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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

                              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 
the region.

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 
just atmospherics?

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 
negotiating process.

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*): 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.

Thank you.
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