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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
and Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Al-Hariri

Press Availabilty Prior To Their Meeting
Washington, DC, June 16, 1998
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State

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SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Good afternoon. I am very glad to welcome Prime Minister Hariri to Washington, and to congratulate him on the strides Lebanon is making towards reconstruction and reconciliation.

As I saw during my visit last September, Beirut is again a bustling city -- one to which Americans are returning in great numbers. Just two days ago, Lebanon completed its first municipal elections in 35 years. The high turnout is a strong sign of the Lebanese people's support for constitutional democracy. We look forward to seeing that support reflected when presidential elections are held this fall.

Today the Prime Minister and I will discuss the state of the peace process across the Middle East. I will reaffirm to him the United States' commitment to a just, lasting and comprehensive peace for all parties in the region.

We are working hard to help the Israelis and Palestinians reach agreement and move to final status negotiations. But to achieve the comprehensive peace we seek, we want to see negotiations resume on all tracks, including between Israel and Syria, and Israel and Lebanon.

The Prime Minister and I will discuss Israel's decision to accept UN Security Council Resolution 425. The United States has welcomed Israel's initiative, and we have advised both the Lebanese and Syrian Governments that we believe it merits serious consideration.

We want to make progress in Arab-Israeli negotiations wherever and whenever that is possible. We will work to help move the peace process forward, because we believe it is what the people of the region want; because it will help to promote Lebanon's full independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity; and because we look forward to the day when Lebanon, at peace with all its neighbors and free of all foreign forces, can again make its fullest contribution to peace and prosperity throughout the Middle East.

So, again, Prime Minister Hariri, welcome to Washington and the State Department. It's a great pleasure to have you here.

PRIME MINISTER HARIRI: Thank you. Let me say that I look forward to this meeting with Secretary Albright, after my morning meeting with President Clinton and National Security Advisor Sandy Berger.

I know that Secretary Albright and I share the same concern about the prospects for peace in the Middle East. In Lebanon, lack of progress means continuing conflict and violence on the ground in a part of our country that has been yearning for peace for a very long time. But we do not have a tunnel vision in Lebanon. We have a direct and clear interest in regional peace. We are keenly aware that unless the protracted backward slide in the credibility of peace efforts is reversed, the dangers for everybody in the region are real and enormous.

It is, therefore, only natural for us to explore with the United States Administration all the possibilities, ways to restore confidence and credibility to the peace process as a whole.

A few years ago, many Arab leaders took a courageous step towards peace. It was a step involving great political risk. The current impasse in the peace process, brought about by the policies of the current Israeli Government, is increasing those risks enormously. It is also creating a feeling of let-down, a feeling of being deceived. It is also weakening the supporters of peace and their confidence in the peace process in general.

That is why there is a need to create a momentum that will re-establish confidence in the peace process. Toward that end, Lebanon and Syria are willing to conclude a peace agreement with Israel within three months, if Israel continues the negotiations from where it has stopped. We believe that all of the people in the region are looking towards the United States to play a key role in order to achieve peace which will lead to security and stability and prosperity to all peoples in the Middle East.

I am sure that in our meeting we will also take up a number of bilateral issues. I will also brief the Secretary of the status of our efforts to restore Lebanon economically and otherwise. The Secretary had a chance to see the great things which are happening there, and this despite the absence of regional peace and the continued Israeli occupation in the south. I believe many would agree that our potential is a lot greater if genuine peace in the region can be achieved.

Thank you very much.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, I'm sure there are a lot of Middle East questions, but Kosovo is very much on everybody's mind. Having heard you at the subcommittee this morning, is there anything in that you could describe as an adequate offer by Yugoslavia? Is there anything there to work with? And do you think that Yugoslavia is playing on the differences among the allies -- Russia's hesitancy on this front, whether it should be a UN resolution or not? Is Milosevic sort of wiggling his way through the differences among the allies?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Let me say in terms of the meeting that President Yeltsin and President Milosevic had, it was, I think, correct in the amount of pressure that President Yeltsin put on President Milosevic in terms of what the Contact Group wanted on three issues. And there, I think, there was some progress in terms of making sure that the refugee problems not be exacerbated; that international monitors be able to be in the area; and that the dialogue between President Rugova and President Milosevic be resumed.

Where there was not progress, as far as we can tell, is that the Contact Group had called upon Milosevic to withdraw the Yugoslav Army and special forces into-- to canton them and that has not happened. I think that we will be watching very carefully to see, first of all, whether the first three items are carried out, and also whether, in fact, there is some action forward. It doesn't matter what the words are, but if there is action that would in fact show that there is some withdrawal of those forces and that the level of violence decreases.

I think what is interesting, Barry, is that basically, from London, you could see that there really was not much difference among the Contact Group. I think we came out with a strong statement and people in the Contact Group, the ministers, felt that what President Yeltsin was doing was in pursuit of what the Contact Group had said. So while Milosevic may be trying to find differences, the bottom line is we are united in the fact that what is going on there is unacceptable and that action needs to be taken.

I personally would hope that the dialogue is more than a talk about talks, and that we can have the kind of thing that I was suggesting to Dr. Rugova while he was here, which is sustained talks -- not once a week -- and also on substantive issues, because it is our hope that the Kosovo situation can be resolved through peaceful means diplomatically. And while at the same time the NATO exercise went forward yesterday, and planning is going forward, that is being done in support of diplomacy; and I hope that Milosevic is hearing that message loud and clear.

QUESTION: Secretary Albright, what (inaudible) support of Lebanon's official position not to provide Israel with security guarantees in the absence of peace treaty and a regional settlement? And what is the margin of hope you have that peace will be achieved in the coming future?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, I think that it is our hope -- and the Prime Minister said it and so did I -- that we have a comprehensive peace settlement in the Middle East and that it be done in such a way that there is security for the parties and for the people of the region. I think it is evident to me every day that it is the people of the region who are suffering because the comprehensive peace is not going forward. We will be discussing that to a greater extent.

And hope -- I always have hope -- working on this as I have told journalists repeatedly, as well as my colleagues, is that we are involved in some constructive talks now and we will pursue those. I will make very clear that if we are not able to pursue constructive discussions that we will declare that.

QUESTION: And the first part of the question?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Which was?

QUESTION: Does the US support Lebanon's official position that Lebanon cannot provide Israel with security guarantees in the absence of both a peace treaty and a (inaudible) regional settlement.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: We believe that it is important, generally, for all the parties to try to make sure that security continues for everybody. I am going to state our position which is that we want to make sure comprehensive peace talks go forward, and that each party to the talks does everything that it can to bring that security.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, another Kosovo question, if I can follow-up on Barry's question. You said that there was no progress in the meeting between President Yeltsin and Milosevic on the call for pullback of the Yugoslav Army and special forces. What's the next step?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that what we're going to keep doing is, first of all, the NATO planning is going forward; discussions among the Contact Group will go forward on a variety of levels; and we will keep pressing, because ultimately, there cannot be a solution here unless the level of violence is cut down.

I think that it is essential that President Rugova, who was here -- I met with him; the President met with him. He has our support for pursuing a dialogue and a solution to the problem which would provide for enhanced autonomy for the Kosovars. But it has to be evident to the Serbs as well as the Kosovar Liberation Army that violence is not the answer here; and that it is important for the forces to be withdrawn and for violent action to stop.

As I have said a number of times, the Yugoslav Army and the special forces, at the direction of Belgrade, are the best recruiters for the extremists on the Kosovar side.

QUESTION: Mrs. Albright, what's the next step? Are you going to make a special effort to push the peace process with the Lebanese, especially on the Lebanese and the Syrian tracks?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, I kind of make a special effort every day. We are constantly involved in the Israel-Palestinian track. I'm going to be discussing with the Prime Minister the issue of Resolution 425. We have been for implementing it, and we believe that we should try to make progress on whatever aspect of the peace process there is. As we work toward a comprehensive peace, we will be looking at various places where we can make progress.

As the Prime Minister was saying, we would like to make progress on both the Lebanese and Syrian tracks. We will turn to that, as we can.

QUESTION: You are not linking between this and the UN forces in southern Lebanon?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Excuse me?

QUESTION: You are not linking between this and the -- (inaudible) -- of the UN forces in Lebanon?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: No, no.

QUESTION: Could I ask the Prime Minister -- you said you would be willing to resume talks with the Israelis. Are there any pre-conditions -- are there any things that have to happen before you sit down and talk again with the Israelis?

PRIME MINISTER HARIRI: The Lebanese have 11 or 13 rounds of discussion here in Washington, and the Syrians also as well, with the Israelis. So our view that if Israel is willing to continue the negotiation from where it has stopped, it means all that has been agreed upon to continue to be agreed upon. Then we'll continue the negotiations because during years, the Israelis and the Syrians, and the Lebanese and the Israelis also, have discussed many, many things and they agree upon.

So we need a few months to finalize. So that's what we are looking for.

QUESTION: Well, if I could just follow, Prime Minister Netanyahu says that he wants to start with a clean piece of paper and that verbal commitments in the past --

PRIME MINISTER HARIRI: This means we would forgot all what happened in the past, which is impossible, because nobody can do that. If the government has changed, you change what you agreed upon before. This is not the way to deal between governments and states.

[End of Document]

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