U.S. Department of State
96/4/21: Middle East Peace Process Update: Interview from Jerusalem
MR. DAVID BRINKLEY: Our Secretary of State Warren Christopher is standing by and in communication with us from Jerusalem. Thank you very much for coming in, Mr. Secretary. We're pleased to have you.
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Thank you, David.
MR. BRINKLEY: Here in the studio in Washington are George Will and Cokie Roberts.
Now, tell us, you were saying yesterday that both parties in the Middle East dispute seemed ready for some kind of cease-fire. What's the story today?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: That's what they tell me, David. Last night I met until late in the evening with President Assad in Syria. I came early this morning to Israel, and I've met twice today with Prime Minister Peres. Tonight I'll go back to Syria for meetings with Assad. That's to give you some idea of the intensity that I'm trying to bring to this.
I came here at the direction of President Clinton because we place such a high premium on getting a cease-fire and an enduring set of understandings that will make the civilians on both sides of the border once again safe.
MR. BRINKLEY: Does it still seem to you that both sides are ready to do business, to agree to some kind of settlement -- cease-fire?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Both sides indicate they want a cease-fire. I think we've reached the point in this
particular episode where that's a real possibility. But I have to be candid and say that there are difficulties remaining. I hope we can work through them. We're certainly being aggressive and relentless about it.
MR. GEORGE WILL: Mr. Secretary, can you confirm or deny that since this fighting began 400 Katyusha rockets have been transshipped through the Damascus airport from Iran to Lebanon?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: George, I'm not going to get into intelligence information. But one thing I can say is that the aim is to get an enduring set of arrangements that will prevent that kind of thing from happening, prevent Katyushas from being fired into northern Israel and, indeed, make civilians on both sides of the border safe. That's the whole purpose of this endeavor.
MR. WILL: Your trip to Damascus this evening will be your 18th, perhaps 19th -- it's hard to keep count -- trip you've made to Syria. Yet, Syria, which could stop this, will not. Do you accept the premise that Syria -- which considers and lists on some of its maps Lebanon as part of "Greater Syria" -- could stop this carnage if it wanted, could control Hizbollah?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: There's no doubt in my mind that Syria has great influence over Hizbollah. That's why I'm talking to them. There's some influence also in Lebanon. But I think the combination of those two can bring this fighting to an end.
I made a number of trips out to this region, but I think they've been overall very worthwhile. When I look back to where we were three years ago, George, and where we are now, I think it was a very good investment. United States leadership is absolutely essential here, and I'm determined to go on.
MR. WILL: With reference to the civilian casualties that have occurred, one of your spokesmen said that clearly Hizbollah is using civilians as cover, and it is despicable. Will you use that kind of language to Mr. Assad, and would it do any good if you did?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: We've had some very candid and frank discussions over the three years I've been talking with him, including last night, and we'll continue to have them. There are lots of grievances on both sides, George. My job as a negotiator is to try to get a cease-fire put into effect, an enduring arrangement that will keep this from happening again, certainly not in the near future.
Sometimes invective is useful. More often I find being reasonable and being prospective rather than dealing in the retrospective is more effective.
MS. COKIE ROBERTS: Mr. Secretary, some of your critics, however, say you've been a little too reasonable with Syria, and that Syria does not respond to carrots but only to sticks; that Assad has done nothing that he hasn't wanted to do as a result of U.S. pressure.
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: We've hardly been too reasonable with Syria. They're on our drug list. They're on our terrorism list. They understand the dissatisfaction we have with them; but, as Prime Minister Rabin said not long ago, not long before his death, you usually don't have to make peace between friends. We clearly have to deal with President Assad if we're going to help the Israelis achieve peace in this region.
They are the key to completing the circle of peace. What I am doing here is with the strong encouragement of the Israelis, the latest, of course, this morning when Prime Minister Peres indicated he wanted to use the United States as the sole channel for negotiations.
MS. ROBERTS: I'm glad you brought that up. The Lebanese Foreign Minister is saying that all European efforts at a cease-fire are being thrown out by the Israelis. Is that the case?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: I've been talking with my European colleagues, and Prime Minister Peres is going to meet with the French Foreign Minister tonight, so they're certainly being included in these discussions in an overall sense.
One thing that's very important, Cokie, is that all of us, I think, are in full agreement that it is time for a cease-fire. I'm exchanging views with them, consulting with them. We're trying to bring the full force of the international community to bear. But, as Prime Minister Peres said today, it's difficult to have multiple channels, it's difficult to have multiple drafts; and he prefers, because of the long experience the United States has had, to work through the United States.
MS. ROBERTS: You keep saying --
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: I would say --
MS. ROBERTS: You keep saying that everybody wants a cease-fire, but can you give us some sense of the evidence that Syria wants a cease-fire? Have they done anything to stop arming the Hizbollah?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: I think they want a cease-fire, Cokie, because they would like to get back to the bargaining table. They would like to get back to the peace process. After all, Israel is occupying the Golan Heights, which Syria regards as part of its territory. So they've got a very important goal in the long run, and I do think that they would like to bring this fighting to an end so they can get back to the peace process.
But their negotiations are going to be very difficult. There are some tough issues remaining.
MR. WILL: Aside from withdrawal from the Golan Heights, does Syria also want Israel to withdraw from the so-called "security zone" in southern Lebanon, and is that likely?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: George, of course, that's been the long-term aim of everyone here. Israel doesn't have any territorial aims with respect to Lebanon. For the moment, being in that security zone is necessary to protect northern Israel. But a comprehensive peace would have Israel out of southern Lebanon, and of course that's been the aim for a long time.
MR. WILL: As you discuss the Golan Heights, are you discussing the possibility of U.S. troops on the Golan Heights?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: That's a long time ahead, George. Unfortunately, those negotiations are now off track because of the tragic things that are going on here. We haven't gotten to the point of discussing U.S. troops on the Golan. We really haven't gone that far in the security discussions with Syria.
MR. BRINKLEY: Mr. Secretary, there is a participant in the violence who sort of remains off stage, and that's Iran which is arming, feeding, clothing, housing and paying the Hizbollah. What can we do about that?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: David, we've taken the strongest stand of any nation in the world against Iran. Iran is the enemy of the peace process. They're a terrorist country. We have basically embargoed Iran. We're encouraging all of our allies around the world to treat them in a similar way.
I think we've had to show leadership with Iran even though it has involved sacrifice for Americans and American companies. We're going to continue on that course because we are fully convinced that Iran is trying to undermine the peace process, and they're doing that in many different
ways. Information keeps coming to us that confirms us in those views, and we only wish we could persuade our allies to take as strong a stand against Iran as we have.
MR. BRINKLEY: Mr. Secretary, thank you. Thank you very much for coming in and talking with us today. It's pleasure to have you, and good luck.
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Thank you, David. (###)
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