Background Briefing by Senior Administration Officials
The Briefing Room
6:20 P.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: The following is a BACKGROUND briefing. [Name Deleted] can be referred to as a Senior State Department Official, and [Name Deleted] is a Senior White House Official.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Why don't I take two minutes to give you a little context. I know that comes as a surprise to most of you, but perhaps that will help in terms of some of the questions you may have.
I think as most of you know, what we have seen happening over the course of the last week or so was an Israeli-PLO effort that focused not just on the conclusion of a declaration of principles, which is what, in fact, they had worked out, but also working out the terms for a mutual recognition. I've referred at one time to the former as being a conceptual breakthrough and the latter as being really a psychological leap.
They have been working on what those various elements would be. Last night, their negotiators reached an agreement on that. They then had to refer the agreement back in one case to Israel and the other case to Tunis. The Israeli Cabinet came out and endorsed this, and the Executive Committee has been meeting, but as I understand at this point has not yet endorsed it. But we have no reason to think that they would not endorse it.
Just in terms of the sequence of steps, the Norwegian Foreign Minister is carrying the originals of what it is they have agreed to, the text that they have agreed to, which is really letters, and first it will be signed by Arafat and he will carry it to Israel, and then Rabin will sign it -- and I don't think -- right now, I don't think the Rabin signing will take place until tomorrow morning.
So that gives you a little background. Why don't I turn it over to questions.
Q: Tomorrow morning -- what time?
Q: Why was the President's announcement -- scheduled announcement called off? Because of the later signing by the Israelis?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think, again, we --early on during the course of the day, we understood that the negotiators had reached agreement, and we were told that there would be an effort to go ahead and get the signatures later today. As it turned out, it was a little later in the day than we knew a little earlier, and also we then found out as well that the Israeli signature wouldn't come until tomorrow morning.
Q: What's the mechanics --
Q: Can you tell us about the timing on the resumption of the U.S.-PLO dialogue --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think we'll let them go ahead and do their signatures, let them do whatever announcements they may make, and we've had a chance to look at the contents of what they're doing. And after they've done that, then we can think about the next appropriate step for us.
Q: What would be the mechanics of it if the President decided to resume the dialogue? Does he need to sign an executive order? What does he need to do? Anything?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, I'll provide a little context here, maybe historical context. If you go back to when the dialogue was suspended, it was suspended by a presidential statement in June of 1990 that took place in the aftermath of an attempted terrorist raid into Tel Aviv by one element of the PLO, and at that time the President made an announcement that we were suspending the dialogue, and it is an Executive Branch decision on whether or not to resume the dialogue.
Q: The President said this morning that if the PLO statement meets the criteria -- and you say you've already seen the language -- then we will resume our dialogue with them and we'll go forward from there. So you would expect him to do this?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm not going to anticipate what he says.
Q: Is anything else necessary, vis a vis the PLO, in order to have a PLO representative at a signing ceremony? Is there anything else that is necessary before that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: If there was a resumption of the dialogue and contents, I think that would be sufficient.
Q: What steps beyond resuming dialogue are being considered?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right now we would be focused more on that because, if, in fact, we're going to have a signing ceremony on Monday, that's the first item of business that we'd have to be able to address so that you could have someone here for it. We'll have to deal with other issues as we proceed. But first things first.
Q: The signing ceremony on Monday -- how will it be organized? What will be the -- who will be there?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think I'll let my colleague talk about most of the details of the event. But I would -- I don't know that there's a whole lot we can go into in terms of the details, because that's something that we're just beginning to work on. But having stolen your answer, I'll let you give one.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: As the President said this morning, this is a huge moment in the Middle East of major historic proportions. And we are delighted that the parties felt that it was appropriate for the United States to host this event together with Russia as the cosponsors of the Madrid negotiations. And it's in that context that we feel the event on Monday should match the historic importance of the occasion.
In terms of the details, they are still being worked out. We literally just got working on them this afternoon at 2:00 p.m. And so it
would not be appropriate for us to get into the exact details of who, where, when. We'll give those to you as soon as they're decided.
Q: Might Yeltsin come?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, we would expect --we would certainly expect a high level representative from Russia, and I think that that's likely to be the Foreign Minister, Mr. Kozyrev.
Q: What about a representative from the parties?
Q: How about people like Baker, remember, who kind of started this thing, with a little assistance from you? Would he be welcome here and -- George Bush -- I don't think you have to get very deep into your discussion to get to those names. Have they come up yet? (Laughter.) Have you made a decision on whether you're going to ask them to be here?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think -- as I said, all these decisions are going to have to be made very quickly. But the United States has been engaged in the effort to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict for more than a quarter century, and I think that it would, therefore, be appropriate that American involvement was reflected in some of the participants in the ceremony.
Q: So Jimmy Carter will be here?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm really not going to get into those details at this point.
Q: Can you tell us who you expect to sign for the PLO?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. Again, I don't know whether you want to answer that one. But, again, we --
Q: Or a range of names, at least?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We really are engaged in consultations with the parties -- not with the PLO, but with Palestinians here and the Israelis. And we'll see what level they want to agree on.
Q: Would Arafat be welcome?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, we're engaged in consultations with the parties at this point and we need to reach agreement with them on the level.
Q: What is the United States prepared to do in terms of reconstruction and development? That was alluded to by the President. He said a lot of work needed to be done. That seems obvious. What's contained in your understanding of the agreement?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, if you look --now, you're getting into what is -- is something that falls under the rubric of the declaration of principles where, in fact, there is a fair amount of discussion on the whole question of economic development and a joint economic committee and the like. We understand that there is going to need to be an international effort. We understand the importance of mobilizing an international effort to try to respond to this. This is an historic moment. It is an historic achievement. We have to build on it. It's very important that, as Palestinians begin to assume responsibilities, that they succeed and they don't fail. So resources are going to be an important part of this. We're making an effort with others already, an we're going to have to make some judgments, individually and collectively, about the kinds of resources that will be needed and how they might be disbursed, and by whom.
Q: Are you completely certain that there's going to be
this historical moment on Monday? Is it possible that this whole thing can fall apart between now and then? Is that part of the reason why maybe a number of arrangements haven't been worked on, the guest list not finalized and so on?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Until late last night, and I mean late last night, the negotiators had not reached an agreement. Now, there's not a whole lot of point before negotiators reach agreement to begin working out the details of the ceremony if you don't know if you're going to have it. The fact is, I think that we are not just hopeful, but confident that this will be worked out and that we will, in all likelihood, have a ceremony on Monday.
Q: You spoke of matching the historical importance of the occasion. Doesn't that naturally lead to heads of government being present, rather than just foreign ministers?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This was in -- my answer, I think, was in response to a question about former presidents. In term of heads of government, I'll just give you the straight answer that I gave you before, and I don't think we can say anything more about that at the moment, that is that we're in consultation with the parties and obviously, we're hosting this but they have a say in who should be there.
Q: Is it still difficult for Prime Minister Rabin to stand next to Chairman Arafat and be photographed?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think you have to ask Prime Minister Rabin that question.
Q: Camp David, the last such agreement and the treaty cost the United States a lot of money, and it's still paying. Is this going to cost anywhere near that amount?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'll use a different word than context. How about perspective? If you go back to Camp David, we had a bipolar world, you could not even get such an agreement endorsed by the U.N., you could not get troops from the Security Council. Many of the Europeans were highly sensitive about their relations with the Arab world, and Egypt at that time was being ostracized and isolated by the Arab world. So you really didn't have many others who could be contributing. Now we have a different world. And the circumstances, especially in light have having produced multilateral negotiations, are entirely different.
You have the Europeans who have taken an active part, an active interest, especially in economic develop discussions there, you have the Nordic countries, who have expressed a commitment, the Japanese have expressed both an interest and a commitment. We have reason to believe that the Gulf States, especially at this point, are looking with a lot more interest and understanding of the importance of seeing such an agreement proceed. So I think you have an entirely different set of circumstances than you had back then.
Q: So the answer is no, right? (Laughter.) The reason I asked the question is because the United States, as you know, has tried to raise money -- you were there -- from other people for other purposes, and ended up paying the lion's share of the bill. And the President did tell Rabin that the United States is going to back him. I'm just asking whether it's likely that it would cost anywhere near the amount Camp David has cost since 1979.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Obviously, we're going to have to take a look at certain things. But the realities, I think, are very different, and I think it would not cost anywhere near that because we don't have to be the only one. At Camp David, we had to be the only one.
Q: Is there a plan for a fundraising trip by Christopher
similar to the one that Baker took before the war?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't -- I mean, we'll have to think about exactly how we proceed in terms of this. The fact is, again, we are already seeing that some countries and groups are prepared to make commitments even now. And we're going to have to look at a lot of different questions. It's not just who are the donors, a lot will depend on what the structure is going to be for providing assistance -- not only who is involved, but how is disbursement going to work and what's the relationship going to be to a joint economic committee that might be formed by Israelis and Palestinians. There's a whole series of questions that relate to process, to structure that are just as important as determining about who was going to be giving the resources.
Q: You're not ruling out, though, a Christopher trip to try to --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's too early to rule anything in or out.
Q: Is the White House going to be, if everything falls in place, is the signature going to take place in the White House?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's right, it'll be here on Monday, in the White House.
Q: Where here? On the North Lawn, like Camp David, or --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It'll be on the South Lawn.
Q: At what time?
MS. MYERS: It's not been nailed down yet.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's not been nailed down yet.
Q: Morning or afternoon?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It'll be morning.
Q: Shimon Peres just said on TV it would be at 9:00 a.m. on the White House lawn, weather permitting.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You know what? I'd wait.
Q: A quick question about the Air Force One conversation between the President and Mr. Rabin. The President spoke of, we know there are risks involved, and he said something to the effect we'll do what we can to help you -- to be a generic statement, but I'm asking you if it means that the U.S. is prepared to do anything in the way of sending forces there, as they are all ready to do on the Golan Heights. Are they prepared to do it? Well, there's my question.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President's phone call to Prime Minister Rabin was designed so that the President himself could express his admiration for the courage and leadership that Prime Minister Rabin has shown, and to send a message via the Prime Minister to the Israeli people that, just as the United States has been with the people of Israel in times of war, so, too, was the United States going to be with them at this time of peace. That was the generic statement in terms of what my colleague has already answered the question what it means in terms of resources. But there is no anticipation that this agreement with the Palestinians is going to require any involvement of American forces.
Q: Right, but your colleague was talking about financial and I was asking about military.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right. There is no expectation that that is at all necessary.
Q: Back up one square. Does the U.S. believe that Israel's security is guaranteed under this agreement?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, let's put it this way: The Prime Minister of Israel is someone who has spent his career in the Israeli military or building the Israeli military. He does not take the security needs of Israel lightly. First and foremost, the Israelis are going to determine and decide what is needed for their security. So when someone like this Prime Minister is satisfied that this meets their security needs, I think that it leaves us feeling pretty confident as well.
Q: What is the U.S. prepared to do about it in terms of unilateral or multilateral help?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, the -- let's take a look at the character of this agreement. This is an agreement for the interim period. Now, we will get to a point after the interim period where they will have resolved final status questions. And in all likelihood, the kinds of issues that you're raising now and that Barry was raising come much more into play in that setting than they do in this one, where you're talking about the interim period.
Q: What about U.S. recognition --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Could I just add one, a couple of things? First of all, the President also spoke to President Mubarak from Air Force One today. And the purpose of that was to congratulate President Mubarak as well and express appreciation for his efforts to bring this agreement to fruition. That's point number one.
Point number two, in terms of the resources question, I think beyond the very important points that Dennis has made, one should also remember that we're dealing with a small piece of territory and a relatively small population. This is not aid to Russia that we're talking about. It's absolutely essential that the Palestinians, when they assume responsibility for their own affairs and assume self-government, that they have the resources to make sure that that is a success. But it's important to bear in mind the relative proportion.
Q: One question on the resumption of dialogue with the PLO. At the time the dialogue was broken off, there were a number of statements made about steps that the PLO would have to take involving sanctions against those who were involved in the terrorist attack. If this agreement is signed, as anticipated, would the U.S. deem that those issues that were raised at that time are no longer operative? Or would those still have to be dealt with?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think that our approach would take account of the fact that we have a very different world, that circumstances are very different and that there is a series of commitments that have been made that would address the kinds of concerns that we had.
Q: So it's a clean slate?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I didn't say it was a clean slate. I just said we have -- the kinds of commitments that would be made would have to be those that would address the kinds of concerns that we have had and have.
Q: Are you confident there will be an event tomorrow morning -- you're confident about Monday's event? Are you confident about the event tomorrow morning?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm not anticipating anything, but I'm certainly hopeful about the future. (Laughter.)
Q: What about tomorrow morning?
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 6:40 P.M. EDT
William J. Clinton, Background Briefing by Senior Administration Officials Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269108