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Remarks Prior to Discussions With Chairman Yasser Arafat of the Palestinian Authority and an Exchange With Reporters

April 20, 2000

The President. Hello, everyone. Let me just briefly say that I am very, very glad to have Chairman Arafat back here at the White House. And I'm looking forward to our talks. We've reached a very serious time in the peace process. He and Prime Minister Barak have set for themselves an ambitious timetable to reach a framework agreement as soon as they can, and then a final agreement by the middle of September. So we're working hard on it, and I think we'll get some things done today.

Elian Gonzalez

Q. Mr. President, a short time ago, Juan Miguel Gonzalez came out and called on the American people to help him urge you and your Attorney General to reunite him with his son. Do you have a message for Juan Miguel Gonzalez? And also, what steps is your administration prepared to take if the boy's Miami relatives won't turn him——

The President. First of all, I think he should be reunited with his son. That is the law. And the main argument of the family in Miami for not doing so has now been removed. I mean, their main argument was, if we let him go back to his father before the court rules, he might go back to Cuba. The court has now said he shouldn't go back to Cuba. The Justice Department agrees with that, and he has agreed to that.

So there is now no conceivable argument for his not being able to be reunited with his son. And that is what the lawful process has said. The immigration law is clear, and the determination of the INS and a Federal court are clear. So I think he should be united in as prompt and orderly way as possible.

Q. Well, what about the appeals court suggestion that a 6-year-old maybe has some rights to say where he wants to live and apply for asylum on his own behalf?

The President. Well, even if the appeals court were to say that, which would be a rather dramatic departure from the law, then there would have to be some setup at a trial level for determining that. And in the meanwhile, while all this legal process plays out, as a matter of law the INS determined and a Federal court affirmed that the father should have custody.

So, clearly, he should be reunited. And the argument that he might go back to Cuba before this thing can be finally resolved in the courts is no longer there. That's not an argument anymore.

Middle East Peace Process

Q. Mr. President, did you write a letter for former Prime Minister Netanyahu, promising him that Israel would keep its nuclear or mass destruction weapons in case they reach an agreement with the Palestinians?

The President. I don't believe that issue ever came up in connection with an agreement with the Palestinians, with Mr. Netanyahu or any other Israeli Prime Minister. To the best of my memory, it did not.

I think you all know what the issues are between the Israelis and the Palestinians. They are difficult, but I think they can be bridged. If the parties want to do this, we will do everything we can to help them and to minimize the difficulties and the risks involved. There are risks and difficulties involved for Chairman Arafat; there are risks and difficulties involved for Prime Minister Barak, for the Palestinian people, and for the Israeli people. I believe they are not nearly as great as the risks and difficulties of not making a peace agreement, so I hope they will do it. And if they want to do it, I'll do whatever I can to help them.

NOTE: The President spoke at 5:54 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Prime Minister Ehud Barak and former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of Israel.

William J. Clinton, Remarks Prior to Discussions With Chairman Yasser Arafat of the Palestinian Authority and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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