|Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Press Conference on the Middle East Peace Process Meetings
London, United Kingdom, May 5, 1998
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: For the past 48 hours, I have been involved in an intensive effort to reach an agreement that would put Israeli-Palestinian negotiations back on track. We have made some progress which we hope will facilitate agreement in the coming days. If the issues are resolved, President Clinton is prepared to invite the parties to Washington on May 11, 1998 to launch accelerated permanent status negotiations.
I have discussed the American ideas with both leaders and they have engaged with me in a serious and constructive manner. We will need to have further discussions with both of them in the coming days, but Chairman Arafat has accepted our ideas in principle.
We have a strategic opportunity to put the peace process back on track and we cannot afford to lose it.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Prime Minister Blair and his government for their gracious hospitality and his staunch support for my efforts. Ready to take questions.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, I think I certainly could use a little clarification, please, with whether there will be Washington talks or there won't be, whether they're conditional on progress and who will be seeking this progress, you or lower level officials, will there be formal meetings or additional contact. Will these be the final stage talks -- I could use a little help on this.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, as I said here, if the issues are resolved. Therefore, the invitation is conditional on these interim issues being resolved on the basis of the American ideas. The discussions to reach that point will be carried on primarily by lower levels than my own, but I obviously stand ready to be of assistance, and what these talks would be about, if, indeed, we get through the various steps that I mentioned, would be to launch the accelerated permanent status talks.
QUESTION: I believe you said Chairman Arafat agrees to this in principle. Doesn't Prime Minister Netanyahu?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, Prime Minister Netanyahu has been, I think, very helpful and constructive and he is going back to Israel in order to talk to his cabinet, but, I would like to add that I think we had good meetings and, from my perspective, he was very helpful and constructive in the thinking across the whole range of issues that are involved in this.
QUESTION: Is the condition that the parties accept the American ideas, you used a softer phrasing, and would you care, for the first time, to say in any way what those ideas are?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, I have said that it would be on the basis of the American ideas, which I think is pretty much the way we've been saying it all along, and I don't want to go into any further detail on what they are because they continue to be a subject of discussion and negotiation.
QUESTION: Are the American ideas still flexible and are you prepared in any way to water down those ideas in order to reach the agreement (unclear)?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think you would agree that it would not be appropriate for me to characterize what can and can't be done within them.
QUESTION: (inaudible) and are you prepared in any way to water down those ideas in order to (inaudible)?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that you would agree that it would not be appropriate for me to characterize what can and can't be done within them because part of the negotiation here is to be able to talk to the parties about what needs to be done to achieve agreement on them. But, as I said, I think that it is important that those ideas are on the table, that they are the basis of the discussion, and that the invitation to the Washington meeting is on the basis of those ideas and watering them down is not in the works.
QUESTION: Mrs. Albright, when can we expect the American proposals pushing the peace talks on the Lebanese and Syrian pact?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that here again on the Lebanese track we have basically said that we are interested in a comprehensive peace. I think that is the most important point that needs to be on the table and it has to be understood. We take whatever movement we can at whatever time we can, but we are interested in a comprehensive peace agreement and that is something that is our goal and that should not be forgotten.
QUESTION: (inaudible) Are you saying that before you invite the parties to Washington you would need to have a signed agreement on the current American proposals and, if I may also ask, are you saying that there will be no third phase withdrawal from the West Bank that will now get sucked into the final status talks?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, I am saying that this has to be on the basis of the American ideas and we have to be clear that they are on that basis. I think that's as far as I want to go on that, and, again, I'm not going to go into the specifics of the phases or any more on the details of this. I think that you must understand that we are in the middle of intensive negotiations and that more details on the various aspects of it do not help us move forward. And I don't think that it's appropriate for the U.S., as the mediator, to characterize exactly where we are on any of the issues that are part of our attempt to get agreement on these issues, so I'm not going to characterize it.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, Mr. Netanyahu is pretty well (inaudible) the objectives of the American proposal for a phase two (inaudible) deployment and the implications of his rejections are that the United States simply does not understand Israel's security requirements. My question is does the United States not understand Israel's security requirements or do you simply disagree with Mr. Netanyahu about what those requirements are?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: It is obviously up to Israel to decide what its security requirements are. No other country can make those determinations for another country but we have proposed some of our ideas. Also, I would dispute the first part of your question in his saying that there would be no redeployment, I think that is not, unless I misunderstood what you said, I'm sorry that I misunderstood. But I think that here, the question is that what we as a mediator have done is to try to come up with some ideas which we think are fair and balanced, that do not threaten Israeli security and that allow for there to be some final decision on these issues so that we can move towards the permanent status talks.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, understanding you don't want to get into detail, would you say that the American proposals as they arrived in London have remained the same or have they been further refined here, and secondly, just in terms of logistics, I believe you and the President are heading off on the night of Tuesday to Germany, when you say that there might be an opening of final status talks in Washington. Would this be a ceremonial opening or would you expect the parties to then repair somewhere and go to work while you and Mr. Clinton go on to Europe?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that on the first part of your question, the American ideas are a basis for what we talk about. There has been, as all of us have said, some progress but there are some critical aspects that need to be discussed and we didn't resolve everything here, obviously. There has been progress across the board, but the American ideas are the basis for the discussion. Again, I underline over and over again, because some news of this invitation had slipped out, that this is a conditional invitation on the basis of agreement on the basis of our ideas, that obviously if we are able to launch the accelerated permanent status talks, they will be over a prolonged period of time, to be carried out at a variety of levels and if such a meeting takes place, there will be enough time for there to be a launching of them and, with any luck, next year there will be discussion going on at a variety of levels.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) you speak of a comprehensive peace in the Middle East, does that include Iraq as well? That's the first part of my question. The second bit -- was the idea of declaring, or the issue of declaring a Palestinian state raised during the London meetings? If it was, or if it wasn't, does the Clinton administration have a view on that?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all it is always been my understanding that there are three tracks: the Israeli-Palestinian, the Israeli-Lebanese and the Israeli-Syrian, so Iraq is not a part of the comprehensive Middle East Peace Process. Although it certainly would be nice to have that issue resolved and have Saddam Hussein come clean on what he has in terms of weapons of mass destruction, as well as to live up to the other relevant resolutions. And then, I'm sorry, yes, the issue actually was not raised here and the American position is that this is a final status issue.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, in the course of (inaudible) this is a final status issue.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, two questions. First, are you setting a deadline for an agreement before talks can open on Monday? Are you setting a deadline, are you saying they have to agree on the West Bank withdrawals -- the two phases -- before you will meet with Netanyahu and Arafat in Washington, and will they meet together? Secondly, at what point will you get tired of conducting peace talks on these issues? You said last week that the talks can't keep going around in circles, yet the talks here proved inconclusive. Are you getting frustrated, are you getting tired?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, we have said that this invitation is for May 11, conditioned as I stated, and so if you want to say that is a deadline, the deadline is such that there is no point in talking about the permanent status, the accelerated permanent status talks if we have not agreed on these other issues. And I must say we have been engaged in what I consider a vigorous effort to achieve an agreement and we will continue to do so in the coming days, but if agreement is not achieved we will have to re-examine our approach to the peace process. The U.S. remains committed to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace, and, frankly, the question is what is the best way for us to bring the parties to the point of making the necessary decisions and that's what we will be looking at. But I have to say that I think that the meetings here were important. I think, as I said in my opening statement, there has been some progress and Prime Minister Netanyahu, I think, has some constructive and interesting ideas that he is going to be examining with his cabinet. I, as all of you have followed me around know, am realistic, but I am also hopeful and I think that we will just have to see and if this particular approach is one that does not reach the kind of determination or fruition that we would like, as I said, we would re-examine our approach to this and we'll take it from there.
QUESTION: Does that mean walking away from these talks?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: We are not going to walk away from the peace progress. It's too important to the United States and to Israel and to our friends in the Middle East, but we will need to reexamine the way that we go about it. I think that's the most I can say at this point.
QUESTION: Secretary of State, why didn't you make public or introduce officially the American initiative as Chairman Arafat requested many times. And what's your advice to the Palestinians and the Arab leaders who are going to meet in Cairo as some Palestinian sources said to reconsider the whole peace process?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that the point here is that our ideas are the basis of a lot of discussion, and I think that what we have to do, as the mediator, is to decide what is the best approach. And our feeling was that maintaining this kind of dialogue about them is the best way to go forward at this time. I would hope that I would say to the Palestinian people that we are working very hard to try to get a comprehensive and just settlement of this. I have spent a lot of time on this myself; I understand what the legitimate needs and rights of the Palestinian people are, along with understanding fully what the needs of the State of Israel are. I think that I would tell people everywhere, just as all of us are saying here, this is a difficult process. We have done a lot of good negotiating. There are still a lot of critical issues to be discussed, and we need to keep our eye on the ball and not be discouraged.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, about the last month or so we've heard talk about going public with the U.S. formula, which was construed as a way of bringing pressure on the Israelis. Now you are talking about possibly meeting with the President to launch final status talks which one might construe as a sort of a carrot to the Israelis. I am wondering whether you've switched from sticks to carrots and whether you think that will be a more effective way to push this towards completion?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that we are doing exactly what we had set out to do which is to basically present our ideas about a way to get from one stage to another, and therefore, we have in no way adjusted our thinking in the course of the last month, or even before that. The process has been one where we have felt that our role as a mediator was best served by having a set of ideas that we think is a way to bridge the gaps. As you know, we keep looking for ways to bridge the gaps which still are there, and we have always hoped that once this set of issues we could move to accelerated permanent status. That is where we are now, and it is frankly up to the parties to interpret whether we are serving vegetables or not.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, has President Clinton called either Prime Minister Netanyahu or Chairman Arafat in the last 48 hours and, secondly, given the difficult nature to say the least of the talks you're engaged in now, is it realistic to expect that even an accelerated final status can conclude agreements by a year from essentially yesterday?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: In answer to the first question, the answer is no. The President has not spoken to them, and I think that's the deadline, that's the deadline that was set up in Oslo and I think that it's the one that we will stick by, this is what you know, as it turns out I had called Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat to suggest May 4th some time ago, and the May 4th date, as it turns out more by accident than by design, was the date that was exactly a year from the termination of the talks are supposed to come. So, I do think a year, if we really work hard and if there is good will that comes as a result of having dealt with the interim issues, sure I think if good people with good intentions really put their minds to it and leaders are prepared to make the hard decisions, then I think that it is possible, and we are sure going to work for it, but in order to do that we have got to get through this part and the leaders, Chairman Arafat as I said, has agreed in principle, Prime Minister Netanyahu was helpful and creative in the course of these meetings and we will be engaged in a vigorous effort in the coming days to try and come to some agreement so that the conditional invitation can be proffered and accepted.
QUESTION: You talked about good will, but in taking the presence of both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Arafat together in London, but their failure to meet, how would you characterize the level of trust or otherwise between them. And another brief question about Prime Minister Blair, what has he done to try and move this process along? What has his contribution been?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all let me say that it was not in the plans to have them meet. When I offered the invitation originally, it was for me to have separate meetings with the two leaders and London has been a favorite venue and we are very glad that the talks took place here. Prime Minister Blair has had his meetings with the leaders, he has been an exceptionally gracious host and has, in fact, been very supportive and helpful of my efforts, so I think that it has worked very well and the combination of the fact that London is a great place and that there are some personal reasons to be here, and that the British are President of the EU, I think there are a number of reasons why this has worked very well. Thank you very much.
[End of Document]
to the Secretary's Home Page. Return
to the DOSFAN Home Page.
This is an official U.S. Government source for information on the WWW. Inclusion of non-U.S. Government links does not imply endorsement of contents.