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U.S. Department of State
96/09/26 Remarks with UK Secretary Malcolm Rifkind, New York
Office of the Spokesman
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Office of the Spokesman
(New York, New York)
For Immediate Release September 26, 1996
SECRETARY OF STATE WARREN CHRISTOPHER
UNITED KINGDOM SECRETARY FOR
FOREIGN AND COMMONWEALTH AFFAIRS,
New York, New York
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: I'm very pleased to meet once again with my good
friend, Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind. We meet at a time when our
great partnership is on display all over the world in pursuit of our
Let me first say a few words about the situation in the Middle East,
which I've been following very closely over the last 48 hours.
We've been working hard to diffuse this tragic cycle of confrontation
which has already claimed too many lives. I've been in touch more than
once with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and we've been in touch several
times with Chairman Arafat and his colleagues.
As President Clinton said this morning, the United States is prepared to
do anything that we can to be a constructive force in this particular
It's essential to work hard to try to ensure that both parties restore
calm in the region. Only when that's done will we be able to refocus
our efforts on how best to implement the Israeli-Palestinian agreement
and to then take steps to resolve the remaining issues as quickly as
From the very beginning, this process has been based upon taking into
account the needs of both sides and avoiding actions that undermine the
efforts that the parties are making. Now, more than ever it's essential
that the Israelis and the Palestinians take this approach as they deal
with the current crisis and move back into negotiations.
In my meeting today with the Foreign Secretary, we'll also be discussing
our progress in implementing the Dayton Accords. It's important now
that we intensify our efforts to focus on Bosnia's economic
reconstruction and to continue the full implementation of the Dayton
Just a word on Iraq. Let me thank the Foreign Secretary once again for
his government's strong and steadfast support in our response to the new
challenge, the new aggression of Saddam in northern Iraq.
Mr. Foreign Secretary, it's always a great pleasure to be with you.
Thanks so much.
SECRETARY RIFKIND: Thank you very much. Indeed, could I briefly
endorse what Secretary Christopher has said about the situation in the
Middle East. It would be difficult to exaggerate the gravity of the
situation because what we are seeing at the moment is a symptom rather
than a cause -- a symptom of a very deep deterioration in the peace
process with a very real danger that the peace process could be on the
verge of collapse.
I don't want to exaggerate, but I don't believe that is an exaggeration.
I think there has been a growing sense of disillusion in various
quarters. In such an atmosphere, even what might otherwise be seen as a
small incident or a small factor can lead to the tragic consequences and
the very serious loss of life that is being currently experienced in the
I think it is crucial for Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Arafat to meet, for them
both to show statesmanlike leadership at this difficult time. Also, it
is important for the substance of the peace process to be identified and
to be taken forward in a positive spirit.
There is clearly a huge amount of good will both in Israel and amongst
the Palestinians and in other Arab countries for the fundamentals of the
peace process. We're fortunate that both the Israeli Government and the
Palestinians and Arab Governments all give their support to the peace
process. That rhetoric has to be translated into substance.
I think the tragic experience of the last 24 hours has to be seen as an
opportunity to understand the aspirations that exist, the progress that
has been achieved in the last few years, the dangers that now exist of
the collapse of these hopes and of the achievements, but also the
opportunity that remains with proper leadership and with some proper
vision to relaunch the peace process in a meaningful way. So that has
to be the priority. I think all countries that have an interest in
these matters will be doing what they can. But countries outside the
region cannot decide the fate of the Middle East. We can help influence
it, and we must try to do so. But, ultimately, their fate will be in
their own hands. That is something that they know only too well. It's
important that friends of the region do what they can to assist.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, is the peace process in danger of collapse?
Or could, in some upside-down ironic sort of way, this awful incident
accelerate U.S. involvement and maybe point to the parties the need to
move more quickly to a solution?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: It's a serious situation, as President Clinton
said today. Nevertheless, the peace process has proved quite durable.
I believe this is the most serious situation since the series of four
deadly bombings in Israel. But the peace process survived that and has
survived other threats to it.
I think the determination of the parties, as the Foreign Secretary said,
and their belief in the peace process, is the strongest ally we have at
I talked to Prime Minister Netanyahu just after he arrived back in
Israel from his shortened trip to Europe. He told me that he hoped to
meet with Chairman Arafat as soon as it could be arranged to discuss
calming this incident and in getting back to the peace process. I think
that's a good sign. Chairman Arafat clearly feels the same way.
I did talk to the President after talking with the Prime Minister. I
think the President urged me, once again, to tell the parties that we're
prepared to do anything we can to be helpful to ensure that we get the
peace process back on track.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, is it necessary for you to take a trip to the
region any time soon?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: I don't have any plans to do so. But as the
President said, and as I'm saying now, we're prepared to do whatever
would be helpful to the parties in the situation as we have been for a
QUESTION: Could I ask both gentlemen whether you have any concern that
Mr. Arafat, whose authority has been a bit undermined, as some would
suggest by Mr. Netanyahu's policies, is in danger of losing control over
his own street and what implication that might have for the peace
SECRETARY RIFKIND: I don't think there is any immediate danger of that.
But all political leaders have to show that they can take forward the
aspirations and the objectives of the people whom they lead. I think
Mr. Arafat has provided very fine leadership. I think there is no
serious proposition that there is an alternative leadership available.
But he does need to be able to deliver good, constructive progress on
the peace process itself. No one expects dramatic results overnight.
But I believe the Israeli Government should see the Palestinian
leadership as people with whom they can cooperate, with whom they have
very wide areas of common interest. But that does require trust. It
requires cooperation, and it requires a sensitivity and a flexibility to
the needs that each have. That has not always been present and it's
something which needs to be revived in a very visible and very
QUESTION: Could the Secretary possibly answer?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: I generally agree with the Foreign Secretary.
The important thing now is to get the parties back to the negotiating
table where tangible progress can be made so it can be brought to the
benefit of the citizens of both the Israeli public and the Palestinian
public. That's what is necessary now, and that's what we're going to be
urging the parties to do.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, what advice did you offer Prime Minister
Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat if you had a chance to connect with
Chairman Arafat yet? What specific advice did you offer them beyond
telling them to calm down and not take inflammatory action?
Secondly, some people have criticized the United States for not seeing
this coming, not trying to block the tunnel opening, letting relations
deteriorate to this point where you see the fighting in the streets. So
how would you answer those people who say that you didn't see it coming?
First practical advice --
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Lee, you won't be surprised that I'm going to
follow my usual course and not tell you the recommendations that I've
given the parties on specific matters beyond the general advice to calm
the situation; not to delay in getting back to the negotiations and, as
the President said, not to do anything to undermine the peace process.
As far as seeing it coming, we have been concerned for some time that
the parties take actions that would produce tangible benefits. We've
been encouraging them to get back to the negotiating table. I think
that's where we were and that's where we are. This tragic incident has
spiraled in a very deadly and unhappy way. I hope it's a reminder to
The best thing that could come out of this tragic incident is that it
serves as a warning signal of the need for the parties to make genuine
progress on the ground.
Thank you very much.
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