strong ties between Israel and the United States. In the remainder of my term, we'll continue to work to strengthen those ties.

The main topic of our discussion today was the search for peace in the Middle East. We've seen a new sense of urgency on the part of many in the region and a wide recognition of the reality that the status quo is unacceptable. Our efforts have been geared toward trying to find a reasonable and practical way to make real progress-progress that will assure the security of Israel and its neighbors and achieve the legitimate rights of the Palestinians.

The present situation is a challenge and an opportunity to move decisively to break the deadlock that has lasted far too long. I hope we will not lose this opportunity. Today Prime Minister Shamir and I discussed the proposal for moving forward rapidly to peace negotiations, which Secretary Shultz left with Israel, Jordan, and Syria during his recent visit. We believe this proposal offers a realistic and achievable way to change the relationship between Israel and the Arabs. It's a concrete demonstration of my commitment to finding a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict through a negotiating process that would begin soon. As I told Prime Minister Shamir, the United States is prepared to be an active partner in this process, and we hope that all the parties involved will seize this opportunity.

So, let's be clear about several things. The United States will not slice this initiative apart and will not abandon it. And those who will say no to the United States plan-and the Prime Minister has not used this word—need not answer to us; they'll need to answer to themselves and their people as to why they turned down a realistic and sensible plan to achieve negotiations. This is a time for all the parties to the conflict to make decisions for peace.

Prime Minister Shamir and I also reviewed our countries' robust and vital bilateral relationship. As you know, Israel has been designated one of our major non-NATO allies and friends, and we have developed a solid basis of strategic cooperation between our two countries. Strategic cooperation is a symbol of our converging needs and our mutual commitment to ensuring that no wedge will ever be driven between us. I want to add that Prime Minister Shamir and I both remain very concerned about the many thousands of Jews that remain in the Soviet Union and yearn to emigrate or fully express their Jewish identity. The plight of Soviet Jewry shall remain at the top of my agenda in my discussions with Secretary Gorbachev.

As I bid farewell to Prime Minister Shamir, I wish him and the people of Israel a happy 40th anniversary. Our prayer is that this anniversary will mark the beginning of the era of peace and accommodation in the Middle East.

The Prime Minister. Thank you, Mr. President. This visit to Washington has given me an opportunity to meet again with President Reagan, Secretary of State Shultz, Secretary of Defense Carlucci, and Secretary of the Treasury Baker. My colleagues and I have also met with congressional leaders and other friends in the Congress, in the administration, and in the general public.

I am indebted to the President for this kind invitation. It affords me the opportunity to discuss matters of common concern and to deepen the friendship and understanding between our two countries. In the talks with the President and with Secretary Shultz, we reviewed the state of U.S.-Israel relations and the efforts to advance peace in the Middle East. Mr. President, we have always been in complete agreement with the principle of negotiating from a position of strength for which you have always stood. We have stepped up efforts to seek a framework for conducting direct peace negotiations between Israel and those of its Arab neighbors that we hope will join us in the quest for peace.

Israel has welcomed the American involvement and the Secretary's efforts in this search. We have confidence in the American role because we share the same goal of peace with security for all the countries in the Middle East. I have strong reservations concerning the proposed international conference which, in my view, is not conducive to peace. Some months ago I accepted a proposal by Secretary Shultz to launch direct negotiations with the blessing of the U.S.-Soviet summit in order to grant international legitimacy for the negotiations for those states desiring it. Unfortunately, it was rejected. Nevertheless, I shall be ready to consider a similar proposal. Israel firmly believes that those who are prepared to live with each other in peace must learn to negotiate directly with each other. We remain committed to the Camp David accords, which have provided a workable agreed framework for peace between Israel and each of its Arab neighbors.

Mr. President, these are difficult times for Israel. We shall overcome them in the best possible way consonant with our tradition and our eagerness to prevent the loss of lives. Mr. President, on the eve of Israel's 40th anniversary, the people and Government of Israel are united in hailing the deep friendship and the close cooperation between our two countries. This friendship has reached unprecedented levels under your leadership. We have established a strategic cooperation agreement between Israel and the United States, a free trade area agreement between our two countries, and the designation of Israel as a major non-NATO ally of the United States. We are confident that a solid foundation of friendship between Israel and the United States will remain unshaken in spite of occasional differences of opinion that may arise.

I am sure I speak for all the people of Israel and for peace-loving persons everywhere when I express our gratitude for your untiring efforts to reduce tensions in the world and to bring peace to our war torn region. We will continue to do our utmost to cooperate in the search for peace. I return to Jerusalem confident that with the friendship and understanding of the United States Government and its people we shall succeed. Thank you.


Sources: Public Papers of the President

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