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U.S. Department of State
96/04/30 Interview on Newsmaker
Office of the Spokesman
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Office of the Spokesman
For Immediate Release April 30, 1996
SECRETARY OF STATE WARREN CHRISTOPHER
PBS-TV "THE NEWSHOUR WITH JIM LEHRER"
April 30, 1996
MR. JIM LEHRER: We go first tonight to the Secretary of State, Warren
Christopher, who is with us now for a "Newsmaker" interview.
Mr. Secretary, welcome.
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Thank you, Jim.
MR. LEHRER: First, on Liberia. What is the situation there? What's
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: It's a very serious situation, Jim. The cease-
fire has broken down there and competing armed groups within Monrovia
are beginning to fire at each other. They fired today at the U.S.
Embassy. Our Marines fired back to protect the Embassy as they were
obviously charged to do, obligated to do, and unfortunately there were
some killings on the Liberian side.
MR. LEHRER: Three reported deaths.
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: That's our present information, yes.
MR. LEHRER: Is there any information as to what these armed gunmen were
trying to do? Were they trying to take over the Embassy or just cause
trouble, or do we know?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: I think they were probably doing some random
firing at the Embassy. The Embassy has been a focal point in the sense
that, of course, we have been in charge of the evacuation of a number of
American civilians as well as other civilians. That may have, for some
reason, angered the mobs there in Monrovia.
It's really quite a chaotic situation, Jim. I don't think there's any
way to account for a particular action.
MR. LEHRER: Are there any plans in the works to close the U.S. Embassy
and to evacuate other people from there?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: We've drawn down very considerably. Of course,
we look at that on a daily basis. We think the forces we have there now
are able to protect the Embassy. We hesitate to pull our Embassy out.
We've narrowed it down, minimized it as far as possible. We'll look at
it because, obviously, the safety of our personnel there is of high
MR. LEHRER: How many Americans are still there?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: In the neighborhood of between 20 and 30 -- that
is, official Americans. I don't know how many unofficial Americans are
still in the country. We've taken out all of those who desire to leave.
MR. LEHRER: Does that 20 or 30 figure include the armed Marines?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: No, it does not.
MR. LEHRER: How many Marines are there?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: I'd rather not get into too much detail on that,
Jim. We're in the process of strengthening that somewhat.
MR. LEHRER: There are 2,500 that have been publicly reported on ships
off shore; is that correct?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Yes.
MR. LEHRER: What is being done other than the military situation to try
to stop the killing? What is the U.S. doing?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: We're trying to encourage the neighboring
countries to restart the peace process. As you know, this matter has
gone on for more than three years, all the time we've been in office.
Indeed, the fighting has gone on there. There have been peace
processes, a peacekeeping endeavor, but it's all broken down. We're
trying to get that restarted.
Assistant Secretary George Moose, our point man, is actually in Monrovia
today trying to see the parties. He'll also stay in the region to see
if he can engage the neighboring countries to accept the
responsibilities that they've been trying to carry out.
It's a very unsatisfactory situation. The only resolution for it is to
have the entities within the country recognize that there is no hope as
long as they fight each other, as long as they're killing each other.
But, unfortunately, we're back in a "no win" situation for all of them
at the present time.
MR. LEHRER: Before the cease-fire, Mr. Secretary, it was reported that
there was widespread killing, chaos, anarchy, but one thing that was
never reported was the extent of it. Do we have any idea how many
people have been killed in these last two or three weeks?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: I have not seen any reliable estimate of that,
Jim. Most of the recent fighting has been around the city of Monrovia,
but we don't know what the situation is in the outlying areas.
MR. LEHRER: All right, let's go on -- or I should say back to the
Middle East and your successful negotiations there. The cease-fire is
holding, is that correct?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Yes, the cease-fire is holding.
MR. LEHRER: But what about this report today that there was an exchange
of fire between the Hizbollah and the Israelis although no civilians
were involved. Can you add anything to that report?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: I think it's necessary to step back and explain
a little bit about what was achieved and what wasn't. What we did
achieve in the agreement that was reached was the crisis was ended.
There was an agreement there would be no more Katyushas fired into
northern Israel. There was an agreement that civilians would not be
targeted on either side. There was an agreement that civilian areas
would not be used to launch Katyusha rockets or any other kind of an
endeavor, and they would set up a monitoring commission.
What wasn't done, Jim -- and we had really no hope that we might do this
-- this is not a peace agreement. This does not end all the fighting.
There may continue to be fighting -- we hope there will not be in the
so-called "security zone" in southern Lebanon between armed forces.
We had hoped and expected there would be a period of calm; that even in
that area there would not be any fighting, and unfortunately today's
incident does rupture that calm. But it does not breach the agreement
that was reached because the civilians were not involved. I hope that
the brevity of that incident means that the parties will go back to a
period of calm so that we can restart the peace process.
MR. LEHRER: What was the nature of the exchange?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: I've just read about it. I've not had an
official report on it. But, as I understand it, Hizbollah fired at some
Israeli forces, and the Israeli forces fired back as they were well
entitled to do.
MR. LEHRER: And that was the end of it.
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: That was the end of it. It was a very brief
encounter. Indeed, the Israelis that I talked to over lunch today were
downplaying the seriousness of that episode.
MR. LEHRER: Let's go back now to the agreement itself, the cease-fire
agreement. It's been widely reported here in the United States that the
way you brought that off finally was you got mad. You got angry. You
lost your patience with Assad, snapped your briefcase and started to
walk out, and he said, "Wait a minute. Let's make a deal." Is that
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Some elements of that are true. It was a long
negotiation. It was a very tough week. There were some ups and downs
during the course of the week. I think I understand him a little better
now and perhaps he understands there are limits to my patience, too.
MR. LEHRER: I mean, you really did get mad then.
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: I was upset, yes.
MR. LEHRER: What was the nature of your upsetness, if that's a word?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Jim, I thought the matter was being prolonged
unnecessarily. People were dying. Fighting was going on. There were
more homeless being created. Hundreds of thousands of people were
having to flee their homes, and I felt that we should not procrastinate
any longer; that there was no reason to be examining the words over and
over and over again. I spent more than 20 hours with President Assad,
and I thought we had come to the point where if he was serious about it,
we should reach agreement.
MR. LEHRER: The other thing that a lot of people have said --
particularly a lot of newspaper columnists have said -- that you were
humiliated, you were embarrassed, you were mistreated and abused by
Assad, particularly when he wouldn't see you when you came back on one
of those trips, and he kept you waiting one previous time. Do you feel
insulted? Do you feel abused by President Assad?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Jim, that's a very tough neighborhood out there,
and it's no place for the faint of heart. I was in a situation where I
was upset at what happened, but my choice is not to walk away from the
situation -- to walk away and the fighting goes on. So I didn't pay a
great deal of attention to that episode. I just pushed on, because I
knew it was necessary to get an agreement.
Ultimately, it was the United States that prevailed. I had negotiated
the earlier informal agreement. We were at the center of this
negotiation, and I think only the United States could have achieved what
was achieved there. The end result was a very good result, and in the
end I think it was the presence and the power of the United States that
made it possible.
MR. LEHRER: Explain that, Mr. Secretary. Here you've got 16 days of
fighting, people dying, and nobody could end it except the United States
Secretary of State. What kind of situation is that?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: We have a relationship with the parties. As I
said, I negotiated the informal understanding in 1993, but it was only
oral and not written. We have a relationship with the Israelis. The
Israelis identified us as the sole channel. We have a relationship with
Syria and with Lebanon, some of the other neighboring parties.
We've had a long relationship in the Middle East. We have a special
responsibility there. It's exceedingly important to the United States,
both for emotional reasons, sentimental reasons, economic reasons,
security reasons, so it's in our best interests to be active there. And
putting myself to one side, I think the United States plays a leading
role. I have developed a relationship with many of the leading actors
here as well.
MR. LEHRER: Did you ever say to Assad or the Foreign Minister of Syria,
"I'm the Secretary of State. I do not appreciate being kept waiting. I
do not appreciate being treated this way." Did you raise it to that
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Let's say that the morning after that happened,
we had about 20 minutes alone, and I made it fairly clear that the
relationship that we had was endangered by their conduct. I don't want
to go beyond that, but we had a fairly candid conversation at that
MR. LEHRER: Tom Friedman, columnist for The New York Times, among
others, has suggested that not just you but everybody has misplayed
Assad; that the sweet technique with him doesn't work. He understands
tough -- he's a tough guy himself. You've got to treat him toughly, and
that's the way to go. Do you agree now based on this experience that
maybe Friedman was right?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: As I say, I've learned something about him.
He's probably learned something about me. What I disagree with Tom
about -- Tom Friedman, that is -- is that you ought to just walk away
from the situation. He said, "Tell Assad to call you up if he wants to
go on." I don't think --
MR. LEHRER: He said that on this program, in fact -- Friedman did.
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: I don't think we can afford to do that. We need
to keep probing to see if it's possible to reach a peace agreement,
particularly as long as the Israelis want us to do that.
It probably is quite satisfying to sort of turn your back and walk away,
as I might have in the middle of last week. But that's not my style and
it doesn't get very good results.
MR. LEHRER: What do you say to Assad and folks like Assad when they
say, "How can the United States be a neutral force here; you're so
clearly pro -- the United States is so clearly pro-Israeli, pro-Israel?"
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: What I say to them is, observe how I am
conducting these negotiations. See if you don't think I'm being fair;
see if you don't think I'm dealing with this situation in a way that's
trying to produce the best result. I know that you have interests,
Israel has interests, but the United States has a role to play here and
we're going to try to play it so as to achieve a result.
This is not a zero-sum game. Both of these nations can win if peace is
achieved. There's a great deal to be gained on Syria's part not only to
gain back territory that they claim but also to break out of the
isolation, to break out of the economic deprivation they're in.
As far as Israel is concerned, of course, if peace can be achieved, it
would complete the circle of peace, and I think remove the single
greatest threat that they have now.
MR. LEHRER: Prime Minister Peres said on this program last night to
Elizabeth Farnsworth that there could not be a real peace in the Middle
East without the cooperation of Assad in Syria. Do you agree?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Yes, that's correct. He controls the situation
almost totally in Lebanon, or very completely. As I say, that's
necessary to complete the circle of peace.
If that peace can be put together, then a great many other things will
all into place very quickly in the Middle East.
MR. LEHRER: Today, your Department issued the terrorism report which
was in the news summary. One of the countries listed as one of the
state sponsors of terrorism was Syria. Did you say anything to Assad,
"Hey, knock this stuff off?"
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: We talk about that quite regularly. Our
principal objection, of course, is that they provide haven for the
terrorist organizations. Not that the government itself is involved,
but that --
MR. LEHRER: They don't send terrorists out from Syria to hit targets in
Israel or somewhere else?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: But they provide a safehaven, a home for some of
the resistance movements who then, we believe, conduct these terrorist
attacks themselves. That's what our objection is.
MR. LEHRER: Does President Assad deny that? What does he say when you
mention this to him?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: We continue to have our differences on that
subject. I think he feels that a peace agreement is the only basis on
which they will end that kind of activity, of providing a safehaven for
the resistance groups.
There are various differences we have with Syria. But, as I say, I
don't believe I can just list those and then walk away.
MR. LEHRER: He sees that -- helping what the United States sees as
terrorist groups, as legitimate resistance movements. In other words,
he doesn't see them as terrorist groups?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: That's right. I don't want to try to plead his
case. But he would say that as long as Israel occupies part of southern
Lebanon and occupies what used to be Syrian territory on the Golan
Heights, then they're justified in providing a home for these resistance
movements. I think that's what his argument is.
MR. LEHRER: Finally, Mr. Secretary, did you come from this, as you say,
20 days of hard work -- you got a cease-fire -- do you feel you got
anything beyond that? Do you see a little bit of more light at the end
of the tunnel than you saw when you left here?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Jim, it was seven days. It felt like 20, but it
was only seven days.
MR. LEHRER: Twenty hours. I'm sorry. It was 20 hours with Assad.
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Jim, there are some positive things to come out
of this. First, I think in the agreement itself there's a recognition
that this is not the final conclusion. What is really necessary is a
peace agreement. The United States commits itself to try to get the
parties back to the peace table. I think there's a fairly good chance
of doing that in the near future.
Second, it sets up a monitoring committee or group which will monitor
the situation in southern Lebanon, and for the first time give us an
entity involving the Syrians, the Lebanese, and the Israelis -- together
with the Americans and French -- who will be working on the situation.
It also sets up a consultative group that will work on the
reconstruction of Lebanon. So those are positive things.
But the most valuable thing is it may pave the way for a resumption of
the peace talks.
MR. LEHRER: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much.
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Thank you, Jim.
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