Background Briefing by Senior Administration Officials on the Visit of Prime Minister Rabin of Israel
The Briefing Room
3:25 P.M. EST
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I will take a few minutes just to go over what went on in the meeting, and then we'll take your questions.
I guess a quick way to describe the meeting is that it really did cover almost all the bases that you would imagine. First there was a thorough discussion of all the negotiating tracks. It was a discussion of what was going on with the Palestinians in Gaza, what could be done to enhance getting assistance to the Palestinians. The Prime Minister told us that he expected that he would be seeing Arafat on Thursday and that he would be following up.
We talked about the fact that there's a donors' meeting next week in Brussels where, in advance of that, we expect to be doing as much as we can to close the gap between what countries had pledged and what they've actually delivered. That was one important piece of the discussion.
There was a discussion as well on the Syrian and Lebanese negotiations. The Secretary of State will be going back soon, and I can't yet tell you precisely what the dates of that will be, but he will be going back soon, and I expect that we'll make an announcement once we've looked at the various logistic details.
There was a discussion on the bilateral questions and relationship here. You heard them talk about -- you heard the President talk about what is being done both in terms of bilateral assistance and --
Q: How much is that -- the current level?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The total?
Q: Three billion --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Barry happens to be correct.
Q: I'm on the record. (Laughter.)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm always happy to be able to confirm what Barry says. (Laughter.)
Q: Confirm it out loud.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Three billion -- $1.8 billion in -- so you knew it. Never mind.
Q: I wasn't sure if I knew it or not.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay. And if there was one thing that comes through, I think, very clearly, once again -- generally a good discussion, but I think a kind of almost a philosophical discussion about where we are, what's been achieved, how best to move ahead, and a recognition of both the opportunities and some of the difficulties. I think the President and the Prime Minister met alone for -- what was it -- 30 minutes, which is in keeping with what has become, I think, the style of their meetings, that they have a chance just to sit alone and go through the issues in somewhat greater detail.
Q: Did they talk about the President's political fate and what it means in terms of foreign policy in the Middle East?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know that they --
Q: The Democratic fate, I should say.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think that you actually heard the Prime Minister say something in public, which he said in private, which was how indispensable which he said in private, which was how indispensable the American role was and the President's role in the peace process. The President had lived up to his commitments to help move the process forward and to help minimize the risks Israel was taking, and that was critical to the process. And he wanted to make sure that was going to continue, and the President made clear that he was fully committed to continuing that role.
Q: Are you ready for questions?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me just -- a couple of other things that did come up. They had a discussion about Iran and the problem of terrorism from Islamic extremists. And there was agreement that there needed to be greater attention paid to this and greater effort paid to this on both their parts. They also discussed MIAs -- Israeli MIAs, and as my colleague said, bilateral assistance. Let me just make a couple of comments on that.
The President, as well as reaffirming his longstanding commitment to maintaining current levels of assistance, also told the Prime Minister that the United States would go ahead with funding over the next few years of the Arrow program, so as to ensure that program went ahead. The Arrow program is Israel's anti-tactical ballistic missile defense program that Israel is developing with the help and funding of the United States.
Q: That's just what I wanted to ask, so let me pick up on that. The President addressed it twice. The second time he got to it with us, he spoke of terms of -- and other security measures and so on. Could you tell us what "so on" means? How much is the Arrow program costing in U.S. assistance? And isn't it now at the critical phase of moving from research and development into maybe testing? So those security measures, apart from troops, tell us to the extent you can what is it he's offering Israel.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Testing -- there is still further research and development to be done, further testing to be done. And then it goes to the question of deploying. And all of those issues are going to have to be looked at by the Pentagon with the Israeli Ministry of Defense. And they will be consulting to work out what that's going to look like over the next four to five years. So we don't have an actual price tag commitment on that. That's something that is going to have to be worked out. But there is a commitment in principle to go ahead and continue helping Israel on that.
Q: But if it has a cost now, and does the cost come out of the $3 billion? And what basically is the cost?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The cost now has been funded as a separate item in the defense budget. And we would be looking to do that in the future.
Q: Do you know how much it is now?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, we'll have to get that for you.
Q: And do you know what the other security measures there --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The point is now, there's a question of what the funding will be in the future. And that is something that the President is committed to in principle and will now have to sit down and work out what exactly that is going to amount to.
Q: And he spoke of other measures? Do you have any other specifics?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There are a couple of other things the United States will be doing in the area of supercomputers, printing licenses for two supercomputers; and in the area of efforts to help Israel -- I don't want to go into details, but efforts to help Israel with some particular defense problems that it has.
Q: Nuclear -- nuclear problems?
Q: Which countries have pledged aid to the Palestinians and have not delivered? Who are we talking about?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, it's not a case of which countries have sort of pledged aid and not delivered anything, because there's huge roster of countries who have pledged aid. It's a question of what percentage of the aid they have pledged have they fulfilled.
There are a lot of countries, and I don't want to get into trying to name all of them, who have provided all of their pledges but not all of their pledges for this calendar year. And we're in the process now of going back to those countries -- some are Gulf countries, some are countries in Asia, and some countries are in Europe. And what we are doing, in conjunction with some of the other members of what is called the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, which is really the steering group of the donors, is we're going back to all of those countries and going to them on the state of their pledges and asking them to fulfill their pledges by -- fulfill the pledges that they had made for calendar year '94 by the time that we meet.
Q: -- complete?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. And part of the problem is that you have a lot of countries that have made pledges and have assistance in the pipeline, and so you have pledges -- pipeline and delivery, and we're trying to move very hard to get pledges fulfilled in the area of delivery, really, in four areas. One is, startup costs, meaning the administrative costs for Gaza and Jericho, the administrative costs for early empowerment, which is the five spheres that the Israelis will have transferred in the West Bank by the end of the month. One is the cost of police; and the last is transitional projects, or projects that are near-term projects that would immediately affect issues like employment.
Q: Can you give us the numbers on that, the amount of the pledges for '94, what's in the pipeline, how much has been delivered?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's very hard to determine exactly what's in the pipeline.
Q: Well, whatever numbers you've got.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I can give you -- the overall pledges that were made -- and these were not necessarily the dollars that were pledged, but the value of the assistance, was on the order of about $700 million. And the best estimates are that one is looking at around somewhere between $200 million and $250 million that would have been delivered.
Now, again, that's not necessarily dollars, it's a combination of dollars and assistance for particular projects. Part of the problem has been --
Q: Has been delivered, or should have been delivered?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, the $200 million to $250 million? I think that if one is looking at it, it's probably -- it will be delivered by the end of the calendar year. And part of the problem has been on the recipient side, because the structures that were needed to exist to ensure transparency and accountability took an awful long time to set up. And even now, some monies that are available are not transferred as quickly as they might be, because the documentation tends to lag behind, which is -- the issue of documentation seems to be less a function of any effort to provide documentation and just some of the difficulties of providing it. So what we're trying to do is ensure that these pledges are acted on -- what we're trying to do is get some reprogramming where it might be appropriate, so that the assistance not only can flow, but it will be effective and felt.
Q: How much of that is U.S. money?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We made a pledge of about $100 million for the first year. All of our grant aid assistance has been, I think, has been disbursed. We have monies in OPIC guarantees, not all which have been used up, but we are in the process of trying to move on that.
There, we were limited, because there was not an agreement with the PLO until early September on that.
Q: The Arrow is described as a joint project. Is this something that's going to wind up in the U.S. arsenal as well, or is it just strictly going to be an Israeli weapon?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's still at the development stage, and I don't think a decision has been made on that, as you probably know. We are engaging in our own research and development of our own various ballistic missile defense systems, so I think it's premature to make any judgment about that. This is the -- it's a joint project, because it's a joint research and development project, which we are helping to fund, which the Israelis are also helping to fund. And I think the critical point here is that it is designed to give Israel a defense against ballistic missiles far earlier than we would be able to, in terms of the development of our own systems.
Q: We heard the President's comments about, of course, staying with U.S. policy in the Middle East. To what extent is he or, for that matter, those at your level, having to reassure parties in the Middle East following the Helms comment that the peace process is a fraud?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think that these -- the election results obviously raised questions brought about, about the commitment of the United States. The peace process, in particular this peace process was something that was started under a Republican administration, as my colleague can tell you better than I. The peace process has always enjoyed bipartisan support, and I think that clearly will continue.
And so I think it's a matter of reemphasizing that, and reemphasizing the President's commitment to pursue the process to the point where, if he finishes the job and achieves a comprehensive settlement because so much progress has already been made, I think he's keen to emphasize that there will be no relaxation in terms of his own commitment in that regard, and therefore, the commitment of the United States.
Q: Excuse me, I'd like to follow up, please. Have you found that the Helms comment has provoked any concern among your contact in the region?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's a little early. It was made on Saturday and it's now Monday, so it's a little -- we don't have the feedback yet. I think that you saw in the remarks made this morning by the Prime Minister and over the weekend, his concern about the way in which his interest in having U.S. troops on the Golan might be affected by statements that have been made. So he clearly wants to make the case very forcefully that this is something that the United States has done before and he hopes it will continue to do.
Q: On the Syria-Lebanese track, you said that this -- could you please tell us if there has been any Israeli position, new position that was discussed, or is there anything that will move this -- these two tracks, either one of them forward as a result of this meeting?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think that whenever you have a meeting of this sort, you have an opportunity to not only have a full exchange of views, but to go through in great detail exactly where the negotiations are; to talk about ways to try to move things along; and as I said, I would expect that you will see the Secretary of State going out soon. There really isn't more that I'm going to get into because we've made a practice of not getting into the details of anybody's position; and that's one of the ways we sort of preserve and promote the role that we're playing.
Q: Well, on the Golan, can you at least tell us that Rabin and the President said in private what they later said in public?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: With regard --
Q: With regard to stationing American troops?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, in fact, the issue of stationing American troops was not much of a topic in private because this is an issue that really depends upon a much broader agreement being reached. It is an issue that the Prime Minister did raise, as my colleague was suggesting, in private, in the context of noting that he himself has been in the country; and talking about the fact that a monitoring presence in the Sinai was part of the Egyptian-Israeli agreement, and you had 1,000 Americans in the MFO since the conclusion of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. And he was bringing to the President's attention that he had been saying this to his audiences. That's the context in which it came up.
Q: But did the President in private also tell him what the present leaders said in public, namely that if an Israeli-Syrian peace treaty were to depend on disengagement on the Golan, monitored by a force that would include U.S. troops, the President "would be prepared to make the case."?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes.
Q: And did the President, when he said he didn't think people should make statements that might undermine the peace process, was he saying that he thought Senator Helms' statements had, in fact, undermined the peace process?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't think he was addressing anyone in particular. I think what he was doing was -- because it came at him, I think, in the context of the Golan and the issue of troops. And I think what he was getting at was that if there is a chance to go ahead and conclude an agreement, the American role is to do all we can to enhance the prospect and the possibility of achieving such an agreement. And we should be careful and those in this country who are interested in seeing peace should be careful not to be making the kind of statement that might raise questions about whether or not we're, in fact, prepared to promote and support such an agreement.
Q: Vis a vis the Palestinian-Arafat situation, was there an assessment between the two leaders that Arafat needs something more than just a quick fix of $125 million? Maybe a political strengthening of his position? And on the Syrian track, both of them did not answer questions about resumptions of discussions between Syria and Israel here in Washington after the Secretary's visit to the region. Was that issue brought up between them?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me take the second question first, then I'll come back to the first. Our position on the issue of resumption hasn't changed, because our attitude has been that the process that we're engaged in now, which is largely a process that we are managing and conducting at different levels, is one that we feel is still more likely to be productive than having us call for an official resumption of talks. We have said all along that it's going to have to be done in an authoritative, bilateral way before you can ever come to an agreement. But we are not interested in calling for a resumption of talks until we're satisfied that such a resumption would, in fact, be very productive.
So that was really not a part of the discussion, because I think we feel that where we are in this process now is such that we ought to continue doing what we're doing at this point.
On the first question, there was a general discussion of the pressures that Arafat is facing within Gaza. And I think that there was a sense that, one, there's an economic dimension to these problems, clearly. There's a security dimension to these problems as well; and that it's important that the Palestinian authority needs to be seen as the only authority on questions of security. There clearly is an interest in seeing how one can move forward, not only to stabilize the current situation, but to build on it in a way of moving forward, but there was really not -- there was not much of a discussion on the mid- and longer-term. The focus was much more on the immediate circumstances.
Q: And about, quickly on immediate circumstances. You remember last week when -- with disorders -- Nabil Shaath said, hey, it's unfulfilled Palestinian aspirations that are the root of this disorder theory -- I'm not debating, but that's what he said -- and then some Israelis, possibly Peres said, so, we ought to ask the U.S. for a quick fix aid shipment now. Did Rabin ask on behalf of the PLO for a quick infusion of U.S. assistance with that theory in mind? And, if he did, what is the President's response?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He did not ask for a quick-fix U.S. aid infusion. He did raise the fact that it is important to try to improve the economic conditions. He drew attention to the donors' meeting next week. He was well aware of it in part because in the agreement that was reached to turn over the last two parts of the early empowerment, that agreement was timed to coincide with the donors' meeting in Brussels, which will be the 29th and 30th. So he was very much focused on the donors' meeting in saying that it is very important to try to ensure that the assistance that is provided is assistance that is going to have an impact the Palestinians will feel very quickly. And that's something that obviously is very much in our mind as well.
Q: Did the Prime Minister mention the fact that Israel is not happy with the American private sector trade with Iran -- and this is following your remark about the emphasis on Iran -- and the Prime Minister said after the meeting that he came up with new ideas on the Syrian track. Was it about substance or procedure?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Unlike another Israeli official that was here last week, the Prime Minister did not raise the issue or criticize American policy. He was very supportive of American policy on Iran. And so, the short answer to your first question is no.
Q: this guy.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, you have to ask the Prime Minister and that guy.
Your second question -- you know, just to repeat what my colleague said, is we are not going to talk about the details. We'll leave it to the Prime Minister to characterize his ideas. We obviously, as my colleague said, this was an opportunity for the President to have an in-depth discussion with the Prime Minister about the peace process and, as we discussed, focused on the Palestinians, but also focused on the Syrian and Lebanese tracks.
The President had not had an opportunity after his meeting in Damascus with President Assad to have an in-depth discussion with the Prime Minister. His schedule in Israel was very full, and they only had a short time to talk about things there. And it was precisely because the Prime Minister was coming here a couple of weeks later that they agreed that they would focus on it here, and that's what happened today.
They had a thorough discussion, including on the next steps; and as my colleague has said, that will be followed up by the Secretary on his next trip which will take place soon. But beyond that, we are simply not going to get into the details of what was discussed.
Q: Can I ask something about the Syrian track also? There is a sense that -- there is an urgency on this track on moving very slow. Was there discussion in the meeting that things are slow on this track and that something has to be done to move it faster because the problems in the area might come in the way and stop the whole process?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think what there was a discussion on was that this is a track that is instrumental to achieving a comprehensive settlement. There was a discussion, as well, of the need to work as intensively as we could, but there was also a recognition that the issues that are there are hard issues and we have to work through them. And while there's a commitment to working as intensively as we can, and moving as quickly as we can -- and an understanding of the importance of moving as quickly as we can -- there's also a sense that, you know, we can't -- and we're not going to -- try to create artificial deadlines; we're just going to go ahead and try to work through what are still difficult problems.
Q: Has there been consideration of a visit this week by Arafat? Has it been put off because of the President's schedule?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Chairman Arafat was, I believe, planning to make a trip to the United States last week, and had hoped, in that context, to be able to see the President. Because of the President's travel schedule, it was simply not possible to arrange for that meeting to take place now. The Prime Minister's visit had been scheduled nine months in advance. Most visits are schedule six months in advance, and it simply wasn't possible, with a couple of weeks' notice, to fit it in. As you know, the President is meeting with President Kuchma tomorrow, and he's going off for his Thanksgiving break. So -- and he's got a very heavy domestic agenda to deal with as well. So it simply wasn't possible to fit it in at this moment. It was only a scheduling issue.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 3:49 P.M. EST
William J. Clinton, Background Briefing by Senior Administration Officials on the Visit of Prime Minister Rabin of Israel Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269445