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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
And His Excellency Shaikh Hamad Bin Jasim Al Thani,
Foreign Minister of Qatar

Remarks following their meeting
Washington, DC, April 1, 1998
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
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SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Good morning, I am delighted to welcome Shaikh Hamad here once again to the Department of State. Over the past year the Foreign Minister and I have developed a strong working relationship, and it's always been good to have you here and to have a chance to visit.

Last November I had the privilege of attending the Middle East-North Africa Economic Conference in Doha. The Emir and the Foreign Minister and all the people of Qatar who hosted that conference deserved our thanks and our respect. Although a number of governments missed the opportunity to come, the private sector response was excellent and the conference, I think, was a remarkable success. While there, I really had a sense that for those who did not come, it was a missed opportunity.

We now need to build on the vision of Doha -- the vision of a Middle East overcoming past differences and creating increased prosperity, security and peace for all the people. To this end, the Foreign Minister and I discussed ways to maintain regional stability, which is essential to the interests of both nations. We reviewed the role of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the unity and strength of which is vital to us and the region. And we talked about the need for continued vigilance towards Iraq and the importance of insisting that Iraq comply fully with Security Council resolutions. Iraq is still far from doing so, and I made it very clear that normalization with Saddam Hussein is therefore out of the question.

We also discussed next steps to revive the Middle East peace process, which has been stalled for far too long. I also congratulated the Foreign Minister on the selection of Qatar as the next chair of the Organization of Islamic Conference, and the host of the OIC summit in the year 2000. That is indeed a great honor.

Obviously, the Minister and I had much to discuss, and I was very pleased by his visit and encouraged by the warm and productive and mutually beneficial relations between the United States and Qatar. We have become strategic partners, and I'm confident that our relations have been strengthened even further by our meeting today.

FOREIGN MINISTER SHAIKH HAMAD: Madame Secretary, I'm delighted to be with my delegation to have this fruitful meeting with yourself and the other colleagues. We feel it's important for our relations -- the United States and Qatar -- to have continuous consultation in the mutual relationship and in what's happening in the area in the Middle East. And I have to say that we discussed that certain issue and both of our views are very close.

As you know, Qatar is supporting the United States and we are an ally in the crisis which happened in the Gulf, and we continue to consult on this. Also for that reason, we have our military agreement with the United States. We discussed also the Middle East peace process, and we discussed the regional matters -- the Iraqi and all other neighbors matters. We discussed, as I mentioned, our mutual interest economically and militarily with all the officials in the United States. I have to say that I am satisfied for this relationship, and we have the will -- both sides will -- to strengthen this relationship more.

Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, about Israel and Lebanon. Would the US encourage Israel and Lebanon to negotiate or arrange the withdrawal of Israeli troops, as the Cabinet has voted in favor of, apart and separate from the very, very dormant Israeli-Syrian track? And, indeed, what is your feeling about Syrian troops remaining in Lebanon? Is the UN a vehicle, instead of the usual comprehensive approach that doesn't seem to be very active right now?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, let me say that we welcome the decision by the Israeli Cabinet. This is a positive step. We have supported Resolution 425, and therefore are pleased that the Israeli Cabinet took this action. We have supported and will continue to support the comprehensive approach to the peace process; but at the same time, I think that we understand the value of making progress where we can.

I think that it's going to be important to translate what this decision is to some facts on the ground; and therefore, I think some discussions between Israel and Lebanon on this, in order to assure that the northern border of Israel is indeed secure, is something that is a useful aspect of this.

I think it's important to let this move forward and see what the right venue for it is. I think we have to see. This decision has just been made. As I said, we welcome it as a positive move, but I don't want to comment further on that part yet.

QUESTION: On the UN possibility?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: No.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, does this mean that the United States will play a role to make progress on that track, if it's possible? And do you think this will be a breach of comprehensiveness that the Syrians are insisting on? And the second question, in the Arab world today all the press is coming out and saying the United States might abandon the peace process. Is it true?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, let me, we are basically interested in a comprehensive peace process with its variety of tracks, but that we take progress where we can. As I said, discussions would be useful between the two parties, and I don't want to go beyond that at this time on that.

On the Palestinian and the Israeli track and the peace process as a whole, Ambassador Ross has, as you know, returned. I think he was able to make some progress, but we are a long way from any kind of a breakthrough. I think that the US has been frustrated, as has everybody else, I believe, about the fact that the process has been deadlocked, basically, for quite a long time, and that there has not been progress for a year now on a set of issues -- on the interim issues, on the further redeployment -- on a whole host of issues that are part of this. We have wanted to move it forward, and have tried very hard to narrow the gaps between the two parties.

As I said, Dennis Ross was able to make some progress, but not enough for a breakthrough. We are obviously going to continue doing what we can, but at some stage along the line here this has to come to a close.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, there seems to be more people-to-people contacts between Iran and the United States, and the pace of them seems to be increasing in recent weeks. Are you at any point reconsidering Iran policy; more specifically, is the travel advisory up for reconsideration?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, let me explain something about the travel advisory. Travel advisories generally are taken on the basis of facts on the ground as to whether it is dangerous for Americans to travel to a particular region; they are based on objective factors. And they are under review all the time for all countries. So there is nothing different in terms of what we are looking at as far as Iran is concerned.

I must say that I was very pleased in seeing how the American wrestlers were received in Tehran. And I think that you are seeing -- as President Clinton and I have said, we continue to be intrigued by the kinds of things that President Khatemi is doing. I think that we need to keep looking very carefully at the signals and signs that are developing, and hope to be following up in terms of some of the people-to-people issues. And as I said, I really am pleased with the reception that our wrestlers received.

QUESTION: Could I ask the Foreign Minister, as well as Secretary Albright, is the stalemate in the Arab-Israeli peace process beginning to impact on US relations with the Arab world?

FOREIGN MINISTER SHAIKH HAMAD: I don't think that's the case. I think the case that we always -- as a friend to the United States, we talk about what we feel about the peace process. And we talk with the United States since the United States is the major player in the peace process. We always encourage the United States to be a major player in this peace process. So maybe there is difference in the opinion or difference in the feeling that the United States is not doing a lot. But I think as a mediator, we appreciate the role of the United States and I think they did a good job in this, and we urge them to continue this job as the peace is a concern and a strategic issue for us in the Arab region.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, could you answer the same question, please - whether this stalemate is impacting on US relations with the Arab world at large?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, look, I think that clearly we are concerned about the fact that the peace process is not moving as rapidly as we would like. We are making every effort, as I've said, to make it work. We also continue to work generally, in terms of our relationships with the Arab world. Our individual bilateral relationships are very important to us, as is evidenced by what I think was a really excellent meeting with the Foreign Minister. And I think that these are two different issues and we are dealing with them on separate and parallel tracks.

QUESTION: For the Foreign Minister, is it true that you brought a message from Iran to the United States? And what is your advice to the United States in terms of more opening to Iran?

FOREIGN MINISTER SHAIKH HAMAD: First of all, we didn't bring any message from Iran to the United States. And our wish, not our advice, is that the relationship between the United States and Iran would be improved, since we are in the area and we care that we have good relations with Iran and the United States, as a major ally for us in the Gulf. We wish also to see this good relationship which is between the GCC and Iran to be reflected with the United States and Iran.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Let me just say I think that we have spoken about the importance of actions as well -- there have been some good words out of Iran, and we are looking at changes in actions. It took a long time for us to reach the judgment that the Iranians were involved in terms of acquiring weapons of mass destruction, supporting terrorism and not supporting the Middle East peace process. So it is only prudent and responsible, as we look towards what they are doing and whether they are changing their actions, for us to be studying very carefully what they are doing.

I appreciate very much when a respected friend from the region comes and gives his analysis of what is going on.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, when will you make the American proposal public? And what kind of progress did Ambassador Ross bring back, in terms of a time-out?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Let me just say that I think that the process here is one in which we are trying to narrow the gaps, and that is a process that we're involved in. I'm not going to go beyond that in terms of predictions.

QUESTION: First for Madame Secretary, if you could answer the question and then the Foreign Minister, as well. You've said many times that the peace process is deadlocked and the leaders aren't making the tough decisions. Is it your view that the Israelis are being any more flexible in their stance than the Palestinians?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that, obviously, these are very important issues for both sides, and I am not going to characterize one side's approach to it versus the other. It is necessary for both of the leaders to make hard decisions. The United States is doing what we can to narrow these gaps, and they both need to make the decisions that are necessary in order for the gap to be closed.

I think that the fairest way to describe this is that we are narrowing the gaps, and Ambassador Ross is working very hard on mine and the President's direction to make that happen. But I think that what is important here is the leaders themselves have to make those decisions.

FOREIGN MINISTER SHAIKH HAMAD: Well, for my side, since I am not a mediator on this, I have to say the Israelis have to fulfill what's been agreed in Madrid and in Oslo.

I think there is flexibility from the Palestinian side, and we wish both sides to work it out and to help the United States to play their role to bring both sides to a negotiation and win a negotiation for both sides. But I think the Israeli Government has to do more effort than this.

QUESTION: Mr. Foreign Minister, is it your opinion that Iran has ceased its active opposition to the peace process, in your nation's opinion?

FOREIGN MINISTER SHAIKH HAMAD: Well, I think there are some changes; we can see some changes. I think the Iranians said that the peace process belongs to the people of Palestine and the neighborhood with Israel, and if they accept something, it's their own fate.

I think this is a positive answer from the Iranians, and I hope that this will be a practical part of their policy toward the peace process.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you.

[End of Document]

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