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Press Briefing by Mike McCurry and Ambassador Dennis Ross

March 13, 1996

The Jerusalem Renaissance Hotel

11:05 P.M. (L)

MR. MCCURRY: All right, ladies and gentlemen, hello. Ambassador Dennis Ross, the Special Middle East Coordinator for the United States of America is here with me. We will attempt, in very brief fashion, since everyone, I know, is anxious to end the evening, we would like to just give you a rundown on some of the President's activities since we last saw you at Sharm el-Sheik. Dennis will do part, I will do part.

I'll tell you first that after the press conference, the President returned to the buffet lunch that they had for the leaders. He had a very good combination of one-on-one meetings with, he told me, virtually every Arab leader who was there. He said, maybe with the exception of the Omanis, he thought he had at least a short encounter with every visiting foreign minister, head of state there, in addition to the meeting that Dennis will tell you about with King Hassan.

He had a very good, very warm discussion with Prince Saud, the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia. He said to the Prince that his presence there was an extraordinary testimony to the change that is occurring in this region. They had a very warm conversation. The President did have encounters with both Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany and with Prime Minister John Major of the United Kingdom.

Prime Minister Major briefed the President on the current status of the Northern Ireland Peace Process, ran through some of the preparatory work that is going into discussions related to the June 10th all-party talks. They had a good review of where things stand. The President in turn briefed the Prime Minister on some of the sessions that he expects to have in coming days with Prime Minister Bruton and some representatives of the parties that will be present in Washington for our traditional St. Patrick's Day festivities.

With Chancellor Kohl, they had a brief discussion related to some European issues. I didn't get a full readout from the President, but he said we just kind of touched base on some predictable things, we talked a little bit about Yeltsin.

At that point, President Clinton had already seen President Yeltsin, so the President shared some observations with Chancellor Kohl about current issues related to Russia. The President also talked to Prime Minister Chretien, and talked briefly about Bosnia and some issues related to the Helms-Burton Act, and those of you familiar with that can guess what that was about.

Dennis will tell you a little more about the meeting with King Hassan and with Chairman Arafat. The ride up here from Sharm el-Sheikh was interesting. I think you probably by now have a pool report about their discussion with Prime Minister Peres on the plane. The Prime Minister, Ambassador Rabinovich and Foreign Minister Barak had a good discussion in the President's cabin on Air Force One, reviewing some of the discussion points for tomorrow, and the extraordinary achievements of an extraordinary day.

That's about all I have. I'll turn it over to Dennis to tell you more about the other two bilaterals.

AMBASSADOR ROSS: In the King Hassan bilateral, it was about a 20-minute meeting, and the King focused principally on what he thought was the extraordinary turnout there on short notice. He emphasized when the President said to him that it was good that he had come, he said, how could he not come to something that the President had invited him to and that was called the summit for the peacemakers, given his own commitments to Middle East peace. In addition, he said he felt it had been especially significant that the Gulf states, especially the Saudis, had come to this. He thought this was something he probably wouldn't have seen before and it was a very positive development.

He emphasized that he thought it was important to continue to work on the peace process even while one dealt with the question of terror. He said, given the kinds of suicide attacks one sees now, you can't guarantee absolute success against such attacks; but that getting this group together, not only to condemn them, but to begin a process of working together on them, was one of the best longer-term answers to them; in fact, he wouldn't see a better way to proceed than that.

With regard to the Arafat meeting, the President was interested with Arafat in going over what exactly it is that the Chairman is doing now as he deals with the Hamas Islamic Jihad terrorist threats, and the Chairman outlined the steps that he has been taking. He talked of the significance of going in and taking over 84 mosques and dealing in a sense with what he called places that had become -- this is my word, not his -- a kind of socialization center. He described the significance of taking over the mosques from the standpoint of affecting all the young kids who were being influenced and their mindset by the imams of those mosques, and that's why it was significant to go in there and take them over.

He talked about the raid on Islamic University in Gaza, the purpose of which was to uncover arms and explosives. He described the outline of the military wings of Hamas and also Islamic Jihad. And he emphasized that no one who wasn't authorized by the Palestinian Authority to carry weapons would be permitted to carry them, and they were going to engage in a systematic effort to ensure that no one had arms who wasn't supposed to have arms, meaning no one who wasn't a part of the Palestinian Authority.

He said this was a policy that would not stop, that he was committed to it and that he knew that he was engaged in a struggle with those groups who were enemies of peace and he was not -- he was going to persist in this struggle with them. He did raise the issue of the closure at the end of the meeting, I would say, in what was probably a 35 or 40 minute meeting, the vast majority of the time in the meeting was devoted to his going through the steps that he was taking to deal with the terror.

And, finally, before we take your questions once again, the White House would pay a special tribute to the Renaissance Hotel. This is the second time that we have popped in on them unannounced. And for a second time in a row now they've done an extraordinary job of putting together your filing center and providing a sumptuous banquet for your benefit and we thank them from the bottom of our hearts. Yes, a round of applause is appropriate. (Applause.) Thank you very much.

Q: The President said that they're making some changes in the Israeli protest to Palestinian lands. Do we think Israelis are going to lose the -- (inaudible) -- at the news conference with Mubarak you said you may see some changes there?

AMBASSADOR ROSS: I think it was referring to was that we have already seen some signs that trucks carrying flour and bread and so forth were being allowed in. And from that standpoint, some of the elements of the closure, as it's been conducted, will probably be eased.

Q: Why didn't the President invite Arafat to come back on the plane with him?

AMBASSADOR ROSS: We didn't go to Gaza.

Q: Can you characterize at all kind of the tone of the meeting between Prime Minister Peres and some of the Arabs with whom he had never met before?

AMBASSADOR ROSS: I think -- maybe one of the interesting things worth commenting on for a minute or two is the period of time before the summit was actually convened, when all the leaders went into what was a room that was comfortable but not huge. And for about an hour and 15 or 20 minutes basically all the leaders were there and they were going around, talking to each other, and Prime Minister Peres, I think, probably met with everyone who was there and engaged in some discussions.

Now, prior to that, he had met with the Crown Prince of Bahrain, which was a first, over, I think in the Crown Prince's suite in the hotel, and they had a -- it's not up to me to describe it, but as I saw it, they had a very congenial meeting. And I think that kind of atmosphere, or atmospherics, was really typical of all the discussions and the meetings that he had in this room where he met both with leaders from around the world and the Arab leaders who were there.

Maybe the easiest way to describe it, it was just a very natural scene. You didn't have a sense that there was awkwardness. You had the sense that it was a very comfortable situation and it was, frankly, natural for everybody who was there, and there wasn't any hesitancy that I saw, and I was in and out of that room on a number of occasions.

Q: Can you tell us something about the meetings tomorrow -- (inaudible) -- the bilateral with Israel?


Q: Maybe you can tell us something about the memorandum on terror and the bilateral with Israel.

AMBASSADOR ROSS: Well, I think, obviously that's an issue that we're going to be dealing with tomorrow, and we will have a discussion -- the President will have a discussion tomorrow with the Prime Minister and his Security Cabinet. There is a very strong commitment on our part, as the President expressed very clearly, to work very closely with Israel in terms of doing all we can on a bilateral basis to improve the character, scope and effectiveness of what we do together to deal with terror.

The fact that we work closely on security issues is not new; that's really a hallmark of our relationship. But the effort to intensify and improve and make more effective what we do together to counter terror is something that's been made more acute by this terrorist campaign.

Q: Just as a follow up issue, will there be any -- should we expect any announcement tomorrow about tangible results or new steps?

AMBASSADOR ROSS: Well, I think we ought to let them have a meeting, and then when they come out of the meeting then they'll be in a position to report where we are.

Q: How was the meeting with President Weizman?

AMBASSADOR ROSS: I think the President already reported on it.

MR. MCCURRY: Those of you who are here may not have seen it -- President Weizman and President Clinton did a short meeting/news conference at the end of their meeting tonight just to review the meeting, some of the central points, and President Clinton took one question.

Q: (Inaudible) -- one of the things coming out of the joint statement, the Cochairmen's Statement was that they would reserve maximum effort to identify -- (inaudible) -- and supply. Don't they already know that a lot of the money from Hamas comes from Saudi Arabia? Why does it take a maximum effort? Why can't they just stop?

AMBASSADOR ROSS: Well, first of all, most of the money that comes, especially out of the Gulf States, comes from private sources, comes through charities. This is the kind of thing where you basically have to track down where the money is coming from. You start looking at which charities might be providing monies where, you start looking at things like bank accounts.

This is an intensive effort, and it's not something that you would obviously know just by sort of saying, well, gee, let's go do that; you have to basically discuss and investigate and determine the flow of the monies and how they flow, and then determine how best to get at that, and it's not something that can be done unilaterally That's one of the reasons a multilateral effort is much more likely to be successful.

MR. MCCURRY: I'd just add to that, you all familiar -- we've briefed you from time to time what we do through the Treasury Department or Office of Foreign Asset sales where we actually get into the business of freezing individual accounts or trying to combat things like narco trafficking and issues like that. It's a very elaborate process under our law, and we recognize in the statement that each of the individual countries making this pledge will have to examine under their law how they could fulfill the pledge.

Q: Mike, on that point, Congressman Shumer told a hearing today -- in which he alleged that -- money still leaving the United States is reaching Hamas and Jihad -- the President's executive order trying to stop that, and has not --

MR. MCCURRY: We're debating about who is better prepared to answer the question. When I've looked into that question, there have been some steps that the Treasury Department has discussed in the last week that they are taking to tighten up the terms of the President's executive order and to see what its applicability is to other individual accounts or individual assets that might fall under the purview of the President's order.

And, remember, this is a question of law enforcement. Law enforcement is not always an exact science, and you have to work and track down leads and determine where money is actually flowing. But the President is confident that as we go into a process in our government where we are redoubling the fight against terrorism, that all those measures falling under the executive order can be made more effective, and certainly the Treasury Department and other law enforcement bodies are looking at that type of question.

Q: (Inaudible.)

AMBASSADOR ROSS: Yes, it did come up, and the Chairman made it very clear that he will be acting on that commitment in accordance with what was in the interim agreement, which requires that the action to revoke the covenant be taken within two months after the inauguration of the Palestinian Council, which was inaugurated last week.

MR. MCCURRY: Okay, thanks. The President's intent, I believe, was to go back to the hotel and take a good night's, well-deserved rest. And I don't know that -- the office can tell you more about lids for the morning, but I don't think you'll be doing much in the morning prior to his departure for his initial meeting with Prime Minister Peres. We won't be doing anything here until after the President's news conference with the Prime Minister, which is scheduled for 11:00 A.M.

Yes, we're both on the record. Okay.

Q: (Inaudible.)

MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry?

Q: (Inaudible.)

MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of and I doubt that he'll be doing much before 8:00 tomorrow. I'm not aware of any plans to go out -- we'll try to check with your -- check with your pool because we'll try to give them some kind of goodnight call for the rest of the evening.

Okay, thank you, everybody.

END 11:05 P.M. (L)

William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Mike McCurry and Ambassador Dennis Ross Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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