Background Briefing by Senior Administration Officials
The Briefing Room
4:47 P.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: The following is a BACKGROUND BRIEFING. It is [Names Deleted].
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'll just offer a couple of comments, and then I think my colleague will also offer a couple of comments, and then we'll turn it over to your questions.
I think the way I would describe today, from the perspective of someone who has worked in this process for a long time, is that it really allowed us to follow up on two tracks that we said we would: One is that we are committed to following up on the implementation of the Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles. And we knew to be able to do that, we had to mobilize the international community and we had to mobilize international resources to permit us to begin move so that things could tangibly change on the ground and relatively soon.
What is significant is that we may have mobilized the effort, but the fact is you don't produce 46 countries and organizations and institutions in this short a period of time unless there is clearly a strong international commitment to be responsive.
The recognition of this as a historic moment, as a turning point, is something that is obviously not ours alone. And the fact that we could have this kind of a conference this soon says something about the nature of the international support for it.
So one track was a donors conference, which clearly allowed us to move in terms of implementation. The other is something that we've said, that we see the Israeli-Palestinian agreement as being a very important building block for a comprehensive peace settlement; and that we were going to be moving to continue to promote a comprehensive approach to peace.
And what you saw today was also an unprecedented event, as the President said. And having the Israeli Foreign Minister meet with the Jordanian Crown Prince and make it very clear that they are going to follow up quickly themselves in some practical ways is another way for us to demonstrate that the second track is very meaningful. And we're working full steam ahead on it.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Just to give you perhaps a little bit of perspective about the President and his involvement in this, from the very first announcement of the -- when we first got news of the agreement between Israel and the PLO, the President had one core instinct which has driven him and therefore policy in this regard, and that is to get behind this agreement and make it succeed and build momentum in a way that translates into greater public support in Israel, greater popular support in the region, and therefore a greater ability to move ahead towards a comprehensive breakthrough which remains his objective.
In that regard, he has been urging all of us on since September 13th to take advantage of this momentum and to do whatever we can to get the donors conference organized, to get the private sector initiative organized, and to press the Arabs to be responsive on their boycott or in their relations with Israel, to keep the Syrians engaged. And when he heard that the Crown Prince of Jordan and the Foreign Minister of Israel were both coming to the donors conference, he took the initiative and invited them both to meet with him in the Oval Office to talk about their common agenda, particularly focusing on the prospects for moving ahead in the economic spheres between Jordan and Israel and insuring that Jordan had an important role to play in the relationship -- the triangular relationship between Jordan, Israel and the Palestinians.
And so what we saw today was I think the fulfillment of his basic instinct here to maintain the momentum.
Q: We understand that a lot of the discussion today actually dealt with Syria. Is that correct?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would say that it was clearly an important topic of conversation. I wouldn't say that it was the centerpiece of the conversation, because most of the conversation I think was addressed towards the creation of the joint economic committee, which parallels what the Israelis and Palestinians have and also this working group that will be a trilateral working group between us, the Israelis and Jordanians.
But there was an important part of the discussion that was devoted to, again, how you move on the process as a whole, the importance of the Syrian track within that, the commitment that we had to move ahead, the recognition on the Israeli side that this is an important track and they too have a commitment, and a recognition that there are some complex issues there. And even if we're committed, we have to recognize that this is going to be a considerable task, but what is the good news is that I think there is a shared objective and a shared commitment in that regard and we'll just have to work ahead on it.
Q: The President talked about getting Jordan's debt down. What did he mean by that -- we would work to somehow reduce Jordan's debt burden? Was he talking about -- bilaterally and international?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The Crown Prince made quite an eloquent speech today in which he -- at the donors conference in which he emphasized the debt burden that Jordan is carrying --
Q: Is there a number you have on that, any kind of number?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I believe he talked about -- $16 billion, I think. I think those were the figures he used -- $16 billion.
Q: Is that debt burden or is that the reduction figure?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's the debt burden. And both the President and the Foreign Minister of Israel feel that in order for Jordan to share in the kind of prosperity and hope that peace should bring, there should be an effort to try to help Jordan with that and that was -- my colleague thinks the figures are too high, so we'll have to check those for you.
Q: How might the President go about helping in that regard? What exactly in an operational sense does he have in mind?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, as you know very well -- in terms of what the United States can do in this area is highly constrained by our own budget realities. One of the things that we said at this podium about gaining support for the IsraeliPalestinian agreement was that we saw this -- that as an international effort in which the United States obviously would take the lead, but the burden would have to be shared. And I think that is the same in this case as well as considerable debt to Japan, for instance. And we'll be talking to the donor -- to the creditor countries to see if we can't find some ways to help Jordan in this regard as we move forward in the peace process. And we can get some movement on the economic issues that the President and Crown Prince and Foreign Minister Peres agreed on today.
I mean, that's -- the most important point was that as a result of this meeting, they decided in the meeting to set up these two committees, the joint Israeli-Jordanian committee on economics and a trilateral working group. And within that context, I think that we hope to be able to address Jordan's concerns.
Q: There seems to be a conflict here about the boycott. When we asked the question at the State, on the PLO briefing this afternoon and also in the morning about the -- with Secretary Christopher, it seemed that -- Christopher said that was not part of work of the committee, which is fair enough. But Arab leader of the delegation, I think his name was -- indicated in response to a question from Ralph -- I take it back, nevermind that -- in response to a question -- I don't know whether it was Ralph or somebody else -- that the boycott issue as a last status item, like Jerusalem. When I asked Peres, Foreign Minister Peres out here about it, he seemed to counter that by saying that -- they're saying that the Arab states should cooperate with Israel. So where do we stand on it? And the President didn't seem to be happy about it either.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President is not happy about it . The President, the Vice President this morning at the donors conference, the Secretary of State last week at Columbia University, made very clear the United States position that it is time to end the boycott, period. And Israel has taken a dramatic move towards the PLO. The Arab states have continuously pressed upon us that this was a move that Israel would have to do in order for them to respond. Now they've -- Israel has done it, and it requires an Arab response. That is the message that we are saying publicly and that is the message that has been conveyed privately, in private meetings as well.
And on the other hand, as the President, I think, was trying to suggest out on the lawn, there are some indications that there is a softening in their position and that they are considering, and some of you would have heard Prince -- the Saudi Foreign Minister say that, in public, that they're looking at what they can do in that regard.
So we will continue to press it. We will continue to make clear that that is our expectation, to emphasize that this doesn't make any sense anymore, that this anachronistic, that when Israel and the Palestinians are talking about joint economic development, and when Israel and Jordan are talking about joint economic projects, that it doesn't make any sense to maintain the Arab boycott.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I want to add one point to that. It may well be that there are some in the Arab world that want to treat it as an issue that is dealt with only later. But our clear sense from the discussions we have had is that there is not homogeneity on this position and that you may well find a range of a different opinion among some of the Arab states. And we're going to continue to press for this, as my colleague said, because we think it's so important; but also because it's not just anachronistic, it punishes Palestinians. It is counter-intuitive and it's not logical. And if it punishes Palestinians, it's obviously not consistent with trying to promote their well-being at a time when that may be the key to really building the peace constituencies.
Q: Can you give us some of the atmospherics? Exactly how long did they meet, what the seating arrangement was, how they first met each other in the Oval Office and so forth, some of the color?
Q: If you could just add one thing to that -- when did Clinton come up with this idea --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I mentioned that already, Tom. When we learned -- I think it was more than two weeks ago that --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think the initial approach probably came, it was last week.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Last week.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Last week.
Q: And how was that conveyed? Was that in -- through --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Through the embassies here, the invitations were issued to both the Crown Prince and the Foreign Minister to join the President. But it was the President's invitation.
Q: And as for the seating --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The seating. Yes, very important. The Crown Prince sat to the President's right in the yellow armchair. Foreign Minister Peres sat to the President's left on the couch. The Vice President was on the other side of the Crown Prince, and the Secretary of State was on the lefthand side of Foreign Minister Peres. And then Mr. Lake was next to the Secretary of State.
Q: Was this the first time that these two men had met?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think you'll have to --
Q: I mean, publicly --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think you'll have to ask them that. Publicly, yes this is the first time that the leadership of Israel and Jordan have met publicly. And that's precisely the significance of the event beyond what was agreed in the meeting. But the fact that they did it in broad daylight out in the sunshine is very important, because clearly Jordan and Israel have had a longstanding relationship that goes back decades. But it is highly significant that the change in the environment now enables Jordan to come forward and announce the establishment of joint committees with Israel to work on issues that are in their common interest. And that is -- sends, I think, a powerful signal to Israelis that there is a genuine willingness and opportunity for acceptance by its Arab neighbors. And for them to have a normal existence in which they're focused on economic development and providing a better future for their children, rather than conflict and rejection. And it sends a signal to the Arab world, as well, that there is a momentum for peace, and that it's time for all of them to climb on board.
Q: What are the prospects with regard to the talks with Syria now?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think, as I said at this point, what we're going to be doing is we're going to continue to press ahead; we're going to explore what can be done. The commitment exists very clearly on our side. Everything we've heard from the Syrians at this point makes it clear that they're committed to the peace process. And the Israelis have reaffirmed the same commitment in terms of seeking a comprehensive settlement. We'll be continuing our discussions with both sides and we'll try to figure out what are the best ways to try to overcome some of the gaps. We do have -- we have --
Q: Is Christopher going to go out there?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, let's focus on the near term. On the immediate term, we have one Mr. Shara coming down here next week, which gives us an early opportunity to follow up on the discussions we've just had.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I should also make one point about Lebanon, too. As you know, the President met with Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri of Lebanon in New York last week. Lebanon was also the subject of discussion today, and we need to make progress on that track as well.
Q: Could I just clarify one thing? The committees that were announced today -- am I understanding you correctly in saying that those -- the idea for that actually arose during these meetings today?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The idea -- in preparation for the meetings, the idea had been broached with both parties. But it was the President who developed the idea and who pushed for agreement today and to go out and announce the agreement.
Q: Who first broached the --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The United States.
MS. MYERS: Why don't we take one more, if there are any.
Q: How would this be read in Damascus? I mean, if Asad were -- how would you like it to be read? If Asad is watching this on Syrian television, he saw two things today: One, an aid conference in which a lot of money was going to the Palestinians and maybe the Jordanians; and the other a ceremony on the White House lawn that was in many ways very important but rather anti-climactic compared to the previous ceremony -- an Israeli official going out said the next one will be on page B-17. Is that something we'd like to see, that maybe the Syrians should get a little nervous here, that the train just may be leaving the station without them?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You know, that's not the approach. The approach is not an attempt to sort of somehow suggest that those who aren't here are somehow losing out. What the approach is much more positive in character.
What we're demonstrating is that there is a momentum. And as my colleague said, you had an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, you had a Jordanian-Israeli agreement on the agenda. We have now raised the political level of the Jordanian-Israeli discussions, because obviously there have been bilateral negotiations. And it's a statement that they can get together.
What we clearly want to demonstrate is there's not only momentum, but there will be fruits of peace. And all those who are making real headway are obviously going to benefit from it. We want to continue to mobilize international support to highlight the payoffs and the dividends of peace. So I would cast it in very positive terms. And I think that the fact that you had so many participants also demonstrates that the international community wants to portray it in positive terms.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 5:05 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/272296