Press Briefing by Ambassador Dennis Ross, Special Coordinator from State Department and Martin Indyk, Special Assistant to the President for Near East
The Briefing Room
3:35 P.M. EDT
MR. GEARAN: Let me start quickly with the briefing. We have Ambassador Dennis Ross, who is the Special Coordinator from the State Department for Secretary Christopher, as well as Martin Indyk, who was here yesterday, who is a Special Assistant to the President for Near East. Ambassador Ross may have to leave to return to the State Department, so I think we will have to excuse him. We'll go back to some of the topics later in terms of the President to allow you to visit with Dennis and Martin. Then we can come back to some items on the President afterwards.
MR. INDYK: Since there have been so many statements today and so much to report on those statements, we don't have any statements. We'll be just glad to take you questions.
Q: What did the President whisper to Rabin right before the handshake?
MR. INDYK: I don't know.
Q: What does the President want now from Arafat and Rabin? What is the next step, and what does he want to see from the participants?
AMBASSADOR ROSS: Well, the most important step right now is to focus on how you go ahead and implement what it is that they have agreed. And the implementation requires thinking about structure and process. The Declaration of Principles that they have agreed to calls for a number of joint committees -- one is on security, one is on economics. There is a liaison committee. So there is the question of how you begin to implement what they've agreed to, how you begin to fill out some of the details in what is, after all, a comprehensive document that is really very much a framework document; and while it's comprehensive, still requires being fleshed out in a number of ways.
Q: Well, to follow up, both Abbas and Arafat mentioned Jerusalem, and Rabin mentioned it in the context of the eternal capital of Israel.
AMBASSADOR ROSS: Let's focus on where we are. They have a Declaration of Principles that they've agreed to for the interim period. And within that, they have made it clear that there are a number of issues that will be deferred for final status negotiations. Now, the interim period obviously itself is going to take a lot of hard work to sort out. The issues that are going to have to be addressed right now to transform what is a Declaration of Principles into new realities on the ground is considerable. To transform what is a declaration of principles into new realities on the ground is considerable. But what gives us, I think, all a real reason for hope is that now you have a context in which they're going to be tackling these problems. And that context is a mutual commitment to make it work. That context is a mutual belief that all the problems between them should be resolved peacefully. And it's a new day from that standpoint.
Q: Could you give us some details about the change in the wording that occurred in the last minute before the signing?
AMBASSADOR ROSS: There was not a change in the wording. There was in the first line -- there had been language in the first line of the text that said "Palestinian team." That was replaced with PLO. Now, the reason for that is when they had negotiated the text, the agreement on the text was achieved prior to the time that they reached agreement on mutual recognition. So it was not something that they could have agreed to before there was mutual recognition. And in the aftermath of mutual recognition, it was logical.
Q: A technical adjustment.
AMBASSADOR ROSS: It was technical.
Q: you don't need two years of sorting out to know that Jerusalem's future and a Palestinian state are issues. Mr. Abbas spoke of our country and Rabin spoke of Jerusalem being the eternal capital of Israel. Okay, so there's no sorting out; those issues are clear and there. You have a new situation, though. What is the U.S. position, if it has one, on those two issues today?
AMBASSADOR ROSS: We're not going to get into what has to be resolved in final status. One of the reasons you have this approach where you have interim first and then you have final status is that the interim period gives both sides a chance to begin to make commitments to each other and deliver on them. The interim period gives both sides a chance to begin to live together and demonstrate that cooperation works.
It will be an entirely different situation from the standpoints of their mutual psychology a couple of years down the road when they begin to tackle those questions.
Q: In the meantime, what kind of security and economic guarantees have we given to the parties? There's been a figure that's been floating around of $100 million, another one of $200 million. Help us out. Pin this down.
AMBASSADOR ROSS: Well, I can't pin it down, number one, because we have not been asked to give economic or security guarantees, we've been asked to help.
No one has come to us and said -- well, no one has come to us and asked for a specific figure. What we have said is, look, we are going to take a hard look at what we think the needs are. There have been a number of studies that have made assessments of the needs. We've got to have a chance to sort of go over those, number one. Number two, we also have to think about, as I mentioned I think the other day, we have to think about what kind of a structure works best for both mobilizing the funds and then disbursing the funds. What kind of a structure works best, especially in league with this joint economic committee that they will form, to help identify the priorities in terms of where monies need to go to be most effective.
Q: Well, Secretary Baker, whom you know rather well, has suggested in print that maybe Secretary Christopher ought to do the same thing he did -- go around with the tin cup.
AMBASSADOR ROSS: Well, you know, we've already made it clear we've already been dealing with an awful lot of parties. We've been talking to the EC, we've been talking to the Nordic countries, we've been talking to the Gulf states, we've been talking to the Japanese, and it's very clear that there is a strong desire to be very supportive and to make that support quite real in terms of resources.
Now, how, precisely, we're going to go about to finalize what everybody's commitments are and how precisely that's going to be expressed in terms of a structure where priorities are identified and there is disbursement, that's something we'll have to sort out soon. But we haven't done it yet.
Q: Can you tell us what happened in the Blue Room?
MR. INDYK: Let me say one thing there, please, if you'll indulge me. The President made a commitment today, and he is going to be engaged in an exercise in ensuring that the international community does support this. And the United States will play a leadership role in that process, because we understand that for this agreement to succeed, the resources have to be there. And as we've said before, this is an international responsibility, but we will be working with the others.
As you know, the President already spoke to King Fahd and got a commitment from him not only to support this process financially, but also to work with the other GCC states to do that. So the President, I think, and the Secretary of State will continue to be involved in that effort.
Q: Are either of you in a position to say what happened in the Blue Room?
Q: Will this signing today speed up the administration's decision on whether to approve further advanced sales of aircraft to Israel? And, if so, when?
MR. INDYK: There is some discussion going on about another aircraft sale. I don't think that the Israelis have indicated which aircraft it is that they want to buy, and as far as I'm aware, there is no delay or no problem involved there.
Q: What about speeding it up in view of the signing today?
MR. INDYK: We have not heard yet from the Israelis about -- and I'm not sure that they've made an assessment yet -- of what their security requirements are going to be related to this particular agreement. So until we hear from them it's premature to speculate about what we might do.
Q: Isn't that what the Ambassador is talking about this afternoon with Rabin?
MR. INDYK: It may well be.
Q: Can you tell us about what happened in the Blue Room? Who talked to whom? Was it social, logistical?
Q: Did they shake hands in the room?
MR. INDYK: They did not shake hands in the Blue Room for the period I was there. I left, as did everybody else, and the President was left alone with Mr. Arafat and Prime Minister Rabin. So I don't know what happened there. But before that, Chairman --Mr. Arafat came in first -- first of all, all the other dignitaries were in the room already -- the President, the Vice President, Mrs. Clinton and Mrs. Gore and the Russian Foreign Minister, Mr. Kozyrev, the Secretary of State, the Egyptian Foreign Minister, the Norwegian Foreign Minister and Mr. Lake. I think that's the full list.
So they were all in there having a drink, orange juice and coffee -- (laughter) -- like that.
AMBASSADOR ROSS: Do you want color?
Q: It was orange.
MR. INDYK: And then Mr. Arafat came in first. He signed the visitor's book in the -- which room?
AMBASSADOR ROSS: Green.
MR. INDYK: -- Green Room. Then came in. He was greeted by the President, and then introduced around to all of the officials there. And then he was in a kind of group huddle with -- the Egyptian Foreign Minister was there from time to time, and it was a kind of changing crowd of the people coming over and saying hello. Of course, President Jimmy Carter and President Bush were there as well, and so they were talking with Mr. Arafat.
And then, Mr. Rabin came in with Foreign Minister Peres. The President greeted them, and they were, I suppose about 10 yards apart, and everybody came over and said hello to the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister, and then people were alternating between the two. But there was no direct contact during that period.
Then everybody left the room and, as I said to you, the President escorted Prime Minister and Mr. Arafat down and out through the Diplomatic Entrance, and that's when you saw them.
There was one thing that I wanted to go back to that happened in the Blue Room, which is that in the Blue Room was the final indication we got that the texts had changed when we showed the actual text to Foreign Minister Peres and asked him what the exact change was that Dennis described to you, and that's when the change was made.
Just one thing. Dennis wants just to talk a little bit about what happened over at the State Department at lunch today in terms of the relationships.
AMBASSADOR ROSS: There was a reception prior to the lunch, and one of the more striking things in it was that all of the Arab ambassadors -- I can't say categorically all, but Arab ambassadors were going up and mingling with all the Israelis, and specifically was Foreign Minister Peres. And it was actually a remarkable atmosphere reflecting the character of this day.
MR. INDYK: There should be a photo of Foreign Minister Peres with the other Arab foreign ministers that should be available for you.
Q: Can you tell us what happened at the lunch with the President in the Oval?
MR. INDYK: There was one other point I wanted to make first, if I might, Andrea, and I don't know whether you noticed that when the President was shaking hands in the line with the dignitaries and he turned the corner and started heading toward the children, all the Arab ambassadors were standing there together with the Israeli Ambassador. And they all shook hands with Prime Minister Rabin and Foreign Minister Peres. That is a first in the history of the Middle East conflict.
Q: Can you give us a little readout of Secretary Christopher's exchanges with Arafat? Are you asking the PLO, the Palestinians to take specific early steps to implement this? And Arafat said he wants to go back to his homeland, as he put it, in the next two weeks. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
AMBASSADOR ROSS: Let me just deal with, I think, what we want to focus on. I mean, number one, again, as I started, the real issue here is implementation. And some of that has to relate, I would say specifically to how are the Palestinians going to organize themselves now in terms of negotiations. As I said, we have joint committees that are called for, but we also need to see what their approach is going to be in terms of integrating the various groups of Palestinians who have, in one way or the other, been involved in what at times have been parallel channels. And as we begin this process, we're going to need to have more of a feel for that.
We'll want to talk a little bit, obviously, about how the dialogue between us is going to develop. And, obviously, there is a relationship between that and how they organize themselves for the peace talks. And it seems to me that we'll want to talk as well with how we see our role, how they see our role, and begin what is going to be a more developed process with them.
Q: Dennis, during the interim period in which you're focusing on here, describe for us what you see as some of the possible areas of contention where perhaps the U.S. will have to get involved. What are some of the rough spots --
AMBASSADOR ROSS: I don't want to get into what are the areas of contention where we're going to get in.
Q: I knew you were going to say that, but clearly there are some ambiguities out there.
AMBASSADOR ROSS: Let me put it this way: There are issues that require negotiation. I mean, one of the first issues that requires negotiation, obviously, is, within the Declaration of Principles they have a provision to resolve the security arrangements associated to Gaza and Jericho within two months. Obviously, that's the kind of issue that needs to be addressed with some urgency.
There is an issue that calls for discussion of arrangements for safe passage between Gaza and Jericho. That's an issue that's going to have to be resolved, again, with some dispatch. There are questions related to the modalities of elections. Within the Declaration of Principles there is a whole protocol on elections, and they're going to have to sort out questions associated with that.
So, I mean, those are -- that gives you a flavor of the kinds of issues that they're going to have to start dealing with. Now, there's another set of questions again to get at how do you materially begin to change on the ground what's happening, especially in terms of economics, given the hardships that exist. They need to set up their Joint Committee on Economics, they're going to need to think through and work out not only how to organi ze that, but how they want that to interact with any potential donors committees that might be set up. That may not be necessarily an issue where they have disagreement, but it's an issue where they have to get down to brass tacks very quickly because they have a mutual stake in showing a payoff.
Q: Is there any chance that there will be U.S. troops sent in the interim period to provide security in that area?
AMBASSADOR ROSS: That's an issue that just has not come up. They have -- in the first instance, I think, they're going to focus on how they think it's best to approach the security question. And obviously, I'm sure they're going to want to have some discussions with us. But I think they will start those discussions between themselves to begin with.
Q: In view of the expectations and fears that existed before the ceremony this morning. What is your instant assessment of the things that have been achieved either directly or indirectly -- I'm thinking, for example, Bandar kissing Arafat last night. It was just unbelievable -- and things like that. So what's your assessment?
MR. INDYK: It was Arafat kissing Bandar.
Q: Yes, yes, absolutely.
AMBASSADOR ROSS: You know, it's very hard to be precise on a question like that because for those of us who have worked on this for a long time this has been an absolutely breathtaking day. And it's not just for people like us it has been breathtaking. If you looked at some of the pictures in Jericho and in Jerusalem and in other parts of Israel, there was a remarkable expression of joy and hope. And you know, I think when we see -- when you have a reception, when you have not only a reception where the Arab ambassadors are going up to the Foreign Minister of Israel as if it's the most natural thing in the world, and you have, as Martin said, them walking down and shaking hands with Prime Minister Rabin and Foreign Minister Peres, you had an event of just extraordinary significance psychologically. And overcoming psychological barriers are not going to solve all the problems, but they certainly give you an ability to deal with problems that before you just couldn't tackle.
So I can't be precise, but I can tell you that I think the impact is extraordinary, probably not the least of which on all the people on our side who have been working on it for a long time.
MR. INDYK: I just wanted to add in that regard that after the President brought Mr. Arafat and Prime Minister Rabin into the Diplomatic Room -- Reception Room, he said good-bye -- well, he asked Mr. Rabin to go up with the Vice President and wait for him upstairs in the Green Room and he took Mr. Arafat aside and had a five-to-10-minute meeting with him in the Map Room, together with the Secretary of State. And this relates to the question of significance.
They exchanged views about the significance and what Mr. Arafat said was, this event will help a great deal in terms of giving my people the sense that this is something real and that there is real hope in this agreement. So he clearly saw it as a very significant event in terms of his political circumstances.
Q: Was that an unscheduled bilateral? How did that come about?
MR. INDYK: He just took him aside, yes. It was unscheduled.
Q: When was that exactly?
MR. INDYK: Immediately after the signing, in the Map Room.
Q: What did the President say to Arafat?
MR. INDYK: Good question -- thank you. The President, first of all, congratulated Mr. Arafat, and they exchanged views about what a great day it was and how significant it was. And then the President made the point with some emphasis that it was absolutely essential to move quickly now to seize the moment and to take advantage of the momentum created by this incredible event, to start getting things moving on the ground, and he made that point, I think, quite strongly to Mr. Arafat, who agreed.
Q: Did he speak to him about controlling violence and trying to control Hamas?
MR. INDYK: He made the general point that it's very important to enable the people to feel the benefits of this and to ensure that on the Israeli side that security incidents don't undermine support for this.
Q: What's the U.S. role in keeping the momentum going? Do you see immediately a trip by the Secretary to the region? Will there be people coming here for meetings? What's the next thing in terms of U.S. involvement?
Q: The next thing in terms of U.S. involvement? What are we going to do next in terms of maintaining the momentum? What are we going to do?
Q: Is Mr. Christopher going there or are people coming here to meet?
AMBASSADOR ROSS: I think the first order of business at least on this track is really a question as I was getting at of organization structure and process. We've got to have some discussions with the Palestinians about how they want to organize themselves for negotiations. You are going to deal with what I was describing before. But in addition to that, there's the question of, I suspect, negotiations that will continue to go on here, but also these joint committees may or may not meet out there. So we've got to sort through how they organize, where they meet, when they meet.
And we really do want to hit the ground moving very quickly in terms of beginning a process of implementation. Where a secretarial trip fits in on that I think is really going to have to wait until after we've had some initial discussions.
Q: Do you envision an active U.S. role in serving on these joint committees?
AMBASSADOR ROSS: Well, what I envision is an active American role. Not necessarily in setting up the committees, per se, but an active American role. One thing that has been unmistakable to us from both sides already is that they believe, if anything, the kind of help they're going to need from the United States is even more than it's been in the past. And I can tell you, from the perspective of someone who's been working this problem, it's been pretty active in the past. So I suspect it's going to be even more so.
Q: Rabin has mentioned five years and today Arafat mentioned two years. Which is correct?
AMBASSADOR ROSS: Well, let me explain it. What you have is an interim period that lasts for five years. But at the end of two years -- beginning in the third year, the negotiations on final status begin.
Q: How long was the President's meeting with the Israelis, with Peres and Rabin?
AMBASSADOR ROSS: It wasn't -- it was, I don't know, 10 minutes. Ten minutes, 15 minutes -- the meeting with Peres and Rabin.
Q: After he saw Chairman Arafat he went --
MR. INDYK: After he saw Mr. Arafat, he went upstairs with Mr. Arafat to say good-bye to him at the North Portico entrance and then went into the Green Room where Mr. Rabin and Mr. Peres were waiting with the Vice President together with other members of the Israeli delegation -- Shulamit Aloni, the Minister for Defense -- Deputy Defense Minister Motta Gur, Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin and a number of other officials.
They then walked over to the Oval Office where they sat down and had about a 15-minute meeting, at which point the Secretary of State and Foreign Minister Peres had to excuse themselves to get across to the State Department for the luncheon. And then the Prime Minister and the President had a one-on-one luncheon in the President's -- what do you call it -- private dining room just off his office. We were over at the luncheon so we have not --
Q: No notetakers, no nothing?
MR. INDYK: No notetakers. We don't have a debrief on that, so I can't tell you about that.
Q: Was he meeting with Arafat impromptu or --
MR. INDYK: Yes.
Q: that was not something they planned? All of a sudden he decided to talk to him?
MR. INDYK: It was not in the schedule.
Q: Can you clarify when you were saying before that the final okay from the Israelis for the change in wording is it that Israel had to sign off? Or what exactly is it that happened?
AMBASSADOR ROSS: What happened is in the text -- in the beginning of the text, there was a line that referred to Palestinian team.
Q: Not delegation?
AMBASSADOR ROSS: No, because that followed. And it was -- what was desired was to have literally the words PLO replace that. And --
Q: team representing the Palestinian people, right?
Q: Did you take the word team out? It would be PLO representing the Palestinian people.
AMBASSADOR ROSS: It was PLO in place of Palestinian team. You go back and look at -- I'd have to see.
Q: Are we in one place? I was told it was in several places?
AMBASSADOR ROSS: All in one place.
Q: Wasn't it two places?
AMBASSADOR ROSS: Not that I'm aware of. I think it was only one.
MR. INDYK: There is some confusion about the signature line. I'll tell you that I think that there was a possibility that Mr. Abbas would sign for the PLO and cross out Palestinian delegation. Now, I watched him sign. You might go back and look at this or you might ask him. It looked to me like he just signed it. He did not do that.
AMBASSADOR ROSS: That's right. Yes, the Israelis had to agree to it because it was -- even though it was a technical change in the text, it was a change.
Q: presidential action? Is he calling any other leaders? Is he following up with Assad?
MR. INDYK: The next presidential action is momentarily when he will join a meeting already in progress with Jewish Americans and Arab Americans, and he will speak to them.
Q: moving on the momentum on the implementation --
MR. INDYK: The President I think will be doing some follow-up tomorrow, but we'll -- why don't we wait until tomorrow.
Q: Could we expect that he would be calling other leaders to try to keep the momentum going?
MR. INDYK: I think we should -- I mean, I don't think those things have been decided yet, other than the general point that the President will be engaged, as I've already said, in trying to ensure that the momentum is maintained. The specifics of that, I think, Mark will be able to give you tomorrow.
Q: Would you expect that he would follow up at the U.N. with bilaterals?
MR. INDYK: Again, we don't want to get into the details of this point because decisions have not been made yet. You have to understand that we've been focused and the President has been focused on this event and, as you know, he's been working very hard to ensure support for this event. And now we've got to take a deep breath and move on very quickly.
AMBASSADOR ROSS: Let me just do two quick things before -- because the President is about to start. This evening, President Bush and President Carter will be staying overnight at the White House as guests of President and Mrs. Clinton. It's our understanding that's the first time ever that two former Presidents have stayed as a guest of the President overnight.
Q: Is Mrs. Bush here?
AMBASSADOR ROSS: Mrs. Bush is not here.
Q: Can we expect them at the 11:00 a.m. ceremony tomorrow?
AMBASSADOR ROSS: Yes.
Q: And Mrs. Carter --
AMBASSADOR ROSS: Mrs. Carter is here. Mrs. Bush is not.
One final thing -- and, again, the President is about to start. I'm not able to take this. Last night -- people had questions about the President's remarks -- he went to sleep at 10:00 p.m. He woke up, he told us, at 3:00 a.m. and could not go to sleep. He read the whole Book of Joshua in the Residence and then proceeded to rewrite many of the remarks -- or some of the remarks in his speech.
Q: He was rewriting Joshua? (Laughter.)
Q: What time is the NAFTA thing tomorrow?
AMBASSADOR ROSS: I believe it's set for 10:30 a.m., but we will get that out to you.
Q: Mark, do you have any other color on the former Presidents? Did Bush try to rearrange the furniture or anything?
AMBASSADOR ROSS: No, it was in the Blue Room -- it was I think -- the President is about to start. I'm going to end.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END4:05 P.M. EDT
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Ambassador Dennis Ross, Special Coordinator from State Department and Martin Indyk, Special Assistant to the President for Near East Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269152