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


MARCH 15, 1995

Middle East Peace Process

Q. Mr. President, you spoke this morning of the need to accelerate the peace process. What can the United States do to break the impasse when Syria and Israel resume negotiations next week?

The President. Well, of course we're doing what we can with the Secretary's trip to the Middle East, and with the work that Mr. Ross and others are doing. What we have sought to do, always, is to facilitate the conditions within which both parties will feel secure in making peace. That has always been our role. We cannot make a peace for the parties, and we're doing what we can once again, to make our best case to both sides about what things will make them secure in making the decision.

As you know, when they discuss matters of this kind, it's best to let them deal with the details and make the decisions. So the less I say about the specifics, the greater the opportunity they have to make the peace.

APRIL 5, 1995

Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

Q. Mr. President, did President Mubarak assure you that he will sign the extension of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and stop urging other Arab nations not to sign unless Israel does?

President Clinton. Let me tell you the position that I took on it. And I think I'll let President Mubarak speak for himself. We believe that the NPT should be universal. And we believe that the Middle East should be free of all weapons of mass destruction, nuclear, biological, chemical. We also believe that cannot be accomplished overnight and that Egypt and Israel, as the first two parties to make peace in the Middle East, should work on this together. And I'm encouraged that the Foreign Ministers, Mr. Moussa and Mr. Peres, are going to meet soon on this issue.

The reason we believe, however, that we should vote for an NPT extension that is indefinite, without regard to whether every country in the world that we think should be in the NPT is in it, is that it seems to us that with the indefinite extension of the NPT, that will allay a lot of the security concerns of countries that are not in it and encourage them to get in it, whereas if we don't indefinitely extend it, then countries that are not fully participating may think they should hedge their bets for the future. So that's our policy; that's why we support it and why we hope it will prevail.

Q. This is a question for both of you. Are you saying that it would be acceptable if Israel would agree to sign the NPT at some point in the future, say, at the time a comprehensive Middle East peace is reached?

President Clinton. Well, I think President Mubarak should answer that, since it's really a question about whether it would be acceptable from his point of view. My position is that all countries should joint the NPT; that the Middle East should be free of all weapons of mass destruction, nuclear, biological and chemical; that that objective will be more easily achieved, notwithstanding the differences between Israel and the other countries, if we have an indefinite extension. That is the position of the United States and the position that I strongly believe to be the correct one. At any rate, I hope we'll be able to prevail with that position when the vote comes with a healthy majority.

The President of Egypt has his own views and convictions, and what he said is absolutely true: Egypt has been a complete and consistent supporter of the NPT regime from its inception. So I think I should let him answer for himself.

President Mubarak. We have no problem even with the United States concerning the NPT, as I have already mentioned before. The NPT—as I said, we were one of the 18 countries who drafted, participated in the draft. The point is, there is peace in the area. Egypt signed peace agreement, and we are in peace with Israel. Jordan signed peace agreement. Palestinian Declaration of Principles has been implemented now. Syria is on its way to reach an agreement. So there will be peace in the whole area.

So I don't think that Israel will be in need for any nuclear weapons in the future. But we are negotiating this issue to find any kind of formula to be agreed upon. We are not asking them to join the NPT now or tomorrow. We would like to know what we are going to do just for our national security. I think the ministers are going to meet tomorrow. I hope, with the help of the United States, we could narrow the gap and reach something concerning this issue.

Egyptian-Israeli Relations

Q. President Mubarak, the new peace between Jordan and Israel is warming up fast. The first peace between Israel and Egypt is still somewhat chilly. Will you come to Israel for the first time and personally warm it up so we can move ahead together?

President Mubarak. Jordan has about 3 million population, Egypt about 60 million. Jordan and Israel are living with each other, let us be very realistic and frank, long time ago. They have so many Palestinians here and there. But believe me, without the key of peace which was started by late President Sadat, I don't think that neither Jordan nor Palestinian would have the courage or would have thought of opening peace with this country.

Peace is not cold, as some people could say, but sometimes it's affected by a statement here or there. But believe me, there is much more progress on the cooperation with the Israelis between Israel and Egypt now. And this is the cornerstone.

Middle East Peace Process

Q. Egypt and the United States have played a pivotal role in the peace process since its inception. What, in your views, are—this is for both Presidents—the steps that should be taken by all parties concerned to further the peace process, especially that the Israeli and the American elections are soon, close?

President Clinton. I agree with the points that have been made. I would only make two other points. With regard to the Palestinians, it's also important that we try to resolve—as we resolve the security issues, that we try to work on getting economic investment back into Gaza and to Jericho, so that there is some opportunity for people there, some alternative to the destructive behavior that many are urging.

And with regard to the Syrians, I agree with what President Mubarak said, but—I think President Asad does want peace, and I think Prime Minister Rabin wants peace, but I think it is important that they reach an agreement fairly soon for the reasons that you said.

And let me say further, let me reiterate something I said in my opening statement. I think we've got a good chance to keep implementing the principles, with all the difficulties the Palestinians are having. I think we've got a good chance to reach an agreement with Syria and Israel. And I don't think either thing would happen if it weren't for the intense involvement of both the United States and Egypt.

Q. President Clinton, in the serious effort that your administration is dedicating to our Israeli-Palestinian peace, you are to be commended and your administration. And in the attempt to assist the Palestinian Authority in receiving the needed funds to build its infrastructure, can you please call, you and President Mubarak, on the Israeli Government and Mr. Rabin to end the closure of the Gaza Strip and the territories, and allow more workers to enter Israel seeking employment as a way of injecting more funds in Gaza and the West Bank and all of the territories and help improve the economic conditions of the Palestinians that you are also working hard on that? Thank you.

President Clinton. We talked about this at some length together. I think it's the toughest issue, frankly, that we face between the Israelis and the Palestinians for this reason. When the borders were open, it made Israel more vulnerable to terrorism. When innocent people are killed, it undermines support in Israel for the peace process and weakens the government's ability to go forward. When the borders are closed, the incomes of the Palestinian people drop dramatically, and it makes young people more vulnerable to the appeals of the terrorists.

So it is an almost insoluble problem in that sense. It is the most difficult problem. And it is—obviously, the enemies of peace know this, and they seek to be rewarded whether the borders are open or the borders are closed. They think they will get their reward.

So I would say to you that I wish I had an easy answer. We are working on this problem. We are certainly talking to the Israelis about it. But it is the most difficult aspect of this process. And it is something that we have to be—I'm very sympathetic with the Palestinians who are within Gaza, and with the instability there, which undermines our ability to get, for example, Palestinian-Americans to invest there.

On the other hand, I understand Prime Minister Rabin's situation. I saw what it did to Israel when these acts of terror started occurring again, what it did to the psychology of the people, their feeling of confidence that peace could make a difference for them. So I won't presume to give you a final answer today, except to say I am very focused on this, and I know that this is the toughest part of the problem and that we're going to have to resolve it.

APRIL 13, 1995

Jonathan Pollard Spy Exchange

Mr. Blitzer. Mr. President, I want to talk U.S. politics in a second, but one loose end. There's story out today that you're thinking about a swap that would free Jonathan Pollard, the U.S. naval intelligence analyst who was convicted of espionage for Israel, as part of a three-way deal with Israel, Russia, and the U.S. First of all, is that true? And second of all, do you think that—he's now served 10 years—is that long enough for the crime that he committed?

The President. No one has said anything to me about that. Nothing.

Mr. Blitzer. Not a swap either?

The President. Nothing.

Mr. Blitzer. Okay.

The President. And on Pollard, I'm going to handle his case the way I handle anybody else's: I get recommendations from people who apply for clemency from the Justice Department. I review them, and I make a judgment on them.

APRIL 18, 1995

Middle East Peace Process

Q. Mr. President, outward appearances would indicate that one of your key foreign policy goals, a comprehensive Middle East peace, is deadlocked, especially on the Israeli-Syrian track. Is there a stalemate? And especially in light of the recent terrorist incidents, and word today that Syria wants to get land to the Sea of Galilee?

The President. Well, I won't comment on the details of the negotiations between them because that would only complicate matters. It is difficult. We knew it would be difficult. I do believe that both Prime Minister Rabin and President Asad want to make a comprehensive peace. I do believe that both of them understand they don't have unlimited time. I do believe that the United States still has the trust of both parties in working to help them reach an agreement. And as concerned as I am about it, I am more hopeful today than I was, let's say, 45 days ago. We just have to keep at it.

JUNE 14, 1995

Middle East Peace Process

Q. Mr. President Clinton, what are your thoughts about the July 1st deadline which was set between the Palestinians and the Israelis for implementing the second phase in the Oslo Accords? And what are the economic incentives that you are envisioning to guard and promote the peace process in the Middle East?

And a question for President Chirac. What is the package, the economic package that the European Community is about to promote or to advance to strengthen the peace in the Middle East?

Thank you.

President Clinton. Well, we're working toward the deadline, and we're working closely with the Israelis and the Palestinians. As you know we're in constant contact with both of them. And we're doing what we can to get other supporters involved in the process of rebuilding the Middle East. We support the establishment of a development bank, which we believe is the least costly and most effective way to leverage public capital with private investment to redevelop the region.

And I can tell you that today I feel pretty hopeful about where we are and where we're going there, both in terms of the relationships between Israel and the Palestinians and in terms of the larger issues of Middle East peace. I have been pleased by the courage and the vision shown by all the leaders there in achieving the progress that's been achieved thus far.

And of course, as you know, we still have two countries to go. We have to resolve the differences between Israel and Syria, which are difficult, but they are both working on them. And then, of course, we would then hopefully get an agreement with Lebanon and Israel.

So I feel hopeful about it, and we're prepared to invest quite a lot of money in it. And we believe that the institution of a development bank is not only that favored by the people in the Middle East but also is the most cost-effective way to leverage a large amount of private capital with public investment. We do have to show the Palestinian people some benefits of the peace. And we are committed to doing that.

SEPTEMBER 28, 1995

Middle East Peace Process

Q. Mr. President, how do you see the chances of implementation, this current Oslo B agreement between Israel and the Palestinians? Do you perceive that this—that there are fair chances that it will be implemented correctly, positively?

The President. Yes, I believe that if the parties make a good-faith effort, I will do what I can to see that it's properly implemented and to get the necessary support from around the world.

You know, a lot of people have been cheering this process on, and those who cheer need to support it. And the United States will do what we can to support it. And I will encourage a bipartisan support within the United States and around the world. I think the parties will do their part. And those of us who support peace should do ours.

Q. Do you mean political or economically?

Q. Mr. President, do you think Israel should release all the Palestinian prisoners when the agreement is signed?

The President. Excuse me?

Q. Do you think Israel should release all the Palestinian prisoners now when the agreement is signed?

The President. I think that the United States will take the position we have always taken. The parties are working these matters out, and the parties will continue to do it, and we will support the peace process.

SEPTEMBER 29, 1995


Q. Mr. President, what do you think is going to happen to Jerusalem when there is a final settlement?

President Clinton. You know what our position is, that the less we say about this at this moment, the better, because the parties have agreed themselves to make this a part of the final status talks. And what we want to do is to create the maximum chance that they will actually reach a good-faith agreement, because if they actually reach a good-faith agreement, then the chances are much greater that it will then be accepted by all the people in the area.

I think everyone expects that because of the importance of Jerusalem to Muslims, to Jews, and to Christians, that all of us believers from all over the world will be able to show up there and have access to our holy sites. But I think that it's very important that we not prejudge exactly what the structure be. We should let the negotiators work. They have done a marvelous job. I mean, look at yesterday, Prime Minister Rabin and Chairman Arafat initialed 26 maps in here. There were thousands and thousands and thousands of excruciatingly detailed decisions made by those negotiators. That is good evidence that they can actually work through these things. And I believe in the end, they will reach whatever they believe is a fair and livable accommodation on Jerusalem, and I want to see them have a chance to do it.

NOVEMBER 5, 1995

Death of Prime Minister Rabin of Israel

Q. This is quite a President gathering, Mr. President, your thoughts as the flight of this——

President Clinton. We're all going to pay our respects to Prime Minister Rabin. We all knew him. And we're going to express our support for Israel and for the peace process.

Q. President Carter said the other day when he was being interviewed that he thought, given the circumstances, there logically enough would be a pause, not a pause in peacemaking but a reflective pause, and then, of course, the process should gather again. How quickly do you think the Israelis can pull themselves together?

President Clinton. I don't have any idea. We don't know yet. We are going to have meetings when we're there; we're going to visit and then maybe we'll have some more—some better thoughts for you then.

Q. Mr. President, collectively when you look at the manifest of this trip, what message does it send to the Israelis, Middle East, and the entire world for that matter?

President Clinton. Well, I think it should send, first of all, the message that the United States still stands as a genuine friend and a partner to the people of Israel, Republicans and Democrats alike. We have decades of dedication to the cause of peace here, from the work President Carter did with the Camp David accords to the work President Bush did in starting this process that has been consummated in the last couple of years, the Secretaries of State that are here, the leaders of both parties in the Congress—the United States is standing with Israel and standing for the cause of peace. And we're standing strong and deep.

Q. President Bush, what goes through your mind, sir, as you consider all the familiar faces on this trip and the message that it may be sending to the rest of the world?

President Bush. Well, of course, I'm very grateful to President Clinton for personally inviting me. Barbara and I felt close to Prime Minister Rabin, as do the others here, very close to him. I remember when he visited us in our home up in Maine and all of that.

And so I would simply leave the policy to President Clinton but simply say I'm sure it will be a very emotional event, and I hope that it conveys that the Republicans, Democrats, whatever, are together in the support of Israel and clearly in support of the peace process. And that's all I think we can expect from this.

Q. The Syrian track seems awfully tough, even before this. Various approaches have been tried—President Carter actually mediated 16 tough days. You've talked to us on it. Do you have some new tactic? I don't know how many ways there are to go about it, but have you thought of some way to break this stalemate that might work?

President Clinton. I think I should defer all substantive conversations about this until after the funeral and after the meetings. Then I will—on the way back perhaps I'll have something more to say about it. But I think it would be inappropriate—this is a time of national mourning for the people of Israel and a time when all of us who knew Prime Minister Rabin feel a great sense of loss and an enormous sense of respect, even awe, for what he did and for the sacrifice he paid. I'd like for us to take the time to properly honor that, and then on the way back perhaps something will emerge from our meetings which will be useful for me to comment on.

Q. Will you be seeing Mr. Netanyahu, or can you give us an idea of who you will see?

Press Secretary Mike McCurry. We'll do that for all of you here.

President Clinton. Mike has that.

Q. President Carter, we haven't heard from you. What are your thoughts about the message that should be sent by this delegation that includes people who were in your administration—yourself of course?

President Carter. Well, I've known Prime Minister Rabin for 24 years and admired him personally and as a great leader. I'm honored to be invited by President Clinton to participate. I think it was a very wise thing on the part of the President to put together this tremendously impressive delegation because in this time of sorrow and grief and uncertainty, I think it is very important to every Israeli to know the United States stands beside us with full support.

I wasn't insinuating that the peace process should be delayed, but the comment I made was that the Israelis would have to make this decision, and for a few days at least we shouldn't be pushing them on an exact schedule for the peace process.

But I think it's important, too, for the Israelis to not only know that we are supportive of Israel but also supportive of the peace process. And our coming, I think, is closely related to that.

So I hope that President Clinton's ideas for this mission, burdened as we are with sadness and the personal loss, will be productive for Israel and for the peace process.

Q. People have said that one of the causes of this is the polarization that has occurred in Israel because of the peace process and the very vigorous opposition to it. Is there any lesson for us in the United States with what happened yesterday?

President Clinton. Well, of course we've dealt with some polarization of our own. And I think the lesson is that in a free and vital society, you want the widest range of freedom of speech. But words can have consequences; people can be driven to extremes. And our society only works when—any democracy only works when freedom is handled responsibly. And I think that's the lesson here.

The Israelis have been through all these wars, all this tension for all these decades and never had a political assassination before. And I hope—I hope it will never happen again. I hope they—I admire their flourishing democracy; I like the big and raucous arguments they have. But they should do it respecting one another's innate patriotism and dignity and fundamental right to participate. We've got to keep this thing within proper bounds.

But you know, that's something we all have to work on; all democracies have to work on that. Israel doesn't—that's not just a comment about Israel. I'm sure they'll have the time to reflect on all of that. And they are a very great people, a very great democracy, and I'm sure they'll work it out.

Sources: Public Papers of the President