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Remarks and Answers to Press Questions by President Clinton and Prime Minister Rabin

The White House, (November 21, 1994)

In the congressional elections which were held in the United States in early November, the Democrats lost control of both the House and the Senate. The incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would be Senator Jesse Helms. He had described the Middle East peace process as 'fraud " Prime Minister Rabin, invited to address the general assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations of the United States, held discussions with President Clinton on the slate of the peace process and future U.S. policy in the Middle East following the changes in Congress. Mr. Rabin refuted the claim that the process was a faud and claimed that "it has been the most successful process since Israel became a nation." He also discussed with the president the state of Israel-Syria talks, the future of the Golan Heights and continued U.S. aid to Israel, A photo opportunity developed into a press conference. Text:

PRESIDENT CLINTON: I would like to make a brief comment and then give the prime minister a chance to make a comment.

First of all, with regard to the NATO attack this morning on the airfield, it was a strong and entirely appropriate response. That airfield had been used to conduct the air attacks against the Bihac region and it was the right thing to do. The situation in Bihac remains quite serious. Well just have to see how events develop. But I strongly support the NATO action today.

With regard to the meeting that we have just had, let me say that it was, as always, a good meeting. We remain committed to achieving a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. I have reaffirmed my support for the current aid level to Israel, as well as for certain security assistance, including the Arrow missile program in the years ahead, so that we can continue to support the security conditions that, in my judgment, are the precondition for Israel being able to make a just peace with all her neighbors in the Middle East.

Mr. Prime Minister, would you like to

PRIME MINISTER RABIN: In the last two years the Middle East has seen dramatic change in the interrelationships between the Arab countries and the Arab peoples and Israel. As you remember, in September '93, here on the lawn of the White House, we signed the Declaration of Principles between us and the PLO representing the Palestinians. We started to tackle the longest and the most complicated conflict in all the conflicts of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Since then, we have implemented the first phase. There are problems, but we are continuing this, the process of reconciliation and solving the Palestinian- Israeli conflict.

President Clinton visited the area when we signed the peace treaty with Jordan, the second peace treaty ever to be signed between Israel and an Arab country, and the first one after the convening of the Madrid peace conference.

We are committed to continue the negotiation with the Palestinians, with Syria and Lebanon, with the purpose to achieve comprehensive peace. I'm sure that without the United States' involvement-support, under the leadership of President Clinton and Secretary Christopher, it would have been much more difficult, if at all, to achieve this progress in the peace process that we all witnessed and so many people did not believe that it would be possible to be done.

Therefore, in our discussion, the president said what has been agreed, and we'll continue to adhere to our responsibility to achieve comprehensive peace. There will be obstacles; there will be difficulties. But I believe, with the support- involvement of the United States, we will achieve comprehensive peace.

Q: Do you have any possibility of Syria in '95, of a peace agreement, Mr. Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER RABIN: According to the Bible, all the prophets came from the Middle East. I would not advise anyone to become a prophet of what will happen in the Middle East today. We will try our best.

Q: Mr. President, do you think that Jesse Helms owes you an apology?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Tomorrow I'm going to have a more extensive opportunity to meet with the press; I'll be glad to answer all those questions. I'd rather just answer questions today on these two matters we've discussed.

Q: - Is NATO in crisis? Are the European allies and the Americans pulling in opposite directions? Do you intend to assert your leadership to try to get the allies to be more in accord with the American policy on using NATO force? Despite today's attack, Europeans have refused to enforce exclusion zones.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, let me say that you know what our position has been all along, and I think today's action is a good step in the right direction. We are moving forward. I will have a chance to meet with many of our allies in Budapest in the next few days and we'll continue to work on it. But this was a step in the right direction.

Q: Are you talking to Helms about the Israeli aid and Arab aid, and are you talking also about NATO?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: We're having extensive consultations and will continue to win the congressional leadership. But as I said, I'd rather talk about these matters today and I'll answer some other questions tomorrow.

Q: Mr. President, on these matters-

Q: Senator Helms's office says-

Q: - to the Middle East leaders like the prime minister, when the incoming head of the Foreign Relations Committee calls this process a fraud?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: I don't think that - well, the prime minister has already said the process is not a fraud, it's been quite successful. It's been the most successful process since Israel became a nation. And we'll just keep working at it to try to make it work better.

Q: Can you clarify your position on the constitutional amendment Q: Senator Helms also opposes troops on the Golan Heights.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: I think it's - on the Golan issue, let me say, generally, we shouldn't get in the way of the parties making peace themselves. And I don't think I should say or do anything on that, that would undermine the possibility of the parties reaching a peace. I think that ought to be the position that all Americans take. Now, the prime minister can comment on this better than 1, but you know there have been American troops in the Sinai for quite a long time without incident, and I don't think any American would begrudge the investment we've made in the historic peace that grew out of Camp David.

PRIME MINISTER RABIN: Do you know that there are today a thousand Americans - about a thousand Americans -that served for 15 1/2 years in the Sinai as part of the multinational force in which there is participation of many civilians from Australia, New Zealand, Colombia, Canada, and this force is in existence since we signed the peace treaty with Egypt, on the demand of Israel?

All of the Americans there, as the others - and there is one fighting infantry battalion, American uniformed soldiers in the Sinai. Their role is not to defend Israel. Their role is to monitor the military annex of the peace treaty - the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. And it serves effectively. No American was hurt there by any terror activities because it is in an area controlled by the Egyptian armed forces. We work in cooperation. We have all the machinery of cooperation.

No doubt, on the Golan Heights, for 19 years, we had -not one act of terror toward the lines between Syria and Israel. The Golan Heights today is the safest from terror because the Syrians keep their commitment under the disengagement agreement of 1974.

Q: Mr. President, the prime minister is describing a monitoring force. is that how you anticipate Americans being used, as monitors, or is it - which is something entirely different?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: First of all, there has been no discussion - he described to you what came out of Camp David. There has been no discussion among the parties of a role for American forces yet. That would - let's let the people who have to make this agreement make it. And then, if we're asked by the parties themselves to become involved at some point in the future, I will come to the American people, I will come to the Congress, and I will make the case at that time based on an agreement that they would reach. There has been no agreement of any kind about this. We're jumping the gun here on this part of it.

Q: Are you going to see Helms yourself, Mr. Prime Minister? Are you going to see Mr. Helms, Senator Helms?

PRIME MINISTER RABIN: He's not in town.

Q: Mr. President, with the new Republican Congress, what happens to the foreign aid and to the American troops in the Golan Heights?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, first of all, with regard to foreign aid, I have just pledged to the prime minister that I will support next year continuing the aid to Israel at its present level, in addition to some new security initiatives with regard to the Arrow missiles, supercomputers and a couple of other things. So we are going to have a very robust security relationship with Israel, and I believe the aid levels will be maintained.

We have enjoyed in this country, historically, a bipartisan level of support for Israel. Now, with regard to the Golan, I can only tell you that we in the United States must await an agreement of peace between Israel and Syria. If a peace agreement is reached regarding the Golan in which we were asked to participate, obviously that is something that I would consider.

We have been in the Sinai as a result of the agreement between Egypt and Israel for quite a long time now without incident. I am very proud of the role the United States has been asked to play there as a monitor - not as a defender of Israel's security, but as a monitor. But that has not been discussed now; we are a good ways from that. And that is something for Israel and for Syria to resolve between themselves before the United States can be involved in that.

Q: Mr. President, can you shape foreign policy with Jesse Helms in Congress, and can you speed up foreign aid to Arafat, who seems to be on the brink of civil war?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: I do think we should speed it up. There will be a meeting next week, a donors meeting, in Brussels, and we're going to try to move about $125 million out in a hurry. I do believe that the donors must work to get the assistance out quickly to enable the people in the areas to receive and to feel some benefits Of the peace. I think that's critically important.

Q: Mr. President, do you see any chance of resuming the talks in Washington between Israel and Syria in full scale of delegations and military.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: I have no comment about that, except to tell you that we will continue to do everything we can to reach a peace agreement and to facilitate the peace between the parties.

Q: Mr. President, in view of the Republican victory in the elections to the Congress, do you intend to change the foreign policy of the United States vis-a-vis the Middle East, or do you feel that this policy enjoys a bipartisan support in the American public?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: No, I have no intention of changing it; it's working. My policy in the Middle East is to support the peace process, to support a comprehensive peace, to stand behind Israel in its security, to increase the feeling that peace is possible, and then to make the benefits of peace apparent to all the parties who sign on to it. So that policy has worked very well for two years, and I intend to continue it.

Q: Mr. President, what do you think of what happened in the Gaza Strip in the last few days?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, I think we have to work hard to stand up against terror and to try to bring the benefits of peace to the people who support the peace. And that is a difficult situation; we know that it is. But our policy will remain clear and steadfast there. Well continue to support the peace process.

Q: Don't you think that the way that President Assad treated you, it was an insult from your point of view?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: I wouldn't characterize it in that way. I would say that if you look at the way my press conference and my comments about terrorism were played in the Syrian media, I don't think you can say it in that way. I do think that we have to keep working to build more trust and confidence between the two countries. And I have urged President Assad to do that, to do whatever can be done to reach out to the people as well as the Government of Israel to make it clear that Syria genuinely does wish a peace.

I am convinced that the president of Syria wants to make peace with Israel, but I think that my opinion is not nearly as important as not only the opinion of the leaders of Israel, but the people of Israel. Israel is a very great democracy and the people need to feel in their bones that peace and security are both possible, And I am going to keep working to that end.

Q: Mr. President, yesterday the Palestinian minister said that unless sponsors speeded up to the territories very soon it might be too late. Do you share that bleak assessment and what role do you think the violence in Gaza - I'm sorry - what do you think the connection was between the violence in Gaza and the fact that the economic situation is hurting?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: I don't think you can draw a direct connection, but I do believe that when you bring peace to a place, you need to work hard to make sure that the benefits of peace become apparent to people who are the targets of the enemies of peace. So we have to work harder and more aggressively - all of us, who support the peace process - to try to make the benefits more apparent.

We all knew that this would be difficult, the prime minister knew it would be difficult. There had never been, in effect, a national Palestinian government there, if you will. There are difficulties. But I think the responsibility is on all of us who wish to see benefits of peace to keep pushing it. That's what the donors' conference is about. And I think there is a sense of urgency among those who that the money, the investment needs to go out.

Q: Mr. Prime Minister, what did you achieve in your meeting today with President Clinton?

PRIME MINISTER RABIN: III say a few words in English and then with your permission, Mr. President, III pass to Hebrew.

First, I thanked the president for his involvement in sending the secretary of state to the region, because in the last two years, we have achieved, in my humble opinion, dramatic changes in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

We started to tackle the longest, the most complicated, complex conflict - the Israeli-Palestinians. I knew that there would be ups and downs, there would be enemies of the achievement of a solution to the Israeli- Palestinian problem. But I believe that regardless of what happened in Gaza, we are on the right track.

We signed a peace treaty with Jordan, the country that has got the longest border with Israel, and mostly the implementation of the peace treaty. We are still in process, not easy ones, with negotiation with Syria and Lebanon. These all happened in the last - less than two years.

I told the president that I, the Government of Israel, the people of Israel, thank him for his guidance, for his involvement, for his readiness, as he once wrote to me, and has kept his commitment, that when Israel takes risks for peace, the United States will try its best to minimize these risks.

And the support that we got from the president, from the administration, the secretary of state, and what you were told by the president that for the next fiscal year the president will keep the same level of assistance to Israel, will recommend to the Congress to keep the same level, with the additions that the president mentioned - all this means backing Israel in its effort and assisting wherever it is needed, wherever it is possible by the United States to advance towards comprehensive peace.

There are problems, but I'm proud of what has been achieved towards peace in the last two years.

And now I shall be brief, with your permission. (Prime Minister Rabin speaks in Hebrew.)

Q: Mr. President, one more question. The prime minister mentioned the danger of the Islamic extremists. Do you intend, as the president of the most powerful country, to build a coalition against Islamic extremists and the danger?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: First, let me say I agree that it's a danger, and we are monitoring it very closely. We keep up with it, and we're going to do whatever is appropriate.

Source: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs