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U.S. Department of State
96/01/13 Press Conference (with Israeli Prime Minister Peres)
Office of the Spokesman
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Office of the Spokesman
For Immediate Release January 13, 1996
PRESS CONFERENCE WITH
ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER SHIMON PERES
U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE WARREN CHRISTOPHER
AFTER THEIR MEETING AT THE PRIME MINISTRY
January 13, 1995
PRIME MINISTER PERES: Ladies and gentlemen, I welcome the Secretary
upon his return from Damascus. We just had a meeting and we got the
impressions of the Secretary and the information concerning the peace
negotiations. I can say in one word, to summarize my own impression,
and that is, things are moving ahead. We know that we have an important
agenda. You cannot achieve everything in one jump but my general
impression is of a positive nature. May I suggest that the Secretary
speak directly to you.
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister. As he has said,
we discussed our meetings in Damascus with President Assad. We also
discussed the upcoming round of negotiations at the conference center in
Maryland where we will be adding security experts, military experts, to
the discussions and in which the agenda will be broadened to discuss, to
consider other issues as well. This new mechanism for negotiations with
discussions there at the conference center in Maryland, interspersed
with my visits to the region, is I think, a very promising approach.
Israel and Syria are now engaged in a more meaningful dialogue than they
have been at any time in these negotiations and that is all to the good.
As I said yesterday, I am convinced that we have crossed a threshold in
negotiations; an important threshold has been crossed in the last few
days. The challenges that remain certainly cannot be minimized but I
leave the region more convinced than ever before that both the Prime
Minister and President Assad are determined to do the hard work that is
necessary to reach a comprehensive peace this year. President Clinton
and I will do everything we can to help the parties succeed. I will be
personally involved in the negotiations at the conference center in
Maryland and participate at key points, where necessary. Shortly after
the talks adjourn there I plan to return to the region.
Mr. Prime Minister, I believe that Israel and Syria have made very good
progress since you described a new beginning when I was last here in the
region and I feel confident that we can succeed.
PRIME MINISTER PERES: I would like just to say another word. We
clearly agreed that our delegation will go to the Wye plantation on the
24th of this month to continue the negotiations in response to the
proposal introduced by the Secretary. And then a general remark: from
our experience we know that in the negotiations you have to keep the
right air for a dialogue. It is not less important than the different
plans introduced on the table and I feel to this very day that we have
established a dialogue that may lead all of us to a real peace
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, Shlomi Adar from Israeli Television. Before
your meeting in Damascus with President Assad you said that your wish is
to accelerate the negotiation between Israel and Syria. Are you
disappointed this day?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Not at all. Really, the words in my statement
are what I meant. I think we have crossed a threshold. We have a more
meaningful dialogue than before. We have added security experts -- that
is something that we have been striving to do for six months. I am just
the opposite of disappointed. I am pleased with the results and I look
forward to intense negotiations at the conference center at Maryland and
QUESTION: Can I ask both of you gentlemen to address a confusing issue
for those of us who were in Damascus yesterday. We had the impression
after public and private briefings with American officials that there is
a good deal of optimism about the next phase, that a threshold had
indeed been crossed. But today, Israeli officials and the Israeli press
have indicated something between moderate optimism to moderate
disappointment. Can you help explain the discrepancy?
PRIME MINISTER PERES: I am not aware of any moderate disappointment. I
don't think this is an Israeli expression. I think we got the feeling
that things are moving ahead, as I have said. I know it is very
difficult because the press would like us to say: 'was it a breakthrough
or a breakdown.' Well, when you negotiate you are not engaging yourself
in breakthroughs or breakdowns but in really moving ahead and my
impression is that the visit of the Secretary to Damascus moved things
ahead and things are moving ahead.
QUESTION: Let me follow up then. Is your optimism only moderate?
PRIME MINISTER PERES: No, moderate belongs to our character, but when
it comes to the peace, no, I think it is a very important progress.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Well, as I said in my statement, there are some
difficult challenges ahead. Nevertheless, I am hopeful, indeed, I am
optimistic, and the optimism is based upon what I regard as a new
atmosphere -- a more meaningful set of negotiations. It is very hard to
calibrate things on a scale of moderation or something higher than that
but, let me simply say that I am hopeful and optimistic that we are
making good progress. I think this was a valuable set of discussions
here and they achieved what I had hoped to achieve when I came back to
QUESTION (in Hebrew*): Mr. Prime Minister, we heard this week
conflicting opinions among the Israelis on perhaps the central question:
do we have a partner in Damascus for a full peace, peace as you intend
it, meaning peace between Israel and Syria? Can you now give an answer
to that question?
PRIME MINISTER PERES (in Hebrew*): We have a partner. But we still
have a long series of weighty issues before us. I think that it is my
duty to say to the Israeli public: our principal consideration is not
the speed of the negotiations but the correct content to build a
relationship that will stand up to the test of reality. Therefore,
everything must be checked carefully, and I must say that all together,
in the last few weeks, we feel that dialogue is being established and
advanced between Damascus and Jerusalem, between President Assad and us,
which we value. And I hope that with time they will progress and deepen
and will gather greater strength.
QUESTION: Mr. Prime Minister, are you impressed, as some of the
American spinmeisters are, that President Assad has developed a sort of
more informal approach. In Damascus, we were told, he sat at the table;
members of hi steam asked questions. Does that suggest to you some
easing of authoritarian rule; some trend that you would encourage; and
does it mean something so far as an Israeli/Syrian agreement or is it
PRIME MINISTER PERES: I think that our impression is really that the
President of Syria has adopted a more informal approach and that is
extremely important, because if you come with hard stones to create a
negotiation, you will be all the time frightened and worried. It is
only when you come with soft ideas that everybody can introduce freely
without trying to make any conditions. And we feel that this the spirit
today in Damascus too. I don't have to comment anything about the
system of government in Syria. That is not my job. I am talking about
the peace negotiations. And I feel very much encouraged by it because
it is not the first time that we are negotiating and I compare it with
our other negotiations so, what you call atmospheric is necessary to
breathe the negotiation.
But there are also some issues that I feel that we made progress on. I
would give, for example, an issue which is very important to President
Assad and to us, and that is the comprehensive of the peace. You know,
for the first time we sensed that an option was introduced to bring an
end to all the wars in the Middle East and that Syria can play a leading
role in it. And I am encouraged by the fact that the Syrian president
is ready both to provide leadership and support to it. I mean, if we
can really bring the message to all the people in the Middle East,
gentlemen, maybe, we are nearing then the end of the war. It is a real
message. It has nothing to do with atmospheres.
QUESTION (in Hebrew*): Mr. Prime Minister, from the beginning in
Israel, there was an expectation that the Syrians would agree to extend
the delegations to economists and water experts. Here they have agreed
to something that was already agreed upon, to add a senior officer, a
general in this case.
PRIME MINISTER PERES (in Hebrew*): That's not right. First of all they
didn't agree up to now to add a military person. It's already five
months that the Syrians did not agree to add someone from the military.
This time they agreed. Now also on the economic side, it is agreed to
talk about economic issues within the current framework, and a situation
has been created that both delegations have a common language and the
ability to dialogue on that subject too. Therefore I believe that there
is a change -- a change for the better.
QUESTION (in Hebrew*): And do the changes answer your expectations from
this round of talks with Secretary Christopher?
PRIME MINISTER PERES (in Hebrew*): Again, the expectations are that we
need to add subjects to those that were discussed at Wye Plantation, and
I think that an opportunity like that has been created. I want to be
careful. I don't want to create the impression that all the problems
have been solved. No. I say, there is progress, and certainly
worthwhile progress. We will continue to proceed on this path.
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: It's rather bold of me to comment on an exchange
that took place in a language I don't understand, but, let me emphasize,
from the translator, that I am quite satisfied with the addition of
experts, and that experts will be added where necessary. It is
necessary now to add experts of a military character. Nothing in the
discussions yesterday indicated to me that we won't be able to add
experts where the teams themselves feel that they would be benefited by
having somebody with more expertise.
QUESTION: Yesterday in Damascus the Secretary of State suggested a
target date of the end of the year for a Syrian-Israeli agreement. That
would seem to suggest that the negotiations will be running through the
election campaigns in both countries. I'd like to ask both of you
gentlemen if you think the election campaigns and the elections
themselves will have an inhibiting affect, or any affect at all, on the
PRIME MINISTER PERES: We are now negotiating without any reference to
the elections. For us the elections clearly means the end of the
mandate of this government. I mean by the 29th of October, by law, we
have to go to the people and ask for a renewal of the mandate. We shall
go to the people with clear information where we stand. The Israeli
public knows exactly very well that we are negotiating, negotiating
seriously. And my own hope is that if the Israeli people will have to
decide either to take the option of ending the war in the Middle East or
postponing it, I do believe we shall get a renewed mandate. Anyway, we
are not going to play politics in the negotiations.
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: I couldn't do better than the Prime Minister has
done. These negotiations are I think of great importance. President
Clinton attaches great importance to them, as obviously does the Prime
Minister. Clearly the election calendar will affect the time available
as we get closer to the elections, and I think that's why we must
intensify and accelerate the process at the present time. But this is a
tremendously important goal for the Prime Minister and for the United
States and I'm sure we will continue to work and find ways to deal with
the election calendar at the same time.
QUESTION: Mr. Prime Minister and Mr. Secretary, I was wondering, a week
ago yesterday, at the end of the Wye talks, Israeli diplomats in
Washington were saying that what had been decided in those talks, among
other things, was that the talks would resume at the Wye Plantation on
January 22. For us looking from the outside in, what we now know has
happened is that there has been the trip by the Secretary here and the
resumption of the talks is two days later than we had heard at that
time. I am wondering what has happened here in this latest round of
talks between all of you gentlemen, and in Damascus, that leads to your
words of optimism -- beyond the resumption of these talks.
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Several things have happened. First, the
addition of the military experts which came quite naturally. Second,
the understanding of both parties as to the definition of
comprehensiveness and the understanding of both parties that if there is
an agreement between Israel and Syria it will widen the circle of peace
to include many, many countries in the Arab world. A common
understanding on some other issues. The improvement of the atmosphere
and a widened mandate to the negotiators as would be appropriate for the
new issues that they'll be discussing. So that whole group of ideas, I
think, lead us to feel that the net result of this trip out here,
against the background of the meetings at the Conference Center, crosses
a new threshold as I said. The delay of two days, Steve, is simply a
technical matter and has no significance at all substantively.
PRIME MINISTER PERES: May I add that some points that were considered
at the Wye Plantation as proposals became after the trip of the
Secretary: understandings. I am referring to the comprehensiveness of
the peace. In the Wye Plantation it was introduced, a suggestion, and
now we feel that we have reached an agreement that can really become a
new reality in the Middle East. The same goes, I believe, about the
seriousness of the economic side. I want here to make a point which is
important I believe also to the ears of our Syrian party, Israel does
not want to have any advantages because of the economic understanding
between Syria and ourselves. What we would like is really to see a
general improvement of the economic situation in the Middle East because
this may support peace. And we would like to really enable our
countries to enter a new age, like many other nations. We are not
looking for any particular advantage. Then I think we have also agreed
on the continuation of the negotiations, the agenda, the place, the
participation. All these were open-ended questions when the Wye
Plantation meeting was over and after the trip this has become both an
understanding and an agenda. I think that would be in addition to what
the Secretary said my understanding of his visit.
QUESTION (in Hebrew*): Mr. Prime Minister, in light of the progress in
the discussions at the Wye Plantation and the good atmosphere, there is
disappointment in this round of the Christopher trip...
PRIME MINISTER PERES (in Hebrew*): Disappointment where?
QUESTION (in Hebrew*): ...here in the country, among the public, and
there's feeling that Israel is dancing to Assad's flute, and that he is
feeding us with teaspoons. Doesn't this weaken Israel's position?
PRIME MINISTER PERES (in Hebrew*): Listen, I don't like the description
of flutes and teaspoons. I think he has a flute and we have a flute.
What we are trying to do is to make a concert, and not that one dances
to the other's tune. Secondly, it is better to eat with teaspoons than
to stay hungry. If it is possible to advance the peace process by
teaspoons, that's fine. All these descriptions are a bit literary. I
know that negotiations take time; that they need an appropriate
atmosphere; and that they need to advance progressively. And that's
what is happening. I just want to be cautious and not to create the
impression in the eyes of the Israeli public that all the problems are
solved. They aren't solved, yet, because we are at the beginning of the
negotiations. But up to now there are negotiations and there are two
sides willing to conduct negotiations.
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