|Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Remarks and Question and Answer Session at the National Press Club
Washington, D.C., May 12, 1998
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
The Middle East Peace Process
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you very much. I am very pleased to be here. Good afternoon.
Two weeks ago, before departing for Asia and talks in London on the Middle East, I attended a dinner sponsored by Seeds of Peace. This is a group that brings young people together from all around the Middle East to learn about and from each other, to go beyond the stereotypes and to understand how much they have in common.
At that dinner, I was given a letter signed by Arab and Israeli youngsters, which I hand-delivered in London to Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat. I want to begin my remarks today by quoting from that letter: "In our history books, the Middle East has always appeared as a magnificent crossroads. Yet we have not tasted its grandness, for we are blinded by its destructive wars. We at Seeds of Peace had a taste of what it is like to co-exist peacefully. We learned to accept the fact that both sides, Arabs and Israelis, have a right to a home in this disputed holy land. We are writing this letter as people who have experienced peace temporarily and we enjoyed the taste, but we want the whole pie. However, this is up to you. It is up to you to shape or build our future."
That is a part of the letter that I delivered.
I would have liked very, very much to have been able to return to the United States this past weekend with the news that the prayers of those young people had been answered and that a new milestone in the Middle East peace process had been reached. It was our hope that this week would have marked the start of permanent status negotiations between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat, hosted by President Clinton.
Unfortunately, despite exhaustive and exhausting efforts to remove them, there remain obstacles to an agreement that would allow those permanent status talks to begin. However, I look forward to meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu here in Washington tomorrow to see if it is possible to clear the way.
Today, I want to do two things. First, on behalf of President Clinton, I want to reaffirm Americaís commitment to the pursuit of Arab-Israeli peace and our determination to continue exploring every possible avenue for helping the parties to achieve it. We do this because it is in our interest and because it is right. The peoples of the Middle East deserve a future free from terror and violence, a future in which they can prosper in security and peace.
Second, I want to explain the logic of our approach and provide some perspective about what we have been doing in recent months to overcome the impasse that has developed in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
The past year has been the most disappointing since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993. It was 16 months ago that active US mediation helped to produce an agreement on Hebron. Since then, a crisis of confidence has arisen between Israelis and Palestinians that has stalled progress at the bargaining table and put at risk both historic accomplishments and future hopes.
In only two years, we have gone from a situation where Israel had some form of peace negotiation, relationship, or promising contact with every Arab state except Iraq and Libya to a stalemate which has eroded regional cooperation on issues such as water, economic integration, the environment and refugees, stalled Arab-Israeli contacts, and caused optimism to be replaced by a sense of fatalism and helplessness about the future.
At the root of the stalemate is a crisis of partnership between Israelis and Palestinians wherein short term tactical considerations have too often trumped broader understandings of common interest and cooperation. Indeed, we have gone from a situation where no problem was too big to solve to a situation where every issue is argued about. We have seen tragic incidents of terror, unilateral actions and provocative rhetoric undermine the historic accomplishments of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
For more than a year now, the United States has been working hard to revive the missing spirit of partnership. We have been trying literally to restore the ability of the parties to talk constructively with each other, to overcome mistrust, to solve problems, to arrive at agreements and to implement obligations.
Early last year, we were approached by Prime Minister Netanyahu with an idea for reorienting the process. He argued that the confidence building period provided for under the Oslo Accords had begun instead to destroy confidence; and he was right. The Prime Minister argued that it therefore made sense to move directly into final status negotiations, and to do so on an accelerated timetable. He asked President Clinton to help achieve this purpose; and as Israelís ally and friend, the President decided to try to do so.
Beginning last spring and throughout the summer of 1997, we sought an agreement that would put the process back on track by focusing the parties on the importance of getting to permanent status talks. In August I proposed in a speech here in Washington that the parties "marry the incremental approach of the interim agreement...to an accelerated approach to permanent status."
Then last September the Israelis and Palestinians agreed on a four-part agenda that included accelerated permanent status talks and three other issues: security with the emphasis on preempting and fighting terror; the further redeployment of Israeli troops; and a time-out on unhelpful unilateral steps. There followed several months of intensive discussions on that agenda, along with resumed negotiations on key interim issues.
During this period there was some narrowing in the differences between the parties, but very substantial gaps remained. Despite our efforts, we could not get the Israelis and Palestinians to agree to an accord. Both urged us, nevertheless, to persist and to help them find a way to bridge their differences. By early this year we had come to the conclusion that even if the parties could not be responsive to each otherís ideas, they might respond to ours. Working closely and quietly with both sides, we began to share our views on how the parties might resolve their differences over the four-part agenda.
In January, here in Washington, President Clinton met with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat. And I met with them when I traveled to the region in February, and then again in Europe in March. Ambassador Ross and Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have been in almost constant contact. Throughout, we continued to urge the parties to sort out the issues directly with each other.
Unfortunately, none of these discussions produced sufficient results. It was clear that tough decisions were required if Israelis and Palestinians were to reach an agreement that neither side was prepared to make.
Having worked since January to share our thoughts informally with the parties at the highest level, it was logical that we should at some point share a more fully integrated set of ideas in an effort to facilitate decisions. We took this step not because we wanted to, but because there seemed no other way to break the dangerous logjam that had developed.
Our ideas stemmed from intensive consultations with both sides and take into account both the obligations each side has accepted and the vital interests each must protect. They are balanced, flexible, practical and reasonable. They are based on the principle of reciprocity -- another concept stressed by Prime Minister Netanyahu and embraced by us because of our belief that parallel implementation of each sideís obligations is the only way to restore the partnership between Israelis and Palestinians.
In presenting our ideas, we made it clear that we were offering them as suggestions, not as an ultimatum or an effort to impose a settlement. Both parties have their own decision-making processes and interests, which we respect. Our purpose was only, in response to the partiesí request, to help them find the way forward.
The role of the mediator is never an easy one. The challenge is how to meet the needs of both sides in a way that is acceptable to the other. Logically, that presents both sides with the need to be flexible and to make decisions that reflect the concerns not just of one party, but of two. In this regard, our ideas were designed to find that balance and to persuade each side that the balance could be struck in a way that addressed their particular requirements.
Now, let me try to explain our approach as it relates to addressing Israelís requirements, foremost of which is security. Let me say at the outset that there should be no doubt about the commitment of the Clinton Administration or of America to Israelís security. That commitment is unshakable and has been demonstrated over and over again, not only in words but in actions; in our joint struggle against terrorism; in the assistance to Israel that the American people have so long and so generously provided; and in the steps we have taken to ensure Israelís qualitative military edge.
These include providing Israel with the F-15-I, the most advanced fighter aircraft in the American arsenal; the pre-positioning of American military stocks and material in Israel for possible joint use; and jointly-funded research and development projects designed to enhance Israelís ability to protect itself against long range missiles and Katyusha rockets. And let me add that our commitment to Israelís security does not come with a time limit. There is no expiration date. It will continue today, tomorrow and for as long as the sun shall rise. I said that in Israel last year and I meant it. And thatís true whether there is progress in the Middle East peace process or not -- or whether we have differences with Israel at a particular moment or not.
At the same time, we have agreed with Israeli leaders from Prime Minister Ben Gurion to Begin and from Rabin to Netanyahu that the key to long term security for the Israeli people lies in lasting peace. That is why we have been working so hard to resolve the present impasse. In so doing, we would not for a minute assert for ourselves the right to determine Israelís security needs. That is -- and must remain -- an Israeli prerogative.
Moreover, both in our ideas and in the way we presented them, we took fully into account Israeli concerns both about process and substance. For example, we have given the parties many weeks to consider our ideas in private. We did not launch a public campaign on their behalf. And in response primarily to Israeli requests, we allowed more time and then more time and then more time for our suggestions to be studied, considered and discussed.
Moreover, the ideas we presented posed some very difficult choices for the Palestinians. They were required to make substantial changes in their negotiating position. Nevertheless, Chairman Arafat agreed to our ideas in principle.
The real centerpiece of our efforts to address Israeli requirements focused on dealing with Israelís fundamental and legitimate security concerns. It was no coincidence that security was the first point on our four-point agenda. Creating the right environment for negotiations had as its focus the issue of ensuring that Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation was functioning at 100 percent, and that Palestinians were exerting 100 percent effort to take effective unilateral steps against terror. Thatís why our ideas on security create a structure to ensure that the fight against terror will not be episodic, but that it endures.
From the beginning, we have made the security issue the center of our dialogue with the Palestinians. We have pressed them to understand that the fight against terror is a basic Palestinian interest. And what we have seen, especially over the past several months, is a concerted Palestinian effort -- even in the absence of an agreement with Israel on the four-part agenda -- against those who would threaten peace with terror and violence. The Palestinian Authority deserves credit for taking on such groups, but it is essential as they do that others in the region who tell us they support peace refrain from greeting with cordial hospitality and financial backing the enemies of peace.
Our suggestions for Israeli redeployments were also formulated with Israelís prerogatives and concerns in mind. We recognize, as reflected in the Christopher letter, that further redeployment is an Israeli responsibility under Oslo, rather than an issue to be negotiated. But it is in the nature of partnership that Israel should take Palestinian concerns into account, while following the terms of its agreement. Otherwise, the peace process cannot move forward.
In presenting our ideas, we did not define the areas from which Israel should redeploy. Our ideas placed a premium on Israel retaining overall security responsibility in the areas affected by the proposed redeployment. And our suggestion about the size of the next redeployment came down far closer to Israelís position than to that of the Palestinians.
Why did we suggest a size? Because that is the only way to reach the agreement on launching permanent status talks that Prime Minister Netanyahu asked us to achieve. In presenting and discussing our ideas, we have acted with discretion and patience. Because we realize the difficulty of the decisions the parties were being asked to make, we have gone the extra mile -- in fact, the extra 20,000 miles, back and forth across the Atlantic many times. And we have done so without complaint, because America will always go the extra mile for peace.
I want to mention at this point also that Americaís commitment to peace and security in the Middle East has historically been a bipartisan commitment, stretching from the administrations of Truman and Eisenhower to Bush and Clinton. Because that commitment involves the security of a cherished ally and the vital strategic interests of the United States, our leaders have historically stood together in support of Israel, and shoulder to shoulder with our Arab friends in pursuit of peace. If America is to play its proper role in promoting stability in the Middle East, it is imperative that our leaders now -- in the Executive Branch, in Congress, and within the Jewish-American and Arab-American communities -- continue to work together on behalf of shared goals.
Tomorrow, I will meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu again, and I very much look forward to the meeting. We are working hard to overcome differences and I hope we will be able to make progress.
But the key point that I have been emphasizing to both Israeli and Palestinian leaders is that although America remains committed to the pursuit of peace, it is up to them -- not to us--whether peace is achieved.
Over the past months, we have played the role of mediator, counselor, friend, shuttler, cajoler and idea-maker. We have responded whenever called at literally any time of the day or night. We have done this because we care about Israel and its people; and we care about the Palestinians and Arabs; and we care about the future peace and stability of the region.
We are not giving any ultimatums, and weíre not threatening any countryís security. We are not trying to make any party suffer at the expense of another. All we are trying to do is find the path to peace, as the parties have repeatedly urged us to do. And what we have especially been trying to do in recent weeks is to issue a wake-up call. The leaders of the region have reached a crossroads. Act before it is too late. Decide before the peace process collapses. And understand that in a neighborhood as tough as the Middle East, there is no security from hard choices, and no lasting security without hard choices.
The parties must understand, as well, that there is urgency to this task. For time is no longer an ally of this process; it has become an adversary. The historic accomplishments that flowed from the Oslo process represented a strategic opportunity for peace that is now being put at risk. Consider that just two years ago, at Sharm al-Sheikh, representatives from Israel and a host of Arab states gathered at the Summit of the Peacemakers to say no to terror and yes to peace. They saw Israel as a partner. Unfortunately, that exhilarating sense of partnership has been lost.
Second, the very idea that negotiations can peacefully resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict is now under threat. Unless the leaders are willing to make hard choices, the field will be left to extremists who have no interest in peace.
Third, the clock continues to tick. The interim period under Oslo concludes on May 4, 1999 -- less than a year from now. Those who believe that drifting is acceptable, or who believe they can declare unilateral positions or take unilateral acts when the interim period ends, are courting disaster. Both sides must understand that the issues reserved for permanent status discussions --including the status of the West Bank and Gaza and of settlements -- can only be settled by negotiation. That was the spirit and logic of Oslo.
Americaís interest and goal is a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, including the principle of land for peace. That will require decisive progress on all tracks, including the Israel-Lebanon track and the Israel-Syria track.
We are not a party to the negotiations. As President Clinton has repeatedly emphasized, it is not our right, nor our intention, nor is it within our capacity, to dictate terms or impose a settlement. At the same time, our credibility and interests are indeed affected by what the Israelis, Palestinians and Arabs do or fail to do. We are prepared to support their efforts as long as we judge they are serious about wanting to reach an agreement -- and serious enough to make the decisions necessary to achieve it.
For too long, too many children in too many parts of the Middle East have grown up amidst violence, deprivation and fear. Too many lives have been cut short by the terroristís bomb, the enemyís shell and the assassinís bullet. Too many opportunities have been lost to heal old wounds, narrow differences and transform destructive conflict into constructive cooperation.
Everyone with a stake in the Middle East has an obligation to do what can be done to seize the strategic opportunity for peace that now exists, and thereby to make possible a future of stability and prosperity for all the people of the region.
The United States believes this kind of future is within our grasp. But the peoples of the region will not realize that future if their leaders do not reach out with a vision as great as the goal to overcome past grievances, treat neighbors as partners and undertake in good faith the hard work of cooperation and peace. All that is required is for each to accord dignity and accept responsibility, and to act not out of passion and fear, but out of reason and hope.
For the peoples of the region who have suffered too long, the path out of the wilderness is uphill, but clearly marked. The time has come now, before the dusk obscures the guideposts, to move up that road; and by so doing, to answer the too-long denied prayers of the children -- all the children -- of the Middle East.
Thank you very much.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, I guess Iíll go first. You said in your speech that the United States has gone the extra mile for the Israelis, accommodated their needs over and over again. At the same time, Israel has shown that it continues to slam the door in the face of US efforts to bring about peace. How long will the US allow this drifting before it takes a break from the process and takes a drastic -- another approach?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, as Iíve said, I had a very good conversation yesterday with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Iím looking forward to meeting with him tomorrow. I think when we left London, we had had what I would say are some very creative discussions; I hope to be able to continue those again tomorrow. I think that we need to really work all these issues.
But as Iíve said also a number of times, we cannot go on with this process indefinitely. It is rapidly -- this phase of it is rapidly coming to a conclusion because I think that as we explore the various ideas that are on the table, as I said in my speech, time is not on the side of the process. If this particular approach does not work, what weíre going to have to do is re-examine how we go about it, within the context that I think I made very clear in my speech, that we are committed to having a comprehensive Middle East peace, and that our relationship with Israel is indissoluble.
QUESTION: But Madame Secretary, do you feel Israel is blowing off the US?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: No, I do not. I think that, as I have said, it is up to them to look at these ideas. They know that they are the ones that have to look at the ideas, and they are the ones that have to make the decisions. As Iíve said over and over again, it is up to them to make the decisions. It is the role of the United States to present the ideas, to refine the ideas, to try different approaches. Iím looking forward to my conversation with the Prime Minister.
QUESTION: Secretary Albright, one thing was unclear from your very well thought out speech, and thatís why are you violating your written commitment to Israel of January 15, and also the Christopher letter, to allow Israel to determine further re-deployment phases while, at the same time, you fail to demand that Arafat change the Palestinian charter, extradite terrorists and make speeches in Arabic actually condemning violence, rather than inciting violence?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, let me say that I am convinced that we are living up to the obligations of the Christopher letter; and, as I described in my speech, what the Christopher letter does is to explain that there is a responsibility on the part of Israel to go forward with the re-deployments.
We have presented ideas, as I explained very laboriously in my speech, that we have tried to present these ideas after the parties themselves were not presenting them or their ideas were not working. We have, in fact, made very clear to the Palestinians that they have obligations of a major order on the front of terrorism, and we have pressed them on that. We will continue to press them on that because I think that it is essential that the terrorist threat be dealt with and that the Palestinians follow through on their obligations. So I would say that we are pressing and pushing to have both sides live up to their obligations, while making clear that our role is there to try to help the peace process go forward.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, you have said that the size of the further re-deployment in the American ideas is not up for negotiation now. At the same time, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that such a large re-deployment would endanger Israelís security. You have reiterated today that the United States respects Israelís security and its right to establish its own security. How does this work, in light of Israel saying that it would endanger its security and youíre saying itís not?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, I said that it is up to every country to make its own decisions about what endangers its security or not, and we continue to maintain that. But I think that what has to be looked at, as we are describing the process, is kind of the overall picture of what is meant by security and how a country deals with its neighbors, what its relationship is with people that are living within the same area.
But let me just say what we have done is propose a size that we think is something that can make the peace process go forward. If the Israelis do not like that size -- that is the basis on which we have presented it. We believe that it is a do-able issue here, that it can be resolved, and weíre hoping that with the ideas that Prime Minister Netanyahu discussed with us in London, that he has discussed with Ambassador Ross, that weíre going to be talking about tomorrow, that thereís some way to resolve this issue.
I have to repeat over and over again that what we have done is put some ideas on the table that came out of a very long and determined and deliberate and careful process. Our job is to try to see what can be achieved. As I said, Chairman Arafat had a vision of something that was larger. The numbers -- the size of it is something that weíre trying to determine according to what can be accepted by both sides. Thatís what this is about. But as I said, itís not a take it or leave it deal. We have put forward what we think are good ideas. We think that they help to bridge the gaps, and weíre not going to water down our ideas. Weíre going to talk with Prime Minister Netanyahu, I hope at some length, tomorrow to see if thereís some way to work with some of the ideas that he has.
QUESTION: So is he wrong when he says it would endanger Israelís security?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Iím not going to argue with what he says; heís the Prime Minister of Israel. Iím saying that from our look at the situation, that we think that this is the best path towards getting this part of the talks done and move on to something that he wanted, which is accelerated permanent status talks.
QUESTION: Madame Albright, let me go a little further into the security of Israel -- the matters youíve been asked about so far. Specifically, maíam, would you require the Palestinians to sever all ties with Iranian terrorist and their money sources, which reputedly are somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 million every year delivered into Damascus and distributed throughout Syria, Lebanon and into Palestine and Jordan, as well? Would you require them to quit receiving that support, number one? Number two, Abu Abbas, a notorious character from the last decade, who engineered the Achille Lauro hijacking, is coming into Gaza regularly, and is one of the advisors of Mr. Arafat. Would you require Mr. Arafat to sever his ties with such people as him? And finally, do you accept the premise that Mr. Arafat proposed to give a little land and wait and see what the Arabs do?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, let me just say I am not going to discuss in detail the various aspects of these ideas. But what I can assure you of is that making sure that the terrorist network and infrastructure is dismantled is part of what weíre trying to do -- to make sure that there is not a terrorist threat; that unilateral actions have been taken; that bilateral actions have been taken; that everything that can be done with our help on this, as well as their actions unilaterally, that those steps be taken. The basis of what weíre doing is a parallel kind of approach to this so that there is not danger created in one -- the whole approach to this is a certain parallelism to it.
But I think that I do not want to go into the details of it, but I do want you to know that what we are trying to do is to make sure that the terrorist threat is dealt with; that is part of what weíre doing. As far as Abu Abbas, he does not face charges in the United States. He was convicted by Italy of terrorist acts; and I think that situation has to be dealt with through that legal system.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, I have a question on another traveled spot in the same region. What are your views on the Turkish position that to register progress in Cyprus, there needs to be some sort of acknowledgment of the Turkish republic of northern Cyprus as a separate entity that exists? And would you still be visiting Turkey at the end of this month?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, let me say that we have -- Ambassador Holbrooke has been in the region, trying to resolve this issue, and, I think, has stated that his last talks did not bring a conclusion. We are for a federation, bi-zonal, bi-communal; that is our position. We believe that that is the best approach to try to resolve the long-running Cyprus dispute.
As you can see, my travel plans kind of change according to what is necessary to be done in whatever trouble spot. I was supposed to be going to Europe today, and Iím not there. But I have no reason to change -- I donít think weíve announced any particular date. I want very much to visit Turkey. I think we have a very important relationship with Turkey, and the last time that I met with the Foreign Minister we talked about the importance of that relationship. We are troubled by some events there, but we do have a very important continuing relationship with Turkey.
QUESTION: So you are not 100 percent sure, is it fair to say?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: We donít usually announce my travel plans that far in advance.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, youíve described the American ideas as balanced, flexible and based on the principle of reciprocity. And as my colleague pointed out earlier, the Israelis are pointing to the American ideas as highly dangerous and unacceptable. Is there some way that you can bring us into the substance, or can you tell us when youíre going to be able to do it so that itís possible to form our own balanced judgment on this? And secondly, there is something being talked about now, certainly in Israel on the radio, that perhaps Mr. Netanyahu has an idea, or maybe itís an American idea, of splitting the re-deployment into two phases: one phase a majority 9 percent and then another phase a smaller percentage after the United States makes some determination. Is this one of these ideas being discussed?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, you know that nothing would please me more than to be able to have you make your characterization as our position being balanced, flexible, equitable, fair. But what is frankly more important to me at the moment is to make sure that these negotiations go on. I think everybody is entitled to characterize them the way they want. I characterize them as balanced, flexible and fair.
As I said, I am looking forward to the Prime Ministerís ideas, and I think weíll have to see. The whole point of having this discussion with him -- and I must say that I am very pleased that he was able to adjust his schedule to come early -- is to be able to talk about them, and I will not discuss the specifics.
QUESTION: And is that one of the ideas thatís being discussed, some kind of a phased re-deployment.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: One reads about those things in newspapers.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, who was the target audience of your remarks today? Was it people in this country or people in other countries?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: You.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, you said that the final status talks would have been launched this week if the summit meeting had taken place in the White House. And I was wondering is the US still committed to a third further re-deployment by Israeli troops from the West Bank in line with the Hebron protocol? Or is there any consideration within the framework of your ideas to hold the third further redeployment until the final status talks?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that, as Iíve stated in my speech, we are abiding by the terms of the Christopher letter. Thatís one of the things that you all are asking about -- are we living up to the terms of the Christopher letter -- and we will.
I didnít mean to be unfair to Tom. Let me say that the reason for giving this speech, generally, is I think that there have been a lot of interpretations and a lot of characterizations of what it is that the United States has been trying to do. We all felt that it was important to really, in some detail, outline the role that we have taken and why, and the fact that we were asked to take this role.
So since I have seen the whole Middle East story now -- and I have been in every country in the world, it seems, in the last ten days -- as something thatís on the front pages of everywhere Iíve been, whether itís in Japan or Mongolia or London -- I take it back; to be honest, I didnít see a Mongolian newspaper. But the truth is that itís on everybodyís mind and therefore the audience is worldwide because I think we need to clarify, perhaps, what our effort has been about, why we have played the role weíve been playing, and what our intentions are in the future.
QUESTION: How can it be simultaneously maintained that the US is having a balanced policy at the same time that it has a special relationship with Israel, as you put it, so long as the sun shall shine -- excuse me -- itís a tongue-twister ainít it -- so long as the sun shall shine?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I got it out.
QUESTION: Well, thatís why youíre up there.
And presumably, not with the Palestinians -- there presumably is not an analogous commitment to the security or the self-determination of the Palestinians. How can you both maintain a special relationship with one party and be a balanced mediator?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I do think -- and I think that you might actually ask some of the Palestinians who are part of this -- itís because our purpose here is to lead down the pathway of peace that we are, I believe, seen as a fair negotiator; and that in going into this, there has been no secret about our relationship with Israel. It has been the most public affair in the last 50 years. I think it is very important that we never deny that.
But that doesnít mean we cannot be fair and balanced in our approach. The record should show -- and will show, as more of it becomes evident -- that we have tried very hard to find ideas that lead to some kind of an agreement.
QUESTION: I mean, you wouldnít make this an analogy of somebody sort of being a mediator with their spouse or something of the like? It seems --
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Iím not into that
QUESTION: Iím not into that, either. But do you think that the increasing role, possibly, that the EU could play, or the United Nations at some point could play --
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: You know what I find interesting is I do think there are others who have become involved in this -- the EU. Prime Minister Blair was an excellent host, and provided some support and complimentarity to what we were doing. And others have tried to play a role.
I think the bottom line that we have found, ultimately, is calls from both parties: please come to help us. We are there because we have been asked by both of the parties to be there. I think that is testament to the fact that we are playing a balanced role because both parties have called at various times of the day and night, saying send Dennis.
QUESTION: One very brief question on a related thing in the region -- two years ago on "60 Minutes," you said that the price of half a million Iraqi children dying as a result of the sanctions, largely, was "worth it." Do you regret making that statement, which got substantial play in the Arab world, though not much here?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Let me just say this. I do not actually remember saying that specifically.
QUESTION: Iíve seen it.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, then, I guess I said it. Let me just say this. I believe that the fact that Iraqi children are dying is not the fault of the United States, but of Saddam Hussein. And I think it is ridiculous for the United States to be blamed for the dictatorial and cruel, barbaric ways that Saddam Hussein treats his people.
So we have a responsibility which has to do with the issues of trying to keep weapons of mass destruction from proliferating. I believe that Saddam Hussein is the one who is responsible for the tragedy of the Iraqi people; and in order to make up for that, itís the United States that led the effort to create this mechanism of oil-for-food. We are the ones that keep pressing for it to happen at the United Nations. Saddam Hussein still is not capable of accepting the procedure that the UN has designed in order to double the amount of food for oil.
So you canít lay that guilt trip on me. I mean, I think it is Saddam Hussein --
QUESTION: You donít think the US has any culpability --
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, you mentioned now that taking unilateral actions would be a recipe for disaster, while we are witnessing, really, on the ground, unilateral actions -- expansion of settlements, confiscating land, and so on. So in your strenuous efforts to deal with this problem and to come to a breakthrough or something, how do you deal with this?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: We have made quite clear -- and I said again today -- that there should not be unilateral actions either in facts on the ground or by statements.
We think that there is a better environment created for the peace process if final status issues are not dealt with unilaterally, and if there is a way for the environment of confidence, mutual respect, mutual responsibility and reciprocity that were the hallmarks of the Oslo process. What we are trying to do is to get the peace process back on track.
I will try again tomorrow with Prime Minister Netanyahu; and because I am an eternal optimist, I am looking forward to tomorrow and hoping there is a way that we can get this process back on track and, in fact, re-issue the invitation for accelerated permanent status talks to be held under President Clintonís auspices in Washington very soon.
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