Background Briefing by Senior Administration Official
The Briefing Room
3:00 P.M. EDT
MR. GEARAN: Good afternoon. We have a truncated briefing scheduled today, so let me walk you through how we're going to do this. We'll have the opening statement, and then [name deleted] will be here to do a BACKGROUND BRIEFING for you. And then Ira Magaziner and Judy Fader will both be here for a opening statement on health care and then to provide an on the record briefing on some health care issues.
Q: Mark, are you on camera at the start of this?
MR. GEARAN: Yes, I am.
Q: That was a trick question. (Laughter.)
MR. GEARAN: We pity the small children.
Let me give you a sense of what's going on here at the White House and then we can get into Martin's remarks.
Planning is proceeding very quickly and at a brisk pace for the ceremonies here at the White House. While the arrangements for some of the security and logistical arrangements are guided both for the comfort and the security requirements of our guest being, obviously, important concerns, the historic significance of the event here at the White House is never far from our minds. As the President said yesterday in his radio address, "These are truly revolutionary times in which we are living."
We're helping to complete what we believe the work that was dating back to at least the Administration of Harry Truman of both republican and democratic presidents in helping the participants open a new and more hopeful chapter to the history of this part of the world.
For those of us that are working here at the White House on this event, we are both awed by the task ahead of us, and humbled by the importance of the work that we're confronting. We believe that this is a time where those of us that have a chance to serve in public service are really benefitting from what is a career opportunity to be a part of the events here. We will have a host of issues on the logistical matters that we can deal with later and as the day goes on.
I would like to introduce to you someone who many of you know, [name deleted] He will be commenting both on some of the preparations, and some of the policy issues involved. We'll bring him forth in a few moments.
Let me say, though, as the movement towards peace continues, the President is also looking forward to beginning formally his drive to provide health security for all Americans. The President's proposal has been developed through the course of extraordinary consultations with members of congress, of both parties, along with literally hundreds of experts, representatives of both the medical community, organized interest and other people with a stake in health care, and consumers.
The American people have been waiting a long time for this kind of comprehensive proposal which preserves what is right with our medical system by fixing what has gone wrong with our health care system. Some who profit from the current waste in health care intend to do whatever they can to block these reforms, even if that means from time to time misrepresenting the facts. The President wants us to respond aggressively and repeatedly whenever that occurs. But the debate on the merits of health care can proceed on the merits of the argument and based on the facts.
President Clinton has a historic opportunity to do what presidents of both parties have been trying to do for the better part of this century, and that is to make a program of health security available to all Americans, for average Americans, so that they will have health care and have health security of very high quality and at an affordable price. We'll be recognizing the health care briefers after Martin's presentation.
Let me finally conclude by saying that the President is looking forward to tomorrow's ceremonies. He is very hopeful for the region, he is also very much looking forward to greeting the leaders that are coming here as someone who has put it in this position to welcome here as their host.
Let me remind folks this is a BACKGROUND briefing as a Senior Administration Official, so we'll cut the lights.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good afternoon, ladies and gentleman. As I look at the audience I see people like myself, Helen Thomas, Wolf Blitzer, others, I'm sure that have been following the Arab-Israeli conflict for all of their professional lives. And I'm quite sure, like me, never expected to see this moment. It gives one a sense of awe about the importance of the occasion. And as Mark said, we are here at the White House treating it accordingly.
We expect to welcome some 3,000 guests to the White House tomorrow. Ten foreign ministers, one secretary general, one EC president and , of course, former president George Bush, former president Jimmy Carter, as well as a host of secretaries of state and national security advisors, and of course, most important of all, Prime Minister Rabin and Foreign Minister Peres and the Israeli delegation and Chairman Yasser Arafat at the Palestine Liberation Organization and his delegation, including Mohammed Abbas, who is a senior member of the executive committee of the PLO.
What I would propose to do is just run very quickly through the program in general terms. We can get into details later on, if you like.
The exact time of arrival is still being worked out, but it will be somewhere around 10:00 a.m. Obviously, with so many foreign ministers coming as well as the chief delegation to the Israelis and the Palestinians, it's going to take a little while to get them in here. They'll be coming in through the north portico. There will be a meeting beforehand, before the signing ceremony, in which Prime Minister Rabin and Foreign Minister Peres, Chairman Arafat, Mr. Abbas, together with Secretary Christopher, Foreign Minister Kozyrev of Russia, the Foreign Minister of Egypt, Amre Moussa, and the Foreign Minister of Norway, Mr. Holst -- and I said, the Vice President and, of course, the President will meet together before the signing ceremony. And they will be joined by President Carter and President Bush.
Q: Where is that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's a good question. Let me just check here.
Q: Will there be a photo op?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There will be a photo op.
Q: And is it substantive?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Substantive meaning? Well, yes, it will be a substantive meeting, to use that kind of term. (Laughter)
They'll move from the Green Room to the Blue Room. They will be meeting in the Blue Room with the President.
Q: At what time will that be?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, again, we're talking approximate times here, so we're talking about around 10:30 a.m. that that meeting will take place.
Q: What is the stated purpose of the meeting?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Perhaps we could just hold the questions. Let me just run through it for the moment, okay, and then we can come back to it.
At approximately 11 o'clock Mrs. Gore and Mrs. Clinton, and then those participants will be announced and they will take their seats. And the people who will be participating in the signing ceremony will then come out and take their position forward by the President, last of all.
Let me just explain in broad terms what this is going to look like. As you know, I think by now, Foreign Minister Peres will sign for Israel and Mr. Abbas will sign for the PLO.
Q: Martin, on that point will Mr. Abbas sign --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let's take the questions later, Wolf. Let me just get through this, please.
There will be speeches first by the President, then by Foreign Minister Peres and Mr. Abbas. The signing will then take place. The Secretary of State and the Russian Foreign Minister will witness, will also sign. And then there will be speeches by Secretary Christopher, Foreign Minister Kozyrev, Prime Minster Rabin, Mr. Arafat, and then the President will close the event.
Q: In that order?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: In that order.
Q: How long is each one supposed to speak?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Length of speech, three minutes. (Laughter.) I believe that Mr. Arafat and Mr. Abbas will be speaking in Arabic. The other speeches I believe will be in English.
Q: And will translations be --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know what's happening with the translation, at this point, whether it's simultaneous or consecutive. We're still checking with the parties on that.
Then the President will move down from the podium, the dais, move down to the front row where President Bush and President Carter and the foreign ministers and other dignitaries will be seated, with Mrs. Clinton and Mrs. Gore. There will be a greeting "period," sort of a melee around there as everybody offers congratulations.
Then the President will escort Prime Minister Rabin and Mr. Arafat away from the south lawn and back into the diplomatic reception room, where he will bid farewell to Prime Minister Rabin and then Chairman Arafat, and that will be the conclusion of the ceremony.
After that, the Secretary of State will host a lunch for foreign ministers at the State Department. The President will have a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Rabin and Foreign Minister Peres. The Secretary of State, I think, mentioned on Meet the Press today that he will have a bilateral meeting with Chairman Arafat and his delegation in the afternoon. I think that's around 4:30.
Q: What time is the President's bilateral with --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm not exactly sure. It obviously will depend on what happens with the ceremony and how long that runs.
Q: Does Peres leave and come back?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't have those details for you. As I said, the Secretary of State will have a bilateral meeting with Mr. Arafat and his delegation in the afternoon. Foreign Minister Peres and his delegation will also meet with the Secretary of State early in the morning, before the ceremony. And the Secretary of State will also have a meeting with Foreign Minister Kozyrev.
Any other details on the Secretary of State's meetings and program I will refer you to the State Department.
The Israeli delegation will be returning home, we've been informed, will be returning home in the early evening. And they have expressed their regrets that because of the present events at home, in particular, they need to prepare for the upcoming Knesset Debate on this agreement, that they will have to leave at that time. Both the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister will be leaving. And accordingly, they expressed their regrets they will not be able to attend any dinner. And so the dinner in the evening will be a dinner hosted by the President and Mrs. Clinton for the former presidents, a small dinner for the former presidents and secretaries of state and the congressional leadership, about 25 couples.
So that is the basic chain of events for tomorrow. I'll be glad to take your questions.
Q: Is it Makmoud or Mohammed, because you said Mohammed.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's Makmoud.
Q: Will he sign as Makmoud Abbas or as his other name --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know, you'll have to ask him.
Q: What will you be calling him on the official --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Mr. Abbas.
Q: Okay. (Laughter.)
Q: Will the Palestinians be attending the dinner tomorrow night?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: As I said, it will be a small dinner for the former presidents, secretaries of state, and congressional leadership.
Q: Are we getting any photo out of that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's a private dinner. I don't know the answer to that.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We'll have to get back to you on that. We'll have more details as they come up.
Q: What are the Palestinians doing tomorrow?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know. You'll have to ask them.
Q: Martin, was there any thought of the President meeting with Arafat and his group? Or was it always intended it would be just with Rabin?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, there will be no meeting between the President and -- no, a separate meeting between the President and Mr. Arafat. I point out to you that the President will be hosting Mr. Arafat, will be meeting with him along with the other participants in the signing ceremony, before the signing ceremony and he'll be bidding him farewell afterwards. But there will be no separate bilateral meeting.
Q: Why not?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would just point out to you that Israel is a long standing ally of the United States. Three days ago we resumed dialogue with the PLO, and I think that it's appropriate that the President have a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Rabin, Foreign Minister Peres.
It's a revolution in terms of our relationship with the PLO, and he, as I pointed out, will be meeting with the Secretary of State in the afternoon.
Q: So in the Blue Room, is this where we can expect to have the handshake between Mr. Rabin and Arafat?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know what will happen in the Blue Room in terms of handshakes, so I can't answer that question for you. We haven't scripted what they will do every step of the way.
Q: How about the signing ceremony? The big visual out of the Camp David signing was the three-way handshake. Is there anything like that planned or expected?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it would be appropriate to allow a little bit of suspense for tomorrow so that you have something to report on tomorrow.
Q: Martin, has the United States given any indication to Mr. Arafat as to what his attire should be and as to whether he should carry his signature holster?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We have not instructed anybody about attire, nor would we think of such a thing. But I would just say, as far as the pistol is concerned, it's a long standing policy in the White House that firearms are not allowed. That applies to everybody.
And I would just point out one thing in that regard, and that is that as we have emphasized, as the President has said repeatedly in the last few days, this is a momentous and historic occasion. The ceremony will be a sober and dignified one, suitable to the occasion. And we are confident that the parties who are coming here, who have asked us to host this ceremony, also share our sense of the momentous nature of the opportunity. And therefore, we are not expecting theatrics of any kind.
Q: Is a group of Palestinian or Israeli kids or something here?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes.
Q: Is that prior to the event or is that part of the --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. There is a group of Israeli, Palestinian and Egyptian boys who have been here at a summer camp, it's called Sea to Peace, up in Maine -- some of you may have seen it, there are some stories on them. They've been in Washington for the last week. The Vice President met with them last week and Mrs. Clinton also met with them last week.
They have extended their stay and we have invited them to the ceremony because of our very strong feeling that is the children of the Middle East whose future is now bright and full of promise, and we feel it's appropriate that they should witness this event.
Q: How many of them are there?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I believe there are approximately 60 of them.
Q: In the past we've placed restrictions on Mr. Arafat's travel within the United States. Have there been any restrictions placed on him? How long can he stay in the United States? Can he go anywhere he wants to?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: As far as I know the answer is no, but I think you should check with the State Department on that. I'm not aware of the details. As far as I know, there are no restrictions on him.
Q: To what extent will the President be using tomorrow's public remarks and his private talks with the Israelis to expound on the guarantees that the United States is going to offer to Israel that have been mentioned so much the past couple of days?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think that the details of what exactly is going to be needed for this agreement to succeed is something that you need to understand. It's going to take a little time to work out. If you read the Declaration of Principles it is a framework agreement, some very dramatic principles are encapsulated there. So a lot of the details are still not worked out. And as far as I know, at this point the parties themselves are only broadly aware of the requirements. We may hear something different from Mr. Arafat and Prime Minister Rabin when they're here in the meetings. But a lot of the details of these agreements are going to have to be negotiated and a lot of work is going to have to be done to establish, beyond broad parameters, what the exact needs and requirements are.
And so I think there will be -- a discussion will be on the agenda. But in terms of details, I wouldn't expect tomorrow that we'd have those kinds of details.
Q: Will the follow-ups of his remarks include some sort of a broad reassurance to Israel to help the leaders sell their public on this, and let them know that the United States is going to guarantee it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think if you look at the President's interview in the New York Times today, and Secretary Christopher's interview with Israel television you will see the commitments that have been made in broad terms to get behind this agreement.
Q: Well, I'm not asking about interviews.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, I understand your question. What I'm saying is that there is a broad commitment for a principle. In terms of the exact details, I would not expect those exact details to be worked out tomorrow.
Q: On the prospects of following-up with an agreement with Jordan, and perhaps Syria and Lebanon, could you update us on where those negotiations stand?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We have an expectation that within a few days Jordan and Israel will announce their agreement on an agenda -- a kind of framework agreement for their peace treaty.
As far as the other negotiations between Lebanon and Israel, and between Syria and Israel, as you know the delegates were in town up until -- well, in fact, still be here on Monday. I don't think there will be any negotiations going on on Monday.
Q: Are they invited?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, of course they're invited. All the delegations are invited. And those negotiations will resume, we expect, some time in October. And as the President has said, and the Secretary of State as well, we are committed to achieving a comprehensive solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. We believe that the Israeli-Palestinian agreement can serve as a catalyst for progress on the other tracks. And we will remain true to our commitments in that regard.
Q: The President has been on the phone to the leaders in the Middle East -- has he been talking on the phone today?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, as far as I know he did not have any phone calls with Middle Eastern leaders today.
Q: Any other phone calls?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I can't comment. I'm not aware of what his phone calls --
Q: What flags will be flying over the ceremony, specifically, PLO or Israel?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There will be no flags.
Q: Do you expect Prime Minister Rabin and Chairman Arafat to have any private meetings at all?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You'll have to ask them about that. I am not aware of that. But you should ask the parties about their bilateral meetings.
Q: Where will Mr. Arafat stay in the U.S.?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know the answer.
Q: When did the U.S. find out that Rabin and Arafat themselves were not signing, but that their foreign ministers were?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I believe we found that out yesterday.
Q: In terms of diplomatic protocol, what is the significance of that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would caution you to reading too much significance into it. I know that people think, well, this is some prime indication that the Prime Minister is not behind it. I don't think that's accurate, at all, and he, himself, has said that. I don't think it's an indication of any lack of commitment on the part of either Chairman Arafat or Prime Minister Rabin that they, themselves, are not putting their pens to the paper. They are there, certainly their presence there is going to lend full endorsement to the agreement.
Q: Can you expound on the flags please?
Q: What is the difference on the status of the PLO in terms of the flags meeting --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The diplomatic status of the PLO as far as the United States is concerned is that we have a dialogue with that organization. We do not recognize that organization.
Q: Why no flags, and will there be any anthems?
Q: Can you answer that about anthems --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No anthems, either.
Q: Why is that? It's normally customary.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That is the arrangement for this ceremony.
MR. GEARAN: As you can appreciate, there are a host of issues that are still unresolved that we will do our very best in the next -- we will do our very best in the course of the next 12 hours before the actual ceremony to provide you as much detail as we can. as I hope you'll appreciate, we are trying to put together this in a short period of time, so many of the questions -- many of the answer to some of your specific logistical questions will be ongoing. I think we just need to save it for a later period of time.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END3:33 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/269106