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Bill Clinton Administration: Statement on Meeting with Syrian President Assad

(March 29, 2000)

Question: Mr. President, you said that Assad's - that the ball is in Assad's court. Is that because you think that his insistence on the return of all Syrian land under occupation in exchange for peace lacks logic, or possibility?

President Clinton: It's because he now knows in great detail what the Israeli proposals were. And I believe, since they have made an effort to be specific and comprehensive, if we're going to make progress, they should now be able to know what his specific and comprehensive response is on all the issues.

There is more than one issue here. And if we're going to have a negotiation, I don't think it's enough to say, I don't like your position, come back and see me when I like your position. And I understand how strongly he feels about it, but if he disagrees with their territorial proposal, which is quite significant, then there should be some other proposal I think, coming from the Syrians about how their concerns could be handled. And that's what I meant by that. I did my best to try to just present what I thought the options were and if we're going to have a negotiation, it takes two people coming up with ideas - or three sides, in this case, if we are being asked to mediate it.

He, obviously, has the perfect right to take whatever position he believes is in Syria's interests and whatever he thinks is right, but if there is a genuine desire for peace here on both sides, and I believe there is, and if both sides face certain significant political constraints within their countries, and I believe they do, then they both need to come up with some ideas and start talking. I mean, the one thing there should be no doubt about is that there is a real effort being made here to resolve this. And I think it is clear that Prime Minister [Ehud] Barak would like to resolve it, and I think President Assad would like to resolve it. So once you know what the other side wants and you don't think you can do it, then you ought to come up with some alternative way of trying to respond to the underlying concerns that are behind the position. That's what I've suggested, and I hope that will happen. And meanwhile, the rest of us will keep working. I had a good talk with President [Hosni] Mubarak [of Egypt] yesterday about that, and I hope we can continue to more forward.

Sources: Public Papers of the President