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U.S. Department of State
96/01/09 Remarks: Middle East Peace process
Office of the Spokesman
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Office of the Spokesman
(En Route to Shannon, Ireland)
For Immediate Release January 9, 1996
ON THE RECORD BRIEFING
SECRETARY OF STATE WARREN CHRISTOPHER
ON THE MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Well, this is my sixteenth trip to the Middle
East and I always try to make each one a little different. I thought
the take-off was a little different today. I hope that was enough
excitement for the entire trip.
I thought I might just say a few words and take a few questions. When
we were here before, I guess it was the 17th of December that we came
out, Prime Minister Peres said it would be a new beginning and indeed, I
think it was a new beginning. The talks at the Wye Plantation had a
number of new and positive elements.
First, all the issues were on the table which was very significant. In
the past, we had been dealing with the issues sequentially. Itís much
more satisfactory to do it this way because it is possible for the
parties to see the trade-offs and see the possible interaction of one
aspect against another aspect.
Second, the atmosphere was much better than in the prior meetings
between the parties - much less stiff, much less formal, much more
congenial. In the prior meetings in Washington, the generals were so
formal. They did not take meals together. They simply had quite stiff
sessions with each other, whereas, the atmosphere at the Wye Plantation
was very conducive to friendly exchanges and when I went out there, I
spent about four hours on Thursday night, I could see the relationships
had warmed up and greatly improved and the parties had really begun to
know each other and deal on a human basis which is always vital and
helpful. That led to what I might call another important factor and
that was a problem solving approach to issues. This time when a
sticking point would arise, the parties - you could almost feel them try
to resolve it together - whereas in the past, problems would arise and
they would paralyze the parties and we would sometimes take weeks or
months to work our way through problems that were not all that
difficult. This common sense of problem solving, I think, was highly
Finally, there was a highly pervasive feeling on how essential the
United States is and will be. Both the parties think that United States
involvement is critical on many different aspects of the negotiations.
They are very anxious to be reassured that President Clinton is
committed to this track and I was able to give them the strongest
assurance of that. When asked whether I was prepared to devote the
necessary time, I assured them that I was. That was a major, major
factor in it.
So I will be going back to meet with Peres and Asad, discussing with
them the reports on the Wye Plantation they have received from Uri Savir
and Walid Mualem prior to my meeting with them. Iím sure they will want
to hear our impressions and weíll discuss together the next steps. When
I left the region in December, I told them we would try to assess how
these meetings had gone and they could assess them too, and then, we
would consider what might be the next steps, always having in mind that
we need to accelerate the pace. Weíve come to a critical point in the
negotiations where we need to coalesce on some on the main issues. We
need to bring them together and move forward at an intensified pace.
One of the things that came out of the Wye Plantation was the desire on
the part of both the parties to intensify their involvement and they
want the United States to intensify its involvement in the endeavor.
I canít tell you very much until I have had the meetings in Jerusalem,
Tel Aviv and Damascus which we are proceeding to very rapidly. Nick can
give you more of the details, but I expect to be meeting with Prime
Minister Peres shortly after our arrival tomorrow morning, or is it this
morning, Wednesday morning. Iíll be glad to take some of your
questions. Yes, Barry.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, undoubtedly you will be meeting with Mr.
Arafat. Iím interested, please, in your analysis of Arafatís reaction
to the assassination of the engineer - the terrorist - his public
statements on the subject, his paying the condolence call on the family
of the terrorist.
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Well, from what Iíve seen - Chairman Arafat has
a desire to go forward with the elections on schedule. I tend to talk
with him about the elections. I called him in Paris, I believe it was
yesterday, to tell him that I regretted that the snow conditions made it
impossible for me to come out to Paris. He said he had already seen on
the television that we were snowed in. He understood that. He assured
me that he would do everything he could to ensure that the elections
were full and fair and that he expected a very strong turnout. I think
thatís the reaction that I regard as being the most important one.
QUESTION: Yes, but Iím asking about something else. Iím asking about
his attack on Peres, his public statements. His calling for jihad has
been explained away in the past as the language of the street - the
rhetoric that really doesnít exemplify his attitude. I understand that
you are pleased heís having elections. Iím asking what his attack on
Peres, his conciliatory attitude to an assassinated terrorist leader
says to you about his commitment to peace.
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Iím going to be reminding him, as every time
Iíve been with him, about his commitment to bring an end to terrorism,
not only in Gaza and Jericho, but the entire West Bank. We believe he
is making a strong effort to do so. I donít know enough of the facts
about that particular case. We have nothing to comment on because I
donít know enough of the facts.
QUESTION: What would you like to see come out of this episode. At what
level would you like to see the negotiations continue?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: I would just like to see an acceleration and
intensification of the negotiations. With respect to level, the key
points there are whether or not the negotiators have the confidence of
their leaders and whether they are operating effectively with the
mandate of their leaders. What I saw at the Wye Plantation and what I
observed in watching both Peres and Uri Savir and Asad and Walid Mualem
convinces me that on those tests we have very good negotiating partners.
Now both of them have that, both Uri Savir and Mualem have the
confidence of their leaders and they have a mandate. So I would like to
see come out of this a renewal, a strong mandate, an intensification and
acceleration of the discussions.
QUESTION: Would you like to see it bumped up to foreign ministers?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: I donít have any reason to think thatís an
indispensable next step. I think these parties are negotiating very
effectively and they meet the test for effective negotiators. At some
point of course, we hope to see the negotiations at a higher, and indeed
the highest levels, but there is nothing new about that.
QUESTION: Yes, could I ask a question about Mr. Primakov who has been
appointed the new foreign minister of Russia. Given Mr. Primakovís
background would you expect from him the same level of cooperation that
you got from Mr. Kozyrev in the past.
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Well, I did have a good, constructive
relationship with Kozyrev. I met with him many, many times and I think
he represented his country very effectively. Working together we were
able to make progress on a number of areas - denuclearization,
particularly with respect to Ukraine; the Middle East peace process;
Bosnia - a whole raft of issues so I think he represented his country
very well. It was a pleasure to work with him. Iíve never worked with
Mr. Primakov. I have met him a couple of times. I would look forward
to an early opportunity to meet with him. Some people in our government
know him better than I do. Our job would be to carry out the foreign
policy of President Clinton and President Yeltsin who have worked
together well and who have sought reform in both economic and democratic
terms. I donít want to prejudge the situation. Heís been chosen by
President Yeltsin and I look forward to an early meeting with him and I
look forward to working with him.
QUESTION: Back to the Mid-East peace process - the Israelis have made
it clear that at Wye they had hoped in the second round to get some
answers from the Syrians. They were a little disappointed that they
didnít get anything and they are expecting some at this juncture. Can
you elaborate a little bit on it, what level, what kind of discussions,
what kind of answers do you expect?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Robin, I think that takes me into the substance
of the matter. I donít think in the overall sense the Israelis were
disappointed at the Wye Plantation. On the contrary, I think that Uri
Savir left there feeling they had had very positive and constructive
meetings and he went back with a very favorable and positive report. I
believe he felt he had a very able and constructive negotiating partner.
In the course of this trip, I hope to be able to carry back and forth
some reactions from the two leaders in the form of answers. But the Wye
Plantation meetings accomplished what we hoped they would accomplish.
Now the question is what are the next steps, where do we go from here.
QUESTION: Can we expect anything more from this trip than an
announcement that there will be resumed talks in Washington at the end
of the month?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: I donít want to accept the premise of your
question, Robin. I donít go here with any preconception of what will
come out of this trip. What I do have is the strong hope that we can
make rapid progress. But at the same time, there are many difficult
issues ahead. There remain big gaps. We need to have very substantive
exchanges, but, my own judgement is that the parties are ready for that.
Thanks very much and Iíll see you - yes, Steve.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I just wanted to ask, if the negotiators are
doing so well, and if they have such a strong mandate from their
leaders, why does the United States have to go back and forth between
these two leaders carrying messages?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Steve, in the history of these Middle East
negotiations, the United States has been essential. Where we are
involved, thereís the possibility of progress, not always the assurance
of progress. If we cease our involvement the parties for some reason,
for one reason or another, do not carry forward in the same way. I
state that, not only on my own authority, but on the .authority of the
parties who very much want us to continue to be involved. Their good
relationship with each other does not take the place of the United
States involvement. I believe, and they assert, that our involvement is
indispensable to the making of good progress.
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