Background Briefing by Senior Administration Official
The Briefing Room
3:33 P.M. EST
MS. MYERS: This will be a BACKGROUND briefing. Two officials, Ed Djerejian, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and Southeast Asian Affairs -- you may refer to him as a senior State Department official; and the other is Martin Indyk, who is a Special Assistant to the President for Middle Eastern Affairs, and you may refer to him as a senior White House official.
Q: What happened to the other briefing?
MS. MYERS: It got postponed. We'll do it tomorrow after the visit as opposed to before.
Q: It doesn't do us much be able to --
MS. MYERS: I understand, and there's nothing that could be done about it. So without further ado.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: First, the one-on-one, which lasted approximately an hour and 15 minutes, involving, of course, the President and the National Security Advisor and the Secretary of State on our side, and the Israeli Prime Minister and his Ambassador -- Ambassador Rabinovich on their side. That led into an expanded meeting which included the Vice President and the Secretary of State, the National Security Advisor, the Deputy National Security Advisor, and myself and the Special Assistant for Middle East Affairs to the President.
The luncheon was joined by Secretary of Defense Les Aspin, and they largely discussed -- the subject of discussion at the luncheon focused more on security issues.
I think I can characterize the meetings by what the President said when he came out of the one-on-one and joined with the expanded group. He came out and said that, we had a very good meeting and had a very positive discussion on the security relationship between the United States and Israel and the prospects for the resumption of the Arab-Israeli peace talks and the importance of those talks resuming as soon as possible on the date that we've extended to the parties.
I can tell you that the personal rapport between the President and the Prime Minister was excellent, is excellent. They didn't waste time on pleasantries. There was an immediate engagement on substance. I could say that they engaged deeply with one another on the substantive issues and got quickly into them. There was a minimum of rhetoric, if you will. And one could see that there is much trust directly established between the two leaders.
The President, himself, was very pleased with the establishment of a relationship of trust and confidence. And that feeling was reciprocated and voiced by Prime Minister Rabin.
The Prime Minister expressed great pleasure at being here for these meetings with the President and his top aides and thanked the President for U.S. support for Israel and thanked him personally for sending Secretary of State Christopher out to the region to focus efforts on promoting the Arab-Israeli peace process and moving it forward.
In the discussions, there was a discussion, if you will, of the inner ring and the outer ring of Israel's relations in the area and security issues in the area; Israel's relations with its immediate neighbors -- Arab neighbors; and then in the outer ring, Israel's perceptions of the security situation and the region as a whole and the large scope.
And, of course, we -- the President and the Secretary and the other participants -- gave our assessment of -- our views on what is happening in the region as a whole.
There was a discussion of the longer-term, first of all, the regional threat and with special focus on Iraq and Iran. And, of course, there's always the concern that's been voiced in terms of weapons of mass destruction that there has to be the identification, the destruction, and the monitoring of Iraq's WMD capabilities, according to the U.N. resolutions; and, of course, concern about Iran's intentions in the near- and the long-term on developing and building weapons of mass destruction.
This is a very important issue, and there was quite a bit of focus on the longer-term security threat by countries who develop weapons of mass destruction. So there a basic discussion on the relationship between peace between Israel and its neighbors and the longer-term threats in the region. Also a discussion how peace agreements could transfer the region and lead former enemies to cooperate to meet common threats that they would face in the region.
On the peace process, as the President made clear in his statements to you just awhile ago, the basic focus was how to get the parties back to the negotiating table and the necessity of the parties of getting to the table with meaningful positions so that the substantive gaps in their positions can be narrowed and progress can be made on the peace process.
As the President indicated, the deportee issue was not addressed in any detail, and the Secretary of State is dealing with this issue, has dealt with it and is following up.
The true focus of the substantive discussions on a peace process was really on the core conceptual issues that the parties are now addressing, the various points in the discussions and the various tracks and, again, how the gaps in their positions can be narrowed to make progress during the next round.
Both we and the Israelis agreed on maintaining momentum on all the negotiating tracks and that each track would be moving at its own pace. But it was important to make movement ahead on all tracks.
In the discussions on bilateral issues, one of the major categories were security issues involving the United States and Israel. And both the President and the Prime Minister agreed to upgrade the level of our strategic dialogue. And you heard the President refer to the excellent level of existing mechanisms for that dialogue. There are important new long-term issues that need to be addressed, such as the proliferation of ballistic missiles, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the region, and security issues that arise -- will arise out of the peace process itself. And it is in this sense that we are engaging the prospects for an enhanced dialogue on such issues.
On the science and technology commission, this will be a public commission with a private sector advisory board. And we anticipate intensified cooperation in four areas: encouraging hightech industries in the United States and Israel to link up in joint projects that will benefit both countries, fostering scientific exchanges between the U.S. and Israeli universities and research institutions; promoting development of agricultural and environmental technologies; and assisting in the adaptation of military technology for civilian production. And as the President stated, he has asked the Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown to head up the American side.
On U.S. assistance to Israel, again, you heard the public comments that the United States is committed to maintaining the current aid levels to Israel. Also there was an important discussion on maintaining Israel's qualitative edge, which, of course, is part of this. And giving meaning to this commitment to maintain Israel's qualitative edge will be a focus of the enhanced dialogue that we are discussing -- engaging in.
There was an important focus on the Arab economic boycott and the need for all efforts to be undertaken to end this boycott, and especially the -- on our side -- the secondary and tertiary aspects of this boycott that affect American companies. Reference was made to Secretary Christopher's raising this issue very directly during -- with the parties, the countries we visited in the Middle East on the last trip, and the need to engage in a multilateral sense with our European allies and in the G-7 context on this issue.
We are also working, as you know, with the Israelis on out-of-area cooperation in the former Soviet republics, such as the Central Asian republics and the newly independent states. And there was a discussion of how to move forward on that type of cooperation.
In sum, the President had as the objective of this meeting, this first official meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister here, the objective of building a relationship of trust and confidence and to reach an understanding of how we can proceed together to advance the peace process in 1993 and make it a year of achievement. The President is confident that the objectives of these objectives have been met, and, as I said, very pleased with the results of the discussions.
My colleague and I would be prepared to take your questions.
Q: The President virtually echoed the Prime Minister on what peace means to the United States and Israel -- full relations, exchanges. But he carefully sidetracked any discussion of withdrawal. What is the President's position on Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, again, this is a focal point of the negotiations themselves. It's not --
Q: We know Rabin's position -- he just stated it. Does the President agree with it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, the United States is not a party to the negotiations. We are cosponsor. The President has stated that the United States will be a full partner. This is a very important role. We will do everything possible to promote forward movement in these negotiations and to get the parties to -- help the parties to narrow the substantive gaps. Remember, these are direct negotiations between the parties. We will state our views. We will play the role of an intermediary to facilitate agreement. So what's important is what the parties are able to negotiate on those issues themselves with our help.
Q: The approach is a land-for-peace formula. The President wasn't shy about addressing one side of the equation. He said what peace meant to him. What is the President's position on the other side of the equation -- land?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Barry, the President, if I remember correctly, at least twice, if not three times today in his press conference referred to the governing United Nations Security Council resolutions -- that means, 242, 338. And that is the basis upon which the United States bases its position.
Q: On all fronts?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On the peace process.
Q: On all fronts?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, it's a comprehensive peace process. The objective is that there be peace on all fronts.
Q: That's not self-evident. That wasn't the Israeli position before Rabin took over. I'm asking the President's position.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I just gave you -- the President's position is that the United States will strongly adhere to the governing United Nations Security Council resolutions.
Q: Could you either, one or both of you, talk a bit about how the issue of U.S. aid to Israel and Egypt came up? Did the Prime Minister raise the issue because he is said to have been concerned about whether the United States over the long-term would be prepared to continue to give this kind of aid? Or did Clinton raise the issue? And are we only talking about Fiscal '94 or are we talking about the long-term? Did Clinton make an open-ended commitment to continue this level? That's the first question. The second question is, Clinton is describing what full partnership meant used the word mediator. And Christopher in his trip to the Middle East said the United States would not be a mediator. Is this is a slip of the tongue or indeed does this indicate an even more active role than you had originally --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On your second question, I wouldn't take that in a technical sense of a mediator what the President said. It's an intermediary, an honest broker, using our good offices and facilitating agreement amongst the parties. It's not the role -- what's important here is to distinguish between that role and the role of an arbiter. We're not there to make judgments like in a court of law. But we're there to facilitate agreement between the parties. And that's the role -- and that's what the President meant.
Q: He used the word mediator loosely --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Not in the technical sense -- not in the technical sense of the word. On the first question, I'll let my colleague answer that.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, without saying who exactly brought it up, let's say they both were interested in discussing it. And I think that there was a common concern there that in the context of Israel taking risks for peace, the United States' role, as the President said publicly, was to help Israel minimize those risks. Our security assistance to Israel is critical in that process, and that was recognized by both the Prime Minister and the President.
As you probably know, the administration is supporting a request for maintaining the levels for Fiscal Year '94 and I think the President made it clear that we would make our best efforts to maintain those levels beyond those years. And of course, if there is, indeed, breakthrough to peace in the region, I think that will transform the environment. And there's a sense in which the United States would then be prepared to help compensate Israel for the risks it would take to make peace.
Q: Does that mean that the U.S. could even envision giving Israel more in the way of security and financial assistance if there is peace?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You're talking about -- as my colleague said, the commitment certainly for FY '94 is solid, it's there. And the commitment to maintain Israel's qualitative edge is solid, it's there. In the long-term, there are factors that you have to look at this in a macro sense and not just a micro sense of the thrust of your question.
Certainly, our policies have many aspects to it, including economic reforms, for example, that we're pushing in countries such as Egypt and Israel, so that their economies can become more self-sustaining. We have policies will be further elaborated in nonproliferation, which the administration strongly adheres to, which again can help improve the security situation in the region.
And of course, as my colleague indicated, if there is a peace agreement, that also will change in various aspects the environment in the Middle East. So you can't look at this just as statically as your question implies.
Q: If I can just follow up, I'm particularly interested in the ESF -- Economic Support Fund. That budget is getting squeezed, as you know, and the President wants to raise by $300 million the amount of economic support for Russia. Was there any talk, any suggestion to the Prime Minister that Israel might have to sacrifice in future years so that -- on Economic Support Fund --so that some aid in that foreign aid budget could go to other countries such as Russia? Was there any discussion of that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm not aware of any such discussion along those lines. But let me just repeat the very strong commitment for maintaining aid levels in FY '94 and maintaining Israel's qualitative edge. I mean, these are important positions by the administration.
Q: But does ESF contribute to that -- maintaining Israel's qualitative edge?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We're talking about the overall aid levels to Israel.
Q: Sir, may I ask whether or not the New York bombing came up in the discussion, whether in the expanded meeting or in the one by one -- and as to whether or not they saw reason to feel that the threat of some elements in the Middle East are threatening both countries, Israel and the United States, on account of this? And is there any cooperation in trying to find the culprits who committed the bombing in New York? As a secondary question, while I have the floor, if you might, was Haifa Harbor discussed as a place for repair of American warships in the Mediterranean?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Not to our knowledge.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: A lot of the strategic cooperation issues will be discussed with -- are being discussed right at this moment with Secretary Aspin. So it was more likely that kind of issue would come up there than in this meeting.
Q: Haifa Harbor?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes.
Q: What about the bombing --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Terrorism and violence, that certainly was discussed as a threat to stability in the region and to, obviously, the tragedy of innocent lives being lost to this phenomenon. There was mention made of the incident in New York. But in terms of the discussion between the President and the Prime Minister and the two delegations, it was the overall threat of terrorism and violence and efforts that have to be made to control it. But I'm not aware of any specific discussion linking terrorism in the region to the incident in New York per se. That, as you know, is being investigated. And we have to await the results of that investigation.
Q: Can you elaborate on the focus that you mentioned on Iran and Iraq? How much time did they spend on that? And what's the assessment of at least publicly the low profile that Saddam has taken over the past -- well, since Clinton took office?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The administration has made abundantly clear that it is not charmed by Saddam's charm offensive, and therefore, there's a great deal of skepticism in terms of what this so-called low profile means. The bottom line is that, as the President has made clear, the Secretary of State has made clear, and other high-ranking officials, that the Iraqi government must adhere to all the pertinent United Nations Security Council resolutions and the sanctions that have been imposed. And this is a sine qua non. And therefore, the Iraqi government will be judged by its actions and not by any so-called low profile or charm offensive, but its actions that the administration is looking for in compliance with the U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Q: How much time did they spend on this?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I can't give you a clock time. But it was discussed -- an important part of the discussion was on regional security issues and the future threats. So I would say -- I can't give you a time. I can't give you a time.
Q: What will be the level and the mechanics of the new strategic cooperation? And how does having that enhanced security relationship with Israel square with being an honest broker in the peace process? Doesn't it compound the problems of the U.S. historic relationship with Israel, vis-a-vis dealing with the Arabs?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Look, we've always had a close relationship with Israel since its inception. I mean, there's nothing new in that. And we've always had a very close dialogue with the Israelis on a wide scope of issues including security. So there's nothing that should -- that should not come as a surprise to any of the parties. But an enhanced strategic dialogue, looking ahead, is something that seems to be very timely.
Q: And what about the level and frequency mechanics?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, all of that is to be -- we're discussing that now and that will be worked out.
Q: In the same vein, you said something about the parties to the negotiations seeing common threats from elsewhere that they might cooperate on after they make peace among themselves. Could you explain a little more what you're talking about there?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, that would be one of the "fruits of peace" if -- after there's a peace settlement, then the parties themselves could begin a new era of cooperating on threats that they see to the region itself, whether they're security threats, threats of another nature. It could be even to the -- we have the multilateral discussions going on that are addressing a whole host of regional issues from economic to arms control and regional security and environment. And there could be many threats that they could face together.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me just add something on that in terms of the relationship between the peace process and other threats in the region. The Madrid process that is now underway of direct negotiations between Israel and all of its Arab neighbors and the Palestinians was launched in the wake of the Gulf War. And there is very clearly a relationship between what happens in the East and what happens in the West of this region. And therefore, if we can achieve a breakthrough to peace in the West, it will make it easier for us to cooperate with the parties that made peace to deal with the threats in the East.
Q: What was the general assessment --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You've got a journalist here who showed his valor as a journalist in Beirut by almost being crushed to death during a journalist offensive, so I have to give him the floor. Sid. (Laughter.)
Q: The President indicated that the administration would not hold up the peace talks for the Palestinians. Do you have reason to believe that that sentiment is prevalent among the other Arab parties?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, the sentiment that was expressed to the Secretary of State by the leadership of all the parties to the negotiations in Lebanon, in Syria, in Jordan, and specifically what the Palestinians told the Secretary of State in Jerusalem was that they had a strong commitment to this peace process and on the urgent need to resume the peace talks, and that they realized full well that this was truly the only way out, especially the Palestinians in terms of their needs and their requirements for their people. That perhaps they have the most to gain and the most to lose if the peace process isn't resumed. So we have been given a very strong reconfirmation during that trip of the commitment of the leadership to the peace process. So it's based on those discussions of the Secretary of State when he went to Geneva, that he and Foreign Minister Kozyrev launched the invitations.
Q: The Palestinians have been watching this meeting very carefully. And it turns out that the things that they care about the most at this moment, namely deportee issue and also human rights in the territories, apparently haven't been addressed. What kind of a signal does that send to the Palestinians that these issues which they care about so much are not important enough to be taken up at this level?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This issue was not discussed in any detail, as I said, but the issue has been abundantly addressed by the United States government, by the Secretary of State engaging, under the direction of President Clinton, in negotiations with Prime Minister Rabin to achieve the Israeli-U.S. understanding, which you are all abundantly aware of and I won't repeat the details of, which move the deportee issue forward in a very significant manner. Later, the United Nations Security Council acted on that, because the Palestinians again said that they needed some UNSC cognizance of it. That was done. And further, when the Secretary of State was in Jerusalem during his trip, he interacted with the Palestinians and Prime Minister Rabin to even produce further movement.
So the Palestinians, with whom, by the way, we are in virtual daily contact, are abundantly aware of our efforts. So I would think that it would be erroneous to conclude that the issue has not and is not being addressed. I think that would be a mistake.
Q? Following on that, isn't there a difference between it being dealt with by the foreign ministers or being dealt with by heads of state? I mean, why was it not raised if only to show that this administration has a moral objection to the policy?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Andrea, it was dealt with by the President's Secretary of State fully and actively. I mean, in the first days of the administration the Secretary of State, again, under the President's direction, engaged in negotiations which moved this process forward -- the whole deportee issue forward. And that process was continued in the U.N. and the process was continued in Jerusalem. And as I said, we are in virtually daily contact with the Palestinians, so the issue has been and is being addressed. It's not that the issue is not being addressed.
Q: The President, when he laid out this new agenda for -- what he said, the next 10 years of strategic cooperation, mentioned security interests. Are you envisaging cooperation between the United States and Israel not only on security matters deriving from the inner ring situation but also the outer ring. In other words, do you see Israel and the United States cooperating in meeting the threat from Iran, Iraq and Islamic fundamentalism?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think we've already answered that in our discussion of -- first of all, we're sharing assessments and I think as the situation evolves, we'll see what the possibilities are.
Q: But does is that an open agenda item for this ten years?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's a future tense question. I can't answer that.
Thank you very much.
END4:05 P.M. EST
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/269133