Background Briefing by Senior Administration Official
The Briefing Room
1:46 P.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: Okay, the following is a BACKGROUND BRIEFING. It will be [names deleted]. You may refer to them both as senior administration officials.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'll give you a brief rundown on the talks that the President had with President Mubarak today. I think we can characterize the talks as having been very productive and broad-ranging over a wide scope of issues.
The President had a long one-on-one with President Mubarak that lasted about an hour and fifteen minutes. The focal point of that discussion was on the peace process and on certain regional issues and on the issue of terrorism.
On the peace process, the two leaders went into some depth on the status of the peace process now. They reviewed the progress that has been made, and especially Secretary Christopher's efforts to restart the peace negotiations and for the talks to resume on April 20th.
There was a good discussion on exactly where we're at with the Palestinians, the Israelis and ourselves on the deportee issue. And President Mubarak agreed, after being briefed in detail on the status of this issue, that what we have accomplished is significant and he told the President that he felt that the President and the Secretary had done the maximum possible under the circumstances and that he himself will be following up with the parties in the region. And that means with the Palestinians, with the other Arab leaders, and with the Israelis.
As you know, President Mubarak has excellent relations with the leaders on all sides, including with Prime Minister Rabin.
There was a consensus between the leaders, both President Clinton and President Mubarak, that both are hopeful that the negotiations can be resumed on April 20th. Mubarak shares our confidence in that respect.
Also add that we notified the Egyptians that the parties have expressed to us -- various other parties have expressed to us their interest in coming to Washington for pre-consultations in preparation of the April 20th round, and we are now in the process of contacting the parties to set up those meetings.
Q: All the parties?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We've been in touch and they have been in touch with us -- all of the parties -- and including -- yes, all the parties, including the Palestinians. When they were here the weekend when Faisal Husseini and his delegation was here, they raised the issue of pre-consultations with us. They have not given us any dates. But all the parties have raised the prospect of coming here, and we are getting very definite inquiries from the parties on when they would like to come.
Again, I think this connotes what we are hearing from the leaders in the region that they are very serious about their commitment to the peace process and to restarting the next round. There is a common view that it is very important to end the hiatus in the talks.
So we have President Mubarak now, after his discussions with the President and the Secretary and the other senior advisors here, going into the region very supportive of what we have accomplished and lending Egypt's weight to resuming the April 20th round.
Both the President and President Mubarak agreed on the importance and the urgency in obtaining a prompt response now to the resumption of the round on April 20th. And they both had a common assessment that this -- the sense of urgency is really a factor of the real possibility that the political options of the parties can narrow if the hiatus continues for too long and the situation on the ground exacerbates.
Another very important issue that was discussed was regional security issues, particularly focused on the role of Iran and Iraq. On Iraq, President Mubarak agreed with the President's policy on the total enforcement of all U.N. Security Council sanctions on Iraq and there was complete agreement on how to deal firmly with Iraq in order to assure compliance and to -- to assure compliance with all U.N. Security Council resolutions.
President Mubarak made it very clear that as far as he was concerned, there was certainly no ambiguity in his understanding of what U.S. policy was. That it was firm, and, even in one respect, even firmer -- along the lines that the Secretary has mentioned and the President have mentioned -- that we want the application of the sanctions to be applied now and that they would pertain to any successor who obviously might come to power who would follow policies that are inimicable to the whole thrust of the sanctions regime.
On terrorism, there was an extensive discussion in the one-on-one in the -- and especially at lunch, at the working luncheon -- on the issue of terrorism and state sponsors of terrorism and the necessity for both the United States and Egypt to continue to cooperate on this. And both President Clinton and President Mubarak acknowledged the increased levels of cooperation between the two countries on countering terrorism. And, obviously, we will be working closely together with the Egyptians on how to even reinforce this further in the future.
On Iran, President Mubarak gave his assessment of the short-term and long-term threat that Iran poses to the region as a whole both in terms of Iran's categoric opposition to the ArabIsraeli peace process, its efforts to destabilize regimes, and its support for various terrorist organizations, be it Hezbollah links, Iranian support to Hamas, and other Islamist groups, and how Iran is also operating in a manner in which it collaborates with governments such as the government in Sudan, which is under the influence, of course, as you know, of Hasan Tarabi, and for further destabilization efforts in the region, and to exploit the Islamist extremist groups that exist in the region.
Also, there was a serious discussion of Iran's potential for producing weapons of mass destruction and what the near and longterm threat could be in that respect in terms of CWBW nuclear and the instruments of delivery such as surface-to-surface missiles.
And I think there was a real -- an excellent discussion on how the United States can cooperate with countries such as Egypt in terms of how these threats, both at the terrorism level, destabilization efforts, what can be done to promote stability and meeting the needs of the people in social justice in the region to stem this growing threat of extremism.
There were several bilateral issues that were discussed -- the nonproliferation issues, including the chemical warfare convention. And the President and others reiterated the strong U.S. policy of adherence by all countries to the CWC.
I think I'll stop there and open it up for questions.
Q: On the question of talks, do you feel that you have a commitment from the Arab side for preliminary consultations, and do you read in that a commitment to the actual April 20th start date for the new round of talks? And do you feel that -- and did Mubarak indicate that he was carrying with him from Washington enough of a message from President Clinton that will give him convincing arguments to use with the Arab side that they should, in fact, attend the April 20th round?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think President Mubarak is going back convinced that the United States not only has made this maximum effort, but that it has achieved significant results in terms of moving this whole issue forward, so that the parties and especially the Palestinians can give a positive response to coming to the April 20th round. He made that very clear to us in our discussions over the past two days.
In terms of the parties contacting us and our being in contact with them on preconsultations, I think that's a sign of the seriousness of intent on their part to want to come to the table. We've gotten that clear message from all of them.
Q: The Palestinians have said that they would not come unless the issue of deportees was resolved. And they've said that since Secretary Christopher's initiative and since the Israeli agreement to release 100 by the end of the year. So what makes you think that Mubarak going back with exactly the same status quo would have any impact at all on the Palestinian intentions?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, remember that the Palestinians have gone back from their very extensive discussions with Secretary Christopher last week with a full package of statements, gestures, actions that would be taken that accommodate many of the concerns, if not most of the concerns, that they have expressed to us and other parties. And this is a significant package. And the one thing is that they have to now themselves on the merits of this package to come to the table. We think they certainly have what they need to do so. And President Mubarak, after having extensive briefings with the President and the Secretary of State, agrees with that; that what is at hand here is something that is significant.
So the question that you're asking, Andrea, is that the Palestinians are now discussing this very issue and it's taking them a bit of a time in their inner consultations to come to an agreement. What we're telling them is what you have is significant. We now have President Mubarak who agrees with us on that and who is going to obviously contact the parties themselves, both the Arabs and Israelis and the Palestinians. And now is the time for the Palestinians to make a decision. And it is an opportunity, everyone feels -- certainly the President and President Mubarak feel that there is an opportunity here that should not be lost and it is an opportunity that can be lost. And, therefore, the moment has come to really make the right decision, which is a positive response to come to the table on April 20th.
Q: You said in your comment just now that after Mubarak was briefed, he agreed the U.S. was making the maximum effort. Before he was briefed did he want more from the United States?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, there's nothing like direct meetings between leaders, and what you have here is the interaction between President Clinton and President Mubarak and the talks that President Mubarak had with Secretary Christopher today and his key people. And when the President and Secretary laid everything out on what we'd been doing, Mubarak confirmed his view that there is something significant here, that the Palestinians have an opportunity here to seize on and to move the peace process forward. Therefore, that's what we're urging them to do.
Q: On Sunday, President Mubarak said that he was going to ask the United States to ask Israel for another small step. That small step was going to be to ask the United States to ask Israel to speed up the final return of the deportees, to make it next AugustSeptember rather than the end of December. He was very clear in saying he was asking for this. He said he had spoken to Rabin about it and he said he wanted to go back with some sort of a gesture.
I understand he brought that idea to Secretary Christopher yesterday. Did that proposal, idea, whatever you want to call it, come up today? And can you share with us some of the rationale or argument on the American side that has made Mubarak go from that position of saying I want this small step to today you're saying that he is now convinced the United States has done the maximum?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think what you're referring to, Elaine, is speculation in the press, in the media on certain ideas that are out there. I'm not going to stand up here and try to tell you whether those ideas are accurate or not. I wouldn't want to lead you into the direction of assuming that what you've just said is what was conveyed. And let me leave it at that. The point --
Q: because you have President Mubarak saying something on the record Sunday; you're saying something very different today. Something happened in this process.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What I'm saying is that the United States under President Clinton's direction had Secretary Christopher work out very detailed and comprehensive arrangements with the Palestinians and Israelis on the deportee issues, which is a very full and significant package. The parameters of that package and the integrity of the parameters of that package are being maintained. And --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Why? Because it's very significant. It's something very meaningful.
Q: Well, why --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, we're not going to get into the details of sensitive diplomatic issues.
Q: Let me phrase it another way. Do you deny that President Mubarak did what he said he was going to do on Sunday, which is propose that the United States make another small step, number one; and two, do you deny that it was along the lines that I raised, which was to speed up --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Elaine, the only way I can answer your question is the following: that the United States, as President Mubarak has acknowledged himself today, has made a maximum and significant effort, which is very meaningful, to accommodate Palestinian concerns and needs; that he is going back feeling confident that what is being offered is so significant that they should say yes to coming to the next round.
What President Mubarak does or says on his own contacts with the various parties, you have to address that question to President Mubarak, not to me. But the fact --
Q: what transpired in meetings with the administration, with the Secretary yesterday and the President today. You're here to brief us on those meetings.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's right, Andrea. And I briefed you as far as I can go on those discussions. And I'm not going to get into the details of --
Q: But that's not a detail.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, they are. Because what Elaine is asking is basically to get into specific details of exactly what was proposed by the two sides.
Q: This is why we have a background briefing. This is why it's a background and not on the record.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's right.
Q: It's not to tell us how many hours they came together --
Q: Just answer the one question. Do you deny that President Mubarak asked the United States to make an additional small step on the deportees.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: President Mubarak acknowledged the significance of the arrangements the United States has worked out. And he considers it significant enough for the Palestinians to be able to respond positively. He will be adding his own weight to further efforts as he goes back and contacts the parties. Elaine and Andrea, that's all I'm going to be saying.
Q: He said that in the East Room on the record. You're on background now. What is the point?
Q: saying that the timetable has been changed by the Israelis and they will move up faster return home of the deportee. Is that what you're really saying? What is significant and why is it a big secret?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm not going to get into those details of what is in and out of the package. I'm not going to get into that.
Q: Did you give him today any new assurances to the Palestinians that you think is going to convince him to go and tell them, look, I have something new that you can come to the table? Because even in his statement today he said that the obstacles should be removed to the deportees. And the statement was given to us before he went to the meeting. So if you had convinced him during the meeting, what -- we're not asking you to give us what you gave him, but at least tell us in general, are there any new assurances to the Palestinians that make them -- would make them come to the table?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There are assurances to the Palestinians that are very comprehensive and meaningful that should allow them to say yes to the next round.
Q: This package comes into effect after they say yes. My understanding of what you're saying is that the Israelis have offered certain things that the Palestinians would get after they come to the table, not before they come to the table. And that the gestures -- you talked about gestures and actions -- these are gestures and actions on the ground in the occupied territories and gestures and actions relating to the deportees in South Lebanon. Is that a correct reading of --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it's correct to say that the package would come into effect once the Palestinians make the decision to come to the table and that the actions are sequential, but immediately so to that decision.
Q: Can you give us an insight into the new effort against Iran? Can you give us an insight in to the new steps against Iran?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: First, the conversations were initial conversations on Iran and steps -- there wasn't a specific discussion on specific next steps toward Iran. But it was more an exchange of views on assessing what the threat is, what the activities are, and what needs to be done both in terms of bilateral policies and multilaterally in terms of international cooperation to be able to limit and contain Iran's negative policies of destabilization, supporting terrorism and opposition to the peace process, both in word and in deed. Because, you know, when Iran is supporting groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, these are groups that are taking violent actions against those who are involved in the peace process and against the peace process.
Q: contemplate new multilateral or bilateral steps against Iran?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We're entering a discussion phase on what can feasibly be done.
Q: What suggestions did President Mubarak make along that line?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I'm not going to get into that specifically.
Q: Could you give us more specifics about terrorism? I'm not sure here -- did Mubarak warn us about the possibility of this threat in New York City and we did nothing about it? Did Clinton explain that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think President Clinton and President Mubarak explained that. President Mubarak made very clear out there on the record that there was no specific information linking the information to the World Trade Center bombing. He made that very clear in front of you out there.
Q: Did President Clinton promise to him that we would do something more specifically and directly about terrorism that exists here now?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There was a discussion of terrorism, but not in that detail.
Q: Was the issue of the Sheik's presence in the U.S. brought out?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That was brought up.
Q: And what did the Egyptians -- did the Egyptians say what they thought should be done with him? Because they've said that they thought he was connected to the bombing and that he should be detained. Did they bring up this? Did they say that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, they raised the Sheik's status in the United States, the fact that he is an exponent of violent overthrow of the Egyptian regime, that he is a person who is identified with the Islamist extremist groups that seek to overthrow the regime and establish a so-called Islamic Republic. And there was a discussion of that.
Q: Did they suggest that it's not prudent for him to be running about loose? (Laughter.) In plain language.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They view all of his activities with great suspicion.
Q: In the discussion of Bosnia, did Mubarak say he thought it was time to lift the arms embargo on the Bosnian government?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There was a discussion of Bosnia and the Egyptian side did express a view that the arms embargo is -- the lifting of the arms embargo is a serious option that should be looked at.
Q: Did they want the United States to detain the Sheik? I mean, was there --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, there is a judicial process and they acknowledge the judicial process we have in the United States that's being followed, vis-a-vis the Sheik.
Q: Would it be accurate to say that they're concerned about his being --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They are concerned about his activities, absolutely.
Q: One question on Syria. Could you please tell us if President Mubarak carried any messages from President Assad and if you sent anything with him since he's going to see him most probably when he goes back? And did the Syrians indicate they're coming to these meetings in Washington before the negotiations?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The Syrians have contacted us expressing their interest in coming for preconsultations, and we're in the process of contacting them now. And President Mubarak gave President Clinton -- he informed him of his recent contacts with President Assad and he made clear -- President Mubarak made clear that President Assad recommitted himself to serious engagement in the Arab-Israeli peace talks and, hopefully, that there could be progress as soon as the next rounds commence.
Q: Without getting into specifics, can you say whether or not -- yes or no whether or not Mubarak came away with anything new to offer to the Palestinians today?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He's got a comprehensive package -- let me leave it at that.
END2:09 P.M. EDT
William J. Clinton, Background Briefing by Senior Administration Official Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269082