George W. Bush Administration: Press Secretary McClelland On Bush-Sharon Meeting
(April 11, 2005)
MR. McCLELLAN: All right, let me -- I just came over here to kind of give a little bit more of a readout on the meeting and answer whatever questions you might have on it.
First of all, I would describe the meetings as very warm and friendly. They had a very warm and friendly visit, both during the meeting at the President's office, which you all covered afterwards, and then at the lunch, as well. And the focus, really, of the meeting was on how to move forward in the Middle East and how to make the Prime Minister's disengagement plan work. You heard some of the discussion during the Q&A with the pool. And you heard the President talk about the importance of Israelis and Palestinians coordinating on this effort.
And Prime Minister Sharon, as you heard in the remarks, made an offer to coordinate with the Palestinian leadership. And the President urged the Palestinian leadership to accept Israel's offer to coordinate on the withdrawal. And that was really where a lot of the focus of the initial -- of the meeting was at the President's office, there on the ranch.
And they also spent time talking about the importance of improving -- of Israel working to improve the situation for the Palestinians in the West Bank area, and the importance of working together with President Abbas and supporting his efforts to move forward on building the institutions for a viable democracy to emerge.
So that was where much of the discussion was focused. They also talked about Lebanon and Syria; they talked about the importance of helping democracy succeed in a sovereign Lebanon. They spent a good bit of time talking about the broader Middle East, too, and they talked about the historic change that is occurring in the region. They talked about the elections that are taking place. They talked about the democratic progress in different parts of the region. And they talked about the potential to extend freedom and democracy in the region, which will help lead to long-term peace. And they talked -- in that context; they talked about the progress being made in Iraq, as well. And then they had some discussion about the internal political situation in Israel, as well, where the Prime Minister talked a little bit about that.
Then, following that, they had the press avail. You all had plenty of questions to get their views on the various issues there. The President took him on -- took the Prime Minister on a tour of the ranch, did some windshield ranching. And then they came over to the house, the President and Mrs. Bush's house, where they had lunch. They spent a good bit of time there talking about Iran; that's where the discussion on Iran came up. And the President talked about the diplomatic efforts by the Europeans to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. And they talked about their shared concern about Iran's intentions with their nuclear program. And so they had quite a bit of discussion about that.
And if you want the menu -- here, I'll just give you the menu for the lunch. They had arugula and blood orange salad, pecan-smoked beef tenderloin -- which was very good -- grilled asparagus and roasted seasonal vegetables, some homemade peach sorbet, and then topped it off with some brownies.
And that's really what I've got.
Q Did you get the sense that Prime Minister Sharon -- how long was the meeting?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the meeting was -- started about 10:00 a.m., up until the time they really walked out to see you all -- I guess about 10 or 15 minutes before that. So I think it was around an hour and a half, probably.
Q And the lunch went for how long?
MR. McCLELLAN: And then the lunch -- it was a good hour, at least. I didn't check the exact time. But the Prime Minister -- probably a little bit more than an hour. The Prime Minister left right about 2:00 p.m.
Q Does the President feel that Sharon heeded his warning not to expand settlements --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you heard directly from Prime Minister Sharon, and he expressed his commitment to the roadmap. And they also talked about Israel's views. I mean, I think, you know, Israel, obviously, has certain views when it comes to some of the settlements and final status discussions. You heard the President's view on the final status negotiations, as well. He reiterated our view that he expressed a year ago back at the White House, when he met with Prime Minister Sharon, and he talked about the importance of supporting the Prime Minister's bold initiative on disengagement. And he also talked about the new realities on the ground, and how those have to be taken into account in the final status discussions.
Q But the President sounded very unequivocal, saying no expansion, and the Prime Minister -- there seemed to be some ambiguity as to whether he's saying the roadmap says we shouldn't expand, or whether he's saying we're going to kick this down the road.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, the roadmap -- and I think you heard the point the President was making, that the roadmap has obligations for both parties, and it's important that parties follow the roadmap. The roadmap is the way forward to achieving the two-state vision. And Prime Minister Sharon reiterated that -- the commitment to the roadmap as a way to achieve the two state vision. But right now, as the President iterated in his comments, we've got a real opportunity before us with, with Israel committing to move out of Gaza. And the opportunity before us in Gaza can help show us what is possible if it succeeds. And it's important to keep the focus on making sure we succeed in Gaza.
Now, it's more than just Gaza, in terms of the President's views. You heard in his opening remarks it's not just Gaza, but there's more to do, as well. But Gaza provides an opportunity -- the withdrawal from Gaza provides an opportunity to move forward to achieve the two state vision, if it is successful. And that's where we want to make sure that the parties are coordinating the disengagement plan, and working together to build confidence. And that's what the President talked about in the press avail at length.
Q So immediately after Sharon's translated remarks in which he seemed to suggest that he intended the Ma'aleh Adumim settlement should be a part -- would continue, Bush jumped in and made the strongest statement. Did you talk to him at all afterward about that and the message --
MR. McCLELLAN: They talked about it during --
Q -- whatever message he was trying to send? Did you get the impression, or did the President tell you that he jumped on that to send a message?
MR. McCLELLAN: They talked about it during the meeting. The President, as you heard him say last week, reiterated our views when it comes to settlement activity. And our view is that Israel should not take steps that run counter to the roadmap when it comes to settlement activity. The roadmap spells out what needs to be done. There are other obligations that must be met in the roadmap, as well, and we want all parties to meet their obligations.
Q Was he suggesting that that was outside --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you heard directly from the President what his views were, that the roadmap makes it very clear what is called for in terms of settlement activity. We expressed our views. As I said, Israel has certain views when it comes to settlements and how they should be addressed in final status discussions. And we've said that we're not going to prejudice the outcome of the final status negotiations, but that certain realities should be taken into account, as well.
Q Scott, the Israeli position is that the roadmap allows for natural growth of settlements and that this plan to expand Ma'aleh Adumim is naturally growing. What's the -- is that part of the roadmap?
MR. McCLELLAN: You can look at the roadmap for yourself.
Q No, I'm asking the United States government --
MR. McCLELLAN: What the roadmap says is an end to the settlement activity -- that's what the roadmap spells out.
Q Can I ask a follow up question?
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure.
Q Is it fair to assume that you consider Ma'aleh Adumim as one of the realities on the ground, but you are forced to the expanding of natural growth, as it's called, in the settlement? Is this right to assume?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, and go back to what the President said. The President talked about that in his opening remarks, when he reiterated what we had said a year ago, that you have to take into account the new realities on the ground when it comes to final status discussions. But we're not going to prejudice the outcome of those final status discussions. And that's the President's view.
Q But would you agree to keep these settlements, the major ones?
MR. McCLELLAN: You're asking me to prejudice the outcome of the final status discussions, and the President said we're not going to do that. In his remarks he specifically said that final status agreement will be achieved only on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect the realities on the ground. And he reiterated what we had said a year ago.
Q Scott, did Prime Minister Sharon give the President any assurances that these expansions that we're talking about and the question of Jerusalem would be delayed or held up or something like that, that nothing would happen right now?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, that what?
Q That nothing would happen right now on those.
MR. McCLELLAN: In terms of?
Q Did he give the President assurances that they would delay any kind of expansion at this point, but keep the option open?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think he gave a commitment that he made publicly, in private. He made the same commitment in private that he made publicly, which was that Israel was committed to the roadmap and their obligations, committed to meeting their obligations in the roadmap.
Q But they have a different interpretation of the roadmap, right? The President does, isn't that the case?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, and, Tom, that's why -- I mean, what the President said about why the opportunity before us right now is so important. There is a lack of confidence between the parties because, given the past history in the region; and there are going to be difficult steps to take along the way and there are going to be difficulties along the way. But we have a real opportunity before us to move forward in a way that can lead to the two state vision. And that's why the President talked about the importance of making sure that the withdrawal from Gaza is successful and that you can put in place a self-governing entity there to take the place of Israel once the people leave that part of the region.
Q That's not to say that there are not differences between the United States and Israel.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, no, that's what I -- I mean, you heard me say that obviously Israel has certain views that they carry with them into any final status negotiations. I mean, I think that's to be expected. But the President reiterated what our view was when it comes to settlements. And you heard directly from Prime Minister Sharon, too, express his commitment to removing unauthorized outposts and his commitment to the obligations in the roadmap.
Q Let me try again. Prime Minister Sharon did not say that his government would stop its plan to expand the settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim, correct? He did not say that?
MR. McCLELLAN: You heard what he had to say. And I think that's what he expressed to the President, as well.
Q So he -- what he said was, we'll abide by the roadmap, right?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, you heard that in his remarks.
Q But his government is planning this gigantic expansion of settlements, which is --
MR. McCLELLAN: I mean, look, Terry, this was -- they had a very good discussion about a range of issues and they had a particularly good discussion when it comes to the disengagement plan. And the President was very clear in what our views were, in terms of the roadmap, and I think Israel understands that and Israel expressed their commitment to the roadmap as the way forward to achieving the two state vision. And you heard the Prime Minister talk about that during the press avail.
Q But Sharon never explicitly said, okay, and under the roadmap we won't do this gigantic expansion of settlements. The President never got that promise?
MR. McCLELLAN: You heard what he said. I mean, I'm not going to try to speak --
Q We're in Texas, though --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- I'm not going to try to speak for the Prime Minister, beyond what he said publicly.
Q A little plain talk here in Texas, that's all.
MR. McCLELLAN: And I'm giving it to you. That's what was expressed. And you heard from them directly.
Q Scott, you said that the President and the Prime Minister talked at some length about Iran. Did the Prime Minister discuss plans for Israel to take a pre-emptive strike against Iran if it goes forward with its nuclear plan?
MR. McCLELLAN: That was not -- the discussion focused on the diplomatic efforts that are ongoing right now by the Europeans with Iran, and then they talked at length about the concerns that we both have about what Iran's intentions are when it comes to a nuclear program. We believe that they're seeking nuclear weapons under the guise of civilian nuclear program, and there was a lot of discussion about that. That's really what the focus was. No, there really wasn't a discussion about what you're bringing up.
Q And no discussion about what happens if diplomacy fails?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, there was some discussion about if they don't follow through on their international obligations. And we've talked about that, as well, that then, obviously, you have to talk look at the next step. The next step is looking toward the Security Council.
Q Did the President tell the Prime Minister when he would welcome President Abbas to the White House, or in Crawford?
MR. McCLELLAN: Did what?
Q Did the President tell Prime Minister Sharon when he would welcome President Abbas to the White House?
MR. McCLELLAN: We look forward to welcoming President Abbas back to Washington at some point. As you know, the President has extended an invitation, and we're just working out a time that is convenient for President Abbas to come to Washington.
Q Since Sharon was in Waco last night, was there any reason why he wasn't given an invitation to spend the night at the ranch?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, there really wasn't. I mean, I don't think it was ever an issue. He decided to come in a day ahead, and they had always planned to stay in Waco. There was never any discussion of anything else. As you're aware, when Prime Minister Martin was here, the day before he stayed in Temple. So it just wasn't an issue.
Q Did the Prime Minister ask for financial support for the Gaza plan, because there's been a figure of a billion, three billion --
MR. McCLELLAN: I imagine that's something that -- you heard the President talk about in his remarks about supporting the development in Negev and Galilee, in the Negev and Galilee regions. And I imagine that they'll be continuing discussions on that. That wasn't really the focus of this meeting, but I imagine there will be continuing discussions between our two governments about how we can support those efforts.
Q Scott, since the Vice President and Secretary Rice were there, could you tell us a little bit about what their involvement was in the discussions during the day, and kind of give us a little bit of what the scene was in the new office?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. I think that in the office there, there was a lot of discussion -- it was a very relaxed atmosphere. Like I said, it was very warm and friendly, in terms of the discussion. And I think staffs on both sides were openly expressing some of their thoughts during the discussion. That's the way I would describe it.
Q Somebody asked you yesterday, and I didn't hear this question very well -- did Sharon seek any financial assistance for the --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, that's the question that was asked here, and that's what I pointed back to, how the President expressed our support for developing the Negev and Galilee regions. And I imagine that those -- that there will be continuing discussions about how we can support those efforts to help with Israel's economic prosperity.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, not that I'm aware of.
Q Any mention of the Palestinian elections scheduled for July?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q The Palestinian elections?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, they talked broadly about the broader Middle East and the elections that have been taking place from the Palestinian territories to Iraq. No, I'm not aware that there was a specific discussion on that. The discussion really focused more on how to move forward on the Prime Minister's disengagement plan in a way that is coordinated closely with Palestinians, so that it will be successful.
Sources: The White House