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

September 23, 1999

Middle East Peace Process

The President. Let me say, I am delighted to see Chairman Arafat again. We have a lot to discuss, obviously, about our bilateral relations, and especially about the permanent status talks. He and Prime Minister Barak have agreed on a very ambitious timetable to have a framework agreement by February, final agreement by next September. The United States is prepared to do all we can to assist them in coming to an agreement.

I would like to take this opportunity to say that we should first meet our own obligations under the Wye agreement, and I hope the Congress will give me the funding, both for Israel and for the Palestinian Authority, so that we can meet our obligations there. And we're working hard. We're into the final budget legs now, and I'm quite hopeful.

Permanent Status Talks

Q. Mr. President, what did Chairman Arafat ask you vis-a-vis the permanent status talks? Did he ask you for a more active role, more involvement, sir?

The President. We're just starting—we're getting off to a late start, so we're just starting our conversation. But you know, I've been active in this all along for 6 1/2 years now. I intend to continue to be active, to do whatever I can to help the parties come to an agreement. If they're willing—and they must be willing, or they would not have agreed to such an ambitious timetable—then I'll do what I can.

Israel-Syria Negotiations

Q. [Inaudible]—about the Palestinian-Israeli track? Prime Minister Barak said just yesterday, any time, any place, for the Syrians to resume negotiations. There has yet to be any positive response there. What's your sense of what the hangup is there, and what can you do to try to move that along?

The President. Well, we're working on it, and I actually am quite hopeful.

President's Involvement in the Peace Process

Q. Mr. President, is there a chance that you'll visit the area, to give it a push on both tracks?

The President. I would do anything that would be helpful to facilitate the agreement. Right now, I'm not sure that would be the most helpful thing. I would do anything I could to facilitate the agreement.

Palestinian State

Q. The question of the state of Palestine, Mr. President, are you willing to spend more capital and secure your legacy as the President of the United States who achieved the Palestinian state and the peaceful settlement of the Middle East?

The President. Well, I'm certainly willing to do anything I can to achieve a peaceful settlement in the Middle East. The question of the state, as you know—that was a very well-worded question. Congratulations. [Laughter] But the question of the state is one to be resolved in the permanent status talks that have just begun, so I think they will resolve it. I think, obviously, that the two sides will make an agreement on that, or there won't be an agreement.

Press Secretary Joe Lockhart. Thank you, pool.

Q. Mr. President, what can you tell us——

Q. Mr. President, in your U.N. speech——

Israel's Role in the Peace Process

Q. [Inaudible]—what can you tell us about the performance of the Israeli side so far in the last one month?

The President. I'm encouraged. I think you should all be encouraged by the work that they've done together.

Press Secretary Lockhart. Thank you, everyone.

The President. Thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 4:10 p.m. in the Oval Office at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Prime Minister Ehud Barak of Israel. A tape was not available for verification of the content of these remarks.

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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