Background Briefing by Senior Administration Official
12:20 P.M. (L)
MR. MCCURRY: Good morning, everyone. Let's get underway. I've got a senior administration official who is prepared to walk through a little bit more on the material that's in the fact sheet on the announcement the President just made with the Prime Minister. Without further ado, the senior administration official that you know so well.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me make a couple of comments, and then I'll just turn it over to your questions. The first comment is that what the President announced is that we will have an agreement with the Israelis in the counterterror-antiterrorism area. The precise form that agreement will take is something that we will discuss, but the important thing is that we will, in fact, proceed with it. And that's why the Secretary of State and Director Deutch are staying behind tomorrow, to follow up on what was announced today and to get into the details of that.
The second thing is that in case -- I gather from some that there was some question about was the $100 million that was announced today, is it related to what was done already on an emergency basis. The answer is no. What was done on emergency basis was separate as a response that was announced previously. This $100 million, which would be spread over two years is related to steps that we'll be taking now as part of this antiterrorism agreement.
Why don't I there and I'll just take questions.
Q: -- is it totally new money that Congress is being asked for?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Program money in defense.
Q: So it's reprogram money, so he's not asking for another $100 billion. The program -- the things he's going to do with it are new, but the $100 million was already authorized by Congress?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It is reprogrammed. I want to be -- let me say something, and then I may have to check it. But it may well be -- well, I think there will be a supplemental request on it.
Q: The President spoke of more than $100 million. Does that mean that there could be more requests to Congress for additional aid, financial aid?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it's -- again, the precise figures, it will be at least $100 million, and the precise figures will be worked out as we work through the details of precisely what will go into this agreement.
Q: The President indicated that this was a two-step deal with the intelligence agreement coming first, including the $100 million --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, no, no. They're separate.
Q: But can you shed the light on phase two?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, there are two separate items so let me describe them as follows. One is now, right now, we are working on developing an antiterrorism agreement with the Israelis that will be focused on how we can do more, be more effective in terms of taking on what is the terrorist challenge.
The other question relates to the larger defense/security relationship. And there what the President was saying is that we have an ongoing, iron-clad commitment to Israel's security, including maintaining Israel's qualitative edge. We will be discussing with the Israelis what more can be done to enhance the nature of that relationship, and that's what he was addressing.
Q: Can you tell us anymore than what the President said about the Europeans and Iran, what he hopes might be coming of that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, only that they themselves conduct what they call a "critical dialogue" with the Iranians. Now, in their Palermo Declaration, which proceeded by a couple of days the Summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, one of the provisions in there stated that were the critical dialogue to continue, they would have to see that, in fact, it was producing real results in terms of Iranian behavior.
And I think the only other thing that emerged from the discussions yesterday was a more acute awareness on the part of the Europeans that Iranian behavior really does have to change. And I think what you also heard the President say at the end is that those who maintain -- who continue to maintain a relationship with the Iranians when the Iranians are engaging in behaviors that are so clearly geared towards trying to undermine peace and so clearly make terrorism an instrument of policy, they have to look at themselves in the mirror to see if, in fact, having any kind of relationship with Iran can be justified in those circumstances.
Q: I still don't understand the financial -- a couple of questions. When you all sent the emergency aid, the number, we were told was $40 million, not $22 million.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, we did not say that. What we said was that it could range from $25 million to $40 million. That's what we said -- or it could range from something below what could go up to $40 million.
Q: Okay, and $22 million would be the actual number value of what was sent in --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That was a drawdown.
Q: When did the airplane with that $22 million --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The initial amount that went on the plane was less than that. It was in the -- it was probably less than $10 million, the initial amount. There was more that was done following that initial planeload.
Q: Okay. And where did you get those funds? Where are those funds coming from?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, here what you have is an authorized drawdown. I think maybe that's one I can take, we'll have to get back to you with a specific answer on that. I'm not an expert on precisely where the monies came from.
Q: None of that money, none of that included in the $100 million?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It was separate.
Q: And is it -- again, if you can -- we don't know for sure -- when he speaks of asking for $50 million for this fiscal year, $50 million for the next, he means an appropriation, I take it, not an authorization.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm probably not the best one to answer that so let's -- okay.
Q: Is the President asking the Europeans to place legal restrictions on their countries' trade with Iran?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Obviously, we have already established a total embargo, and we have wanted other countries to follow suit. We've suggested that they should do so. And I think we will be following up with the Europeans to maximize how best to isolate the Iranians.
Q: On Iran, the President was strongly tempted to say Europeans are changing their mind. I mean, you could see that, and we've heard it from several places in the last couple of days. How might that change of heart be manifested? In the working group, in a that program, or is there something more you can tell us about others joining with Britain and the U.S.?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think that the -- one probably has to look at this at several different levels. The President didn't say there were any specific commitments. What he noted is that there seems to be a much great awareness on the part of Europeans about the contradictions in Iranian behavior.
When I say several different levels, one level may well be at the working group, but the working group should increasingly be, I think, made up of experts in the terrorism issues. To the extent to which -- again, you look at the declaration and you start talking about cutting off sources of financing, dealing with supplies of arms, working against the activities, which include recruitment as well as fundraising, I think that gives you a lot of scope to be following it up as it applies to the terrorist groups and to the sources of support that are -- where the sources of support are coming from.
But I think this has to be part of an ongoing dialogue with the Europeans as well, above and apart what would be the working groups, which I think will be made up much more of technical experts.
Q: Two questions. There is an Israeli newspaper report today that the Prime Minister is seriously considering or maybe has already decided to expel some Palestinians who were allegedly close to the suicide bombers. Was there any discussion of that this morning, and would the United States support such a move?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There was no discussion of that, and I'd have to have a clear picture of what it is that is being raised to be able to give you a response.
Q: On Syria, the Israel-Syria talks were suspended in the midst of all the bombings. What is the situation there, and is their non-attendance in Sharm el-Sheikh going to further set that process back?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, first we had concluded the first half of the last round of discussions that were going on at Wye when the Israeli team returned home because of the bombings and the period of mourning. We have not sought to reschedule the talks. And I think at this point what we'll clearly need to do is consider what the most appropriate next step would be and be willing to sort of consult with both sides.
The fact is, the preoccupation right now is to try to deal with what is the most immediate problem and then try to proceed from there.
Q: Is Israel putting any conditions on it, such as related to Syria's connection with Hezbollah and Lebanon?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We have not -- the fact is we really haven't had any discussions yet about thinking about next steps. So, in light of that I wouldn't say that -- I really couldn't comment one way or the other because we haven't had any discussions on that yet.
Q: Could you talk a little bit about how the intelligence relationship is changing compared to the post-Pollard atmosphere?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think -- again, I think what you have to do is you have to take a step back. We have had a very close relationship with the Israelis in the whole security area. And under the security rubric, intelligence is one of the items. What is going on here is not so much transforming the relationship. What's going on here is beginning to look at additional ways in which our cooperation could improve our effectiveness, individually, unilaterally, bilaterally, and perhaps in multilateral ways in the terrorism area.
So I think if you look at this, I think what needs to be -- I think what you would really need to look at is to look at it from the context of targeting more effectively where we would be working together, including in the intelligence area, including in terms of information sharing. But this is something that we do a great deal of already. The question is how best to make it effective and how more usefully to target it.
Q: If we're going to cooperate more and help more with Israeli security measures, how much -- how responsible do we then become for measures they take? You see what I'm saying? How closely aligned are we now with what their forces?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think you have to look at this first and foremost in terms of trying to define what is the most effective way to counter terror. And countering terror involves lots of different areas. One thing clearly that we're focused on is, for example, comparing notes on what the sources of financing may be -- where it is, where it comes from, who might be involved.
And if you focus only on particular measures, you also tend to overlook the full array of things where you might have -- where you might be offering common assessments in advance of making conclusions about where there might be particular responses. It isn't just information sharing, and it isn't thinking about what effective responses. It's a combination of all.
Q: The question to me then becomes, are we responsible for the actions they take when we offer them assistance.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, the reality is, we're just beginning now to get into the much more intensive discussion on what the scope of this is going to be. There will be information sharing. There will be research and development work together, developing new techniques and also new capabilities. There will be better communication.
Now, how that translates into particular measures and particular responses is something that we haven't worked out yet. So to answer your question at this stage is premature because precisely what it's going to mean in terms of measures they take is something I couldn't answer at this point.
Q: Is Interpol a live option to the working group? And also, could you explain the sentence in the fact sheet that these -- the hardware is not available in United States stocks? Is it readily available in commercial channels?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: First of all, we will use as the agenda for the first meeting of the working group, the declaration. And the declaration identified a series of different areas where we would follow up. We will use that as a point of departure. We'll get into a discussion about how best to act on some of those items, including -- one of the items was cooperating to ensure that those who instigate acts of terror are brought to justice. We'll have to discuss what are the best ways to translate that from a heading into what could be a reality.
In terms of some of the items, there are some items in the bomb detection area that are still -- that are on the assembly line right now, have not yet been finished products, they're not yet in the stage of being completed.
Q: -- that then is going to be channeled off to Israel as part of the $100 million?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I didn't get the question.
Q: In other words, how do you obtain the various items that are listed on the fact sheet? Does the Pentagon go out, order them and then ship them to Israel, or do you hand Israel a check, is Israel to buy the stuff?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Most of these things are coming from -- are either coming from U.S. stocks -- in one case, when we ship the seven initial bomb detection devices, they came from a factory in Massachusetts, and we paid for them and then we shipped it.
Q: When Secretary Perry was here a few months ago he announced this defense study. General Crispin was charged with doing that. But it's been inactive over the last couple of months. Is this -- this second sort of overarching pack that's being discussed, it could possibly include some sort of formal security arrangement? Is Crispin saying -- is that were the conversations are taking place, and have the Israelis given you the green light to go forward with that study?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: When Secretary Perry was here, he did announce the formation of a study group, and that study group will be the focal point of these discussions.
Q: Now, what is the -- today, Israel will be blowing up a house at -- what is the United States position on the resumption of demolition of houses and on the threat to deport male relatives of any of the suicide bombers?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Obviously, the steps the Israelis are taking right now are a function of an extreme security situation that was created by four bombs in nine days. We're not going to second-guess steps the Israelis are taking right now to deal with what has been a security crisis.
Q: Domestic elections always inevitably play some role in policy. What are you finding here? Is the status quo frozen until the May election? What's the impact?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On?
Q: -- things that you want.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We have obviously sought to pursue peace and pursue the negotiating process in a way that would allow us to make as much headway as was possible at any given time. Right now, obviously, the focus is here in terms of dealing with, as the President said, what has been the need to restore a sense of security in the aftermath of these bombings. Now, obviously that's something that Israel does, but we want to be as helpful as we can be and, as the President put it, he wants us to be standing shoulder to shoulder with the Israelis. And that's one of the reasons that we have focused in the counterterrorism area on a bilateral basis.
But we didn't want to limit it to that. We wanted -- as the President said, we wanted to come to Sharm el-Sheikh precisely because we wanted to demonstrate as well that Israel is not alone; it's not just that the international community is standing with Israel, but Israel now has as Arab neighbors that are prepared to stand for them.
Q: Does the reality of having an election campaign mean that it probably is in the short-term limited?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We will pursue what is available. If we make decisions with the Israelis that there are areas where the negotiations go forward, then they'll go forward.
Q: This equipment -- a quick one -- is any of it in that sensitive area where in the past the United States has been unwilling and more than reluctant, not able to turn it over to another country, or has that rule been sort of eased a little bit to give Israel things that in the normal course of events you wouldn't give to another country?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm not aware that any of the items that are here on this list would fall into the category, but I would also say, one of the elements of the joint terrorism agreement will be in the R&D area. So it may well be that we develop additional areas where we are cooperating beyond where we have before.
Q: Nobody has this kind of stuff. No other country has U.S. supplied stuff.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know the answer to that.
END 12:40 P.M. (L)
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/270240