Return to: Index of 1996 Secretary of State's Speeches/Testimonies || Electronic Research Collections Index || ERC Homepage

U.S. Department of State   
96/09/29 Secretary Christopher Interview on Meet the Press   
Office of the Spokesman   
                       U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE   
                       Office of the Spokesman   
                           Washington, D.C.   
For Immediate Release                       September 29, 1996   
                             INTERVIEW OF   
                TIM RUSSERT - NBC-TV "MEET THE PRESS"   
MR. RUSSERT:  And with us now, the man who brokered this meeting, the    
Secretary of State, Warren Christopher.  Mr. Secretary, good morning.   
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  Good morning, Tim.   
MR. RUSSERT:  Welcome.  What did you do last night?   
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  I was on the telephone much of the night, Tim,    
as you probably guessed.   
MR. RUSSERT:  Tell us about it.   
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  I talked several times with the President    
yesterday, but I also talked both with Prime Minister Netanyahu and    
Chairman Arafat.  They agreed that they would accept the President's    
invitation.  I think it was the personal prestige of the President and    
the prestige of the United States that caused them to be willing to come    
Tim, let me just say a few words about that meeting, if I could.  This    
is a crisis situation.  Last week I think showed the importance of the    
peace process.  The alternative is violence, and that's not satisfactory    
to anyone at all.  I think the parties have looked over that abyss of    
violence, and they really want to turn back from it, and that's what    
caused them to accept the President's invitation.   
We must get a commitment from them to end the violence, we must resume    
the peace process, and this is one of those times when the United States    
has a responsibility.  We can't turn away from it.  The parties    
themselves will have to make difficult decisions, but we in the United    
States have had such a long stake.  Our interests are deeply engaged    
here.  The President is the leader of the free world, and I think he    
recognized that in extending this invitation.   
MR. RUSSERT:  Is the peace process in jeopardy?   
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  The peace process no doubt is in jeopardy.  I    
think all the parties in the region have seen the violence of this last    
week endangering it.  At the same time, Tim, I want to say that the    
peace process has proved quite durable in the past.  You remember the    
massacre at Hebron and the danger it was in then.  You perhaps remember    
the four suicide bombings in Israel.  That threatened it very much, too.   
This is probably the worst threat it's had, with the 55 or more    
killings; hundreds, perhaps thousands of people injured.  So it's urgent    
the parties get back into direct contact with each other.   
MR. RUSSERT:  Yasser Arafat had said, Mr. Secretary, that he would not    
meet with Mr. Netanyahu until that now famous archeological tunnel was    
closed.  Today we saw pictures from Israel, the tunnel has reopened.     
Why is Mr. Arafat meeting, even though the tunnel is open?   
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  There's obviously a strong difference between    
the parties on that issue, but they'll have an opportunity to discuss    
that here.  I think Chairman Arafat told me last night that if the    
President invited him, he couldn't fail to come because he has a    
responsibility, too.   
MR. RUSSERT:  Should that tunnel have been opened in the first place?   
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  Tim, you know, my business is not the blame    
business.  My business is trying to get in the fix-it business.  I don't    
think it serves any particular purpose for the United States in advance    
of the meetings to indicate its view on any one of the issues.  We'll be    
trying to move the parties back into negotiations, back into direct    
MR. RUSSERT:  Do you think that Israel has sovereignty over Jerusalem?   
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  Jerusalem is a final status matter.  The parties    
have committed Jerusalem to being one of the things they will discuss in    
the final status, meaning it's one of the most difficult issues.  That    
will have to be resolved there.  It's such a sensitive matter that no    
one would casually make a comment on that subject.  The parties will    
resolve that between themselves.   
MR. RUSSERT:  A State Department official was quoted as saying as    
follows:  "This is just a bloody mess.  The Israelis have not been    
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  I don't know who that was, Tim, but Prime    
Minister Netanyahu was anxious to come to the meeting.  He's committed    
himself to the peace process.  He'd like to see a basis for resuming the    
Our job is to work with both of the parties, and I think this is no time    
for us to be pointing fingers at either of them.  There may be some    
emotional satisfaction on the part of some people for doing that, but    
that's not our task, and that's not the role the President or I will    
MR. RUSSERT:  The United States was rather public in its support for    
Shimon Peres, the Labor party candidate for Prime Minister in the    
previous election.  He lost.  Mr. Netanyahu, the Likud party candidate    
won.  Is it more difficult for the United States to be an honest broker    
now, since we had supported Mr. Netanyahu's opponent?   
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  Our job is to work with the parties in power.     
We've been working very well with Mr. Netanyahu.  In terms of our    
contacts with him, he's been available to me all through this period,    
and he's accepted our invitation here.   
I think both parties have seen this week that violence is not the course    
they want to follow.  They understand that alternative is not a good    
alternative.  They need to get back into negotiations, and that's what    
we'll be trying to do here.   
I would say this, Tim.  We shouldn't expect miracles out of this rather    
brief meeting here.  Neither of the parties will want to leave the    
region for a long time.  I think the meeting will be a day or perhaps    
two days long.  They're estranged.  They're pretty raw.  So I think the    
important thing is to get them back into direct contact, discussing    
these issues, and I think we'll be able to play our historic role with    
this Israeli Government.     
They understand that the United States is committed not to an individual    
in their government but to the people of Israel and to the concept of    
MR. RUSSERT:  Do you think that Benjamin Netanyahu really wants to go    
forward with the peace process?   
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  Yes, I'm convinced that he sees in the peace    
process what is best for Israel in the long run, and I'm convinced the    
people of Israel feel that way about it as well.  He'll go about it in    
perhaps a different way than before, but in the long term I think he    
must understand that Israel is better off when it has relations with its    
There's been lots of progress out there, despite all the tragedy we're    
seeing this week:  the peace agreement with Jordan, the normalized    
relations with a number of countries in the region, and indeed the    
beginning of working out the problems on the West Bank.  We're now    
seeing how awful it is, how horrible it is, if we return to violence.   
MR. RUSSERT:  This is an election year here in the United States.     
Undeniable.  Only five weeks to go before the November election.  It was    
the President who made this announcement this morning, not you.     
Obviously, he's politically sensitive.   
Is it possible in the middle of a Presidential election for President    
Clinton to do anything which would alienate Jewish-American voters?   
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  Tim, the President has to go on being President.     
He has a responsibility in that regard.  The times I've talked to him in    
the last two or three days -- and it has been several times a day -- his    
one thought was his responsibility to keep the peace process from    
faltering.  That will be the talisman that he stands by:  "What can I do    
to insure the peace process gets back on track and continues?"   
MR. RUSSERT:  But the world has been outspoken in condemning Israel for    
opening up this tunnel.  Only the United States was opposing this in the    
United Nations.  Doesn't this give the perception of domestic political    
considerations over serious foreign policy?   
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  Tim, this is no change for us.  We've been very    
careful all the time to be an honest broker here, to be able to deal    
with both of the parties; and in doing that I think it doesn't help any    
to point fingers or try to assess blame.  We try to move forward from    
here, to look forward, not backward, and I think we would not be    
effective if we started to make an assessment of who was wrong.   
Both parties have got a lot of grievances against each other, and what    
we need to do is to get them beyond those grievances.   
MR. RUSSERT:  The Israelis have committed to removing their troops from    
Hebron -- the town there.  Will the Israelis honor that commitment, and    
should they?   
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  I think when they get back into negotiations,    
Hebron will be really on the top of the list.  They were making at least    
the beginnings of progress there when this violence erupted, and, yes, I    
think they're committed to doing that.   
Prime Minister Netanyahu has indicated that he understands his    
commitment to the internationally binding agreement that was reached    
with the Palestinians.   
MR. RUSSERT:  There's also discussion today -- a key adviser to Prime    
Minister Netanyahu suggesting that if the violence continues, the    
Israelis may disarm the 30,000 Palestinian police who have semiautomatic    
weapons, which were in effect given to them or tolerated by the Israelis    
during this whole peace process.  Would that be prudent?   
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  Tim, let's hear from the Prime Minister on    
subjects like that.  That's a very serious suggestion.  What I would do    
is to point people to the very good working relationship between the    
Palestinian police and the Israeli Defense Forces.  They were working    
very closely together before this episode came along.   
Moreover, there are always happy things, there are always positive    
things that happen in these tragedies.  In the last couple of days, the    
Palestinian police and others have gone to the rescue of Israeli    
soldiers.  They have pushed back their crowds.  They've shown that they    
want to end this violence, too.   
MR. RUSSERT:  But at the moment, it would not be prudent to disarm the    
Palestinian police?   
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  At the moment that's not part of the program.     
As a matter of fact, they have to get back to the place where the    
Palestinian police have a responsibility for patrolling in their areas.     
I think that one of the things that Prime Minister Netanyahu is    
insisting on with Chairman Arafat is that they take care of their own    
areas; and in order to do that, obviously, the police have to have the    
proper equipment.   
MR. RUSSERT:  The President said the meeting would take place in    
Washington early this week.  Do you have anything more definitive, Mr.    
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  No. I think it ought to take place as early as    
possible.  We obviously have some travel problems.  I would say early    
this week is the right estimate, and I would say it will be probably not    
longer than two days; maybe one to two days.   
MR. RUSSERT:  Tuesday/Wednesday a pretty good target?   
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  Possibly, possibly.   
MR. RUSSERT:  Let me turn to, before you go, just a couple quick areas.     
In Russia, we have a very ill President Boris Yeltsin.  His head of    
national security, General Alex Lebed, said yesterday that Russia was    
rudderless, and he was very concerned about who was in control, even    
suggesting who was in control of the nuclear arsenal.  Are you worried    
about Russia?   
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  We've got a lot of confidence in President    
Yeltsin and Prime Minister Chernomyrdin.  They're beginning to develop    
constitutional processes there to deal with disability.  I think the    
government there seems to be firmly in the control of President Yeltsin,    
who obviously is somewhat ill but nevertheless managing until he does    
have this surgery.   
We've had a lot of contact with Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, who's I    
think an authoritative figure there.  I've met several times in the last    
several days with Foreign Minister Primakov.  Their government is    
functioning, and the people I mentioned are really the ones who are in    
MR. RUSSERT:  But the head of national security, General Lebed -- that's    
not ominous that he's making these kinds of comments, suggesting that    
the country may be heading for disarray?   
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  I don't regard those as authoritative comments    
regarding the Russian system.     
MR. RUSSERT:  Before you go, two weeks ago House Speaker Newt Gingrich    
was on this program.  I asked him about the situation in Bosnia.  I want    
to show you a tape of what he had to say.   
(Tape plays)     
MR. GINGRICH:  "So it's all a matter of semantics.  The American people    
should expect the young men and women in uniform will be in Bosnia, I    
believe, after the election, I think, and after December 20.  I think    
that's a fact.  I think the Administration would be much more honest and    
candid if it just said that, and then planned according to the. . ."   
MR. RUSSERT:  Is Speaker Gingrich right?   
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  Speaker Gingrich may or may not be right.  That    
decision has not been made.  NATO will examine whether or not it's    
necessary to have some force in Bosnia after IFOR leaves.  IFOR will    
leave --   
MR. RUSSERT:  The International Force.   
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  The International Force will leave on schedule,    
as the President said it would.  It's really too early to decide that    
question.  The elections went much better than many expected.  A lot of    
the naysayers were saying, "Don't hold the elections."  The elections    
were conducted in calm.   
Now the next job for us is to put together the national government --    
the unifying government -- on top of Bosnia.  How well that goes will    
have a lot to do with the kind of international presence that might be    
necessary in the future.   
So it may be that Speaker Gingrich has some eye into the future that    
tells him how this is going to come out.  Frankly, that decision has not    
been made.  It will be made after NATO has an opportunity to examine the    
situation and make a recommendation.   
MR. RUSSERT:  But should the American people know before the election    
whether or not President Clinton is going to pull all American troops,    
ground troops, out of Bosnia by December 20, as promised, or whether or    
not they're going to have to remain?   
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  Tim, I think, as I said, IFOR troops -- the    
commitment of troops the American people heard the President make --    
they will be gone by about December 20.  Whether some time after the    
election the President makes a decision with respect to an international    
presence, that decision will have to be made after some time when NATO    
makes its recommendation, which I would expect would be sometime this    
MR. RUSSERT:  But the Speaker is saying that's semantics; that the    
American troops are American troops, and if they're there, no matter    
under what particular operation name, the fact is the President said    
they'd be out by the 20th.  If they're going to stay, we should be told    
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  Tim, the President can't react to something    
where he doesn't have a recommendation from NATO, when he hasn't made    
the decision.  Perhaps Speaker Gingrich would like to have him decide    
that earlier than really is necessary.  It would be premature to make    
that decision at the present time.  The President will be very open with    
the American people when he has that decision before him, but he    
shouldn't reach out for the decision and make it prematurely before he    
knows what the situation is on the ground in Bosnia at the time the    
decision must be made.   
MR. RUSSERT:  When will the President get a recommendation from NATO?   
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  I really don't know when that will come.  NATO    
is beginning its study of that issue.  As I say, the next task in Bosnia    
is to put together the unified national government.  We've taken things    
step by step in Bosnia, and it's worked pretty well that way.  The    
elections came off well.  There will be municipal elections that will be    
held probably on about the 20th of November.   
We hope that the three Presidents will be meeting in early October.  So    
there are a series of steps that will help NATO determine the nature of    
the international presence -- what it will be, what kind of force and    
equipment will be needed -- and that will come along as we move through    
the fall.   
But there's no reason to reach out and make a decision that might be an    
unwise decision if it was made now before all the facts are available.   
MR. RUSSERT:  But the American people should know this morning, then,    
there is a possibility that American troops could remain on the ground    
after December 20 in Bosnia?   
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  There's a possibility, if that recommendation    
comes to the President.  He'll obviously consider that as he would any    
recommendation.  There are all kinds of possibilities.  But what I've    
said to you is that the IFOR will be out in a year, as the President    
said, and obviously we'll consider any recommendation that comes along    
after that.   
MR. RUSSERT:  One quick question on the Bosnian elections.  The turnout    
was 104 percent, which is better than old-time Chicago.   
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  Tim, I think that's an inaccurate statement on    
your part.  Actually, the voting population was larger than earlier    
anticipated.  The turnout out was about 77 percent, which is a very good    
But this matter has been operated very well.  The elections were managed    
very well by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.     
They were a success, despite all the people who predicted gloom and doom    
for them.  We do have people chosen now for the high government offices,    
chosen by the electorate.  It was a good turnout by Bosnian standards or    
even by our standards.   
MR. RUSSERT:  Before we go, one last final thought on the Middle East.     
I have the Israeli Ambassador coming on and one of Mr. Yasser Arafat's    
key advisers.  What do you hope they say this morning?   
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  I hope they will say that it's time to calm the    
situation, to end the violence, to get back to the peace process.  I    
hope everyone will commit themselves to that goal, because that's what    
we need.  This is an emergency situation.  Unless we do something now,    
we're likely to return to the violent period before the peace process    
took hold.   
MR. RUSSERT:  Secretary of State Warren Christopher, we thank you for    
coming in here with very little sleep, and good luck in your efforts.   
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  Thank you very much, Tim.   
To the top of this page