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George H.W. Bush Administration: News Conferences & Interviews on the Middle East/Israel


FEBRUARY 21, 1989

U.S. Foreign Policy

Q. Well, what is your Middle East policy?

The President. Middle East policy is to encourage discussions between King Hussein and the Israelis and to build on the progress that has been made already. I've already said that I think it was very useful -- the changes that the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] advocated. Now we want to see that there's some follow-on there.

So, the policy is set. I campaigned on what the policy is, and I think it's quite clear. The question is what specific steps we take next. And I don't want to be rushing out because Mr. Shevardnadze went to the Middle East. I'd like for the first step we take of that nature, to be a prudent step. So, the principles are there, and I think we're -- you know, we've got to now flesh that out and figure out what we do specifically.

MARCH 7, 1989

Terrorist Raids in Israel

Q. Mr. President, on another regional question, Yasser Arafat [Palestine Liberation Organization chairman] has refused to criticize any of the raids within Israel that have been carried out. Is he backing down on his promise against terrorism?

The President. I hope not, and I'd like to see him forthrightly condemn any terror that might be perpetrated by the Palestinians. I stop short of saying he's condoning it or that he is furthering it. I'm not saying that. But I'd like to see him speak out. It would do wonders. It would be very good for future dialog.

Q. Well, is he jeopardizing the dialog as it sits now?

The President. To the degree terroristic acts are condoned, it doesn't help the dialog.

MARCH 28, 1989

Regional Conflicts

Q. You said, like, next week you're going to deal with the Middle East. Is that, like, the main issue with that chemical plant in the Middle East?

The President. No, it's a very important issue, but it's a peripheral issue. You're thinking of the chemical plant in Libya. And that Libyan leader, Qadhafi, does have a role, a very disruptive role, as a matter of fact, in Middle Eastern affairs. But what we're talking about next week is the -- Mubarak of Egypt and Shamir of Israel, the two top -- President Mubarak and the Prime Minister of Israel coming here. And we will be probing as best we can and making suggestions to them as to what the U.S. can do in trying to bring about peace in the Middle East.

As you know, and all of you know, I'm sure, that has just been in turmoil for years and years, particularly since the '67 war -- war that took place in 1967, and the resolution of which has escaped us all, escaped the world, even though things moved forward with the Camp David accords. Remember the Camp David accords? That was something that happened under President Carter. It was a step in the right direction, but you still see a lot of killing. You see on the television the Intifada [Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza] fighting on the West Bank.

And so, we have a particularly important role there. We are the only country that can be a substantial catalyst for peace there, and it's difficult. And so, I sit and talk -- the way it works on the thought process, the State Department will be coming with strong ideas, and our national security adviser, the trade people, and the Treasury fits into this in some ways, as we look at the economic problems of the countries involved. And then the administration comes together, and then the President is given some good thoughts as to what to present to the leaders. And they'll come in; we'll have one-on-one meetings with them. And then we'll meet with a group of our top Cabinet people and the top leaders from Israel or from Egypt.

APRIL 7, 1989

Middle East Peace Process

Q. Do you believe the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] should have a role in those independent elections in Israel -- or in the West Bank?

The President. I think that the answer is to get on with the elections. And I'd like to. We haven't fully resolved exactly who's going to have a role, but I think that's a matter to be determined between the parties. But I'd leave it right there. I'd leave it right there. The PLO has people living on the West Bank, as you know, and we want to see elections that are free and fair there.

Yes, David [David H. Hoffman, Washington Post]?

Q. Mr. President, was your statement this week about Israel ending the occupation intended as sort of a diplomatic nudge to Prime Minister Shamir? Should we read something into that?

The President. I wouldn't read anything into it. I do not feel that the provisions of Security Council Resolution 242 and 338 have been fulfilled, and I wanted to be clear to all the parties in the Middle East that that is my view. And I will hold the -- as best the U.S. can -- hold the parties to a full implementation of those resolutions. And so, what I was signaling is that the territory that has been ceded for peace is not the end; it simply isn't.

APRIL 20, 1989

Middle East Peace Process

Q. Mr. President, you met now with [Egyptian President] Mubarak, [Israeli Prime Minister] Shamir, and [Jordanian King] Hussein. What is the next step in the Middle East peace process?

The President. Not sure now. On the table is the election process, and one other thing would be how we flesh that out, taking into consideration the concerns about it that have been expressed by Mubarak and by King Hussein and also by Mr. Shamir. So, how we do that -- what the modalities are of that -- a lot of thought will be going into that: who's represented; making clear that this isn't a final step, that that isn't going to solve the Middle East problem; making clear that it's a step, but we want it to be a constructive step; and exploring other options as well.

JULY 13, 1989

Israel-U.S. Relations

Q. Who are you going to send to Israel as an emissary?

The President. Well, there isn't any emissary going from the President of the United States. There's no determination of that at this point.

Q. -- -- a chance to talk at the Wallenberg Memorial. Have you had any contact at all with the Soviets on that question?

The President. Well, we chose to stop there because Wallenberg is a great international symbol of human rights. And I don't know -- what do you mean about contact about -- --

Q. I mean, it's a constant issue that U.S. officials are regularly asking of the Soviets -- --

The President. I have not personally asked of the Soviets that.

Q. Are you saying that the Secretary of State might send an emissary?

The President. Well, I'm saying that we have people go to Israel all the time and to other countries in the area. But when you say, ``Who am I sending as an emissary?'' -- I was putting that in the context of past high-level shuttle diplomats or something of that nature, and there are no plans for that. I reserve the right to send people anytime I think it's in the interest of the United States, but there are no plans for that kind of level -- diplomacy.

Q. Why is the U.S. making -- --

The President. But if somebody felt it was worthwhile, somebody over there would welcome a special emissary from the President, I'd be very openminded about that. But there are no plans. You asked me whether there are plans.

Q. -- -- find out what's going in terms of -- --

The President. We've got a very able Ambassador over there who knows a great deal about what's going on and has excellent contacts with the Government.

Q. What do you think is going on over there? [Prime Minister] Shamir has simply restated what his position has been all along. Why is the U.S. so shook up over this?

The President. I don't know that the U.S. is so shook up, but they know the United States policy. And the United States policy on settlements, for example, has not changed, and it is not going to change. And so, we might as well be frank with our friends, because that's what friendship is about. And so, I want to see things go forward in terms of the peace process over there, and we want to see the election process go forward. And if anybody can make a case for me that the recent deliberations in that party will enhance the election process, then I'd say, Great! But I'm afraid other people are looking at it, saying, ``What's happened does not enhance the possibilities of election.'' So, the U.S. policy is set. And I'm the President of the United States, and Israel is a friend and will remain a friend, but I have to say what our policy is -- and so, I don't think there's great heartburn here, but I want to just continue to articulate what we believe.

Q. -- -- Shamir said -- what should be important from the very start -- so I'm trying to figure out why the United States is so distressed.

The President. I'm not so distressed. I'm the President of the United States.

Q. I mean State Department.

The President. Well, you go ahead and talk to the State Department about that. You're talking to the President. I set the policy, after a lot of input from the State Department, and I want the U.S. policy to succeed. We've thought out very carefully what we think is best, and our support is for our principles. And they've got great difficulties inside of Israel. I understand that. I understand the political pressures. But I can't be varying U.S. policy every day to accommodate political change. I'm not going to do that.

Q. How about the Palestinian -- --

The President. Keep encouraging them to do what they ought to do: to participate in this election process -- absolutely -- and deplore the kind of violence that we see when a bus is carried over a cliff and carrying a lot of innocent people to their death, or innocent people getting killed in other ways -- on both sides. I mean we have to stand for something. And I'm going to continue to try to do that.

JULY 28, 1989

Israeli Kidnaping in Lebanon

Q. I wondered about your reaction to the Israeli kidnaping this morning of Hezbollah [radical Shi'ite Moslem group in Lebanon] leader Obeid, and whether you think that improves chances now for getting back Colonel Higgins or any of the other American hostages.

The President. Well, I don't know, because the freeing of Colonel Higgins is very much on my mind, and the freeing of the other hostages is. I can't tell you, Jackie [Jacqueline Adams, CBS News], whether I think these two things can interact, the kidnaping and perhaps the subsequent release of this man, whether that will benefit the Higgins case or not. I just don't know.

Q. Have you been in touch with the Israelis about the kidnaping, and do you approve of that?

The President. Well, I know that our people will be in touch. This just happened. I haven't, personally.

Q. Mr. President, back on the Israeli kidnaping. Does this help the cause of peace in the Middle East, particularly at a time when there seems to be a lot of behind-the-scenes activity with the PLO and the Israelis, passing messages in various ways?

The President. I don't think kidnaping and violence helps the cause of peace.

AUGUST 15, 1989

Hostages in the Middle East

Q. Mr. President, your spokesman said yesterday that significant progress had been made in pursuing the issue of the hostages. We're told that you've been on the phone to foreign leaders, that there's been a flurry of diplomatic contacts, but can you say today that we're any closer to seeing the hostages released than we were, say, about 3 weeks ago when the Israeli seizure of Sheik Obeid [Moslem cleric and Hezbollah leader] set into motion this chain of developments that seems to have raised expectations or hopes of a breakthrough?

The President. Norm [Norm Sandler, United Press International], I can't say that today, but we're going to keep on trying. But I cannot give you a definitive assessment of that. I just don't know. There are a lot of lines out there, a lot of initiatives have been taken. As I said earlier, the cooperation that we've received -- some that we've solicited and some unsolicited -- from leaders around the world has just been magnificent. But I can't give you that positive assessment at this point.

Q. Can I follow up on just one path that was pursued on that? In the absence of an exchange of prisoners, have you considered the extradition of Sheik Obeid to this country to face criminal charges?

The President. No, we have no criminal indictment against Sheik 7Obeid.

SEPTEMBER 18, 1989

Emigration of Soviet Jews

Q. After pressing the Soviet Union for so many years to allow unfettered Jewish emigration, do you think the United States in good conscience can set a limit on the number of Soviet Jews that are allowed to come here? And does the apparent decision to set some limit have anything to do with Israel's view that not enough of the Soviet Jews want to go there?

The President. Well, first, Israel does want as many as possible to go there. There's no question about that. But I think we can accommodate those certainly that have applied. And, yes, we do have to control our overall immigration policy. I mean, we had that at the time of the boat people. We have it in Brownsville, Texas. We have it in people coming from other countries, from all across South America wanting to come here. The British are facing this problem now in Hong Kong in a very serious way. And any country must set certain limits.

It speaks very well, I think, in terms of what's happening in the Soviet Union and, hopefully, in the way we're handling the Soviet account, that more and more people are being permitted to come here.

Q. But you don't feel any sort of moral imperative after the United States has pressed the Soviet Union so long to have an almost open immigration policy for Soviet Jews?

The President. Well, I'd like to have an open immigration policy for Vietnamese refugees, for those fleeing the tyranny in Nicaragua, but we can't do that. We have to have certain control of our own policy. I remember feeling this way at the time of the Mariel Boat Lift, and so, I know where my heart is. And I'm very proud that it's moved up from what -- 3,000 emigres in one year to now 50 or 70, Bob [Gates], somewhere in that range -- and that's good. And I want to do whatever we can to encourage it. But P.S.: We have got to have an overall immigration policy that keeps the control of our demographics in our hands.

OCTOBER 28, 1989

Israel-South Africa Nuclear Cooperation

Q. Mr. President, I'd like to ask you about another foreign policy subject. There's very strong evidence that Israel is involved in a joint project with South Africa to build a nuclear missile. If that project should continue, what effect would it have on U.S. relations with Israel?

The President. Well, I hope our position is clear in transfer of any military technology that should not be transferred. And if that's taken place, it would not enhance relations between us or any country that does that. It would complicate things -- there's no question about that.

Israeli-Occupied Territories

Q. Another question on that same general subject, sir. Will the United States give Israel a veto over the identity of the Palestinians in negotiations on elections in the occupied territories?

The President. We are not going with preconditions on -- we're trying to be a catalyst, and whatever is worked out between the parties will have our generous and enthusiastic support. But the Israelis have made clear that that would be very difficult for them, so we're not trying to throw down a precondition. We're just trying, through the Baker 5 points and through giving support to [Egyptian] President Mubarak's 10 points, to be helpful in getting the talks going. And the main thing is to talk, and I hope that they'll get together.

Q. I'd like to take you back to Gene's [Gene Gibbons, Reuters] question of a moment ago about reports of Israeli-South African collaboration on missiles. Senior administration officials say it's clear something is happening.

The President. What's that?

Q. On reports of Israeli-South African collaboration on missiles, transshipment of technology. Administration officials say it's clear something is happening. I want to know, sir, given this country's historical reluctance to impose sanctions on Israel, what kind of leverage we have to deal with the situation. What are you prepared to do?

The President. You're asking me to accept a hypothesis that I'm not accepting. But I have said that, whoever it is, the transfer of forbidden technology is a taboo. We're not going to have that, and we will find ways to assert that with any country that abuses the system.

NOVEMBER 7, 1989

Israel-U.S. Relations

Q. Are you willing to meet with Prime Minister Shamir when he comes to Washington?

The President. Whether he's coming or not, I'm not sure -- certainly willing to consider it. And he is giving -- I think there's a real effort now to work out support for the [Secretary of State] Baker points, the Baker proposals. And I'd like to feel that a meeting would be held and that it would be constructive, that we'd have something positive to talk about.

DECEMBER 11, 1989

Middle East Peace Process

Q. Tom Dearmore, of the San Francisco Examiner. Do you think the PLO is inspiring or orchestrating at least part of the Intifada riot activity? And if so, do you think Israel should be pressured or obliged to negotiate on any more than elections until this violence subsides?

The President. I don't think Israel should be pressured into negotiating with the PLO. Is that the question?

Q. Yes.

The President. No, they should not be. [Secretary of State] Jim Baker is working out a very difficult formulation with the Israelis, with the Egyptians, under which the representatives of the Palestinian people would sit down and talk. And it has been very difficult. Mubarak [President of Egypt], you remember, had his 10 points. Baker came up with five points. There has been progress on that, incidentally, but I don't think it is the role of the United States to force Israel to negotiate with the PLO.

Sources: Public Papers of the President